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The voices of women in tech are still being erased

In the middle of the night on May 24, TikTok changed its voice. The ubiquitous woman’s voice that could read your video’s text out loud in a slightly stilted, robotic cadence was suddenly replaced by one with an almost smirky, upbeat tone. Many users started calling the new one the “Uncanny Valley Girl” to express their displeasure. Lil Nas X even made a TikTok about it. But what...


SATURDAY 31. JULY 2021


Boeing’s second Starliner mission to the ISS is a make-or-break moment

December 20, 2019, was supposed to be a landmark moment for the US space program and the US space industry, Boeing in particular. Boeing has been a partner of NASA since the agency’s inception in 1958—the company or those it acquired built the capsules that took Apollo astronauts to the moon and later built the space shuttle, and it helps operate the International Space Station. On that...

Covid clusters among the vaccinated are killing our back-to-normal dreams

They were gold miners in French Guiana, revelers in Cape Cod, and Indian health-care workers. Even though they inhabit worlds apart, they ended up having two things in common. All were vaccinated against covid-19. And they all became part of infection clusters. In recent weeks, cases like these are proving that covid-19 transmission chains and superspreading events can occur even in groups...


FRIDAY 30. JULY 2021


An endlessly changing playground teaches AIs how to multitask

DeepMind has developed a vast candy-colored virtual playground that teaches AIs general skills by endlessly changing the tasks it sets them. Instead of developing just the skills needed to solve a particular task, the AIs learn to experiment and explore, picking up skills they then use to succeed in tasks they’ve never seen before. It is a small step toward general intelligence. What is...

Hundreds of AI tools have been built to catch covid. None of them helped.

When covid-19 struck Europe in March 2020, hospitals were plunged into a health crisis that was still badly understood. “Doctors really didn’t have a clue how to manage these patients,” says Laure Wynants, an epidemiologist at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, who studies predictive tools. But there was data coming out of China, which had a four-month head start in the race to...


THURSDAY 29. JULY 2021


The best vaccine incentive might be paid time off

Free doughnuts. Tickets to see the Los Angeles Lakers. Video visits with loved ones for people in prison. The chance to win a million-dollar lottery.  States, cities, and private companies are dangling anything they can think of to convince Americans to get a covid-19 vaccine. The idea is to nudge people who are open to a vaccine but just need an extra push—but so far, there’s little...


WEDNESDAY 28. JULY 2021


Israel begins investigation into NSO Group spyware abuse

Israeli government officials visited the offices of the hacking company NSO Group on Wednesday to investigate allegations that the firm’s spyware has been used to target activists, politicians, business executives, and journalists, the country’s defense ministry said in a statement today. An investigation published last week by 17 global media organizations claims that phone numbers…

Astronomers have spotted x-rays from behind a supermassive black hole

When gas falls into a black hole, it releases an enormous amount of energy and spews electromagnetic radiation in all directions, making these objects some of the brightest in the known universe. But scientists have only ever been able to see light and other radiation from a supermassive black hole when it’s shining directly toward our telescopes—anything from behind it has always been...

What you need to know about the CDC’s new mask guidelines

On Tuesday, July 27, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that vaccinated individuals wear masks in public indoor spaces in communities where covid cases are spiking. Along with the new policy, the CDC recommends that children in grades K–12 attend school in person while continuing to wear masks inside.  Why is the CDC making this switch?  ...


TUESDAY 27. JULY 2021


The pandemic slashed the West Coast’s emissions. Wildfires already reversed it.

Wildfires raging across the US West Coast have filled the air with enough carbon dioxide to wipe out more than half of the region’s pandemic-driven emissions reductions last year. And that was just in July. The numbers illustrate a troubling feedback loop. Climate change creates hotter, drier conditions that fuel increasingly frequent and devastating fires—which, in turn, release greenhouse...


MONDAY 26. JULY 2021


“We never created a supervirus.” Ralph Baric explains gain-of-function research.

In May, the longtime coronavirus researcher Ralph Baric found himself at the center of the swirling debate over gain-of-function research, in which scientists engineer new properties into existing viruses. And during a congressional hearing, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky implied that the National Institutes of Health had been funding such research at both the Wuhan…


FRIDAY 23. JULY 2021


Is the UK’s pingdemic good or bad? Yes.

Oscar Maung-Haley, 24, was working a part-time job in a bar in Manchester, England, when his phone pinged. It was the UK’s NHS Test and Trace app letting him know he’d potentially been exposed to covid-19 and needed to self-isolate. The news immediately caused problems. “It was a mad dash around the venue to show my manager and say I had to go,” he says. The alert he got was one of...


THURSDAY 22. JULY 2021


DeepMind says it will release the structure of every protein known to science

Back in December 2020, DeepMind took the world of biology by surprise when it solved a 50-year grand challenge with AlphaFold, an AI tool that predicts the structure of proteins. Last week the London-based company published full details of that tool and released its source code. Now the firm has announced that it has used its AI to predict the shapes of nearly every protein in the human...


WEDNESDAY 21. JULY 2021


An albino opossum proves CRISPR works for marsupials, too

Mice: check. Lizards: check. Squid: check. Marsupials … check. CRISPR has been used to modify the genes of tomatoes, humans, and just about everything in between. Because of their unique reproductive biology and their relative rarity in laboratory settings, though, marsupials had eluded the CRISPR rush—until now. A team of researchers at Japan’s Riken Institute, a national research...

Disability rights advocates are worried about discrimination in AI hiring tools

Your ability to land your next job could depend on how well you play one of the AI-powered games that companies like AstraZeneca and Postmates are increasingly using in the hiring process. Some companies that create these games, like Pymetrics and Arctic Shores, claim that they limit bias in hiring. But AI hiring games can be especially difficult to navigate for job seekers with disabilities....

Review: Why Facebook can never fix itself

The Facebook engineer was itching to know why his date hadn’t responded to his messages. Perhaps there was a simple explanation—maybe she was sick or on vacation. So at 10 p.m. one night in the company’s Menlo Park headquarters, he brought up her Facebook profile on the company’s internal systems and began looking at her personal data. Her politics, her lifestyle, her interests—even...

Podcast: Playing the job market

Increasingly, job seekers need to pass a series of ‘tests’ in the form of artificial intelligence games—just to be seen by a hiring manager. In this third, of a four-part miniseries on AI and hiring, we speak to someone who helped create these tests, we ask who might get left behind in the process and…


TUESDAY 20. JULY 2021


How Zello keeps people connected during South Africa’s unrest

On June 29, former South African president Jacob Zuma was sentenced to 15 months in prison for corruption during his presidency. Zuma—the first ethnic Zulu to hold the country’s highest office—has a loyal following. He also has many detractors, who blame his administration’s corruption for a stagnant economy and weakened democracy. Zuma didn’t turn himself in until July 7, saying he...

Cities are scrambling to prevent flooding

US cities are working to shore up their flood defenses in the face of climate change, building and upgrading pumps, storm drains, and other infrastructure. In many cases, their existing systems are aging and built for the climate of the past. And even upgrades can do only so much to mitigate the intense flooding that’s becoming more common, leaving cities to come up with other solutions....


MONDAY 19. JULY 2021


What the latest Pegasus spyware leaks tell us

Over the weekend, a consortium of international news outlets published their findings from an investigation into the use of Pegasus, the marquee spyware of secretive billion-dollar Israeli surveillance company NSO group.  The reports from the Guardian, the Washington Post, and 15 other media organizations, are based on a leak of tens of thousands of phone numbers that appear to have been...

Why NASA should visit Pluto again

In 1930, Clyde Tombaugh, a 25-year-old amateur astronomer, spied a small, dim object in the night sky.   He’d been working at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, for about a year when he used a blink comparator—a special kind of microscope that can examine and compare images—to glimpse what was for a time considered to be the ninth planet in our...