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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...

Work, reinvented: Tech will drive the office evolution

In an early May blog post, Google chief executive officer (CEO) Sundar Pichai shared the company’s vision for its workplace future—over a year after the covid-19 pandemic forced offices around the world to shutter almost overnight and employees suddenly shifted to working remotely using Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and a host of other virtual collaboration tools. “The future of work is...


SUNDAY 18. JULY 2021


Why England’s sudden lifting of covid restrictions is a massive gamble

England is about to take a huge gamble.  On Monday, July 19, the country is ditching all of its remaining pandemic-related restrictions. People will be able to go to nightclubs, or gather in groups as large as they like. They will not be legally compelled to wear masks at all, and can stop social distancing. The government, with an eye on media coverage, has dubbed it “Freedom...

Is 57 a prime number? There’s a game for that.

The Greek mathematician Euclid may very well have proved, circa 300 BCE, that there are infinitely many prime numbers. But it was the British mathematician Christian Lawson-Perfect who, more recently, devised the computer game “Is this prime?” Launched five years ago, the game surpassed three million tries on July 16—or, more to the point, it hit run 2,999,999—after a Hacker News post...


FRIDAY 16. JULY 2021


How to mend your broken pandemic brain

Orgies are back. Or at least that’s what advertisers want you to believe. One commercial for chewing gum—whose sales tanked during 2020 because who cares what your breath smells like when you’re wearing a mask—depicts the end of the pandemic as a raucous free-for-all with people embracing in the streets and making out in parks.  The reality is…


THURSDAY 15. JULY 2021


Welcome to the Tokyo Olympics, where public health, money, and politics collide

It’s nighttime on the streets of Ibaraki prefecture in Japan when the Olympic torch comes through. A viral video shows the torch bearer’s slow jog past spectators lining the road. Then, as the flame passes, a woman in the crowd shoots a water gun. “Extinguish the Olympic flame! Oppose the Tokyo Olympics!” she shouts. Security rushes around her. Such is the backdrop for the upcoming...

Pfizer wants to give you a booster shot—but experts say it’s too soon

Is it time to start thinking about booster shots? Pfizer seems to think so. In a private meeting with top US scientists and regulators on July 12, the firm’s representatives argued that the US should move to authorize a third shot. Last week, Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech announced that they had observed waning immunity in people who had been vaccinated and that they planned to seek...