The Download: A Major DeepMind Breakthrough and US Network Recovery


This is today’s edition The downloadour weekday newsletter that gives a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

DeepMind has predicted the structure of almost every protein known to science

The news: DeepMind says its AlphaFold tool has successfully predicted the structure of nearly every protein known to science. As of today, it offers its database of over 200 million proteins to everyone for free. It’s a huge boost to the existing database of 1 million proteins it released last year, and includes structures for plants, bacteria, animals and many other organisms.

Why it matters: The comprehensive database provides tremendous opportunities for AlphaFold to influence key issues such as sustainability, fuel, food insecurity and neglected diseases, said Demis Hassabis, founder and CEO of DeepMind. Scientists could use the findings to better understand diseases and accelerate innovation in drug discovery and biology, he added. Read the full story.

—Melissa Heikkilä

AI for protein folding represents such a major advance that it was chosen as one of MIT Technology Review’s 10 Breakthrough Technologies this year. Read our story explaining why it’s so exciting, and our profile of DeepMind founder, Demis Hassabis, explaining why this is arguably the company’s most important and long-lasting contribution to science.

Sewing the grid together will save lives as extreme weather worsens

The blistering heat waves that have set temperature records across much of the US in recent days have strained power systems, threatening to cut off power in vulnerable regions of the country. While electricity has largely remained online so far this summer, the heavy use of energy-draining air conditioners and intense heat has contributed to scattered problems and close calls.

It is unlikely to get better soon. According to a new report from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, a number of grid operators may struggle to meet peak demand in the summer, raising the risk of progressive power outages. The country’s isolated and outdated networks are in dire need of upgrades.

One solution would be to more closely integrate the country’s regional networks, merging them with more long-distance transmission lines, so that power can flow between regions to where it is urgently needed. However, that is a mission that is full of challenges. Read the full story.

—James Temple

The must reads

I’ve scoured the internet to find today’s funniest/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 Meta’s sales fell for the first time
The cracks in Mark Zuckerberg’s pivot to the metaverse are beginning to show. (NYT $)
+ Every day, however, more people are logging into Facebook. (WP $)
+ Zuck says Meta is in “very deep, philosophical competition” with Apple. (The edge)
+ Discord is a natural home for users disillusioned with Instagram. (WSJ $)
+ Ex-Facebook and Bumble employees have built their own “less toxic” social network. (protocol)

2 Senators Have Advanced Childhood Online Safety Legislation
But others argue that such safeguards should apply to users of all ages. (WP $)
+ Three wannabe senators have deep ties to the tech companies they compete against. (NYT $)

3 A Greek Politician Was Targeted By Israeli Spyware
He has filed a lawsuit to force Greek authorities to investigate who was behind the hacking attempt. (NYT $)
+ Carine Kanimba claimed that the Rwandan government used Pegasus spyware to spy on her family. (Motherboard)
+ The hacking industry is at the end of an era. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Bitcoin Prices Rising Again
After the Federal Reserve raised interest rates. (CNBC)

5 Take a journey through the universe
This amazing guide will take you through everything from exoplanets to supermassive black holes. (new scientist $)
+ Will the expansion of the universe mean that planets no longer revolve around stars? (MIT Technology Review)

7 Your Modern Car Is Leaking Your Data
While much of it is anonymized, the risk of privacy violations is real. (the layout)

8 Top Quality TVs Expose Bad CGI
All are poorly displayed flaws. (Vulture $)

9 Is DALL-E’s Art Stolen?
While users can commercialize their AI creations, the model is trained on the work of others. (Engadget)
+ Lawyers can choose to represent AIs in future courtroom battles. (Slate)
+ OpenAI is ready to sell DALL-E to its first million customers. (MIT Technology Review)

10 Things Old Dogs Can Teach Us About Our Own Brains
Just don’t try to teach them new tricks. (Known magazine)

Quote of the day

“This isn’t the Instagram we used to have.”

Tatiana Bruening, the creator of a viral post urging Instagram to stop trying to be TikTok, regrets the platform’s decision to pursue a Gen Z audience, she tells the Wall Street Journal.

The big story

She risked everything to expose Facebook. Now she tells her story.

July 2021

When Sophie Zhang came out with explosive revelations about the political manipulation she discovered during her time as a data scientist at Facebook, she provided concrete evidence to support what outside critics have long said: that Facebook makes election meddling easy, and that unless such activity harms the Company’s business interests, it cannot be bothered to resolve the issue.

By speaking out and avoiding anonymity, Zhang risked legal action from the company, damage to her future career prospects, and perhaps even reprisal from the politicians she denounced at trial. Her story shows that it really is pure luck that we now know so much about how Facebook is enabling election meddling worldwide, and for regulators around the world thinking about how to curb the company, this should be a wake-up call. Read the full story.

—Karen Hao

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Do you have an idea?Give me a callortweet them to me.)

+ Japanese artist Hiroshige was known for his beautiful woodcuts, but this one educational pictures explaining how to make shadow puppets for kids are extra special.
+ uh, Freya the walrus is a real boat-sinking plague.
+ Beat this up Mouth-watering Mediterranean recipes and imagine you are chilling in Rome.
+ This year’s Audubon Photography Awards winners are spectacular (thanks Peter!)
+ If you are a fan of essay length texts then you are a paragraph girlie.