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The Download: internet scams, and the ethics of brain implants

This is today’s edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

How culture drives foul play on the internet, and how new “upcode” can protect us

From Bored Apes and Fancy Bears, to Shiba Inu coins, self-­replicating viruses, and whales, the internet is crawling with fraud, hacks, and scams. 

And while new technologies come and go, they change little about the fact that online illegal operations exist because some people are willing to act illegally, and others fall for the stories they tell. 

Ultimately, online crime is a human story. Three new books offer explanations into why it happens, why it works, and how we can protect ourselves from falling for such schemes—no matter how convincing they are. Read the full story.

—Rebecca Ackermann

Rebecca’s story is from the new print issue of MIT Technology Review, which is all about ethics. If you don’t subscribe already, sign up.

The tricky ethics of brain implants and informed consent 

We’re making major leaps in terms of helping people who’ve lost their ability to speak to regain their voices. Earlier this week, two new papers described how brain-computer interfaces successfully translated signals from the brains of two study participants into speech thanks to brain implants.

Both of the women can communicate without an implant. The first, Pat Bennett, who has ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, uses a computer to type. The second, Ann Johnson, who lost her voice as the result of a brain-stem stroke that left her paralyzed, uses an eye-tracking device to select letters on a computer screen. 

That ability to communicate is what gave them the power to consent to participate in these trials. But how does consent work when communication is more difficult? Read the full story.

—Cassandra Willyard

This story first appeared in The Checkup, MIT Technology Review’s weekly biotech newsletter. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.

Why salt marshes could help save Venice

Venice, Italy, is suffering from a combination of subsidence—the city’s foundations slowly sinking into the mud on which they are built—and rising sea levels. In the worst-case scenario, it could disappear underwater by the year 2100.

Scientists increasingly see the sinking city as a laboratory for environmental solutions. They’re investigating whether artificial mudflats in the Venetian lagoon can be turned back into the marshes that once thrived in this area and become a functioning part of the lagoon ecosystem again, which in turn, would help to safeguard the future of the city itself. Read the full story.

—Catherine Bennett

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 Teachers should assume that all their students are using AI
If ChatGPT can be used, it will be used, is the new rule of thumb. (NYT $)
+ Teachers and educators are limbering up for a challenging academic year. (Wired $)+ ChatGPT is going to change education, not destroy it. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Miami has appointed its own chief heat officer
Jane Gilbert is the first person in the world to hold the position. (MIT Technology Review)

3 The beautiful complexity of the US radio spectrum
Color coding and visualizing the nation’s radio frequencies is a significant undertaking. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Donald Trump has returned to Twitter
He broke his two-year silence to share an imposing mug shot. (Politico)

5 When natural disasters strike, social media isn’t helping anymore
Facebook and Twitter have turned their backs on news. That’s making it much harder to get vital information to residents in danger. (WP $)
+ More than 1,000 people are still missing in Maui. (NY Mag $)
+ How AI can actually be helpful in disaster response. (MIT Technology Review)

6 News organizations are pushing back against ChatGPT
They appear to be blocking OpenAI’s web crawler from scraping their web pages. (The Guardian)+ Open source AI isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. (Wired $)
+ Wikipedia is doing just fine in the age of AI, thanks. (Slate $)
+ We are hurtling toward a glitchy, spammy, scammy, AI-powered internet. (MIT Technology Review)

7 The Amazon is starting to release its carbon
Worryingly, parts of it are releasing more carbon than it absorbs. (Nature)
+ Tropical trees can’t photosynthesize in this heat. (Motherboard)

8 Eating plastic is a novel way to get rid of it 
In theory, microbes and insects could one day help us to break down tough polymers. (Knowable Magazine)
+ How chemists are tackling the plastics problem. (MIT Technology Review)

9 Beauty filters aren’t always about deception 💄
Sometimes, they’re about whimsy and simple fun. (Wired $)
+ Hyper-realistic beauty filters are here to stay. (MIT Technology Review)

10 It could get messy on the moon 🌕
Space junk? No thank you. (Vox)

Quote of the day

“How do you ever truly understand the impact that you can have on someone’s life, you know?”

—Charli D’Amelio, one of the internet’s best-known faces and TikTok’s breakout star, gets philosophical while considering her effect on her fans’ lives, she tells Bloomberg.

The big story

Inside Australia’s plan to survive bigger, badder bushfires

April 2019

Australia’s colonial history is dotted with fires so enormous they have their own names. The worst, Black Saturday, struck the state of Victoria on February 7, 2009. Fifteen separate fires scorched the state over just two days, killing 173 people.

While Australia is notorious for spectacular blazes, it actually ranks below the United States, Indonesia, Canada, Portugal, and Spain when it comes to the economic damage caused by wildfires over the past century.

That’s because while other nations argue about the best way to tackle the issue, the horrors of Black Saturday led Australia to drastically change its response—one of the biggest of which was also one of the most basic: taking another look at the way fire risk is rated. Read the full story.

Bianca Nogrady

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me.)

+ How to make strawberry ice cream at home.
+ I’d like to be, under the sea, checking out this real life octopus’s garden.
+ Wisconsin’s rap scene isn’t just surviving—it’s thriving.
+ One in every color? No thanks.
+ It’s the most wonderful time of the year: London Zoo’s annual animal weigh-in!