The Download: Identifying Rioters in Brazil and Shooting at the Moon

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

Brazilians turn to Instagram to identify far-right rioters

In the hours after far-right insurgents vandalized government buildings in Brazil’s capital on Sunday, January 8, a new account appeared on Instagram.

Called Contragolpe Brasil, it soon began posting photos of alleged participants in the riot, reaching over 1 million followers in just 24 hours. The idea was to crowdsource information that could identify “people attacking democracy in Brazil,” making it easier for authorities to find and punish those who escaped arrest on that day.

Not long after the account started posting, comments started pouring in, including people’s full names, the cities and states they live in, and their Instagram accounts. But identifying criminals online can be risky, especially when people are wrong. Read the full story.

— Jill Langlois

NASA’s return to the moon is off to a rocky start

Five decades after humans first set foot on the moon, NASA has a plan to return astronauts. The Artemis Project aims to visit a new part of the moon and retrieve samples, this time with new faces behind the sun visors, including the first woman and first person of color.

Whether this plan will succeed — and whether another moon landing will inspire a new “Artemis generation” in space exploration — is a matter of debate.

Though the first mission thundered into space in November, there’s a chance the entire lunar program could fail if something goes wrong, or if the powerful Space Launch System rocket it carried is deemed too expensive or unsustainable. Read the full story.

—Rebecca Boyle

Rebecca’s piece is from the latest edition of our print magazine, dedicated to the latest cutting-edge technological innovations. Don’t miss future releases – sign up for a subscription.

TR10: Ancient DNA analysis

Scientists have long searched for better tools to study teeth and bones of ancient people. In the past, they’ve had to sift through countless ancient remains to find a sample preserved well enough to analyze.

Now, cheaper techniques and new methods that make damaged DNA readable by commercial sequencers are fueling the explosion of ancient DNA analyzes – and extinct species are being uncovered along the way.

Ancient DNA analysis is just one of our 10 breakthrough technologies, which we present one by one every day in The Download. You can check out the rest of the list for yourself and vote in our poll to help us decide what should be our final 11th tech.

The must reads

I scoured the internet to find today’s funniest/most important/scariest/fascinating technology stories.1 China braces for a sharp spike in covid cases
People will mingle in large groups as they celebrate the Lunar New Year. (The guard)
+ The country has reported nearly 60,000 deaths from the virus. (NYT$)
+ The Paxlovid cyber scam in China is everywhere. (MIT The Tech Warrior)

2 Open-source intelligence in Ukraine is a double-edged sword
It can both help and hinder war efforts. (Economist $)
+ How Ukrainian tech workers work against the background of war. (The edge)

3 Twitter appears to be dumping external customers
Third-party developers are furious that they were not notified. ​(The information $)
Dismissed workers cannot join a class action, a judge has ruled. (Reuters)
+ Who would be a better CEO than Elon Musk? (The edge)
+ Twitter’s New York office is overrun with cockroaches. (Insider $)

4 Disgruntled investors are suing Virgin Galactic
They claim that errors in the aircraft were not properly publicized. (The guard)

5 The high stakes of detecting hate crimes in India
Religious violence is on the rise – and a data project monitoring this is under threat. (WP$)
+ Saudi prosecutors want to execute an academic for his use of social media. (The guard)

6 The US government’s big bet on chips is risky
It is a hugely expensive and ambitious undertaking. (WSJ$)
+ Chinese chips will continue to fuel your daily life. (MIT The Tech Warrior)

7 England is cracking down on single-use plastics
Say goodbye to disposable plastic plates and cutlery. (engaged)
+ How chemists tackle the plastic problem. (MIT The Tech Warrior)

8 Students are baffled by Auburn University’s TikTok ban
Mainly because it has an incredibly simple solution. (NYT$)

9 How El Salvador’s Largest Gig Economy App Crashed And Burned
Hugo was so successful that even Uber was kept at bay until it was no longer the case. (Rest of the world)

10 Not all AI-generated art is impressive
In fact, a lot of it is pretty bullshit. (The Atlantic $)
+ Artists are leading a class action against AI art companies. (Kotaku)
+ Generative AI changes everything. But what remains when the hype is over? (MIT The Tech Warrior)

Quote of the day

“I would advocate not going fast and breaking things.”

—Demis Hassabis, co-founder and CEO of DeepMind, warns against experimenting too freely with AI in an interview with Time.

The big story

China’s road to modernization has passed through my hometown for centuries

June 2021

For generations, politicians and intellectuals have been looking for ways to build a strong China. Some imported tools and ideas from the West. Others left for a better education, but the homeland continued to beckon.

Yangyang Cheng, a particle physicist at Yale Law School, is a product of their complex legacy. She grew up in Hefei, then a modest, medium-sized city in the Middle East of China, which is now a burgeoning metropolis with new research centers, factories and technology start-ups. For two of the city’s proudest sons, born a century apart, a strong homeland armed with science and technology was the dream of a lifetime. Cheng grew up with their stories. They teach her about the forces that caused China’s rise, and the ways lives can be strained by the pressures of geopolitics. Read the full story.

We can still have fun things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these strange times. (Have any ideas? Message me orshe tweets to me.)

+ What can we learn about TV characters from the books they read?
+ Someone spent three months recreating Toto’s Africa in Minecraft and I’m in love (thanks Charlotte!)
+ Oh, to be a starfish whisperer.
+ Why are we on a perpetual quest to come up with even more work jargon?
+ Don’t call it a comeback – redheads have never gone out of style.