The download: the Saudi sci-fi megacity and the brains of sleeping babies

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.

These exclusive satellite images show that Saudi Arabia’s sci-fi megacity is in full swing

In early 2021, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia announced The Line: a “civilization revolution” that would house up to 9 million people in a carbon-free megacity, 170 kilometers long and half a kilometer high but only 200 meters wide. Within the mirrored, car-free walls, residents would be wheeled around in underground trains and electric air taxis.

Satellite images of the $500 billion project, obtained exclusively by MIT The Tech Warrior, show that the line’s sprawling linear construction site is already taking shape. However, visit The Line’s location on Google Maps and Google Earth and you’ll see little more than bare rock and sand.

The odd gap in the image raises questions about who gets access to high-res satellite technology. And if the world’s largest urban construction site doesn’t appear on Google Maps, what else can we not see? Read the full story.

—Marcus Harris

Why babies sleep so much

Babies spend much more time sleeping than awake. Scientists still aren’t quite sure why, but new technologies are starting to shed a little more light on this mystery — and could help reveal what’s going on in a newborn’s rapidly developing brain.

During the first few months, babies’ brains develop connections at a rate of about one million synapses per second. These connections are believed to play a key role in helping babies understand the world around them, laying a crucial foundation for the rest of their lives. Read the full story.

This story comes from The Checkup, a weekly newsletter from our senior reporter Jessica Hamzelou who tells you all about biomedicine and biotechnology. Sign up and receive it in your inbox every Thursday.

The must reads

I’ve scoured the internet to find you the funniest/most important/scariest/fascinating stories about technology today.

1 Covid data is starting to disappear in China
It is about to enter the deadliest phase of the pandemic. How deadly? We won’t know. (FT$)
+ A letter from Foxconn’s founder may have helped convince China’s leaders to abandon zero-covid. (WSJ$)
+ The policy pivot has been received with relief, but also with concern and confusion. (NYT$)
+ Here’s what scientists have to say about it. (Nature)

2 AI selfies are everywhere
You can thank the Lensa app, and the fact that people can’t resist sharing how sexy they look. (WP$)
+ However, it generates disturbing NSFW images. Even if the photo is of a child. (TheTechWarrior $)
+ AI is also getting better at producing persuasive text. (Vox)
+ Can you tell a real tweet from one written by an AI? (WSJ$)

3 Americans are moving en masse to climate danger zones
Migration patterns tend to be away from safer areas, to hotter, drier areas with more wildfires. (TheTechWarrior $)
+ These three charts show who is most to blame for climate change. (MIT The Tech Warrior)

4 A lawsuit alleges women were targeted in Twitter layoffs
In technical positions, 63% of women lost their jobs compared to 48% of men. (NBC)
+ Musk’s plan to encrypt Twitter messages appears to be on hold. (Forbes)
+ Twitter plans to change costs of ‘Twitter Blue’ after falling out with Apple. (The information $)
+ Elon Musk is openly courting a far-right, conspiracy-obsessed fanbase. (TheTechWarrior $)

5 CoinDesk’s FTX scoop shot its own parent company in the foot
Ownership structures in crypto are complex – and in this case a little too cozy for comfort. (The edge)
+ Crypto execs exchanged frantic texts as FTX collapsed. (NYT$)

6 Exhausted by the Internet? You are not alone.
It’s starting to feel like a dying mall full of stores you don’t want to visit. (New York $)
+ Amazon launches a TikTok clone. Yes, Amazon. (WP$)

7 The hype around esports is fading
A broader economic downturn is causing sponsors and investors to flee. (Bloomberg$)
+ The FTC is trying to block Microsoft’s $69 billion acquisition of video game giant Activision Blizzard. (Vox)

8 What Causes Alzheimer’s Disease?
A stream of recent findings suggests it is more complex than amyloid plaque buildup. (quantum)
+ The miracle molecule that can treat brain injuries and boost your fading memory. (MIT The Tech Warrior)

9 The global spyware industry is out of control
And the US plays both arsonist and firefighter, using the very same means it condemns. (NYT$)
+ It is difficult to control spyware technology when it is so in demand by governments around the world. (MIT The Tech Warrior)

10 Xiaomi taught a robot to play the drums
However, professional musicians can rest easy for now, if the demo clip is anything to go by. (IEEE spectrum)

Quote of the day

“Globalization is almost dead. Free trade is almost dead. And a lot of people still wish they would come back, but I really don’t think it will be back anytime soon.”

—Morris Chang, founder of Taiwanese chip giant TSMC, made some blunt remarks about geopolitics at the launch of a new factory in Arizona this week, Nikkei Asia reports.

The big story

The future of urban homes is energy-efficient refrigerators

June 2022

The outdated apartments under the purview of the New York City Housing Authority are not crying out for innovation. The largest landlord in the city, at nearly 1 in 16 New Yorkers, NYCHA has seen its buildings literally crumble after decades of deferred maintenance and poor stewardship. An estimated $40 billion or more, at least $180,000 per unit, would be needed to restore the buildings to working order.

Despite the magnitude of the challenge, NYCHA hopes to solve them. It has launched a Clean Heat for All Challenge, asking manufacturers to develop low-cost, easy-to-install heat pump technologies for building retrofits. The stakes for the agency, the winning company and for society itself can be huge – and good for the planet.

After all, it is much more sustainable to adapt existing buildings than to demolish them and build new ones. Read the full story.

—Patrick Sisson

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.)

+ This Photoshop comic about replacing the sky is really beautiful.
+ Father Christmas, Father Christmas, Sinterklaas: whatever you call him, he has a long and illustrious history.
+ How to dress smart yet casually.
+ Cowboy butter, anyone?