The Download: a big DeepMind breakthrough, and fixing the US grid


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

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. Starting today, it offers its database of more than 200 million proteins to anyone for free. It’s a massive boost to the existing database of 1 million proteins it launched last year, and includes structures for plants, bacteria, animals and many other organisms.

Why it matters: The expanded database opens up huge opportunities for AlphaFold to make an impact on important issues such as sustainability, fuel, food insecurity and neglected diseases, according to Demis Hassabis, founder and CEO of DeepMind. Scientists could use the findings to better understand diseases and to accelerate innovation in drug discovery and biology, he added. Read the whole story.

—Melissa Heikkilä

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

Joining the grid will save lives as extreme weather worsens

Heat waves that set temperature records across much of the United States in recent days have strained power systems, threatening to cut power to vulnerable regions of the country. While electricity has largely stayed online this summer, heavy use of energy-guzzling air conditioners and intense heat have contributed to scattered problems and closed calls.

It’s unlikely to get better anytime soon. Some grid operators may struggle to meet peak summer demand, creating the risk of blackouts, a new report from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation has found. The nation’s isolated and antiquated networks are in desperate need of upgrades.

One solution would be to more closely integrate the country’s regional grids, joining them with more long-range transmission lines, allowing power to flow between regions to where it is most urgently needed. However, this is a mission full of challenges. Read the whole story.

—James Temple

Required readings

I’ve combed the internet to find you the funniest/important/scary and fascinating stories about technology.

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

2 senators have advanced child online safety legislation
But others argue that these guarantees should apply to users of all ages. (WP$)
+ Three senatorial hopefuls have deep ties to the tech companies they’re running against. (NOW $)

3 A Greek politician was targeted by Israeli spyware
He has filed a lawsuit to compel 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 facing the end of an era. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Bitcoin prices are rising again
After the Federal Reserve raised interest rates. (CNBC)

5 Take a trip through the universe 🪐
This amazing guide will walk 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
Although many are anonymous, the risk of privacy violations is real. (The marking)

8 top quality TVs show bad CGI
Showing all his flaws misinterpreted. (Vulture $)

9 Is DALL-E’s art stolen?
While users can market their AI creations, the model is trained on other people’s work. (Ingadget)
+ Lawyers could choose to represent AIs in future court battles. (Blackboard)
+ OpenAI is ready to sell DALL-E to its first million customers. (MIT Technology Review)

10 What Old Dogs Can Teach Us About Our Own Brains
Just don’t try to teach them new tricks. (Knowable Magazine)

quote of the day

“This is not 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 go after a Gen Z audience, she tells the Wall Street Journal.

The great story

He risked everything to expose Facebook. Now tell your story.

July 2021

When Sophie Zhang went public with explosive revelations detailing the political manipulation she had uncovered during her time as a data scientist at Facebook, she provided concrete evidence to support what critics had long been saying: that Facebook facilitates election interference and that unless that activity harms the company’s business interests, it can’t be bothered to fix the problem.

By speaking out and avoiding anonymity, Zhang risked legal action from the company, damage to her future career prospects and perhaps even retaliation from the politicians she exposed in the process. Their story reveals that it’s really pure luck that we now know so much about how Facebook enables global election interference, and to regulators around the world considering how to police the company, this should be a wake-up call. Read the whole story.

—Karen Hao

We can still have beautiful things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these strange times. (Any ideas? Drop me a line ortweet them to me.)

+ Japanese artist Hiroshige was known for his beautiful woodblock prints, but these instructive images of how to create shadow puppets for children are very special.
+ Uhoh, Freya the walrus is a real ship-sinking pest.
+ Prepare these delicious Mediterranean recipes and imagine yourself relaxing in Rome.
+ The winners of this year’s Audubon Photography Awards are spectacular (thanks Peter!)
+ If you’re a fan of essays, you’re a paragraph girl.





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