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The Download: conservative book bans, and restricting crypto

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 conservative Facebook groups are changing what books children read in school

Conservative Facebook groups that rate and review children’s books are being used as a way to campaign for restricting certain books in school libraries—or getting them removed altogether.

A spreadsheet of books created by Matt Krause, a Republican member of the Texas state legislature, last year has become a blueprint for conservative groups across the country. They are reviewing and rating books and flagging ones that they think children should not be allowed to read in schools.

Anti-book-ban activists say the groups aren’t objective and are doing harm. But conservative parents in Facebook groups are becoming increasingly influential in determining what books get to stay on school shelves. Read the full story.

—Tanya Basu

Introducing: MIT Technology Review’s latest newsletters

The Download is getting some stablemates! Over the next few weeks, MIT Technology Review is launching five new newsletters, designed to get you up to speed on the most important developments, innovations and news in technology.

You can check out our full list of newsletters here, or read to find out more about the individual issues below. Sign up now to make sure you get the first issue landing in your inbox.

  • The Algorithm
    Get the week off to a great start with The Algorithm, written by Melissa Heikkilä, our senior AI reporter. She’ll cut straight through the hype to bring you the latest research from the hottest labs and the inside scoop on what the biggest tech firms are doing behind closed doors. Sign up here.
  • China Report
    Our China reporter Zeyi Yang will bring you the biggest headlines about China and technology, some original deep-dive analysis, fresh stories you can only find in Chinese language media, with a sprinkle of online memes thrown in for good measure. It’ll land in your inboxes every Tuesday morning. Sign up here.
  • The Spark
    Be among the first to dive into some of the most important innovations, policies, solutions and trends in climate tech. Written by our climate reporter Casey Crownhart, The Spark comes out every Wednesday morning. Sign up here.
  • The Checkup
    Jessica Hamzelou, our senior biomedicine reporter is writing The Checkup—covering technologies designed to treat or enhance our bodies and brains, new theories and therapies, and how much we really need to worry about disease outbreaks, among other things. You can read it every Thursday. Sign up here.
  • The Technocrat
    Every Friday, Tate Ryan-Mosley, our senior tech policy reporter, is your newsletter host on all things technology and politics. The Technocrat will offer important insights into the way we relate to each other and our institutions, and how democracy is struggling to keep up. Sign up here.

The must-reads

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

1 The White House is considering a policy push to restrict crypto
A series of new reports are warning of its financial risks, especially those posed by stablecoins. (WP $)
+ It wants to set standards to reduce energy usage to reduce emissions. (CoinDesk)
+ Elsewhere, the US dollar is going from strength to strength. (Economist $)

2 A new x-ray method for detecting explosives could also identify tumors
A deep learning algorithm was able to find explosives hidden inside a hairdryer. (MIT Technology Review)

3 How contraceptive companies are navigating a post-Roe world
The volatile legal landscape is making it increasingly difficult to plan for the future. (BuzzFeed News)
+ The cognitive dissonance of watching the end of Roe unfold online. (MIT Technology Review)

4Meet the teachers fighting back against misinformation
Teaching children to think for themselves is key. (NYT $)
+ Google examines how different generations handle misinformation. (MIT Technology Review)

5 What photon rings can teach us about a black hole
Its symmetry could hint at its inner structure. (Quanta)
+ Life in the universe is still extremely hard to come by. (The Atlantic $)

6 Humans aren’t ready to live in an oblong city in the desert
That hasn’t stopped Saudi Arabia from trying to build one anyway. (The Guardian)
+ The smart city is a perpetually unrealized utopia. (MIT Technology Review)

7 The electric vehicle revolution is well underway
But it’s scooters and three-wheelers, not cars, that are leading the charge. (Rest of World)

8 TREE(3) is the universe’s biggest number
The problem is, it’s so big, we can barely comprehend it. (New Scientist $)

9 TikTok is shining a light on the shady world of banking
Its graduates and other young employees are cutting through the PR spin. (Bloomberg $)

10 The iPhone has a cool problem 📱
Once everyone has something, is it still desirable? (The Atlantic $)
+ Maybe satellite connectivity can help? (IEEE Spectrum)

Quote of the day

“Criticizing scams is not being mean.”—A user of Buttcoin, a Reddit community dedicated to mocking bitcoin and the crypto industry, defends their position to the Guardian.

The big story

What if aging weren’t inevitable, but a curable disease?

August 2019

Since ancient times, aging has been viewed as simply inevitable, unstoppable, nature’s way. “Natural causes” have long been blamed for deaths among the old, even if they died of a recognized pathological condition. The medical writer Galen argued back in the second century AD that aging is a natural process. His view, the acceptance that one can die simply of old age, has dominated ever since.

But a growing number of scientists are questioning our basic conception of aging. What if you could challenge your death—or even prevent it altogether? What if the panoply of diseases that strike us in old age are symptoms, not causes? And what would change if we classified aging itself as the disease? Read the full story.

—David Adam

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.)

+ This account compiling celebrity book recommendations is great inspiration for your next read.
+ I had no idea all the characters in Pingu were voiced by one man.
+ How much honey is too much honey?
+ A tiny desk concert starring the Juilliard Jazz Ensemble? Sign me up!
+ Dolly Parton’s pet merchandise collection sounds delightfully unhinged.

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