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.

The world’s biggest surveillance company you’ve never heard of

You may never have heard of Hikvision, but chances are you’ve already been captured by one of its millions of cameras. The Chinese company’s products can be found anywhere from police surveillance systems to baby monitors in more than 190 countries. Its ability to make decent-quality products at cheap prices (as well as its ties with the Chinese state) has helped make Hikvision the largest manufacturer of video surveillance equipment in the world.

But while Hikvision’s close links with the Chinese government have helped it grow, these links may now be its undoing. The firm has helped build China’s massive police surveillance system and tailored it to oppress the Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang. As a result, the US government has imposed several sanctions on it in the last three years. This year, the US Treasury is reportedly considering adding Hikvision to the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDN) List, usually reserved for countries like North Korea or Iran.

Here’s everything you should know about Hikvision: a firm that used to fly under the radar but now faces becoming the most sanctioned tech company in the world. Read the full story.

—Zeyi Yang

Scientists hacked a locust’s brain to sniff out cancer 

They’ve done what? Some animals, including dogs, have been taught to spot signs that humans are sick. They’re thought to be able to sense the chemicals that people emit through body odor or breath. The mix of chemicals can vary depending on a person’s metabolism, which is thought to change when we get sick. But dogs are expensive to train and look after and making a device that mimics a dog’s nose is still too difficult. So scientists decided to “hijack” an insect’s brain instead.

How did they do it? They exposed the brain of a living locust and inserted electrodes into the lobes that receive signals from the insects’ antennae, which they use to sense odors. The locusts’ brains reacted distinctly to odors emitted from human cells both with and without cancer in a lab—the first time a living insect brain has been tested as a tool to detect the disease.

What next? The team behind the work hopes it could one day lead to an insect-based breath test that could be used in cancer screening, or inspire an artificial version that works in much the same way. Although that’s a long way off. Read the full story.

—Jessica Hamzelou

Energy-hungry data centers are quietly moving into cities

When you think of data centers, you probably picture a giant server farm in a rural area where electricity is cheap and tax breaks are plentiful. But now, to reduce lag times, companies are increasingly weaving nodes in their network into the fabric of cities. 

A 24-story art deco building located at 60 Hudson Street in lower Manhattan, once a bustling telegraph station, is now home to vast halls of computer servers, while the One Wilshire building in Los Angeles, formerly home to a network of law offices, now oversees one-third of all internet traffic between the US and Asia—and demand is quickly growing. Read the full story.

—Michael Waters

The must-reads

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

1 Microsoft is pulling the plug on its facial analysis AI
Its controversial emotional state prediction tools had been criticized as unscientific. (NYT $)
Emotion AI researchers say overblown claims give their work a bad name. (MIT Technology Review)

2How experts hope to protect Earth from deadly sun storms

Spoiler: SPF won’t do you any good. (Wired $)
The space mission to buy us vital extra hours before a solar storm strikes. (MIT Technology Review)

3Privacy has become weaponized
Partly because knowing we’re being watched informs the decisions we make. (New Yorker $)
Marseille’s battle against the surveillance state. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Maybe it’s time to rethink what we mean by the term ‘sentient’
Google’s AI dilemma shows how little we understand about what sentience really is. (The Atlantic $)
New York’s highest court doesn’t think an elephant is a person. What about an AI? (Vox)

5 How China and the west fell out over satellites
And raised serious questions about the control of earth-orbiting assets along the way. (FT $)
SpaceX made three rocket launches in just 36 hours. (Gizmodo)
There’s somewhere between 6 and 20 trillion galaxies in the universe—we think. (Big Think)
How to fight a war in space (and get away with it).

Read More


By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: China’s possible surveillance sanctions, and hacking locusts
Sourced From:
Published Date: Wed, 22 Jun 2022 15:26:52 +0000

Did you miss our previous article…