30 May. 2023
Ars' John Timmer (left) with Karin Bok (center) and Nathaniel Wang (right).

Enlarge / On May 22, John Timmer (left) moderated a panel featuring Karin Bok (center) and Nathaniel Wang (right) for the Ars Frontiers 2023 session titled, "Beyond COVID: What Does mRNA Technology Mean for Disease Treatment?" (credit: Ars Technica)

The world of biomedicine has developed a lot of technology that seems a small step removed from science fiction, but the public isn't aware of much of it. mRNA-based vaccines, though, were a big exception as a lot of the public tracked the technology's development as a key step toward emerging from the worst of the pandemic and then received the vaccines in droves.

mRNA technology has a lot of potential applications beyond COVID, and we talked a bit about those during the "Beyond COVID: What Does mRNA Technology Mean for Disease Treatment?" panel at last week's Ars Frontiers event. We've archived the panel on YouTube; if you want to focus on the discussion about mRNA therapies, you can start at the 1-hour, 55-minute mark.

mRNA is a nucleic acid molecule that instructs the cell to make specific proteins. When used as vaccines, the instructions call for a protein produced by a pathogen, such as a virus. "It helps put up a wanted poster for the immune system," was how Nathaniel Wang, co-founder and CEO of Replicate Bioscience put it.

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30 May. 2023
A colorful, textured bi-layer film made from plant-based materials cools down when it’s in the sun.

Enlarge / A colorful, textured bi-layer film made from plant-based materials cools down when it’s in the sun. (credit: Qingchen Shen)

Summer is almost here, bringing higher temperatures and prompting many of us to crank up the air conditioning on particularly hot days. The downside to A/C is that the units gobble up energy and can emit greenhouse gases, contributing further to global warming. Hence, there is strong interest in coming up with eco-friendly alternatives. Scientists from the University of Cambridge have developed an innovative new plant-based film that gets cooler when exposed to sunlight, making it ideal for cooling buildings or cars in the future without needing any external power source. They described their work at a recent meeting of the American Chemical Society.

The technical term for this approach is passive daytime radiative cooling (PDRC), so named because it doesn't require an injection of energy into the system to disperse heat. The surface emits its own heat into space without being absorbed by the air or atmosphere, thereby becoming several degrees cooler than the surrounding air without needing electrical energy.

"We know there is spontaneous thermal transfer between objects with different temperatures," Qingchen Shen said at a press conference during the meeting. Their cooling technology exploits that thermal transfer, with a twist. Most PDRC materials (paints, films, and so forth) are white, or have a mirrored finish, to achieve a broadband reflection of sunlight. Pigments or dyes interfere with that since they absorb specific wavelengths of light and only reflect certain colors, thereby transforming energy from the light into heat. The films created by Shen et al. are colored, but it is structural color in the form of nanocrystals, not due to adding pigments or dyes. So color can be added without sacrificing the passive cooling efficiency.

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30 May. 2023
Futuristic glass-walled building permits views of surrounding forest.

Enlarge / Inside the Steve Jobs Theater building at Apple's headquarters. (credit: Samuel Axon)

Apple's 2023 Worldwide Developer Conference is just a few days away—it kicks off with a keynote on Monday, June 5. That keynote will be livestreamed (we'll liveblog it, too), and it's expected to be a doozy.

The WWDC keynote isn't always the most exciting for non-developers, as it usually focuses on iOS updates rather than exciting new hardware. There have been exceptions, though, and next week's event will surely be one of them. Apple is expected to finally unveil its rumored mixed reality headset, which has taken a long and winding path to market.

That will be the main focus, but there will be interesting new developments on the iPhone, Mac, and Watch. Here's what to expect from the WWDC keynote next week.

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30 May. 2023

Over the weekend, Arm showed off its vision for the next generation of flagship CPUs. As usual, these designs include CPUs in various sizes for different workloads. The 'big' chip this year is the Arm Cortex X4, the 'medium' chip is the Cortex A720, and the 'small' chip is the Cortex A520. The new chips should arrive in Android phones and Windows laptops in 2024.

Arm claims the big Cortex X3 chip will have 15 percent higher performance than this year's X3 chip, and "40 percent better power efficiency." The company also promises a 20 percent efficiency boost for the A700 series and a 22 percent efficiency boost for the A500.

The new chips are all built on the new 'Armv9.2' architecture, which adds a "new QARMA3 algorithm" for Arm's Pointer Authentication memory security feature. Pointer authentication assigns a cryptographic signature to memory pointers and is meant to shut down memory corruption vulnerabilities like buffer overflows by making it harder for unauthenticated programs to create valid memory pointers. This feature has been around for a while, but Arm's new algorithm reduces the CPU overhead of all this extra memory work to just 1 percent of the chip's power, which hopefully will get more manufacturers to enable it.

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30 May. 2023
Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos Inc., center, arrives at Federal Prison Camp Bryan in Bryan, Texas, US, on Tuesday, May 30, 2023.

Enlarge / Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos Inc., center, arrives at Federal Prison Camp Bryan in Bryan, Texas, US, on Tuesday, May 30, 2023. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

Disgraced biotech entrepreneur Elizabeth Holmes has arrived at a federal prison in Texas to begin her 11-year, three-month sentence for defrauding investors of her defunct blood-testing startup, Theranos.

Press and photographers stationed outside the women's prison camp in Bryan, Texas, captured what appeared to be Holmes exiting a gray SUV with New York state plates and making her way into the facility flanked by facility staff at around 12:30 pm local time. Shortly afterward, the Federal Bureau of Prisons confirmed to the Associated Press that Holmes was indeed in custody at the facility, FPC Bryan, which is about 100 miles northwest of Houston.

The facility houses about 655 female inmates who are required to work in the cafeteria or a manufacturing facility, with pay starting at $1.15 per hour, according to The New York Times. Like other inmates, Holmes will don prison-issued khaki pants and shirts in pastel green, gray, or white during her stay. She will have no Internet access but can buy a radio or an MP3 player from the prison commissary and listen to "non-explicit" music. When she's not working or listening to prison-approved music, she can partake in leisure activities such as "table games" and arts and crafts.

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30 May. 2023
Robotic hand points to a line on a document while a human signs it with a pen. A judge's gavel is in the background.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Andrey Popov)

A lawyer is in trouble after admitting he used ChatGPT to help write court filings that cited six nonexistent cases invented by the artificial intelligence tool.

Lawyer Steven Schwartz of the firm Levidow, Levidow, & Oberman "greatly regrets having utilized generative artificial intelligence to supplement the legal research performed herein and will never do so in the future without absolute verification of its authenticity," Schwartz wrote in an affidavit on May 24 regarding the bogus citations previously submitted in US District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Schwartz wrote that "the use of generative artificial intelligence has evolved within law firms" and that he "consulted the artificial intelligence website ChatGPT in order to supplement the legal research performed."

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30 May. 2023
A mobile EV charger recharges a white BMW iX

Enlarge / Ziggy is a battery-powered EV charger on wheels that can come visit individual parking spaces to recharge EVs where they park. (credit: EV Safe Charge)

There are a few things we need to work on if we're going to properly embrace the electric vehicle revolution. More batteries, for one—tight supplies mean automakers can only build enough EVs to satisfy some of the pent-up demand. Cheaper EVs would be helpful, too, considering that by the end of 2022 the average cost of a new EV was more than $61,000. And charging infrastructure needs to improve, too. Now, a new mobile EV charger called Ziggy might help with that last one.

Installing EV chargers usually isn't too difficult if you're a homeowner with a garage or carport, but things can get more complicated for multifamily dwellings and commercial parking premises. Permitting is often a big problem, and there can also be lengthy waits to get electrical infrastructure upgraded, particularly if the plan is to install level 3 DC fast chargers, which can suck up 100s of kWs of electricity from the grid.

Ziggy is the work of the company EV Charge Safe, and it flips the idea of EV charging on its head. Instead of a driver parking by the EV charger, Ziggy is mobile and can come to the car instead.

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30 May. 2023
Surface Pro X

Enlarge / The Microsoft Surface Pro X. (credit: Jeff Dunn)

Microsoft has issued a workaround for broken Surface Pro X cameras following user reports that the integrated webcams stopped working on May 23. The tech giant says it's working with OEM partners to fix the problem permanently.

Microsoft debuted the Surface Pro X in 2019. The tablet, focusing on battery life and mobility, opted for a Microsoft-branded SQ1 processor, based off Qualcomm's first-generation Snapdragon 8cx. An SQ2 version succeeded. In October 2022, Microsoft announced the Surface Pro 9, which includes Arm options and, thus, essentially absorbs the Surface Pro X.

But there are still plenty of people with a Surface Pro X (Microsoft doesn't disclose Surface sales numbers specifically, but the Surface business overall brought in $6.7 billion in revenue last fiscal year), and as of May 23, all of their built-in webcams stopped working.

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30 May. 2023
An AI-generated image of

Enlarge / An AI-generated image of "AI taking over the world." (credit: Stable Diffusion)

On Tuesday, the Center for AI Safety (CAIS) released a single-sentence statement signed by executives from OpenAI and DeepMind, Turing Award winners, and other AI researchers warning that their life's work could potentially extinguish all of humanity.

The brief statement, which CAIS says is meant to open up discussion on the topic of "a broad spectrum of important and urgent risks from AI," reads as follows: "Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war."

High-profile signatories of the statement include Turing Award winners Geoffery Hinton and Yoshua Bengio, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, OpenAI Chief Scientist Ilya Sutskever, OpenAI CTO Mira Murati, DeepMind CEO Demis Hassabis, Anthropic CEO Dario Amodei, and professors from UC Berkeley, Stanford, and MIT.

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30 May. 2023
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters stands in Atlanta, Georgia, on Saturday, March 14, 2020.

Enlarge / The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters stands in Atlanta, Georgia, on Saturday, March 14, 2020. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

The tally of COVID-19 cases linked to a conference of disease detectives hosted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in April has reached at least 181, the agency reported.

Roughly 1,800 gathered in person for this year's annual Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) Conference, which was held on April 24 to 27 in a hotel conference facility in Atlanta where the CDC's headquarters are located. It was the first time the 70-year-old conference had in-person attendees since 2019. The CDC agency estimates an additional 400 attended virtually this year.

By the last day of the event, a number of in-person attendees had reported testing positive for COVID-19, causing conference organizers to warn attendees and make changes to reduce the chance of further spread. That reportedly included canceling an in-person training and offering to extend the hotel stays of sick attendees who needed to isolate.

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30 May. 2023
A small selection of the characters that would be part of Microsoft if its proposed Activision/Blizzard merger is allowed to go through.

Enlarge / A small selection of the characters that would be part of Microsoft if its proposed Activision/Blizzard merger is allowed to go through. (credit: Activision Blizzard King)

Activision isn't pulling any punches in its fight against the UK's regulatory attempts to block its merger with Microsoft. In a "motion to intervene" recently filed with the Competition Appeal Tribunal (and recently summarized on the tribunal's website), Activision excoriates the UK's Competition and Markets Authority for a "flawed conclusion" that was variously "unlawful, irrational, and/or disproportionate" and "arrived at in a procedurally unfair manner."

The appeal takes particular issue with the CMA's focus on cloud gaming in a vacuum, without taking into account competition from "native gaming" via games running on local hardware. The ability to easily switch from one type of game experience to the other means that cloud gaming should not be a "separate product market," Activision argues.

A source close to Activision's appeals process (who asked for anonymity to speak frankly about the appeal) put a finer point on this argument, saying that cloud gaming is a niche technology and that "most consumers continue to get games by download or physical disc because running the game on their local hardware gives them a much better experience."

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30 May. 2023
Diablo 4 review: Off to a hell of a good start


When Diablo 3 released 11 years ago, it was a mess.

Put aside the action role-playing game’s infamous server problems at launch—a product of the series going online-only for the first time—the game itself had fundamental issues. At core was its ill-conceived and universally reviled real-money auction house, which changed the thrust of the series’ loot hunt from “look at this badass helm I got from killing an elite demon” to “look at these practical pants I bought from an in-game spreadsheet for $2.99 USD.” Difficulty and balance were all over the place, and, perhaps worst of all to long-time Diablo fans, the previous games’ dark horror aesthetic was replaced with a more colorful, cartoony vibe.

Two years and a management shakeup later, we got the Reaper of Souls expansion, which completely revamped Diablo 3’s loot and endgame, giving us the game we should have had from the beginning. Art direction notwithstanding, Diablo 3 ended up in a good place, and I played a ton of it, largely due to its genre-leading combat. (Lest we forget, Diablo 2 also had a game-changing expansion in Lord of Destruction.)

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30 May. 2023
A Falcon 9 rocket launches in March, 2023.

Enlarge / A Falcon 9 rocket launches in March, 2023. (credit: SpaceX)

Nearly seven years ago, on a steamy morning in Florida, a small team of SpaceX engineers was fueling a Falcon 9 rocket for a pre-launch firing test of its nine Merlin engines.

It had been a difficult but successful year for the California rocket company, which finally was starting to deliver on a long-promised increase in cadence of launches. A team of dozens of engineers and technicians at SpaceX's facilities in Cape Canaveral had suffered through grueling months of perfecting the "load-and-go" fueling process involved with the Falcon 9 rocket.

To maximize its payload capacity, the booster used super-chilled liquid oxygen to cram as much on board the rocket as possible. But once it was fueled, the rocket had to go quickly or the liquid oxygen would rapidly warm in the Florida heat. That summer the team of engineers had been pushing hard to compress the propellant loading time to launch with the coldest oxygen possible and max out the vehicle's performance.

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30 May. 2023
Street Fighter 6 is great fun for both casual and dedicated players

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson)

I’ve had an emotional connection with Street Fighter since I was 13 years old.

It was early March 1991, and my friend and I were celebrating his 14th birthday in Santa Cruz, California, spending as much of our weekend at the boardwalk arcade as possible. His mom handed us each a $20 bill for the change machine, and we were determined to stretch our quarters as far as we could.

Scrolling brawlers like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Final Fight were our favorite games. We also loved squaring off in what I consider the first true fighting game, the buttonless, Robotron-style, twin-joysticked Karate Champ.

When we came across a Street Fighter II: The World Warrior cab sitting in the middle of the arcade, we stopped dead in our tracks. Everything about it, from the six buttons per player to the large dynamic sprites and backgrounds, felt larger than life to our teenage brains.

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27 May. 2023
cover art

Enlarge (credit: Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

In November 1988, a graduate student at Cornell University named Robert Morris, Jr. inadvertently sparked a national crisis by unleashing a self-replicating computer worm on a VAX 11/750 computer in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Artificial Intelligence Lab. Morris had no malicious intent; it was merely a scientific experiment to see how many computers he could infect. But he made a grievous error, setting his reinfection rate much too high. The worm spread so rapidly that it brought down the entire computer network at Cornell University, crippled those at several other universities, and even infiltrated the computers at Los Alamos and Livermore National Laboratories.

Making matters worse, his father was a computer scientist and cryptographer who was the chief scientist at the National Security Agency's National Computer Security Center. Even though it was unintentional and witnesses testified that Morris didn't have "a fraudulent or dishonest bone in his body," he was convicted of felonious computer fraud. The judge was merciful during sentencing. Rather than 15–20 years in prison, Morris got three years of probation with community service and had to pay a $10,000 fine. He went on to found Y Combinator with his longtime friend Paul Graham, among other accomplishments.

The "Morris Worm" is just one of five hacking cases that Scott Shapiro highlights in his new book, Fancy Bear Goes Phishing: The Dark History of the Information Age in Five Extraordinary Hacks. Shapiro is a legal philosopher at Yale University, but as a child, his mathematician father—who worked at Bell Labs—sparked an interest in computing by bringing home various components, like microchips, resistors, diodes, LEDs, and breadboards. Their father/son outings included annual attendance at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers convention in New York City. Then, a classmate in Shapiro's high school biology class introduced him to programming on the school's TRS-80, and Shapiro was hooked. He moved on to working on an Apple II and majored in computer science in college but lost interest afterward and went to law school instead.

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27 May. 2023
Images of charred bicycles in front of a damaged building.

Enlarge / The aftermath of the Fort McMurray fire. (credit: Katie Daubs)

Editor's note: we have been made aware that the draft form of the book that was reviewed contains some significant errors. We are looking into the details of the errors further. We are leaving the piece up in the mean time, as it provides some context for the discussion of this review in our comments.


At noon on May 3, the fire chief in the oil town of Fort McMurray was on TV telling everyone that the situation was in hand and they should stay at work and school and go to little league or whatever as usual. He had been watching the fire for a couple of days, but business as usual was what they did in Alberta in the spring; it was wildfire season, after all. At 2:05 evacuation orders started to come through. By 10 that night, much of the city that was not yet incinerated was burning.

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26 May. 2023
An image illustrating a phone infected with malware


Smartphone malware sold to governments around the world can surreptitiously record voice calls and nearby audio, collect data from apps such as Signal and WhatsApp, and hide apps or prevent them from running upon device reboots, researchers from Cisco’s Talos security team have found.

An analysis Talos published on Thursday provides the most detailed look yet at Predator, a piece of advanced spyware that can be used against Android and iOS mobile devices. Predator is developed by Cytrox, a company that Citizen Lab has said is part of an alliance called Intellexa, “a marketing label for a range of mercenary surveillance vendors that emerged in 2019.” Other companies belonging to the consortium include Nexa Technologies (formerly Amesys), WiSpear/Passitora Ltd., and Senpai.

Last year, researchers with Google’s Threat Analysis Group, which tracks cyberattacks carried out or funded by nation-states, reported that Predator had bundled five separate zero-day exploits in a single package and sold it to various government-backed actors. These buyers went on to use the package in three distinct campaigns. The researchers said Predator worked closely with a component known as Alien, which “lives inside multiple privileged processes and receives commands from Predator.” The commands included recording audio, adding digital certificates, and hiding apps.

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26 May. 2023
Part of the egress complex of a mound of Macrotermes michaelseni termites from Namibia

Enlarge / Part of the system of reticulated tunnels (egress complex) of a mound of Macrotermes michaelseni termites from Namibia. (credit: D. Andréen)

The mounds that certain species of termites build above their nests have long been considered to be a kind of built-in natural climate control—an approach that has intrigued architects and engineers keen to design greener, more energy-efficient buildings mimicking those principles. There have been decades of research devoted to modeling just how these mounds function. A new paper published in the journal Frontiers in Materials offers new evidence favoring an integrated-system model in which the mound, the nest, and its tunnels function together much like a lung.

Perhaps the most famous example of the influence of termite mounds in architecture is the Eastgate Building in Harare, Zimbabwe. It is the country’s largest commercial and shopping complex, and yet it uses less than 10 percent of the energy consumed by a conventional building of its size because there is no central air conditioning and only a minimal heating system. Architect Mick Pearce famously based his design in the 1990s on the cooling and heating principles used in the region’s termite mounds, which serve as fungus farms for the termites. Fungus is their primary food source.

Conditions have to be just right for the fungus to flourish. So the termites must maintain a constant temperature of 87° F in an environment where the outdoor temperatures range from 35° F at night to 104° F during the day. Biologists have long suggested that they do this by constructing a series of heating and cooling vents throughout their mounds, which can be opened and closed during the day to keep the temperature inside constant. The Eastgate Building relies on a similar system of well-placed vents and solar panels.

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26 May. 2023
The Hewlett-Packard logo is seen on printer printer ink boxes on display

Enlarge / HP sometimes bricks third-party ink and toner that's over 90 percent full, Imaging Technology Council claims. (credit: Getty)

HP printers have received a lot of flak historically and recently for invasive firmware updates that end up preventing customers from using ink with their printers. HP also encourages printer customers to sign up for HP+, a program that includes a free ink-subscription trial and irremovable firmware that allows HP to brick the ink when it sees fit.

Despite this, HP markets dozens of its printers with Dynamic Security and the optional HP+ feature as being in the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) registry, suggesting that these printers are built with the environment in mind and, more specifically, do not block third-party ink cartridges. Considering Dynamic Security and HP+ printers do exactly that, the International Imaging Technology Council (IITC) wants the General Electronics Council (GEC), which is in charge of the EPEAT registry, to revoke at least 101 HP printer models from the EPEAT registry, which HP has "made a mockery of."

Before we get into the IITC complaint sent May 22 to GEC Senior Manager Katherine Larocque, we should note the IITC's obvious stakes in this. The nonprofit trade association was founded in 2000 and says it represents "toner and inkjet cartridge re-manufacturers, component suppliers, and cartridge collectors in North America." So its members stand to lose a lot of money from tactics like Dynamic Security. The IITC already filed a complaint to the GEC about HP in 2019 for firmware blocking non-HP ink, but there didn't seem to be any noticeable results.

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26 May. 2023
A long COVID patient sits with her daughter in her wheelchair while receiving a saline infusion at her Maryland home on Friday, May 27, 2022.

Enlarge / A long COVID patient sits with her daughter in her wheelchair while receiving a saline infusion at her Maryland home on Friday, May 27, 2022. (credit: Getty | The Washington Post)

Tens of millions of people worldwide are thought to have developed long-term symptoms and conditions in the wake of a SARS-CoV-2 infection. But this sometimes-debilitating phenomenon, often called long COVID, remains a puzzle to researchers. What causes it? Who gets it? And, perhaps, the most maddening one: What is it?

Long COVID patients have reported a wide spectrum of more than 200 symptoms. Some are common, like loss of smell, while others are rarer, like tremors. Some patients have familiar constellations of symptoms, others seem to have idiosyncratic assortments.

Researchers hypothesize that long COVID may simply be an umbrella term for a collection of variable—and potentially overlapping—post-COVID conditions that may have different causes. Those causes might include autoimmunity, immune system dysregulation, organ injury, viral persistence, and intestinal microbiome imbalances (dysbiosis).

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