Download: Open Source Uncertainty and Gene Editing Plants

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

The US military wants to understand the most important software on Earth

It’s no exaggeration to say that the entire world is built on the Linux kernel—even though most people have never heard of it.

It is one of the first programs that loads when most computers are turned on. It allows the hardware that runs the machine to communicate with the software, manage its use of resources, and act as the basis of the operating system.

It is the basic building block of almost all cloud computing, almost every supercomputer, the entire Internet of Things, billions of smartphones and more.

But the kernel is also open source, meaning anyone can write, read, and use its code. And that has seriously worried cyber security experts in the US military. Its open-source nature means that the Linux kernel—along with a host of other critical open-source pieces—is vulnerable to hostile manipulation in ways we still barely understand. Read the full story.

—Patrick Howell O’Neill

Heat is bad for plant health. Here’s how gene editing could help.

News: Some of the world’s most productive agricultural regions have already broken temperature records this year, with potentially worrying implications for food supplies. Even a slight increase in temperature can cause crops to become more susceptible to pests. To combat this, researchers have identified one gene that appears to be the temperature-sensitive culprit and found a way to repair the plants’ immune systems at higher temperatures.

How they did it: For many plants, an important immune pathway involves salicylic acid. The chemical has antibacterial properties and also acts as a signal to initiate other immune pathways. However, this time it essentially shuts down in unusually warm conditions. Researchers have been able to adapt the genome of plants to produce more salicylic acid, thereby enhancing the plants’ protection against pests and diseases.

What it means: While the experiment was conducted on Arabidopsis plants, many others, including wheat, corn and potatoes, share the same type of salicylic acid pathway, allowing the work to have an impact far beyond the laboratory. Read the full story.

— Casey Crownhart

Required reading

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

1 Russian propaganda flourishes again on social networks
Months after the war, Ukraine says Big Tech has lost interest in removing it. (WP$)
+ Russia’s bombing campaigns have turned into terrorism. (Atlantic $)
+ An American defense firm has delivered kamikaze drones to Ukraine. (FT $)
+ The war in Ukraine could threaten the regulation of killer robots. (New Scientist $)
+ A Chinese housewife tricked Wikipedia into thinking she was a Russian expert. (Motherboard)

2 Uber is suing 550 women over allegations of sexual harassment
US-based women say they were raped and sexually assaulted by drivers, according to shocking documents. (BBC)

3 Post-Roe, we’re under more scrutiny than ever
It is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid leaving a mark on digital paper. (NYT$)
+ Big Tech is still silent on data privacy issues in the post-Roe US. (MIT Technology Review)

4 These new encryption algorithms are quantum resistant
Researchers are confident they are able to resist quantum computing’s attempts to break them. (economist $)
+ What is post-quantum cryptography? (MIT Technology Review)
+ Numbers with negative squared values ​​are an integral part of quantum theory. (Aeon)

5 Don’t try to make sense of Elon Musk vs. Twitter
The madness will only intensify by the time they get to court. (Atlantic $)
+ Everyone involved looks like a loser. (Insider)

6 How one of the largest cryptocurrency lenders failed
Celsius has now filed for bankruptcy, leaving its customers out of pocket. (FT $)
+The UK has approved a lawsuit against someone over blockchain. (Bloomberg $)

7 Turkey says it has discovered a rich mine of rare earth elements
But experts are not convinced. (wired $)
+ Mining minerals for rechargeable batteries still makes us guilty. (Atlantic $)

8 Prime membership has turned Amazon into an internet jack of all trades
And allowed him to weaponize practicality on the road. (New Statesman $)

9 Spam calls disturb us
Some frustrated victims have emailed the FCC for answers. (Motherboard)
+ People who use humor to troll their spam texts. (MIT Technology Review)

10 Bad taste is the new good taste
The Internet aesthetic of early nights is reassuringly ornate. (vox)

Quote of the day

“I feel like clickbait.”

—Maree, a Melbourne woman, describes her discomfort at being filmed without her consent in a “random act of kindness” viral TikTok video, the Guardian reports.

Big story

Why Generation Z is falling for misinformation online

June 2021

In November 2019, a TikTok video claiming that if Joe Biden was elected President of the United States, “Trump” would commit mass murders of LGBT people and people of color quickly went viral, being viewed, shared, liked and commented on by hundreds of thousands of young people.

It is clear that the claims were false. So why have so many members of Generation Z – a label that refers to people aged roughly 9 to 24, who are arguably more digitally savvy than their predecessors – fallen for such flagrant misinformation? In part, this is because young people are more likely to believe and pass on misinformation if they feel a shared identity with the person who shared it. Read the full story.

— Jennifer Neda John

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these strange times. (Do you have any ideas? Call me back or tweet them to me.)+ No matter how bad things get, at least we have Kirby.
+ Jokes about the three men who stole Don Henley’s handwritten lyrics to Hotel California just write themselves (thanks Allison!)
+ A missing dog accidentally managed to win third place at a dog show while its owners were looking for it.
+ Here’s why it took so long to find lost cities buried deep in the Amazon rainforest.
+ I loved the charming story behind this viral picture of a surf teacher from the 70s.

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