The Download: China’s non-coup, and building better batteries

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 the false rumor of a Chinese coup went viral

If you’re on Twitter and follow news about China, you likely have heard a pretty wild rumor recently: that President Xi Jinping was under house arrest and that there was about to be a major power grab in the country.

First of all, let’s be very clear: this report is false and should not be taken seriously. No credible sources on China have bought it. It’s wishful thinking at best, and intentional disinformation at worst.

But it’s interesting to dissect how a ridiculous rumor could be elevated and spread so widely that it made it to Twitter’s deeply flawed trending list over the weekend, thanks to influencer translation and amplification from accounts based in India. Read the full story.

—Zeyi Yang

This story is from China Report, MIT Technology Review’s new newsletter giving you the inside scoop on what’s happening in China. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.

How robots and AI are helping develop better batteries

The news: At the start of this year, Carnegie Mellon researchers used a robotic system to run dozens of experiments designed to generate electrolytes to charge lithium-ion batteries faster, addressing one of the major obstacles to the widespread adoption of electric vehicles.

How they did it: A system of automated pumps, valves, and instruments mixed various solvents, salts, and other chemicals together, then measured how the solution performed on critical battery benchmarks. Those results were then fed into a machine-learning system, known as Dragonfly, that used the data to propose different combinations that might work even better.

Why it matters: Developing better electrolytes is crucial for improving the performance, safety, and cost of batteries. Faster-charging batteries are especially important for making electric cars and trucks more appealing. Read the full story.

—James Temple

The must-reads

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

1 The US and Europe are running out of weapons to send to Ukraine 
Scaling up production is no mean feat, and supplies are running short. (CNBC)
+ The Biden administration says supply conversations are “ongoing.” (WP $)
+ The EU is threatening Russia with sanctions over its referendums. (BBC)
+ Putin’s grip on power is loosening. (New Statesman $)

2 Podcasters are racking up fake listens through mobile games 
In many cases, the podcasts only play for a few seconds. (Bloomberg $)

3 China’s dating apps are flourishing
But not all their users are after romance. (NYT $)
+ Meta has taken down a China-based influence network ahead of the US midterms. (WP $)
+ China’s yuan has hit an all-time-low against the US dollar. (BBC)

4 US libraries are being targeted by right wing groups
They’re being forced to cancel LQBTQ events over safety concerns, amid rows over book bans. (Motherboard)
+ How conservative Facebook groups are changing what books children read in school. (MIT Technology Review)

5 Amazon’s robots are getting faster
While the company maintains they’ll work in tandem with humans, robotics experts aren’t so sure. (Vox)
+ Voice assistants like Alexa could hinder child development. (The Guardian)

6 What Neanderthals’ artifacts can tell us about how they thought
From tar glue to early spears. (New Scientist $)

7 How a secretive Dutchman revolutionized the microscope
Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek’s lens design opened a new world into microorganisms. (Wired $)

8 Why Japan is so committed to outdated technology
Its new digital minister wants to shake up the country’s bureaucracy. (Rest of World)
+ Protestors have demonstrated against Shinzo Abe’s state funeral. (FT $)

9 Video games are breathing new life into cards
And capturing new generations of fans in the process. (FT $)
+ “Magic: The Gathering” is officially the world’s most complex game. (MIT Technology Review)

10 It’s not clear who smart thermostats are really helping 
It should be the customer. It’s often not. (The Atlantic $)

Quote of the day

“If you are live ten hours a day, you’re a zombie after that”

—Livestreaming superstar Ludwig Ahgren tells the Washington Post why livestreamers are starting to plan their content, instead of just going with the flow.

The big story

The hunt for hidden signs of consciousness in unreachable patients

August 2021

At first glance, there’s nothing remarkable about the low-rise hospital on the west side of Milan. But two floors up, on an isolated wing of the Don Carlo Gnocchi IRCCS Centro S. Maria Nascente, an uncommunicative man with a severe brain injury is hooked up to a technology suite that researchers here believe can tell them if he’s conscious.

A neuroscientist and the patient’s neurologist watch on a laptop as complicated blue squiggles representing brain waves fill the screen in close to real time. What the scientists see in them is the faintest sign of a liminal, maybe dreamlike, consciousness.

Such a breakthrough represents the most accurate consciousness meter ever seen in medicine (even if it is still crude, rudimentary, and unrefined)—with wide reaching medical implications. Read the full story.

—Russ Juskalian

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.)

+ Bob Marley and The Wailers’ Redemption Song is still as powerful today as it was when it was released 42 years ago (thanks Niall!)
+ Short on time? TikTokers are squishing Hollywood blockbusters into minutes-long clips.
+ Everyone loves a bit of trivia.
+ Emo bingo looks like an intense night out.
+ Watching this ribbon eel swim is mesmerizing.