The Download: Saudi Arabia’s $1 billion plan to slow aging, and global energy turmoil

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.

Saudi Arabia plans to spend $1 billion a year discovering treatments to slow aging

Anyone who has more money than they know what to do with eventually tries to cure aging. Google founder Larry Page has tried it. Jeff Bezos has tried it. Tech billionaires Larry Ellison and Peter Thiel have tried it. Now the oil-rich kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which has around as much money as all of them put together, is going to try it.

The Saudi royal family has started a not-for-profit organization called the Hevolution Foundation that plans to spend up to $1 billion a year of its oil wealth to investigate the biology of aging and find ways to extend the number of years people live in good health.

The vast sum, which dwarfs American aging research spending, could make the Gulf state the largest single sponsor of researchers attempting to understand the underlying causes of aging—and how it might be slowed down with drugs. But US research organizations considering whether to take Saudi Arabia’s money will be forced to contend with the specter of its human rights record. Read the full story

—Antonio Regalado

The must-reads

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

1 Global energy markets are changing dramatically
The dual concerns of climate change and the war in Ukraine are forcing governments to become far more active. (Foreign Policy $)
+ Biden is significantly stepping up measures to support solar panel manufacturing. (Reuters $)

2 Axon has paused plans to make a taser-equipped drone
After nine members of its ethics board resigned over its proposed plan to install the drones in schools to prevent future mass shootings. (WP $)

3 How the CIA was hacked
And why it missed the obvious red flags of its most probable candidate. (New Yorker $) 

4 Why robots are edging out humans in South Korean factories
Scared of breaching a new worker safety law, companies are reducing their human workforces. (Rest of World)
+ A new generation of AI-powered robots is taking over warehouses. (MIT Technology Review)

5 Bitcoin’s founding principles aren’t standing the test of time
The myth of a decentralized network is largely just that—a myth. (NYT $)
+ White hat hackers are thwarting crypto criminals by stealing their targets first. (Motherboard)
+ Law enforcement crime units are getting better at seizing stolen crypto hauls, too. (NBC

6 Dating apps are overrun with teenagers
Many users are too young—yet the platforms are failing to prevent them joining. (The Atlantic $)
+ Forget dating apps: Here’s how the net’s newest matchmakers help you find love. (MIT Technology Review)

7 Non-addictive apps and games are taking off
Which appears to be a new, healthier direction for Silicon Valley. (Bloomberg $)

8 Why life after chronic pain is so confusing
Once you’re no longer experiencing it, defining your identity is tough. (Slate $)
+ Cannabis component THC may be better than CBD at easing chronic pain. (Insider)
+ There’s work underway to ease pain without opioids. (MIT Technology Review)

9 Tech whistleblowers are mostly women
Which is symbolic of the tech industry’s wider issues with gender equality. (Fast Company)
+ She risked everything to expose Facebook. Now she’s telling her story. (MIT Technology Review)

10 Millennials are boring
It’s not just because they can’t afford to do anything fun. (New Statesman $)

Quote of the day

“Sticking to a rigid, centuries-old, time-based system doesn’t make sense.”

—Juliet Schor, an economist and sociologist at Boston College, explains the reasoning behind switching to a four-day work week, an idea that’s getting its biggest trial yet in the UK, reports the BBC.

The big story

A new implant for blind people jacks directly into the brain

February 2020

Bernardeta Gómez was 43 when toxic optic neuropathy destroyed the bundles of nerves that connect her eyes to her brain, destroying her ability to see. But after 16 years of darkness, Gómez was temporarily able to make out a very low-resolution semblance of the world represented by glowing white-yellow dots and shapes.

This was possible thanks to a modified pair of glasses, blacked out and fitted with a tiny camera. The contraption is hooked up to a computer that processes a live video feed, turning it into electronic signals. A cable suspended from the ceiling links the system to a port embedded in the back of Gómez’s skull that is wired to a 100-electrode implant in the visual cortex in the rear of her brain.

Using this, Gómez identified lights, letters, basic shapes printed on paper, and people. Her first moment of sight, at the end of 2018, was the culmination of decades of research by Eduardo Fernandez, director of neuroengineering at the University of Miguel Hernandez. His goal: to return sight to as many as possible of the 36 million blind people worldwide who wish to see again. 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.)

+ Uhoh, there’s trouble brewing over Australia’s fanciest public toilet.
+ Stop the world, this cat wants to get off.
+ Now that the new season of Stranger Things has propelled Kate Bush back into the charts, here’s a reminder why she’s such a pop pioneer.
+ There’s no way this chair isn’t haunted (thanks Wendy!)
+ The DALL·E mini AI model does its best to conjure up whatever nightmarish combinations of images your heart desires.