By Emiko Terazono
Coming to a supermarket near you: a burger patty whose ingredients are grown from the microbes found in hot volcanic springs.
Sustainable Bioproducts, a Chicago-based start-up seeking to make edible protein from extremophiles — or micro-organisms that can survive extreme environments — is one of the growing number of companies turning to the power of natural microbes to help feed a growing population and boost agriculture.
The company, whose microbes come from Yellowstone National Park’s volcanic hot springs, has raised $33m from investors including Danone of France and agricultural trader Archer Daniels Midland, and is hoping to launch protein substitutes in the US market in 12 to 18 months. …
By Eric Platt, James Fontanella-Khan, Adam Samson, and Philip Stafford
WeWork announced it would appoint a lead independent director by the end of the year and reduce the voting power of co-founder Adam Neumann, bowing to investor pressure as the shared workspace provider battles to dispel scepticism ahead of its initial public offering.
The group said on Friday that it would reduce Mr Neumann’s outsize control of the company by cutting his voting rights from 20 votes per share to 10 and cancel the supervoting shares entirely in the event of his death.
We Company, WeWork’s parent, said in a filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission that the decision was made “in response to market feedback”. The governance changes, however, still keep WeWork firmly under Mr Neumann’s control, the filing noted. …
By Patricia Nilsson
Google has adjusted its search algorithms to promote news articles it considers “significant original reporting”, its latest move to support journalism following years of criticism of its role in the industry’s decline.
The world’s most popular search engine said on Thursday that stories that provided “original and in-depth” information and had required “a high degree of skill, time and effort” would be elevated in results and “may stay in a highly visible position longer”.
Google, like digital rival Facebook, has long faced hostility from parts of the news industry, which accuse it incentivising clickbait, fake news and “churnalism” — hastily rewritten stories without any original reporting. …
By John Gapper
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab flaunts a rebellious style, dubbing itself “a house of misfits” and “the new Salon des Refusés”, after a French exhibition of rejected art works. But its relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, the financier and paedophile, was revolting.
Its decision to take anonymous donations from Epstein, who committed suicide in jail last month while facing charges of trafficking underage girls, led to the resignation of Joi Ito, the Media Lab’s director. Mr Ito is a technology evangelist whose charisma and networking skills kept money flowing and the Media Lab in business.
“I thank god that I’ve never been obligated to raise money for an institution like MIT,” wrote Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard University law professor, in a bungled attempt to defend his friend Mr Ito. The pressure to attract donors who fund research and pay for new university buildings is indeed intense, but Mr Ito behaved unconscionably. …
By Louise Lucas
Alibaba, China’s most valuable public tech company, will mark its 20th birthday on Tuesday with a rite of succession: its founder Jack Ma will retire as executive chairman and hand the reins to chief executive Daniel Zhang.
It is the first transition at the top of a big Chinese tech company — peers Tencent and Baidu are still run by their founders Pony Ma and Robin Li — and in many ways the toughest to pull off.
The 55-year-old Mr Ma, China’s richest man, is a charismatic leader who built Alibaba from a shared apartment into a company worth $462bn. …
By Andrew Hill
I like questionnaires, oddly, but I seem to have spent hours recently filling in or fending off requests for ratings and reviews. Over-eager Airbnb hosts, useless utilities, hit-and-run couriers, family-run hotels with a TripAdvisor obsession, airlines, restaurants, even public toilets, whose panel of germ-ridden grumpy-to-smiley faces is the only survey I always avoid. All want me to quantify my satisfaction.
So when a woman with a branded lanyard and clipboard asked me to rate the rental company on a scale of one to 10 after I dropped off our car, I was ready for her.
I had arrived first off the plane, but the car I had reserved had been unavailable and it had taken 40 minutes to upgrade me to another model. So, on balance, I thought a modest but respectable seven was in order. The woman frowned. “Eight is better,” she pointed out, superfluously, and handed me a card. “You will receive a survey,” it read. “Only a nine or a 10 really makes a difference.” …
By Clive Cookson
Madeline Lancaster opens the door of a fridge-sized incubator in her lab at the University of Cambridge’s biomedical campus. On its gently gyrating shelves sit glass dishes containing a pinkish liquid. She takes one of them out to show what lies inside. Sitting in the nutrient fluid are half a dozen lumpy white blobs, roughly the size of large lentils.
“These are cerebral organoids, or mini-brains for short,” says Lancaster in a soft American voice. “They are three-dimensional neural tissues generated from human stem cells which allow us to model human brain development.”
“They are self-organising,” she adds. “We’re allowing these cells to develop on their own in a 3D conformation, which is the way the brain develops naturally.” Viewing an organoid through Lancaster’s high-powered microscope, its million or so neurons look like an entangled cellular web very similar to an embryonic human brain. …
By Stephen Foley
The list of existential threats to mankind on which wealthy philanthropists have focused their attention — catastrophic climate change, pandemics and the like — has a new addition: artificially intelligent machines that turn against their human creators.
Artificial intelligence (AI) could pose a threat “greater than the danger of nuclear warheads, by a lot”, according to Elon Musk, the entrepreneur behind electric car maker Tesla. As the author James Barrat put it, a superhuman intelligence, equipped with the ability to learn but without the ability to empathise, might well be Our Final Invention.
Even if the machines are not going to kill us, there are plenty of reasons to worry AI will be used for ill as well as for good, and that advances in the field are coming faster than our ability to think through the consequences. …
By Edward Luce
The thing about grown-ups is they are supposed to say when enough is enough. Jim Mattis had obviously had enough when he resigned as Donald Trump’s secretary of defence in December. Now the retired general — and the former leading “adult” in Mr Trump’s administration — says he owes a “duty of silence” to the government in which he could no longer serve. Some attribute Mr Mattis’s coyness to the military code of honour — though he retired from the marines two years before Mr Trump picked him. …
By Camilla Hodgson and Madhumita Murgia
Facebook is calling for a new global data sharing standard, months after it was ordered to overhaul the way it manages user information following the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
The social media company said in a white paper on Wednesday it was urging regulators to establish clear rules about when user data can be transferred, how the information should be protected and who is responsible if data are misused.
Facebook said the new framework, which should be written and enforced by regulators, would enhance existing data privacy legislation. Despite the existence of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, which introduced complex new data privacy rules, the company said questions about best practice remained. …