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

—James Ball

What do psychedelic drugs do to our brain? AI could help us discover

The big picture: Psychedelic drugs have long been touted as possible treatments for mental health disorders like depression and PTSD. But very little is known about the actual effects of these substances on our brains. Understanding how they work could help unlock their potential.

A new methodology: Some scientists are using AI to figure it out. A team from McGill University in Montreal used natural language processing to study written “travel reports” about users’ experiences with a range of drugs. The team then integrated this data with recordings of neurotransmitter receptors in the brain that each drug is known to interact with. Together, these steps allowed the team to identify receptors linked to specific drug experiences.

After that : The work could shed light on how hallucinogens trigger specific mental states, be it euphoria, anxiety or a feeling of being at one with the world. It could also help design new drugs for mental health disorders, something some companies are already trying to do. Read the full story.

—Jessica Hamzelou

The unavoidable

I’ve scoured the internet to find you today’s funniest/important/scariest/fascinating stories about technology.

1 Russia has stepped up its campaign of bombing civilians in Ukraine
He has just bombed a theater in Mariupol in which hundreds of people had taken refuge. (AP)
+ US intelligence estimates that Russia has already lost more than 7,000 soldiers. (NYT$)
+ Zelensky urged more US companies to leave Russia. (Quartz)
+ Biden pledged an additional $800 million for Ukraine’s war effort, including drones and anti-aircraft systems. (Reuters$)
+ The tractor has become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance. (Vice)
+ Ukrainian influencers document what is happening. (The edge)
+ What is the risk of nuclear war? It’s not zero. (NYT$)

2 Facebook and YouTube deleted a deepfake of the Ukrainian president
It claimed to show him traveling to Russia, but was quickly debunked. (CNN)
+ Not before causing a bit of mayhem yesterday, though. (Vice)
+ The biggest threat from deepfakes is not the deepfakes themselves. (TR)

3 There is a link between covid-19 deaths and internet access
It’s not exactly clear why, however. (voice)
+ Covid cases are on the rise again around the world. (Ars Technica)
+ Citizen science is making a comeback. (Wired $)

4 NASA released its first image of the James Webb Telescope 🔭
And it’s a stunner. (Ars Technica)
+ NASA’s early warning system for detecting asteroids got its first test. (CNN)

5 parts of Kenya are slowly slipping underwater
And hundreds of thousands of people are displaced as a result. (The Guardian)
+ How rising groundwater caused by climate change could devastate coastal communities. (TR)
+ The promise of canal solar panels. (The Next Web)

6 How Chinese Professors Were Caught in a U.S. Spy Panic
And, in some cases, saw their livelihoods shattered. (New Yorkers $)
+ The US government terminates the Chinese Initiative. Now what? (TR)

7 In group chats of a ransomware gang
The Conti gang extorted $180 million from businesses last year. Now he wants to branch out into crypto projects. (Wired $)

8 Netflix thinks it can make you feel guilty paying for the passwords you share
Immediately thereafter, prices increased significantly. Good luck with that. (Gizmodo)

9 How will Instagram avoid hosting stolen NFTs?
It sounds like a minor consideration, but it really isn’t, given that the NFT world is awash with it. (The Next Web)
+ Spotify plans to join the crypto craze. (FT$)

10 Elon Musk Opposes Chechnya’s Brutal Dictator On Twitter
Warning: extremely high levels of toxic masculinity detected. (Vice)

“I think he’s a war criminal.”

—President Joe Biden issues his strongest rebuke yet to Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

We can still have beautiful things

A place of comfort, pleasure and distraction in these strange times. (Have ideas? Message me or tweet them to me.)

+ Happy St. Patrick’s Day to those who celebrate it! And before you decide to celebrate it, you might want to take this quiz.
+ These social media accounts are sure to lift your spirits.
+ A surprisingly touching interview with the living legend that is Denzel Washington.
+ GUTTED to learn that the world’s biggest “potato” isn’t actually a potato.
+ Where you will find some of the best sunsets and sunrises in the world.
+ My inner child was thrilled by this totally useless, yet totally hilarious weapon.
+ A type of bat not seen in 40 years has been discovered in Rwanda.


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