Our favourite tales of 2021

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The tip of the 12 months is at all times an excellent time for a little bit of introspection and self-reflection. It additionally appears proper to pause to have fun a few of the excessive factors from a difficult 12 months.

We requested our writers and editors to look again over all of the tales we revealed in 2021 and inform us which of them actually stood out. Which tales did their colleagues publish that made them proud to work for MIT Expertise Overview? (And no, they weren’t allowed to decide on their very own.)

An edited model of the listing runs beneath, however there was one story that our staff saved coming again to as a touchstone for the sort of protection that we do: Karen Hao’s investigation into Fb.

Abby Ivory-Ganja, our viewers engagement editor, mentioned it was “showstopping.” She added: “It’s straightforward to think about tech corporations as monoliths and CEOs and never as teams of individuals. However Karen did such an amazing job explaining issues at Fb by way of Joaquin Quiñonero Candela. This was one among TR’s most generally learn tales of the 12 months, and it’s no shock why when you learn it.”

Charlotte Jee, information editor, mentioned: “This text was a bombshell when it got here out in March. It revealed, in painstaking element, the complete extent to which Fb knew its algorithms drove folks in direction of dangerous, hateful content material—and selected to not do something about it. Why? As a result of, as Karen so completely put it, ‘The reason being easy. Every thing the corporate does and chooses to not do flows from a single motivation: [Mark] Zuckerberg’s relentless need for progress.’ In case you learn it now, within the gentle of the Fb Papers, it seems to be so prescient.”

How Fb received hooked on spreading misinformation

Joaquin Quinonero Candela
The corporate’s AI algorithms gave it an insatiable behavior for lies and hate speech. Now the person who constructed them cannot repair the issue.

WINNI WINTERMEYER

See in case you agree. After which when you’re performed studying that one, see what else the remainder of our staff selected as their prime hits of the 12 months.

Have a contented new 12 months!


Michael Reilly, govt editor

Contained in the machine that saved Moore’s Legislation

A narrative a few big, virtually unbelievably complicated machine that pushes engineering to absolutely the max? Sure, please. Chip fabrication shouldn’t be a straightforward topic to write down about, however in Clive’s fingers it’s a romp.

Meet Altos Labs, Silicon Valley’s newest wild guess on residing ceaselessly

Death and Jeff Bezos
Funders of a deep-pocketed new “rejuvenation” startup are mentioned to incorporate Jeff Bezos and Yuri Milner.

ALAMY, GETTY (BEZOS)

“It’s been mentioned that younger folks dream of being wealthy, and wealthy folks dream of being younger.” Combine that sentiment along with a little bit of thrilling science and a few funding from Jeff Bezos and different billionaires and also you’ve received Antonio Regalado’s deep dive into the frothy world of longevity analysis.

Magnificence filters are altering the way in which younger women see themselves

We all know algorithms are on the market at all times nudging our pondering on issues like purchasing choices and political views. Even so, this piece from Tate Ryan-Mosley is a stunner, exhibiting simply how far the algorithmic “optimization” of every little thing has seeped into younger women’ view of their very own bodily look.  


Tanya Basu, senior reporter, people and know-how

First he held a superspreader occasion. Then he really useful pretend cures. 

Eileen has a knack for not solely discovering these tales however having the ability to examine and piece collectively what some folks in tech won’t need uncovered. Written in March, it was an indication of themes to come back in the remainder of 2021: covid deniers, snake oil remedies, and folks with egos that supersede frequent sense and security.

Some artists discovered a lifeline promoting NFTs. Others fear it’s a lure. 

I really feel like each NFT story is snarky and/or exclusionary, making them actually exhausting for the common individual to search out one thing to care about in what’s arguably an vital subject. Abby is ready to hit that nerve right here and exposes how a gaggle of actually weak individuals who merely need to make artwork and a good residing are getting thrown below the bus by scammers.

A feminist web could be higher for everybody

conceptual illustration showing a hand holding a phone with long haircut silhouettes
Life on-line for ladies is poisonous and full of hate and sexism. Some activists say it’s time to reimagine how the entire thing works.

INA JANG

It’s sort of unhappy that we now have to make this assertion in 2021, however right here we’re. What I like about this piece as a author is the futuristic fiction that leads it off—and the conclusion that this isn’t science fiction anymore. What I like about this piece as a reader is that Charlotte has real hope and sensible ideas about the way forward for the web that don’t make me really feel like every little thing is misplaced. (Linda, our copy chief, agreed, saying: “As traditional, Charlotte finds the brighter facet.”)


Abby Ivory-Ganja, viewers engagement editor

Why the ransomware disaster instantly feels so relentless

I cherished this story from Patrick as a result of it helped me perceive the ransomware universe a bit extra. He actually offers a view of the panorama from 36,000 toes, which I at all times respect. 

Podcast: How pricing algorithms study to collude

dynamic ticket pricing concept
AI might study to type digital cartels in an effort to maximise earnings

MS TECH | ENVATO

This episode of our podcast In Machines We Belief about how pricing algorithms study to collude actually blew my thoughts. Our podcast staff did such an amazing job of pulling again the curtain behind the value of an Uber trip or books on Amazon. They make it really easy to know one thing sophisticated, and we’re all higher for it.  


Amy Nordrum, editorial director, particular tasks and operations

Contained in the FBI, Russia, and Ukraine’s failed cybercrime investigation

conceptual illustration showing a police evidence board with reference to various people, places, and things in the story
Russia and Ukraine promised to cooperate and assist catch the world’s most profitable hackers. However issues didn’t fairly go to plan.

MAX-O-MATIC

This was a riveting story of how an effort to crack down on cybercriminals by one of many world’s prime legislation enforcement companies went sideways. It’s a richly reported piece chock filled with element that can make you are feeling you have been alongside for the trip amid the investigation’s many twists and turns. By the tip, the FBI brokers’ frustration is palpable and also you’ll have a larger appreciation of why it’s so tough to carry cybercriminals to justice. 

These not possible devices might change the way forward for music

It is a enjoyable little story about how software program is altering what it means to make music, partially by permitting musicians to create and play devices that defy physics and that actually couldn’t exist in the actual world. There’s a humorous backstory, too, about how one group’s painstaking effort to design software program that very exactly imitates precise devices was upended when actual musicians received maintain of it and began messing round.

Auditors are testing AI hiring algorithms for bias, however there’s no straightforward repair

A lot has been written about the issue of AI bias. One potential resolution entails auditing the underlying algorithms for bias. A cottage trade of consultants has sprung as much as do exactly that, nevertheless it’s removed from good. This story breaks down one specific AI audit for example the bounds of this specific strategy.


Niall Firth, editorial director, digital

What an octopus’s thoughts can train us about AI’s final thriller

Again in 2020, Will had ventured into controversial territory, tackling one of the vital hotly contested subjects in AI—whether or not a true synthetic common intelligence is even doable. In 2021 he determined to go one step additional and ask: Might a machine ever be aware? Drawing on philosophy of thoughts—and never afraid to get into actually deep conversations in regards to the nature of consciousness—the story began out by asking what it might take for a machine to grow to be aware and self-aware. But it surely ended up with an much more complicated conclusion: If a machine turned aware, would we even know? Come for the mind-bending philosophy, keep for the octopus anecdotes.

She risked every little thing to reveal Fb. Now she’s telling her story.

Sophie Zhang
Sophie Zhang, a former knowledge scientist at Fb, revealed that it allows international political manipulation and has performed little to cease it.

CHRISTIE HEMM KLOK

Karen’s tenacious reporting over Fb misinformation and troll farms has rightly been praised, however I believed this story was brilliantly performed. Sophie Zhang was a whistleblower who had uncovered how pretend accounts and likes on Fb have been permitting politicians to sway the general public in international locations exterior the US, and doubtlessly allow election interference. The story had been advised, however nobody had written a profile of her earlier than. Karen confirmed readers that “for Zhang, the reason of why she cared a lot is tied up in her identification.” Telling that story was an knowledgeable piece of profile-writing that required sensitivity and compassion.


James Temple, senior editor, local weather and power

First he held a superspreader occasion. Then he really useful pretend cures. 

snake oil remedy
After dozens of individuals caught the coronavirus at his costly convention, tech mogul Peter Diamandis provided fraudulent covid-19 remedies to them, from injectable peptides to amniotic fluid.

MS TECH | GETTY

One in all my favourite Tech Overview reads this 12 months was Eileen Guo’s scoop on a high-priced enterprise convention that went forth in defiance of regional public well being orders, and become a superspreader occasion. It was hosted by a high-profile Silicon Valley entrepreneur who had cofounded a covid-19 vaccine firm. The deeply sourced story described in effective element each the warnings that have been made prematurely of the occasion and the aftermath, together with the obvious effort to restrict communications in regards to the ensuing covid-19 infections.

They referred to as it a conspiracy idea. However Alina Chan tweeted life into the concept that the virus got here from a lab.

Antonio Regalado wrote a must-read profile of Alina Chan, the Broad Institute postdoc who helped revive the concept that covid-19 might have leaked from a lab in China. The story particulars how she researched and communicated the chances, the virologists she angered in doing so, and the pushback and even threats she’s obtained. However finally hers is a narrative in regards to the nature of scientific uncertainty, and the typically fuzzy line between crackpot conspiracies, conjecture and unlikely concepts nonetheless in want of vigorous mental debate.


Charlotte Jee, information editor

The right way to speak to unvaccinated folks

The stakes for conversations in regards to the vaccines are sky-high, and the talk has prompted personal, painful rifts in so many households. Many people see the pictures as the one significant approach out of the pandemic, and the first means to maintain family members alive and effectively, so it’s deeply infuriating when others don’t see it the identical approach. This considerate, well-researched piece by Tanya was a well timed reminder that individuals who don’t need to get vaccinated are nonetheless folks, and whereas it might nonetheless be price your whereas to attempt to persuade them, you must achieve this in a respectful method. Nobody ever persuaded anybody by yelling at them. 

How magnificence filters perpetuate colorism

Conceptual illustration of a young black woman's face with circles that zoom in on certain features, image is black and white with pink highlights
An historical type of prejudice about pores and skin colour is flourishing within the trendy web age.

JOAN WONG

Numerous us know by now that somewhat than erasing current biases, many applied sciences amplify them. However every so often you learn one thing that makes you understand that the issue is even greater—and extra dangerous—than you appreciated. This piece, which uncovered how magnificence filters perpetuate colorism (a type of discrimination in opposition to folks with darker complexions), had that impact on me. It made me unhappy, it made me apprehensive, and most of all it made me indignant. 

This piece can (and will) be learn as a companion piece constructing on the wonderful article Tate wrote in April in regards to the impression of magnificence filters on younger women’ self-image.


Eileen Guo, senior reporter, options and investigations

I requested an AI to inform me how lovely I’m

conceptural illustration of 4 quadrants showing different people's faces with details called out for scoring
Computer systems are rating the way in which folks look—and the outcomes are influencing the issues we do, the posts we see, and the way in which we predict.

JOAN WONG

I cherished Tate’s story sequence on how tech and tech platforms have an effect on perceptions of magnificence. All three tales are glorious and price a learn (“I requested an AI to inform me how lovely I’m,” “Magnificence filters are altering the way in which younger women see themselves,” and “How digital magnificence filters perpetuate digital colorism”), as is the accompanying podcast episode. I like Tate’s willingness to incorporate herself in her tales and her capacity to take action in a approach that’s relatable: within the first story, she asks questions that the reader doubtless has as effectively, and she or he is empathetic in digging into the nuances of how magnificence tech impacts totally different communities in a different way. It’s additionally noteworthy to have this sort of in-depth remedy of “ladies + tech” points, and I actually hope she  does extra of it!  

What went mistaken with America’s $44 million vaccine knowledge system?

Cat Ferguson’s well timed and well-told investigation into the CDC’s Vaccine Administration Administration System (VAMS), the largely ineffective and extremely costly web site to schedule vaccine appointments, was the kind of investigation that MIT Expertise Overview is finest positioned to do. It answered the query everybody had, again in that part of the pandemic, about why it was so exhausting to schedule vaccine appointments, and it did so with depth and element that comes out of Cat’s deep experience in well being tech and her nice sleuthing and reporting expertise. And it make clear an space that doesn’t get as a lot scrutiny because it ought to: authorities tech. A lot much less attractive than investigating Fb, however simply as vital.  


Tate Ryan-Mosely, reporter, digital rights and democracy 

The local weather resolution really including thousands and thousands of tons of CO2 into the ambiance

Conceptual illustration
New analysis exhibits that California’s local weather coverage created as much as 39 million carbon credit that aren’t attaining actual carbon financial savings. However corporations should buy these forest offsets to justify polluting extra anyway.

JON HAN

James’s investigative reporting, a collaboration with ProPublica’s Lisa Music, was a momentous accounting of California’s carbon offset program. It discovered that corporations could possibly be gaming the system and undermining the local weather objectives of the undertaking. It’s an excellent sophisticated topic, and James and Lisa have been capable of obtain an explanatory tone that made it accessible; it could be the story that I discovered essentially the most from this 12 months. Additionally they leaned into the nuances right here, wanting into questions of stewardship and the way this system is impacting Native American tribes.

That is the actual story of the Afghan biometric databases deserted to the Taliban

Eileen and Hikmat’s super-impressive reporting added much-needed proof in regards to the instruments the Taliban have been prone to have at their disposal following the US withdrawal from the nation. It’ll grow to be an important historical past lesson in regards to the risks of propping up a authorities with surveillance instruments, solely to have them fall into the mistaken fingers.

In fact you might have seen this coming

Abby’s fast tackle the January 6 riot squarely positioned the occasion as a continuation of forces which have been gathering for a very long time. On the time of publishing, the noise across the riot was all-consuming and blurry, and her take provided readability and evaluation based mostly on her years of reporting.

Will Douglas Heaven, senior editor, AI

Contained in the battle to reclaim AI from Huge Tech’s management

Karen Hao takes us behind the scenes on the start of a motion, introducing the hopes and fears of the AI researchers pushing again in opposition to a established order wherein the world’s strongest know-how is quick turning into monopolised by the world’s strongest corporations. 

This US firm offered iPhone hacking instruments to UAE spies

In a scoop that made different investigative journalists jealous, Patrick Howell O’Neill succeeded the place others failed in unmasking a controversial firm promoting cyberweapons to international intelligence companies. Few expose the shadowy worldwide workings of cyber safety so effectively.

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