The tip of the yr is at all times an excellent time for a little bit of introspection and self-reflection. It additionally appears proper to pause to have a good time a few of the excessive factors from a difficult yr.
We requested our writers and editors to look again over all of the tales we printed 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 Know-how Evaluate? (And no, they weren’t allowed to decide on their very own.)
An edited model of the record runs beneath, however there was one story that our workforce stored coming again to as a touchstone for the type 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 simple to think about tech corporations as monoliths and CEOs and never as teams of individuals. However Karen did such a terrific job explaining issues at Fb by means of Joaquin Quiñonero Candela. This was certainly one of TR’s most generally learn tales of the yr, 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 total extent to which Fb knew its algorithms drove individuals 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. All the pieces 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 mild of the Fb Papers, it seems to be so prescient.”
How Fb obtained hooked on spreading misinformation
See in the event you agree. After which when you’re executed studying that one, see what else the remainder of our workforce selected as their high hits of the yr.
Have a cheerful new yr!
Michael Reilly, government editor
Contained in the machine that saved Moore’s Regulation
A narrative a couple of large, virtually unbelievably complicated machine that pushes engineering to absolutely the max? Sure, please. Chip fabrication is just not a simple topic to put in writing about, however in Clive’s palms it’s a romp.
Meet Altos Labs, Silicon Valley’s newest wild wager on dwelling ceaselessly
“It’s been mentioned that younger individuals dream of being wealthy, and wealthy individuals 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 obtained Antonio Regalado’s deep dive into the frothy world of longevity analysis.
Magnificence filters are altering the best way younger ladies see themselves
We all know algorithms are on the market at all times nudging our pondering on issues like procuring choices and political views. Even so, this piece from Tate Ryan-Mosley is a stunner, displaying simply how far the algorithmic “optimization” of the whole lot has seeped into younger ladies’ view of their very own bodily look.
Tanya Basu, senior reporter, people and expertise
First he held a superspreader occasion. Then he advisable faux cures.
Eileen has a knack for not solely discovering these tales however with the ability to examine and piece collectively what some individuals in tech won’t need uncovered. Written in March, it was an indication of themes to return in the remainder of 2021: covid deniers, snake oil remedies, and other people 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 arduous 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 susceptible individuals who merely need to make artwork and an honest dwelling are getting thrown beneath the bus by scammers.
A feminist web could be higher for everybody
It’s type of unhappy that now we 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 belief 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 the whole lot is misplaced. (Linda, our copy chief, agreed, saying: “As typical, Charlotte finds the brighter facet.”)
Abby Ivory-Ganja, viewers engagement editor
Why the ransomware disaster abruptly feels so relentless
I beloved this story from Patrick as a result of it helped me perceive the ransomware universe a bit of 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
This episode of our podcast In Machines We Belief about how pricing algorithms study to collude actually blew my thoughts. Our podcast workforce did such a terrific job of pulling again the curtain behind the worth of an Uber journey 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
This was a riveting story of how an effort to crack down on cybercriminals by one of many world’s high regulation enforcement businesses went sideways. It’s a richly reported piece chock filled with element that can make you are feeling you had been alongside for the journey 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 troublesome to carry cybercriminals to justice.
These not possible devices might change the way forward for music
This can be 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 obtained maintain of it and began messing round.
Auditors are testing AI hiring algorithms for bias, however there’s no simple repair
A lot has been written about the issue of AI bias. One potential resolution includes auditing the underlying algorithms for bias. A cottage business of consultants has sprung as much as just do that, but it surely’s removed from excellent. This story breaks down one specific AI audit as an example the bounds of this specific method.
Niall Firth, editorial director, digital
What an octopus’s thoughts can educate us about AI’s final thriller
Again in 2020, Will had ventured into controversial territory, tackling one of the vital hotly contested matters in AI—whether or not a real synthetic basic intelligence is even doable. In 2021 he determined to go one step additional and ask: Might a machine ever be acutely 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 will take for a machine to turn out to be acutely aware and self-aware. But it surely ended up with an much more complicated conclusion: If a machine grew to become acutely aware, would we even know? Come for the mind-bending philosophy, keep for the octopus anecdotes.
She risked the whole lot to show Fb. Now she’s telling her story.
Karen’s tenacious reporting over Fb misinformation and troll farms has rightly been praised, however I assumed this story was brilliantly executed. Sophie Zhang was a whistleblower who had uncovered how faux accounts and likes on Fb had been permitting politicians to sway the general public in nations outdoors the US, and doubtlessly allow election interference. The story had been informed, 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 id.” Telling that story was an skilled piece of profile-writing that required sensitivity and compassion.
James Temple, senior editor, local weather and vitality
First he held a superspreader occasion. Then he advisable faux cures.
Certainly one of my favourite Tech Evaluate reads this yr was Eileen Guo’s scoop on a high-priced enterprise convention that went forth in defiance of regional public well being orders, and became 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 high quality element each the warnings that had been made upfront 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 concept. However Alina Chan tweeted life into the concept 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 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 in the end hers is a narrative in regards to the nature of scientific uncertainty, and the generally fuzzy line between crackpot conspiracies, conjecture and unlikely concepts nonetheless in want of vigorous mental debate.
Charlotte Jee, information editor
Tips on how to discuss to unvaccinated individuals
The stakes for conversations in regards to the vaccines are sky-high, and the talk has brought on personal, painful rifts in so many households. Many people see the pictures as the one significant manner out of the pandemic, and the first means to maintain family members alive and nicely, so it’s deeply infuriating when others don’t see it the identical manner. This considerate, well-researched piece by Tanya was a well timed reminder that individuals who don’t need to get vaccinated are nonetheless individuals, and whereas it might nonetheless be price your whereas to attempt to persuade them, you must accomplish that in a respectful method. Nobody ever persuaded anybody by yelling at them.
How magnificence filters perpetuate colorism
A lot of us know by now that quite than erasing present biases, many applied sciences amplify them. However once in a while you learn one thing that makes you notice that the issue is even larger—and extra dangerous—than you appreciated. This piece, which uncovered how magnificence filters perpetuate colorism (a type of discrimination in opposition to individuals with darker complexions), had that impact on me. It made me unhappy, it made me frightened, 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 affect of magnificence filters on younger ladies’ self-image.
Eileen Guo, senior reporter, options and investigations
I requested an AI to inform me how stunning I’m
I beloved Tate’s story sequence on how tech and tech platforms have an effect on perceptions of magnificence. All three tales are wonderful and value a learn (“I requested an AI to inform me how stunning I’m,” “Magnificence filters are altering the best way younger ladies 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 capability to take action in a manner that’s relatable: within the first story, she asks questions that the reader probably has as nicely, and she or he is empathetic in digging into the nuances of how magnificence tech impacts completely different communities otherwise. It’s additionally noteworthy to have this type of in-depth remedy of “girls + tech” points, and I actually hope she does extra of it!
What went fallacious 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 Know-how Evaluate is greatest positioned to do. It answered the query everybody had, again in that section of the pandemic, about why it was so arduous 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 abilities. 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 truly including hundreds of thousands of tons of CO2 into the environment
James’s investigative reporting, a collaboration with ProPublica’s Lisa Tune, was a momentous accounting of California’s carbon offset program. It discovered that corporations may very well be gaming the system and undermining the local weather targets of the challenge. It’s a brilliant sophisticated topic, and James and Lisa had been in a position to obtain an explanatory tone that made it accessible; it is perhaps the story that I realized essentially the most from this yr. In addition 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 had been prone to have at their disposal following the US withdrawal from the nation. It would turn out to be a necessary historical past lesson in regards to the risks of propping up a authorities with surveillance instruments, solely to have them fall into the fallacious palms.
In fact you could possibly have seen this coming
Abby’s fast tackle the January 6 riot squarely positioned the occasion as a continuation of forces which were 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 primarily based on her years of reporting.
Will Douglas Heaven, senior editor, AI
Contained in the struggle to reclaim AI from Large 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 establishment during which the world’s strongest expertise is quick changing into monopolised by the world’s strongest corporations.
This US firm bought 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 businesses. Few expose the shadowy worldwide workings of cyber safety so nicely.