The Download: how to improve pulse oximeters, and OpenAI’s chip plans

Visit any health-care facility, and one of the first things they’ll do is clip a pulse oximeter to your finger. These devices, which track heart rate and blood oxygen, offer vital information about a person’s health.

But they’re also flawed. For people with dark skin, pulse oximeters can overestimate just how much oxygen their blood is carrying. That means that a person with dangerously low oxygen levels might seem, according to the pulse oximeter, fine.

The US Food and Drug Administration is still trying to figure out what to do about this problem. Last week, an FDA advisory committee met to mull over better ways to evaluate the performance of these devices in people with a variety of skin tones. But engineers have been thinking about this problem too. Cassandra Willyard has dug into why they are biased and what technological fixes might be possible. Take a look at what she found out.

This story is from The Checkup, our weekly biotech and health newsletter. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.

The must-reads

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

1 OpenAI is planning to turn the chip industry on its head

By sinking trillions of dollars into an ambitious new project. (WSJ $)

+ AMD also has plans to break Nvidia’s chip chokehold. (Economist $)

+ OpenAI’s COO is molding the startup into a commercial powerhouse. (Bloomberg $)

+ The company has hurtled past the $2 billion revenue mark. (FT $)

+ Why China is betting big on chiplets. (MIT Technology Review)

2 US regulators have outlawed AI-generated robocalls

In a bid to get ahead of audio deepfakes disrupting the Presidential election. (AP News)

+ That doesn’t mean the calls won’t keep coming, though. (TechCrunch)

+ Iranian hackers infiltrated UAE streaming services with a deepfake newsreader. (The Guardian)

3 Electric vehicles are getting smaller

America can’t get enough of big cars. Can it fall in love with slimmed-down ones? (IEEE Spectrum)

+ Why getting more EVs on the road is all about charging. (MIT Technology Review)

4 How AI is changing the way we code

There’s no indication humans will be edged out anytime soon. (Wired $)

+ How AI assistants are already changing the way code gets made. (MIT Technology Review)

5 Crypto is pivoting to loyalty schemes

Good luck trying to work out what the rewards are. (Bloomberg $)

+ How did a crypto book crack the NYT best seller list? (Motherboard)

6 Yandex, Russia’s answer to Google, has a new owner

Following 18 months of tense negotiations against the backdrop of war. (Reuters)

+ The uneasy coexistence of Yandex and the Kremlin. (MIT Technology Review)

7 Here’s what Elon Musk’s Neuralink is up against

The brain-computer interface device field is surprisingly crowded. (Insider $)

+ Elon Musk wants more bandwidth between people and machines. Do we need it? (MIT Technology Review)

8 Why the way we argue online is so conspiratorial

Nothing happens in isolation—everything gets slotted into a wider, overarching narrative. (The Atlantic $)

9 TikTok’s search suggestions are riling creators

The recommendations range from the provocative to the downright professionally damaging. (WP $)

10 This couple fell in love thanks to an AI lip-dubbing app

Why use Google Translate when you can shoot a video of yourself speaking perfect Spanish? (NYT $)

Quote of the day

“Is it still uncanny and creepy? Yeah, but I don’t look like Stalin anymore.”

—YouTuber Quinn Nelson reflects on the improvements Apple has made to its ghostly Vision Pro customizable avatars, Insider reports.

The big story

El Paso was “drought-proof.” Climate change is pushing its limits.

December 2021

El Paso has long been a model for water conservation. It’s done all the right things—it’s launched programs to persuade residents to use less water and deployed technological systems, including desalination and wastewater recycling, to add to its water resources. A former president of the water utility once famously declared El Paso “drought-proof.” 

Now, though, even El Paso’s careful plans are being challenged by intense droughts. As the pressure ratchets up, El Paso, and places like it, force us to ask just how far adaptation can go. Read the full story.

—Casey Crownhart

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.)

+ It seems as though we are living in the puppet age.

+ Celebrities love writing poetry. But are they any good at it?

+ Here’s why we find hold music so darned annoying.

+ Mountain Town Hockey sounds incredibly intense.

+ Teeny tiny dogs are back in style—maybe don’t lug them around in your handbag, though 🐕

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Why engineers are working to build better pulse oximeters

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