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The Download, Feb 10, 2017: A Gene Drive to Save New Zealand, The Cost of Trump’s Wall, and Taser’s AI Buy

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February 10, 2017

Three Things You Need to Know Today

Can CRISPR Save New Zealand’s Fragile Ecosystem?

In the 19th century, rats overran New Zealand, decimating its unique menagerie of flightless birds, proto-lizards, and other odd species (the problem has since grown to include invasive stoats and possums). Now an aggressive conservation group is working with geneticists to cultivate the first gene drive in mammals. Scientists created the drive just two months ago, in mice, and they are keen to see whether they can induce a population crash by engineering the rodents to only give birth to males. If it works, the team may attempt to carry out a test on a small, isolated island. After that, New Zealand—which has said it aims to eradicate its invasive predators by 2050—could be next.

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Cost of “The Wall” Going Up Is Going Up

On the campaign trail, Donald Trump said the wall he wants to build on the U.S.-Mexico border would cost about $12 billion dollars. Republican leaders in the House and Senate estimated the tab would be about $15 billion. We ran our own analysis and found that, actually, that figure varies a lot depending on how high and how long you want to build it. For the most part, though, we said the wall would cost a lot more than politicians were saying. And now, wouldn’t you know it, the latest estimate from the Department of Homeland Security has raised the price tag on the wall to $21.6 billion. At around 1,250 miles long, the wall is expected to take three years to complete. Construction could begin as soon as September.

Taser’s Big AI Buy

Taser’s name is so synonymous with the stun guns they make, you might forget that the company also makes wearable cameras. And now they own an AI company. Body cams have been adopted by police in many parts of the country, but the footage they record can be hard to interpret in chaotic situations. Buying the small firm Dextro gives Taser a computer vision and deep-learning system that makes videos searchable by their visual content. Taser also purchased a team from Fossil Group that specializes in using machine vision to speed up video and image processinguseful, because all those body cams generate tons of data. The newly acquired technology and teams will be folded into Taser’s Axon AI group. That may indeed make police videos easier to make sense ofbut good luck making them any less controversial.

Ten Fascinating Things

Researchers gave two hunter-gatherer tribes Fitbit-like wristbands that recorded how they interacted with family, extended family, and friends. What they found was one of the fundamental things that makes us human.

Brogan Bambrogan is back. The former SpaceX engineer who left Hyperloop One last year amid a storm of controversy has started his own hyperloop company, Arrivo. Clearly a strong believer in the technology, he says Arrivo will have a working hyperloop moving cargo for paying clients in three years.

Poultry farms in China are churning out superbugs and passing them to humans (paywall). According to a new study, bacteria resistant to the “last resort” antibiotic colistin are proliferating on farms that use the drug to promote growth. Flies on farms also carried colistin-resistant bacteria, suggesting insects could explain how people were becoming infected.

The spillway for America’s tallest dam has huge hole in it. Following years of drought in California, the 770-foot high Oroville Dam is now nearly at full capacity after months of torrential rains have soaked the state. Authorities don’t know how the 200-foot wide hole opened up, but they say the dam itself - and thousands of nearby residents - aren’t in any danger.

Obamacare is far from perfect—but one thing it’s done is offer protection for people with pre-existing conditions. As technology allows us to generate more and more medically-relevant data about ourselves, any new law that does away with that could have a chilling effect on the science that relies on that data.

The alarming decline of bees in many parts of the world has researchers wondering if drones can be used to pollinate plants. Using a small drone outfitted with a sticky gel and some horsehair, Japanese researchers tested that theory by dive-bombing a lily. Let's hope we never need it.

America’s current political climate is, it turns out, bad for work. According to a survey by the software company BetterWorks, nearly a third of workers polled throughout the country said they were less productive since the election, and half said they had seen a political discussion in the workplace turn into an argument.

NASA has released the first sketches of a mission that would send a lander to the surface of Europa to look for alien life. Jupiter’s moon is thought to contain a saltwater ocean beneath its icy crust, making it one of the most promising places in the solar system to look for extraterrestrials.

Wind power in the U.S. now has more installed capacity than hydroelectric power. For decades, hydro has been the top producer of renewable energy in the country. And it still is: there is a big difference between capacity and how much energy is actually generated. Still, the wind industry looks to be on track to produce 10 percent of America’s energy by 2020. 

Here are two things you probably didn’t know: Cockroaches are magnetic. They probably use their magnetic properties to help navigate. Even weirder, though, is that their magnetic field changes when they die.

Quote of the Day

"That’s the sort of thing that should never happen in a democratic country.”

—Canadian polar bear researcher Ian Stirling discusses how former Prime Minister Stephen Harper forbid government scientists from speaking freely to the public, and what could happen if America follows suit.

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