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The Download, Feb 15, 2017: Designer Babies, Money Machines, and Passenger Drones

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February 15, 2017

Three Things You Need to Know Today

Designer Babies Get Some Approval
For as long as gene editing has existed, the prospect of creating designer babies has hung in the air of many labs—along with excitement, fear, and controversy. Now, reports our own Antonio Regalado, a panel of the National Academy of Sciences has recommended that germ-line modification of human beings be permitted in the future. But let’s be clear: it recommends this only in certain circumstances, in order to prevent the birth of children with serious diseases, and it comes with a string of moral and technical caveats.

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Machines That Score You Money
If you need a fistful of dollars, ditch the cash cards for something more technological. The New York Times investigates how banks—working on the assumption that you might forget your wallet, but not your phone—are updating ATMs so that you can withdraw money using your smartphone rather than a bank card. If larger sums are required, our own Nanette Byrnes describes how a startup called ZestFinance has developed an artificial intelligence system that scours financial records to find new borrowers and keep bias out of credit analysis.

Facebook and Apple Take to TV
It’s no secret that Facebook sees a future in piping video into your eyeballs. But now the social network has officially announced that it’s building an app for Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV that will allow you to stream videos on Facebook to a larger screen in your home. Relatedly, it’s also said that its auto-play videos in your News Feed will no longer run silently. Elsewhere, Apple has teased its first original TV shows—James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke and a reality show called Planet of the Apps—and initial reactions are … underwhelming.

Ten Fascinating Things

Your cubicle has ears—and eyes, and a brain. New office surveillance technology uses sensors and AI to keep tabs on employees better than any boss.

Sufferers of retinitis pigmentosa find that the light-sensing cells in their retina slowly die. A solution: a one-two of optogenetics and high-tech light goggles.

Welcome to the flying taxi future. This July, Dubai will provide autonomous passenger drones to transport people around the city.

A new study suggests that building wind turbine blades more like insect wings could make them 35 percent more efficient at producing energy

On the subject of efficiency, India’s space agency has lofted a record 104 satellites into orbit from a single rocket launch.

As increasingly large tides lap at U.S. shores, coasts are being eroded. The Army Corps has a plan: silt.

The billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong launched his own cancer moonshot last year. Twelve months on, the project appears to be falling way short of its own hype.

Here’s a security flaw to worry about: millions of chips contain a vulnerability that could allow hackers to take over a device, but software can't fix it.

Industrialization, coal-fired power plants, and a lack of regulation mean that India now has the world’s worst air pollution—and it’s just going to get worse.

Ah, Craigslist: poorly designed, hell to look at, bug-ridden, and yet indispensable. Backchannel ponders why it’s so hard to usurp the online marketplace.

Quote of the Day

"Knowledge is power. We're hoarding it; we're starving people from it … The solution to the problem is to get directly affected people the basic skills and tools to get started.”

— Security expert Matt Mitchell explains why he’s helping underserved and over-surveilled communities to learn about security, privacy, and how to stop the authorities from spying on them.

Keep Reading

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Large language models can do jaw-dropping things. But nobody knows exactly why.

And that's a problem. Figuring it out is one of the biggest scientific puzzles of our time and a crucial step towards controlling more powerful future models.

The problem with plug-in hybrids? Their drivers.

Plug-in hybrids are often sold as a transition to EVs, but new data from Europe shows we’re still underestimating the emissions they produce.

Google DeepMind’s new generative model makes Super Mario–like games from scratch

Genie learns how to control games by watching hours and hours of video. It could help train next-gen robots too.

How scientists traced a mysterious covid case back to six toilets

When wastewater surveillance turns into a hunt for a single infected individual, the ethics get tricky.

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