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Trump’s Climate Zigzag, Quantum Chip vs. 1940s Tech, and Alexa in the Lab—The Download, May 3, 2017

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Gene therapy’s first out-and-out cure has finally gotten a customer.
Last year, GlaxoSmithKline unveiled a commercial gene therapy called Strimvelis. It's a treatment that uses a virus to add a missing gene to the bone marrow of children who suffer from a severe immune deficiency disease, which leaves them with almost no defense against viruses, bacteria, or fungi. With a dizzying $665,000 price tag, the treatment seems so effective it even has a money-back guarantee in case it doesn’t work. Our own Emily Mullin describes how it’s now being put to use.

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The White House may be leaning towards a Paris climate pact withdrawl.
President Trump rushed to dismantle climate policies enacted by Obama, but has been slower to decide whether the U.S. should exit the Paris climate deal. Now, the Washington Post reports that his aides may be increasingly inclined towards quitting–a shift from previous thinking. The New York Times says a decision could rest on a single phrase in the agreement: whether a country’s ability to “adjust” emissions targets can allow for weakening, as well as strengthening, commitments.

A Chinese quantum chip has a 1940s computer beat.
Researchers from eastern China have announced that their quantum device, which uses trapped photons as its qubits, is being used to perform real calculations. But don't get too excited: in experiments described in Nature Photonics, their chip was put to work on specific tasks that it crunched through 10 times faster than the world's first electronic computer from the 1940s, ENIAC, would. Clearly not quantum supremacy, but Google promises to crack that nut before 2017 is out.

Ten Fascinating Things

  1. FCC chairman Ajit Pai is right to argue that net neutrality rules may slow innovation—but the uncertainty brought about by killing them could be worse.
  2. India’s Silicon Valley, just outside Bangalore, has a problem: it doesn’t have enough water. Wired explains, and warns that your city could be next.
  3. Two Tesla execs have launched a mysterious company promising “recycling, remanufacturing, and reuse” tech to “unlock the value of your materials."
  4. Female engineers at Facebook find that their code isn’t accepted as often as that written by male counterparts, according to internal studies.
  5. Congress may have reined in the NSA’s abilities to collect bulk data, but the agency still collected more than 151 million phone call records last year.
  6. What happens to an oil rig when it’s retired from service these days? This wonderful long read from the Guardian explains.
  7. Apple has a neat idea for future iterations of its Watch (which is now selling better): using RFID tags on food to track what you put into your mouth.
  8. French automaker Peugeot is teaming up with self-driving vehicle firm nuTonomy to test driverless cars in Singapore.
  9. Take semiconducting molecules from tattoo ink. Add super-thin film made of plant fibers. Sprinkle with electrodes. Voilà: a dissolvable electronic patch.
  10. Amazon’s Alexa smart assistant may have found favor in the home, but it could be put to good use in science laboratories, too.

Quote of the Day

"The equivalent of a fender-bender in the air is likely death."

— Sebastian Thrun, computer scientist, entrepreneur, and CEO of flying car firm Kitty Hawk, discusses the safety of airborne automobiles.

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