Issue 36 of Factor: It’s time to engineer the environment. Out now!

It’s fair to say things aren’t looking good for the environment. As temperatures and sea levels rise, we face a dramatic transformation of the natural world, with mass extinctions and the collapse of entire ecosystems remaining a concerning prospect in the near future.

So in this, issue 36 of Factor, we’re looking at how science and the engineering of the environment could be vital to the survival of the world as we know it.

First up, technological advances in fields such as genetics are ushering in whole new approaches to conservation, and raising the possibility that even extinction might not be the end. We examine the science of de-extinction. But can we really bring back long-dead species, and even if it becomes possible, is it actually a good idea?

As part of our de-extinction triple bill, we look at how the much-lauded project to de-extinct a woolly mammoth is only a small part of a wider and more promising field, where the true value lies in modifying endangered species to survive the changing world.

We also consider the prospect of a real-life Jurassic Park. Is it possible, or are genetically modified chickens as close as we can get? And if that wasn’t enough, we’re also asking whether there would ever be a case for the de-extinction of our close cousins the Neanderthals.

At the heart of this is the gene editing technology CRISPR. We look at how the slow march of genetic engineering has led to this revolutionary technology, and discover some of the stranger projects being explored with the technology.

Of course, all of this would not be such an important topic without the spectre of climate change. At present, Donald Trump is enemy number one when it comes to refusing to take action, but with nowhere near enough being done in many parts of the world, we ask if the rest of us are any better.

Given we are unlikely to radically improve humanity’s efforts to curb climate change any time soon, we also look at how science can be used to mitigate its effects. Geoengineering could – at least in theory – be used to tackle the problem, but as we find out, it’s not without its own issues, while genetically engineered plants could at some point become a vital resource in the mission to keep our cities liveable.

And if that wasn’t enough, we also investigate the challenges of e-waste and unearth the secret history of the legendary videogame Earthbound.

As usual there’s also all of your latest news, reviews and we check out the plan to monitor our environmental impact on Mars too, in issue 36 of Factor magazine – out now on iPad and online.

Wanted man captured thanks to facial recognition

A Chinese man who was wanted by police for “economic crimes” – which can include anything from tax evasion to the theft of public property – was arrested at a music concert in China after facial recognition technology spotted him inside the venue.

Source: Abacus News

SpaceX president commits to city-to-city rocket travel

SpaceX president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell has reiterated the company’s plans to make city-to-city travel — on Earth — using a rocket that’s designed for outer space a reality. Shotwell says the tech will be operational “within a decade, for sure.”

Source: Recode

Businessman wins battle with Google over 'right to be forgotten'

A businessman fighting for the "right to be forgotten" has won a UK High Court action against Google.. The businessman served six months’ in prison for “conspiracy to carry out surveillance”, and the judge agreed to an “appropriate delisting order".

Source: Press Gazette

UK launched cyber attack on Islamic State

The UK has conducted a "major offensive cyber campaign" against the Islamic State group, the director of the intelligence agency GCHQ, Jeremy Fleming, has revealed. The operation hindered the group's ability to co-ordinate attacks and suppressed its propaganda.

Source: BBC

Goldman Sachs consider whether curing patients is bad for business

Goldman Sachs analysts have attempted to tackle the question of whether pioneering "gene therapy" treatment will be bad for business in the long run. "Is curing patients a sustainable business model?" analysts ask in a report entitled "The Genome Revolution."

Source: CNBC

Four-armed robot performing surgery in the UK

A £1.5m "robotic" surgeon, controlled using a computer console, is being used to shorten the time patients spend recovering after operations. The da Vinci Xi machine is the only one in the country being used for upper gastrointestinal surgery.

Source: BBC

Virgin Galactic rocket planes go past the speed of sound

Virgin Galactic completed its first powered flight in nearly four years when Richard Branson's space company launched its Unity spacecraft, which reached supersonic speeds before safely landing. “We’ve been working towards this moment for a long time,” Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said in an email to Quartz.

Source: Quartz

Google employees protest being in "the business of war"

Thousands of Google employees, including dozens of senior engineers, have signed a letter protesting the company’s involvement in a Pentagon program that uses AI to interpret video imagery and could be used to improve the targeting of drone strikes. The letter, which is circulating inside Google, has garnered more than 3,100 signatures

Source: New York Times

Computer system transcribes words users “speak silently”

MIT researchers have developed a computer interface that transcribes words that the user verbalises internally but does not actually speak aloud. The wearable device picks up neuromuscular signals in the jaw and face that are triggered by internal verbalisations — saying words “in your head” — but are undetectable to the human eye.

Source: MIT News

Drones could be used to penalise bad farming

A report by a coalition of environmental campaigners is arguing squadrons of drones should be deployed to locate and penalise farmers who let soil run off their fields. Their report says drones can help to spot bad farming, which is said to cost more than £1.2bn a year by clogging rivers and contributing to floods.

Source: BBC

Californian company unveil space hotel

Orion Span, a California company, has unveiled its Aurora Station, a commercial space station that would house a luxury hotel. The idea is to put the craft in low-earth orbit, about 200 miles up, with a stay at the hotel likely to cost $9.5 million for a 12-day trip, but you can reserve a spot now with an $80,000 deposit.

UK mobile operators pay close to £1.4bn for 5G

An auction of frequencies for the next generation of mobile phone networks has raised £1.36bn, says regulator Ofcom. Vodafone, EE, O2 and Three all won the bandwidth needed for the future 5G mobile internet services, which are not expected to be launched until 2020.

Source: BBC