2050 target for predator free NZ is crazy - 2040 seems more likely

Firstly, we love the government’s new announcement of the target to be predator free by 2050. Bold, ballsy and just the sort of thing New Zealand should do. What we would like to do here is a little analysis of why we think it will happen sooner than that. 

As you can see from previous blog posts we believe digital approaches are very promising for predator control. Because it is all digital then it is likely to get twice as good or half the price every 18 months or so (Moore’s Law).

We have put together a simple model with the following assumptions:

  • Digital technologies can work at identifying, luring and killing predators - all looks theoretically possible (see previous blog posts)
  • Digital technologies continue to decline in price or improve in performance. We are basing our model on 25% increase in performance  (which is a much slower rate of improvement than the historical average).
  • (Initial assumption) That it would cost about $2,000 per hectare for eradication or 57 billion for all New Zealand. As a reference it is estimated by a group of scientists to cost around 9 billion to do it, so our starting point may be a little pessimistic.

If we run this simple model out to 2040 then it could cost only a few dollars to eradicate per hectare and about 60 million for the whole country. Now that may sound like crazy talk, but imagine this scenario:

The Kaka, a native NZ parrot. Photo credit.

A device weighing a few hundred grams could use Artificial Intelligence to identify any predators in the area. It could mimic social lures, identify and shoot mini poison darts at any predators. Drones could create lines of these devices to move up the country. Each hectare may only have a few hundred dollars’ worth of devices on them for a week before moving on, resulting in only a few dollars cost per hectare for total eradication. Is it going to happen tomorrow? No - and most likely the solution will be inconceivably better than this suggestion. 

The digital technologies are also making it vastly easier to progress genetic technologies to make the predators infertile using CRISPR gene editing. There are lots of possibilities. 

The thing that most people miss with exponential trajectories is that the long term impact is dramatic. The devices we carry in our pockets would have cost hundreds of thousands or just couldn't have been done in the 1980s.

Just to be clear, we are not predicting this will happen by 2040 - lots could go wrong, but it could happen faster too. However, from some ‘back of the envelope’ estimations, 2040 seems more likely than 2050.

How can we get there as fast as possible? We don't think any one team will do it. We have set up The Cacophony Project as a totally open source non-profit project to allow anyone to contribute and help us get the cacophony back as soon as possible.