Robotics

Boston Dynamics Is Teaching Its Robot Dog To Fight Back Against Humans (theguardian.com) 34

Zorro shares a report from The Guardian: Boston Dynamics' well-mannered four-legged machine SpotMini has already proved that it can easily open a door and walk through unchallenged, but now the former Google turned SoftBank robotics firm is teaching its robo-canines to fight back. A newly released video shows SpotMini approaching the door as before, but this time it's joined by a pesky human with an ice hockey stick. Unperturbed by his distractions, SpotMini continues to grab the handle and turn it even after its creepy fifth arm with a claw on the front is pushed away. If that assault wasn't enough, the human's robot bullying continues, shutting the door on Spot, which counterbalances and fights back against the pressure. In a last-ditch effort to stop the robot dog breaching the threshold, the human grabs at a leash attached to the back of the SpotMini and yanks. Boston Dynamics describes the video as "a test of SpotMini's ability to adjust to disturbances as it opens and walks through a door" because "the ability to tolerate and respond to disturbances like these improves successful operation of the robot." The firm helpfully notes that, despite a back piece flying off, "this testing does not irritate or harm the robot." But teaching robots to fight back against humans may might end up harming us.
Data Storage

Scientists Discover a New Way To Use DNA As a Storage Device (betanews.com) 34

Mark Wilson shares a report from BetaNews: Researchers from the Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) in Ireland have developed a way to use bacteria to archive up to up to one zettabyte in one gram of DNA. The technique uses double-strained DNA molecules called plasmids to encode data which is stored in the Novablue strain of the E Coli bacteria. The Novablue bacteria has a fixed location, making it viable for storage, and the data can be transferred by releasing a mobile HB101 strain of E Coli which uses a process called conjugation to extract the data. The antibiotics tetracycline and streptomycin are used to control this process. The method is currently not only expensive, but also slow. Data retrieval takes up to three days at the moment, but researchers believe it should be possible to dramatically speed up this process. Equipment already exists that can be used to write to DNA in seconds. Stability and security are also an issue right now, but it is very early days for the technique, and these current downsides are not viewed as being significant enough to write it off. Potential uses for this method of data storage that have been suggested include the recording of medical records in human DNA, and increasing the traceability of the food chain.
Businesses

Apple In Talks To Buy Cobalt Directly From Miners (bloomberg.com) 36

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Apple Inc. is in talks to buy long-term supplies of cobalt directly from miners for the first time, according to people familiar with the matter, seeking to ensure it will have enough of the key battery ingredient amid industry fears of a shortage driven by the electric vehicle boom. The iPhone maker is one of the world's largest end users of cobalt for the batteries in its gadgets, but until now it has left the business of buying the metal to the companies that make its batteries. The talks show that the tech giant is keen to ensure that cobalt supplies for its iPhone and iPad batteries are sufficient, with the rapid growth in battery demand for electric vehicles threatening to create a shortage of the raw material. About a quarter of global cobalt production is used in smartphones. Apple is seeking contracts to secure several thousand metric tons of cobalt a year for five years or longer. Its first discussions on cobalt deals with miners were more than a year ago, and it may end up deciding not to go ahead with any deal, another person said.
Displays

Samsung To Cut OLED Production Due To Poor iPhone X Sales 147

Samsung's panel-making division, Samsung Display, is reportedly reducing OLED panel production at its South Chungcheong plant due to lower than expected iPhone X sales. According to Nikkei Asian Review, Samsung now plans to cover 20 million or fewer iPhone X devices for the quarter ending in March, a large decrease from the expected 45 to 50 million units. CNET reports: Apple sold 77.3 million iPhones in the quarter ending in January, down by 1 percent on the previous year. The $1,000 price tag on the iPhone X was blamed for the volume shortfall -- but also contributed to the company making record-breaking profits. Samsung did not respond to CNET's request for comment.
AI

Slashdot Asks: Which Smart Speaker Do You Prefer? 222

Every tech company wants to produce a smart speaker these days. Earlier this month, Apple finally launched the HomePod, a smart speaker that uses Siri to answer basic questions and play music via Apple Music. In December, Google released their premium Google Home Max speaker that uses the Google Assistant and Google's wealth of knowledge to play music, answer questions, set reminders, and so on. It may be the most advanced smart speaker on the market as it has the hardware capable of playing high fidelity audio, and a digital assistant that can perform over one million actions. There is, however, no denying the appeal of the Amazon Echo, which is powered by the Alexa digital assistant. Since it first made its debut in late 2014, it has had more time to develop its skill set. Amazon says Alexa controls "tens of millions of devices," including Windows 10 PCs.

A new report from The Guardian, citing the industry site MusicAlly, says that Spotify is working on a line of "category defining" hardware products "akin to Pebble Watch, Amazon Echo, and Snap Spectacles." The streaming music company has posted an ad for a senior product manager to "define the product requirements for internet connected hardware [and] the software that powers it." With Spotify looking to launch a smart speaker in the not-too-distant-future, the decision to purchase a smart speaker has become all the more difficult. Do you own a smart speaker? If so, which device do you own and why? Do you see a clear winner, or can they all satisfy your basic needs?
Data Storage

Samsung Starts Mass Producing an SSD With Monstrous 30.72TB Capacity (betanews.com) 150

Brian Fagioli, writing for BetaNews: Samsung says it is mass producing a solid state drive with monstrous capacity. The "PM1643," as it is called, offers an insane 30.72TB of storage space! This is achieved by using 32 x 1TB NAND flash. "Samsung reached the new capacity and performance enhancements through several technology progressions in the design of its controller, DRAM packaging and associated software. Included in these advancements is a highly efficient controller architecture that integrates nine controllers from the previous high-capacity SSD lineup into a single package, enabling a greater amount of space within the SSD to be used for storage. The PM1643 drive also applies Through Silicon Via (TSV) technology to interconnect 8Gb DDR4 chips, creating 10 4GB TSV DRAM packages, totaling 40GB of DRAM. This marks the first time that TSV-applied DRAM has been used in an SSD," says Samsung.
Windows

Microsoft Finally Documents the Limitations of Windows 10 on ARM (thurrott.com) 121

For over a year we've been treated to the fantasy that Windows 10 on ARM was the same as Windows 10 on x86. But it's a bit more nuanced than that. Paul Thurrott: 64-bit apps will not work. Yes, Windows 10 on ARM can run Windows desktop applications. But it can only run 32-bit (x86) desktop applications, not 64-bit (x64) applications. (The documentation doesn't note this, but support for x64 apps is planned for a future release.)
Certain classes of apps will not run. Utilities that modify the Windows user interface -- like shell extensions, input method editors (IMEs), assistive technologies, and cloud storage apps -- will not work in Windows 10 on ARM.
It cannot use x86 drivers. While Windows 10 on ARM can run x86 Windows applications, it cannot utilize x86 drivers. Instead, it will require native ARM64 drivers instead. This means that hardware support will be much more limited than is the case with mainstream Windows 10 versions. In other words, it will likely work much like Windows 10 S does today.
No Hyper-V.
Older games and graphics apps may not work. Windows 10 on ARM supports DirectX 9, DirectX 10, DirectX 11, and DirectX 12, but apps/games that target older versions will not work. Apps that require hardware-accelerated OpenGL will also not work.

Windows

Microsoft Stops Pushing Notifications To Windows 7 and 8 Phones (engadget.com) 64

The end of Microsoft's Windows Phone project has been a long time coming, and now there's another nail in the coffin. From a report: Microsoft is ending support for all push notifications for Windows Phone 7.5 and Windows Phone 8.0 starting Tuesday, February 20th. According to Microsoft's blog post, in addition to the discontinuation of push notifications, live tiles will no longer be updated and the find my phone feature will not work. It's important to note that this doesn't apply to newer devices.
Bitcoin

Salon Magazine Mines Monero On Your Computer If You Use an Ad Blocker (bbc.com) 312

dryriver shares a report from BBC: News organizations have tried many novel ways to make readers pay -- but this idea is possibly the most audacious yet. If a reader chooses to block its advertising, U.S. publication Salon will use that person's computer to mine for Monero, a cryptocurrency similar to Bitcoin. Creating new tokens of a cryptocurrency typically requires complex calculations that use up a lot of computing power. Salon told readers: "We intend to use a small percentage of your spare processing power to contribute to the advancement of technological discovery, evolution and innovation." The site is making use of CoinHive, a controversial mining tool that was recently used in an attack involving government websites in the UK, U.S. and elsewhere. However, unlike that incident, where hackers took control of visitors' computers to mine cryptocurrency, Salon notifies users and requires them to agree before the tool begins mining.
Android

We've Reached Peak Smartphone (washingtonpost.com) 216

You don't really need a new smartphone. From a column on the Washington Post (may be paywalled): Sure, some of them squeeze more screen into a smaller form. The cameras keep getting better, if you look very close. And you had to live under a rock to miss the hoopla for Apple's 10th-anniversary iPhone X or the Samsung Galaxy S8. Many in the smartphone business were sure this latest crop would bring a "super cycle" of upgrades. But here's the reality: More and more of Americans have decided we don't need to upgrade every year. Or every other year. We're no longer locked into two-year contracts and phones are way sturdier than they used to be. And the new stuff just isn't that tantalizing even to me, a professional gadget guy. Holding onto our phones is better for our budgets, not to mention the environment. This just means we -- and phone makers -- need to start thinking of them more like cars. We may have reached peak smartphone. Global shipments slipped 0.1 percent in 2017 -- the first ever decline, according to research firm IDC. In the United States, smartphone shipments grew just 1.6 percent, the smallest increase ever. Back in 2015, Americans replaced their phones after 23.6 months, on average, according to research firm Kantar Worldpanel. By the end of 2017, we were holding onto them for 25.3 months.
Iphone

Apple Says That All New Apps Must Support the iPhone X Screen (9to5mac.com) 79

Today, Apple emailed developers to inform them that all new apps that are submitted to the App Store must support the iPhone X's Super Retina display, starting this April. What this means is that developers of new applications must ensure they accommodate the notch and go edge-to-edge on the 5.8-inch OLED screen. 9to5Mac reports: Apple has not set a deadline for when updates to existing apps must support iPhone X natively. From April, all new apps must also be built against the iOS 11 SDK. In recent years, Apple has enforced rules more aggressively when it comes to supporting the latest devices. Apple informed the news in an email today encouraging adoption of the latest iOS 11 features like Core ML, SiriKit and ARKit. Requiring compilation with the iOS 11 SDK does not necessarily mean the apps must support new features. It ensures that new app developers are using the latest Apple development tools, which helps prevent the App Store as a whole from going stale, and may encourage adoption of cutting edge features. The rules don't mean that much until Apple requires updates to also support iPhone X and the iOS 11 SDK, as updates represent the majority of the App Store. Most developers making new apps already target iPhone X as a top priority.
Crime

Electronics-Recycling Innovator Faces Prison For Extending Computers' Lives 287

schwit1 shares a report from Los Angeles Times: Prosecutors said 33-year-old [Eric Lundgren, an electronic-waste recycling innovator] ripped off Microsoft by manufacturing 28,000 counterfeit discs with the company's Windows operating system on them. He was convicted of conspiracy and copyright infringement, which brought a 15-month prison sentence and a $50,000 fine. In a rare move though, a federal appeals court has granted an emergency stay of the sentence, giving Lundgren another chance to make his argument that the whole thing was a misunderstanding. Lundgren does not deny that he made the discs or that he hoped to sell them. But he says this was no profit-making scheme. By his account, he just wanted to make it easier to extend the usefulness of secondhand computers -- keeping more of them out of the trash.

The case centers on "restore discs," which can be used only on computers that already have the licensed Windows software and can be downloaded free from the computer's manufacturer, in this case Dell. The discs are routinely provided to buyers of new computers to enable them to reinstall their operating systems if the computers' hardware fails or must be wiped clean. But they often are lost by the time used computers find their way to a refurbisher. Lundgren said he thought electronics companies wanted the reuse of computers to be difficult so that people would buy new ones. He thought that producing and selling restore discs to computer refurbishers -- saving them the hassle of downloading the software and burning new discs -- would encourage more secondhand sales. In his view, the new owners were entitled to the software, and this just made it easier. The government, and Microsoft, did not see it that way. Federal prosecutors in Florida obtained a 21-count indictment against Lundgren and his business partner, and Microsoft filed a letter seeking $420,000 in restitution for lost sales. Lundgren claims that the assistant U.S. attorney on the case told him, "Microsoft wants your head on a platter and I'm going to give it to them."
Hardware

MIT Develops New Chip That Reduces Neural Networks' Power Consumption by Up to 95 Percent (mit.edu) 55

MIT researchers have developed a special-purpose chip that increases the speed of neural-network computations by three to seven times over its predecessors, while reducing power consumption 94 to 95 percent. From a report: That could make it practical to run neural networks locally on smartphones or even to embed them in household appliances. "The general processor model is that there is a memory in some part of the chip, and there is a processor in another part of the chip, and you move the data back and forth between them when you do these computations," says Avishek Biswas, an MIT graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science, who led the new chip's development. "Since these machine-learning algorithms need so many computations, this transferring back and forth of data is the dominant portion of the energy consumption. But the computation these algorithms do can be simplified to one specific operation, called the dot product. Our approach was, can we implement this dot-product functionality inside the memory so that you don't need to transfer this data back and forth?"
Windows

Windows 10 Is Adding an Ultimate Performance Mode For Pros (engadget.com) 151

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Engadget: When you're creating 3D models or otherwise running intensive tasks, you want to wring every ounce of performance out of your PC as possible. It's a good thing, then, that Microsoft has released a Windows 10 preview build in the Fast ring that includes a new Ultimate Performance mode if you're running Pro for Workstations. As the name implies, this is a step up for people for whom even the High Performance mode isn't enough -- it throws power management out the window to eliminate "micro-latencies" and boost raw speed. You can set it yourself, but PC makers will have the option of shipping systems with the feature turned on. Ultimate Performance isn't currently available for laptops or tablets, but Microsoft suggests that could change.
Graphics

Cryptocurrency Miners Are 'Limiting' the Search For Alien Life Now (vice.com) 135

Since the latest graphics processing units (GPUs) are so popular with cryptocurrency miners, the SETI project -- short for "Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence" -- can't find the graphics cards it needs to expand its operations. The SETI@home project helps provide some computing power, as it involves thousands of volunteers who turn the power of their computers over to the project, but it's only a portion of the SETI project's total computing power. Motherboard reports: Searching the stars is intense work that "uses radio telescopes to listen for narrow-bandwidth radio signals from space." Analyzing all of the data from these telescopes uses a lot of computing power. "We'd like to use the latest GPUs and we can't get 'em," Dan Werthimer, chief scientist of SETI, told the BBC. "That's limiting our search for extraterrestrials." Manufacturers such as Nvidia are struggling to keep up with demand for graphics cards. It recently told investors it would rise to meet its manufacturing challenge while focusing on its core market -- gamers. It even suggested vendors limit purchases of graphics cards from individual buyers in an effort to stop miners from buying up all the cards. "This is a new problem, it's only happened on orders we've been trying to make in the last couple of months," Werthimer told the BBC. "We've got the money, we've contacted the vendors, and they say, 'we just don't have them.'"
Power

New Silicon Chip-Based Quantum Computer Passes Major Test (gizmodo.com) 22

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: Researchers from two teams now working with Intel have reported advances in a new quantum computing architecture, called spin qubits, in a pair of papers out today. They're obviously not the full-purpose quantum computers of the future. But they've got a major selling point over other quantum computing designs. "We made these qubits in silicon chips, similar to what's used in classical computer processes," study author Thomas Watson from TU Delft in the Netherlands told me. "The hope is that by doing things this way, we can potentially scale up to larger numbers needed to perform useful quantum computing."

Today, a research group at TU Delft, called QuTech, announced that they'd successfully tested two "spin qubits." These qubits involve the interaction of two confined electrons in a silicon chip. Each electron has a property called spin, which sort of turns it into a tiny magnet, with two states: "up" and "down." The researchers control the electrons with actual cobalt magnets and microwave pulses. They measure the electron's spins by watching how nearby electric charges react to the trapped electrons' movements. Those researchers, now working in partnership with Intel, were able to perform some quantum algorithms, including the well-known Grover search algorithm (basically, they could search through a list of four things), according to their paper published today in Nature. Additionally, a team of physicists led by Jason Petta at Princeton reported in Nature that they were able to pair light particles, called photons, to corresponding electron spins. This just means that distant spin qubits might be able to talk to one another using photons, allowing for larger quantum computers.
There are some advantages to these systems. "Present-day semiconductor technology could create these spin qubits, and they would be smaller than the superconducting chips used by IBM," reports Gizmodo. "Additionally, they stay quantum longer than other systems." The drawbacks include the fact that it's very difficult to measure the spins of these qubits, and even more difficult to get them to interact with each other. UC Berkeley postdoc Sydney Schreppler also mentioned that the qubbits needed to be really close to each other.
Android

FBI, CIA, and NSA: Don't Use Huawei Phones (cnbc.com) 238

The heads of six top U.S. intelligence agencies told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday they would not advise Americans to use products or services from Chinese smartphone maker Huawei. "The six -- including the heads of the CIA, FBI, NSA and the director of national intelligence -- first expressed their distrust of Apple-rival Huawei and fellow Chinese telecom company ZTE in reference to public servants and state agencies," reports CNBC. From the report: "We're deeply concerned about the risks of allowing any company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments that don't share our values to gain positions of power inside our telecommunications networks," FBI Director Chris Wray testified. "That provides the capacity to exert pressure or control over our telecommunications infrastructure," Wray said. "It provides the capacity to maliciously modify or steal information. And it provides the capacity to conduct undetected espionage."

In a response, Huawei said that it "poses no greater cybersecurity risk than any ICT vendor." A spokesman said in a statement: "Huawei is aware of a range of U.S. government activities seemingly aimed at inhibiting Huawei's business in the U.S. market. Huawei is trusted by governments and customers in 170 countries worldwide and poses no greater cybersecurity risk than any ICT vendor, sharing as we do common global supply chains and production capabilities."

Apple

Apple's HomePod Speakers Leave White Marks on Wood (bbc.com) 86

Apple's new smart speakers can discolour wooden surfaces, leaving a white mark where they are placed, the firm has acknowledged. From a report: The US company has suggested that owners may have to re-oil furniture if the HomePod is moved. The device went on sale last week after having been delayed from its original 2017 release date. Apple told Pocket-lint that it was "not unusual" for speakers with silicone bases to leave a "mild mark." But the gadget review site told the BBC it had never seen anything like this problem. The website's founder, Stuart Miles, told the BBC that a speaker left a mark on his kitchen worktop within 20 minutes.
Hardware

Crypto-currency Craze 'Hinders Search For Alien Life' (bbc.com) 109

Scientists listening out for broadcasts by extra-terrestrials are struggling to get the computer hardware they need, thanks to the crypto-currency mining craze, a radio-astronomer has said. From a report: Seti (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) researchers want to expand operations at two observatories. However, they have found that key computer chips are in short supply. "We'd like to use the latest GPUs [graphics processing units]... and we can't get 'em," said Dan Werthimer. Demand for GPUs has soared recently thanks to crypto-currency mining. "That's limiting our search for extra-terrestrials, to try to answer the question, 'Are we alone? Is there anybody out there?'," Dr Werthimer told the BBC. "This is a new problem, it's only happened on orders we've been trying to make in the last couple of months."
Communications

New York Times CEO: Print Journalism Has Maybe Another 10 Years (cnbc.com) 208

New York Times CEO Mark Thompson believes that the newspaper printing presses may have another decade of life in them, but not much more. "I believe at least 10 years is what we can see in the U.S. for our print products," Thompson said on "Power Lunch." He said he'd like to have the print edition "survive and thrive as long as it can," but admitted it might face an expiration date. "We'll decide that simply on economics," he said. "There may come a point when the economics of [the print paper] no longer make sense for us. The key thing for us is that we're pivoting. Our plan is to go on serving our loyal print subscribers as long as we can. But meanwhile to build up the digital business, so that we have a successful growing company and a successful news operation long after print is gone." CNBC reports: Digital subscriptions, in fact, may be what's keeping the New York Times afloat for a new generation of readers. While Thompson said the number of print subscribers is relatively constant, "with a little bit of a decline every time," the company said last week that it added 157,000 digital subscribers in the fourth quarter of 2017. The majority were new subscribers, but that number also included cooking and crossword subscriptions. Revenue from digital subscriptions increased more than 51 percent in the quarter compared with a year earlier. Overall subscription revenue increased 19.2 percent. Meanwhile, the company's fourth-quarter earnings and revenue beat analysts expectations, "even though the print side of the business is still somewhat challenged," Thompson said. Total revenue rose 10 percent from a year earlier to $484.1 million. New York Times' shares have risen more than 20 percent this year. "Without question we make more money on a print subscriber," Thompson added. "But the point about digital is that we believe we can grow many, many more of them. We've already got more digital than print subscribers. Digital is growing very rapidly. Ultimately, there will be many times the number of digital subscribers compared to print."

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