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Posts from June, 2018

Study Suggests There’s No Limit On Longevity

Jun 30

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Smithsonian: The science of longevity is surprisingly controversial, mainly because there are so few people of extreme old age — defined at 110 years or older — around to study. So researchers look to statistics to try and figure out how long people can live. [Ben Guarino reports via The Washington Post] that in 1825, actuary Benjamin Gompertz put forth the idea that the odds of dying grow exponentially as we age. Further research bears that out. Between the age of 30 and 80, the odds of dying double every 8 years. What happens after that, however, is not completely figured out. According to a controversial study released in 2016, which analyzed data from 40 different countries, the average person could make it to 115 with the right genes and interventions, and a few genetic superstars would be able to make it to 125. But that was it, they argued. There was a wall of mortality that medicine and positive thinking simply cannot overcome.

But not everyone is convinced by that data. That’s why for the new paper in the journal Science, researchers looked at the lifespans of 3,836 people in Italy who reached the age of 105 or older between 2009 and 2015, with their ages verified by birth certificates. What they found is that the Gompertz law goes a little haywire around the century mark. According to a press release, a 90 year old woman has a 15 percent chance of dying in the next year, and an estimated six years left to live. At age 95, the chance of dying per year jumps to 24 percent. At the age of 105, the chance of dying makes another leap to 50 percent. But then, surprisingly, it levels off, even past 110. In other words, at least statistically, each year some lucky person could flip the coin of life, and if it comes up heads every time, they could live beyond 115 or 125.


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Google Researchers Created An Amazing Scene-Rendering AI

Jun 30

Researchers from Google’s DeepMind subsidiary have developed deep neural networks that “have a remarkable capacity to understand a scene, represent it in a compact format, and then ‘imagine’ what the same scene would look like from a perspective the network hasn’t seen before,” writes Timothy B. Lee via Ars Technica. From the report: A DeepMind team led by Ali Eslami and Danilo Rezende has developed software based on deep neural networks with these same capabilities — at least for simplified geometric scenes. Given a handful of “snapshots” of a virtual scene, the software — known as a generative query network (GQN) — uses a neural network to build a compact mathematical representation of that scene. It then uses that representation to render images of the room from new perspectives — perspectives the network hasn’t seen before.

Under the hood, the GQN is really two different deep neural networks connected together. On the left, the representation network takes in a collection of images representing a scene (together with data about the camera location for each image) and condenses these images down to a compact mathematical representation (essentially a vector of numbers) of the scene as a whole. Then it’s the job of the generation network to reverse this process: starting with the vector representing the scene, accepting a camera location as input, and generating an image representing how the scene would look like from that angle. The team used the standard machine learning technique of stochastic gradient descent to iteratively improve the two networks. The software feeds some training images into the network, generates an output image, and then observes how much this image diverged from the expected result. […] If the output doesn’t match the desired image, then the software back-propagates the errors, updating the numerical weights on the thousands of neurons to improve the network’s performance.


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Engineers Develop Electric Car Battery That Can Heat Itself During Winter

Jun 30

Engineers at Penn State have created a battery that can self-heat, allowing for rapid charging regardless of the outside cold. The battery can reportedly provide a 15-minute rapid charge at all temperatures, even when the cold is as low as minus 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Popular Mechanics reports: Batteries have both positive and negative terminals. The scientists placed thin nickel foil with one end attached to the negative terminal and the other end creating a third terminal. When a temperature sensor attached to a battery detects that the battery is below room temperature, it then sends electrons flowing through the nickel foil. This heats the battery up until it’s above room temperature again. When the sensor detects that the battery is above room temperature, that’s the sign that charging that can begin again. Electric current flows into the battery, rapidly charging in a more efficient state. After 4,500 cycles of testing, the new battery only showed a 20 percent capacity loss, which could provide approximately 280,000 miles of driving and a lifetime of 12.5 years. This is compared to a conventional battery that “showed a 20 percent capacity loss after only 50 charges,” reports Popular Mechanics. Penn State released a press statement with more details.


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Microsoft Details Secret ‘Pocketable’ Surface Device

Jun 30

Microsoft’s mysterious new Surface device, codenamed Andromeda, that’s been in development for the past two years is going to be pocketable, reports The Verge. The company says it will create a “new and disruptive” device category to influence the overall Surface roadmap and blur the lines between what’s considered PC and mobile. From the report: “It’s a new pocketable Surface device form factor that brings together innovative new hardware and software experiences to create a truly personal and versatile computing experience,” is exactly how Microsoft describes the device internally. The Andromeda device is still being developed in secrecy inside Microsoft, with a wraparound display that bridges the gap of the hinge when it’s fully opened. We understand current engineering samples of the pocketable Surface look identical to the 3D concept created by David Breyer.

Microsoft has also been experimenting with stylus input for Andromeda, so that the device can fold over like a book and a pen can be used to capture digital ink. Microsoft is also experimenting with ARM processors inside prototype Andromeda devices. Microsoft views Andromeda as a unique response to its failures with Windows Phone devices. “It will blur the lines between mobile and stationary computing,” reads one internal document describing the device. Microsoft is tentatively planning to release Andromeda in 2018, with similar devices from some of Microsoft’s top OEMs to “follow afterwards.”


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Google Invests $22 Million In Feature Phone Operating System KaiOS

Jun 30

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Google is turning startup investor to further its goal of putting Google services like search, maps, and its voice assistant front and center for the next billion internet users in emerging markets. It has invested $22 million into KaiOS, the company that has built an eponymous operating system for feature phones that packs a range of native apps and other smartphone-like services. As part of the investment, KaiOS will be working on integrating Google services like search, maps, YouTube and its voice assistant into more KaiOS devices, after initially announcing Google apps for KaiOS-powered Nokia phones earlier this year.

KaiOS is a U.S.-based project that started in 2017, built on the ashes of Mozilla’s failed Firefox OS experiment, as a fork of the Linux codebase. Firefox OS was intended to be the basis of a new wave of HTML-5, low-cost smartphones. And while those devices and the wider ecosystem never really took off, KaiOS has fared significantly better. KaiOS powers phones made by OEMs including Nokia (HMD), Micromax and Alcatel, and it works with carriers including Sprint and AT&T — it counts offices in North America, Europe and Asia. But its most significant deployment to date has been with India’s Reliance Jio, the challenger telco that disrupted the Indian market with affordable 4G data packages. “This funding will help us fast-track development and global deployment of KaiOS-enabled smart feature phones, allowing us to connect the vast population that still cannot access the internet, especially in emerging markets,” said KaiOS CEO Sebastien Codeville in a statement.


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Fiat Chrysler Is Being Sued Over a Software Flaw

Jun 30

“Last week, a California judge decided to allow a class action lawsuit filed in December 2017 against Fiat Chrysler to proceed,” reports IEEE Spectrum. “The lawsuit, which could have major ramifications for car makers, was filed in response to stalling issues with 2017 Chrysler Pacifica minivans that the plaintiffs allege were caused by known software defects.” From the report: The plaintiffs allege that Fiat Chrysler, despite numerous owner complaints about the Pacifica stalling out, concealed knowledge of defects in Pacifica’s powertrain control module (PCM) to keep customers from having concerns about buying the vehicle. Fiat Chrysler attempted to get the lawsuit dismissed, arguing that consumer complaints don’t prove that a vehicle defect exists, or demonstrate that the company knew about the alleged defect a priori and concealed it.

The judge agreed with Fiat Chrysler on those points, ruling that the plaintiffs could not use consumer complaints alone as evidence of a defect. However, he pointed out that Fiat Chrysler had issued two technical service bulletins relating to Pacifica’s PCM software before the plaintiffs had purchased their vehicle, and two more following their purchase. The judge ruled that there was sufficient evidence to believe it was “at least plausible” that Fiat Chrysler knew that there was a stalling problem with the vehicles before the plaintiffs bought them.


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EFF Sues To Invalidate FOSTA, An Unconstitutional Internet Censorship Law

Jun 30

schwit1 quotes a report from the Electronic Frontier Foundation: We are asking a court to declare the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017 (“FOSTA”) unconstitutional and prevent it from being enforced. The law was written so poorly that it actually criminalizes a substantial amount of protected speech and, according to experts, actually hinders efforts to prosecute sex traffickers and aid victims. In our lawsuit, two human rights organizations, an individual advocate for sex workers, a certified non-sexual massage therapist, and the Internet Archive, are challenging the law as an unconstitutional violation of the First and Fifth Amendments. Although the law was passed by Congress for the worthy purpose of fighting sex trafficking, its broad language makes criminal of those who advocate for and provide resources to adult, consensual sex workers and actually hinders efforts to prosecute sex traffickers and aid victims. The EFF goes on to cite some examples of how FOSTA has already censored the internet. Most notably, two days after FOSTA was passed in the Senate, “Craigslist eliminated its Personals section, including non-sexual subcategories such as ‘Missed Connections’ and ‘Strictly Platonic,'” reports the EFF. Reddit even removed some of its subreddits out of fear of future lawsuits.


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Linux Mint 19 ‘Tara’ Released

Jun 30

Linux Mint, the maker of popular Linux distro, announced on Friday the general availability of a new version of their operating system. Called Linux Mint 19 “Tara”, the new version offers a range of new features, improvements, and a promise that it would stick around for a while. Writing for BetaNews, Brian Fagioli: The most significant aspect of Linux Mint 19 is the new Ubuntu 18.04 LTS base. Tara will receive updates until 2023 — very impressive. The kernel is at 4.15, and all three desktop environments are being updated too. Mate is now at version 1.2, Cinnamon gets bumped up to 3.8, and Xfce is updated to 4.12. In Linux Mint 19, the star of the show is Timeshift, said, Clement Lefebvre, Linux Mint Project Leader. Although it was introduced in Linux Mint 18.3 and backported to all Linux Mint releases, it is now at the center of Linux Mint’s update strategy and communication, he added. Thanks to Timeshift you can go back in time and restore your computer to the last functional system snapshot. If anything breaks, you can go back to the previous snapshot and it’s as if the problem never happened.


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Tesla Opens Orders To All US and Canadian Model 3 Reservation Holders

Jun 30

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: For people who put down a $1,000 deposit for a Tesla Model 3 as long as two years ago, the big day has arrived. Specifically, the day has arrived when they can give Tesla another $2,500 and then wait a few more months for their car to arrive. Days before the end of the second quarter, Tesla is now allowing all reservation holders in the United States and Canada to place orders for the Model 3. Customers will be able to choose between several variants of the Model 3 — including the high-end “performance” model — as well as choosing colors and option packages. However, the low-end version of the Model 3 with its long-promised $35,000 price tag isn’t available to order yet.

Each customer will get a specific delivery estimate based on the model they choose and their position on the waiting list. A typical delivery window is two to four months. While the original $1,000 Model 3 deposit was fully refundable, customers who pay the extra $2,500 will be locked in three days after placing an order, the company told CNBC. That isn’t a new requirement — a Tesla spokeswoman told Ars that the company has long asked customers to pay a $2,500 deposit when they order other Tesla models.


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We Still Have No Idea How To Eliminate More Than a Quarter of Energy Emissions

Jun 30

Climate discussions typically center on the need to replace fossil-fuel power plants with technologies like wind turbines and solar panels. But a new paper in Science offers a stark reminder that there are still huge parts of the global energy system where we simply don’t have affordable ways of halting greenhouse-gas emissions. MIT Technology Review: Air travel, long-distance transportation and shipping, steel and cement manufacturing, and remaining parts of the power sector account for 27 percent of global emissions from the energy and industrial sectors. And the authors say we need much more research, innovation, and strategic coordination to clean up these sources. “If we’re really ambitious about meeting our climate targets, we need to be tackling these hard sectors now,” says the paper’s lead author, Steven Davis, an earth system scientist at the University of California, Irvine.


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