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Google

Google's Eric Schmidt Says People Want Dish-Washing Robots To Clean Up the Kitchen More Than Any Other Kind (cnbc.com) 251

There is nothing that people want robots to be able to do more than to wash the dishes, according to Alphabet Chairman and former CEO Eric Schmidt. From a report: "When you ask a person what they would like a robot to do, the thing that they would like more than anyone else, is clean up the dishes in the kitchen," the billionaire Google executive says speaking at the Halifax International Security Forum. "That is literally the number one request. And I say this having done this exhaustively," he says. Though you may dream of a robot dishwasher, don't hold your breath for it to happen in the immediate future. "That turns out to be an extraordinarily difficult problem," says Schmidt.
Android

Samsung's Galaxy S9 Will Appear At CES In January, Says Report (venturebeat.com) 41

According to VentureBeat, Samsung is planning to show off its next-generation Galaxy S9 and S9+ smartphones at January's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Some of the information about the devices will be shared at CES, but Samsung is still apparently holding an official launch event in March, as it did this past year for the Galaxy S8 and S8+. From the report: Codenamed Star 1 and Star 2 -- and going by model numbers SM-G960 and SM-G965 -- the S9 and S9+ will feature the same 5.8-inch and 6.2-inch curved-edge Super AMOLED "Infinity" displays, respectively, as their predecessors. While no specific processor was mentioned, it is said to employ 10-nanometer fabrication techniques, which is highly suggestive of the upcoming Snapdragon 845 from Qualcomm (and likely a similar Exynos model for some regions). Besides a bigger screen, the S9+ will reportedly offer more RAM (6GB versus 4GB) and a second rear camera, similar to the Note8. Both models pack 64GB of internal storage, supplemented by a microSD slot, and both leave the 3.5-millimeter headphone jack intact. Regardless of rear camera configuration, both phones orient the elements on the back of the device vertically -- with the fingerprint sensor on the bottom, in acknowledgement of one of the most frequent complaints about all three of Samsung's 2017 flagship handsets. Another change that's sure to be well-received is the addition of AKG stereo speakers. Finally, Samsung plans to introduce a backward-compatible DeX docking station that situates the phones flat and utilizes the screens as either a touchpad or a virtual keyboard.
Windows

Microsoft Confirms Surface Book 2 Can't Stay Charged During Gaming Sessions (engadget.com) 137

The Verge mentioned in their review that the Surface Book 2's power supply can't charge the battery fast enough to prevent it from draining in some cases. Microsoft has since confirmed that "in some intense, prolonged gaming scenarios with Power Mode Slider set to 'best performance' the battery may discharge while connected to the power supply." Engadget reports: To let you choose between performance and battery life, the Surface Book has a range of power settings. If you're doing video editing or other GPU intensive tasks, you can crank it up to "best performance" to activate the NVIDIA GPU and get more speed. Battery drain is normally not an issue with graphics apps because the chip only kicks in when needed. You'll also need the "best performance" setting for GPU-intensive games, as they'll slow down or drop frames otherwise. The problem is that select titles like Destiny 2 use the NVIDIA chip nearly continuously, pulling up to 70 watts of power on top of the 35 watt CPU. Unfortunately, the Surface Book comes with a 102-watt charger, and only about 95 watts of that reaches the device, the Verge points out. Microsoft says that the power management system will prevent the battery from draining completely, even during intense gaming, but it would certainly mess up your Destiny 2 session. It also notes that the machine is intended for designers, developers and engineers, with the subtext that it's not exactly marketed as a gaming rig.
Businesses

Why Apple's HomePod Is Three Years Behind Amazon's Echo (bloomberg.com) 96

Apple unveiled the HomePod, its first smart speaker to take on market-leading Amazon's Echo lineup of speakers, in June this year. Despite being three years late to the party, the HomePod has largely been pitched more as a speaker that sounds great instead of a device that sounds great but more importantly can also help you with daily chores. On top of this, Apple said last week it was delaying the shipment of HomePod from December this year to "early 2018." So why does a company, the market valuation of which is quickly reaching a trillion dollar, so behind its competitors? Bloomberg reports on Tuesday: Apple audio engineers had been working on an early version of the HomePod speaker for about two years in 2014 when they were blindsided by the Echo, a smart speaker from Amazon with a voice-activated assistant named Alexa. The Apple engineers jokingly accused one another of leaking details of their project to Amazon, then bought Echos so they could take them apart and see how they were put together. They quickly deemed the Echo's sound quality inferior and got back to work building a better speaker. More than two years passed. In that time Amazon's Echo became a hit with consumers impressed by Alexa's ability to answer questions, order pizzas and turn lights on and off. Meanwhile, Apple dithered over its own speaker, according to people familiar with the situation. The project was cancelled and revived several times, they said, and the device went through multiple permutations (at one point it stood 3 feet tall) as executives struggled to figure out how it would fit into the home and Apple's ecosystem of products and services. In the end, the company plowed ahead, figuring that creating a speaker would give customers another reason to stay loyal. Yet despite having all the ingredients for a serious competitor to the Echo -- including Siri and the App Store -- Apple never saw the HomePod as anything more than an accessory, like the AirPods earphones.
Security

Intel: We've Found Severe Bugs in Secretive Management Engine, Affecting Millions (zdnet.com) 203

Liam Tung, writing for ZDNet: Thanks to an investigation by third-party researchers into Intel's hidden firmware in certain chips, Intel decided to audit its firmware and on Monday confirmed it had found 11 severe bugs that affect millions of computers and servers. The flaws affect Management Engine (ME), Trusted Execution Engine (TXE), and Server Platform Services (SPS). Intel discovered the bugs after Maxim Goryachy and Mark Ermolov from security firm Positive Technologies found a critical vulnerability in the ME firmware that Intel now says would allow an attacker with local access to execute arbitrary code. The researchers in August published details about a secret avenue that the US government can use to disable ME, which is not available to the public. Intel ME has been a source of concern for security-minded users, in part because only Intel can inspect the firmware, yet many researchers suspected the powerful subsystem had bugs that were ripe for abuse by attackers.
Power

UCLA Researchers Use Solar To Create and Store Hydrogen (phys.org) 61

UCLA researchers have designed a device that can use solar energy to inexpensively and efficiently create and store energy, which could be used to power electronic devices, and to create hydrogen fuel for eco-friendly cars. Phys.Org reports: The device could make hydrogen cars affordable for many more consumers because it produces hydrogen using nickel, iron and cobalt -- elements that are much more abundant and less expensive than the platinum and other precious metals that are currently used to produce hydrogen fuel. Traditional hydrogen fuel cells and supercapacitors have two electrodes: one positive and one negative. The device developed at UCLA has a third electrode that acts as both a supercapacitor, which stores energy, and as a device for splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen, a process called water electrolysis. All three electrodes connect to a single solar cell that serves as the device's power source, and the electrical energy harvested by the solar cell can be stored in one of two ways: electrochemically in the supercapacitor or chemically as hydrogen. The device also is a step forward because it produces hydrogen fuel in an environmentally friendly way. Currently, about 95 percent of hydrogen production worldwide comes from converting fossil fuels such as natural gas into hydrogen -- a process that releases large quantities of carbon dioxide into the air, said Maher El-Kady, a UCLA postdoctoral researcher and a co-author of the research. The technology is described in the journal Energy Storage Materials.
Transportation

Uber Expands Driverless-Car Push With Deal For 24,000 Volvos (bloomberg.com) 174

Uber agreed to buy 24,000 sport utility vehicles from Volvo to form a fleet of driverless autos. According to Bloomberg, "The XC90s, priced from $46,900 at U.S. dealers, will be delivered from 2019 to 2021 in the first commercial purchase by a ride-hailing provider." Uber will add its own sensors and software to permit pilot-less driving. From the report: Uber's order steps up efforts to replace human drivers, the biggest cost in its on-demand taxi service. The autonomous fleet is small compared with the more than 2 million people who drive for Uber but reflects dedication to the company's strategy of developing self-driving cars. "This new agreement puts us on a path toward mass-produced, self-driving vehicles at scale," Jeff Miller, Uber's head of auto alliances, told Bloomberg News. "The more people working on the problem, we'll get there faster and with better, safer, more reliable systems."
iMac

iMac Pro Will Have An A10 Fusion Coprocessor For 'Hey, Siri' Support and More Secure Booting, Says Report (theverge.com) 164

According to Apple firmware gurus Steven Troughton-Smith and Guilherme Rambo, the upcoming iMac Pro will feature an A10 Fusion coprocessor to enable two interesting new features. "The first is the ability for the iMac Pro to feature always-on 'Hey, Siri' voice command support, similar to what's currently available on more recent iPhone devices," reports The Verge. "[T]he bigger implication of the A10 Fusion is for a less user-facing function, with Apple likely to use the coprocessor to enable SecureBoot on the iMac Pro." From the report: In more practical terms, it means that Apple will be using the A10 Fusion chip to handle the initial boot process and confirm that software checks out, before passing things off to the regular x86 Intel processor in your Mac. It's not something that will likely change how you use your computer too much, like the addition of "Hey, Siri" support will, but it's a move toward Apple experimenting with an increased level of control over its software going forward.
Cloud

Amazon Launches a Cloud Service For US Intelligence Agencies (cnbc.com) 55

Amazon Web Services on Monday introduced cloud service for the CIA and other members of the U.S. intelligence community. From a report: The launch of the so-called AWS Secret Region comes six years after AWS introduced GovCloud, its first data center region for public sector customers. AWS has since announced plans to expand GovCloud. The new Secret Region signals interest in using AWS from specific parts of the U.S. government. In 2013 news outlets reported on a $600 million contract between AWS and the CIA. That event singlehandledly helped Amazon in its effort to sign up large companies to use its cloud, whose core services have been available since 2006.
Hardware

The Secret to Tech's Next Big Breakthroughs? Stacking Chips (wsj.com) 115

Christopher Mims, writing for the Wall Street Journal: A funny thing is happening to the most basic building blocks of nearly all our devices. Microchips, which are usually thin and flat, are being stacked like pancakes (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled). Chip designers -- now playing with depth, not just length and width -- are discovering a variety of unexpected dividends in performance, power consumption and capabilities. Without this technology, the Apple Watch wouldn't be possible. Nor would the most advanced solid-state memory from Samsung, artificial-intelligence systems from Nvidia and Google, or Sony's crazy-fast next-gen camera. Think of this 3-D stacking as urban planning. Without it, you have sprawl -- microchips spread across circuit boards, getting farther and farther apart as more components are needed. But once you start stacking chips, you get a silicon cityscape, with everything in closer proximity.

The advantage is simple physics: When electrons have to travel long distances through copper wires, it takes more power, produces heat and reduces bandwidth. Stacked chips are more efficient, run cooler and communicate across much shorter interconnections at lightning speed, says Greg Yeric, director of future silicon technology for ARM Research, part of microchip design firm ARM.

Japan

Six Years After Fukushima, Robots Finally Find Its Reactors' Melted Uranium Fuel (gizmodo.com) 216

An anonymous reader quotes Gizmodo: Earlier this year, remotely piloted robots transmitted what officials believe was a direct view of melted radioactive fuel inside Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant's destroyed reactors [YouTube] -- a major discovery, but one that took a long and painful six years to achieve... Japanese officials are now hoping that they can convince a skeptical public that the worst of the disaster is over, the New York Times reported, but it's not clear whether it's too late despite the deployment of 7,000 workers and massive resources to return the region to something approaching normal.

Per the Times, officials admit the recovery plan -- involving the complete destruction of the plant, rather than simply building a concrete sarcophagus around it as the Russians did in Chernobyl -- will take decades and tens of billions of dollars. Currently, Tepco plans to begin removing waste from one of the three contaminated reactors at the plant by 2021, "though they have yet to choose which one"... Currently, radiation levels are so high in the ruined facility that it fries robots sent in within a matter of hours, which will necessitate developing a new generation of droids with even higher radiation tolerances.

Friday a group of Japanese businesses and doctors sued General Electric of behalf of 150,000 Japanese citizens, saying their designs for the Fukushima reactors were reckless and negligent.
AI

Musk-Backed 'Slaughterbots' Video Will Warn the UN About Killer Microdrones (space.com) 252

An anonymous reader quotes Space.com: A graphic new video posits a very scary future in which swarms of killer microdrones are dispatched to kill political activists and U.S. lawmakers. Armed with explosive charges, the palm-sized quadcopters use real-time data mining and artificial intelligence to find and kill their targets. The makers of the seven-minute film titled Slaughterbots are hoping the startling dramatization will draw attention to what they view as a looming crisis -- the development of lethal, autonomous weapons, that select and fire on human targets without human guidance.

The Future of Life Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to mitigating existential risks posed by advanced technologies, including artificial intelligence, commissioned the film. Founded by a group of scientists and business leaders, the institute is backed by AI-skeptics Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking, among others. The institute is also behind the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, a coalition of non-governmental organizations which have banded together to call for a preemptive ban on lethal autonomous weapons... The film will be screened this week at the United Nations in Geneva during a meeting of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons... The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is hosting a series of meetings at this year's event to propose a worldwide ban on lethal autonomous weapons, which could potentially be developed as flying drones, self-driving tanks, or automated sentry guns.

"This short film is more than just speculation," says Stuart Russell, a U.C. Berkeley considered an expert in artificial intelligence.

"It shows the results of integrating and miniaturizing technologies we already have."
Power

Could a Helium-Resistant Material Usher In an Age of Nuclear Fusion? (sciencealert.com) 128

Researchers working with a team at the Los Alamos National Lab tested a new way to build material for nuclear fusion reactors, "and found that it could eliminate one of the obstacles preventing humanity from harnessing the power of fusion energy." schwit1 quotes Science Alert: A collaboration of engineers and researchers has found a way to prevent helium, a byproduct of the fusion reaction, from weakening nuclear fusion reactors. The secret is in building the reactors using nanocomposite solids that create channels through which the helium can escape... Not only does the fusion process expose reactors to extreme pressure and temperatures, helium -- the byproduct of fusion between hydrogen atoms -- adds to the strain placed on reactors by bubbling out into the materials and eventually weakening them...

In a study published in the journal Science Advances, the researchers overview how they tested the behavior of helium in nanocomposite solids, materials made from thick metal layer stacks. They found that the helium didn't form bubbles in these nanocomposite solids like it did in traditionally used materials. Instead, it formed long, vein-like tunnels. "We were blown away by what we saw," said Demkowicz. "As you put more and more helium inside these nanocomposites, rather than destroying the material, the veins actually start to interconnect, resulting in kind of a vascular system."

The article points out that nuclear fusion generates four times the energy of nuclear fission.
Medicine

Study of 500,000 Teens Suggests Association Between Excessive Screen Time and Depression (vice.com) 128

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Depression and suicide rates in teenagers have jumped in the last decade -- doubling between 2007 and 2015 for girls -- and the trend suspiciously coincides with when smartphones became their constant companions. A recent study places their screen time around nine hours per day. Another study, published on Tuesday, suggests that suicide and depression could be connected to the rise of smartphones, and increased screen time. Around 58 percent more girls reported depression symptoms in 2015 than in 2009, and suicide rates rose 65 percent. Smack in the middle of that window of time, smartphones gained market saturation.

In Twenge's new study, published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, the researchers looked at two samples: a nationally representative survey by ongoing study "Monitoring the Future" out of the University of Michigan, which is administered annually to 8th, 10th, and 12th graders, and the Centers for Disease Control's Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, a sample of high school students administered by the CDC every other year. (Both surveys began in 1991.) Altogether, over 500,000 young people were included. The study authors examined trends in how teens used social media, the internet, electronic devices (including gaming systems and tablets), and smartphones, as well as how much time they spent doing non-screen activities like homework, playing sports, or socializing. Comparing these to publicly available data on mental health and suicide for these ages between 2010 and 2017 showed "a clear pattern linking screen activities with higher levels of depressive symptoms/suicide-related outcomes and non-screen activities with lower levels," the researchers wrote in the study. All activities involving screens were associated with higher levels of depression or suicide and suicidal thinking, and activities done away from a screen were not.

Businesses

Walmart Says It's Preordered 15 of Tesla' New Semi Trucks (theverge.com) 179

Soon after Tesla unveiled its new electric Semi Truck and Roadster 2.0, Walmart says it has preordered 15 of the trucks. The Verge notes that the deal was "likely in the works before Tesla unveiled its new truck to the public." From the report: The pilot is planned for the U.S. and Canada. Five of the preordered vehicles will be for Walmart's U.S. business, and 10 will be for its Canadian routes, the company said. Walmart's fleet has about 6,000 trucks. "We have a long history of testing new technology -- including alternative-fuel trucks -- and we are excited to be among the first to pilot this new heavy-duty electric vehicle," the company said in a statement. "We believe we can learn how this technology performs within our supply chain, as well as how it could help us meet some of our long-term sustainability goals, such as lowering emissions." Musk said the truck would enter production in 2019. JB Hunt Transport Services, a 56-year-old company based in Arkansas, also reserved "multiple" new Tesla trucks as well.

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