Businesses

Amazon Bringing Echo and Alexa To 80 Additional Countries in Major Global Expansion (geekwire.com) 38

Amazon is launching three of its Echo devices with Alexa in 80 additional countries starting today -- a major international expansion for the company's smart speakers and voice-based assistant. From a report: New markets for the Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Plus include Mexico, China, Russia and other countries in regions and continents including Europe, Africa, South America, the Middle East and Asia. Other Echo devices, such as the touch-screen Echo Show, are not included as part of the international expansion. Echo devices were previously only available in the US, UK, Germany, India, Japan, and Canada. Amazon earlier announced plans to bring Echo and Alexa to Australia and New Zealand next year. In addition, Amazon says its Music Unlimited subscription streaming service is available in 28 additional countries, including many of those where the Echo is now expanding, as well. Recommended reading: Don't buy anyone an Amazon Echo speaker.
Hardware

Nvidia Announces 'Nvidia Titan V' Video Card: GV100 for $3000 (anandtech.com) 51

Nvidia has announced the Titan V, the "world's most powerful PC GPU." It's based on Nvidia's Volta, the same architecture as the Nvidia Tesla V100 GPUs behind Amazon Web Service's recently launched top-end P3 instances, which are dedicated to artificial-intelligence applications. From a report: A mere 7 months after Volta was announced with the Tesla V100 accelerator and the GV100 GPU inside it, Nvidia continues its breakneck pace by releasing the GV100-powered Titan V, available for sale today. Aimed at a decidedly more compute-oriented market than ever before, the 815 mm2 behemoth die that is GV100 is now available to the broader public. [...] The Titan V, by extension, sees the Titan lineup finally switch loyalties and start using Nvidia's high-end compute-focused GPUs, in this case the Volta architecture based V100. The end result is that rather than being Nvidia's top prosumer card, the Titan V is decidedly more focused on compute, particularly due to the combination of the price tag and the unique feature set that comes from using the GV100 GPU. Which isn't to say that you can't do graphics on the card -- this is still very much a video card, outputs and all -- but Nvidia is first and foremost promoting it as a workstation-level AI compute card, and by extension focusing on the GV100 GPU's unique tensor cores and the massive neural networking performance advantages they offer over earlier Nvidia cards.
Businesses

GE Cuts 12,000 Jobs In Response To Falling Demand For Fossil Fuel Energy (qz.com) 142

In response to the drop in demand for fossil fuel energy, General Electric -- the world's largest maker of gas turbines -- announced plans to cut 12,000 jobs. Quartz reports: Those cuts will mostly come from GE's power division, which makes energy-generation technologies. The reduction will account for 18% of the division's workforce and affect both professional and production employees, the company said in a statement. The majority of job losses will occur outside the U.S., Bloomberg reports. In a statement, Russell Stokes, the division's president and CEO, said disruptions to the power market were "driving significantly lower volumes in products and services." Demand for GE's power-generation equipment has stalled in part because of renewable energy growth, says Robert McCarthy, an analyst at Stifel Financial.

The move is part of a larger restructuring effort under GE's new chief executive John Flannery, who has faced immense pressure to regain the company's footing since taking the helm in June of this year. GE's stock price plunged 44% this year, the worst performer on the Dow, according to Bloomberg. The company aims to cut $3.5 billion of expenses across its divisions by the end of 2018, including a $1 billion cut from the power division.

Businesses

Tesla Could Be Hogging Batteries and Causing a Global Shortage, Says Report (gizmodo.com) 159

According to a report from the Korea news outlet ETNews, Tesla's solution to fixing a manufacturing bottleneck responsible for a $619 million loss last quarter could be causing a global battery shortage. Panasonic reportedly gave most of its cache of batteries in Japan to Tesla so that the automaker and Gigafactory 1 energy-storage company could keep up with its ambitious production schedule. Gizmodo reports: In early October, Tesla struggled with a "production bottleneck," but by the end of the month, Panasonic stated it would increase battery output at the Gigafactory, now that it understood the issues that led to the bottleneck and could automate some of the processes that had been done by hand. But this likely did not help Tesla fix any immediate shortage issues. ETNews claims that Panasonic is coping with the shortage by shipping batteries in from Japan. And many Japanese companies in need of cylinder batteries have turned to other suppliers like LG, Murata, and Samsung -- but those companies have not been able to meet the demands. Reportedly, companies that had contracts before 2017 aren't affected by the shortage, but several other manufacturers have not been able to place orders for batteries, and won't be able to order more batteries until the middle of next year.
Government

Volkswagen Executive Sentenced To Maximum Prison Term For His Role In Dieselgate (arstechnica.com) 101

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: On Wednesday, a U.S. District judge in Detroit sentenced Oliver Schmidt, a former Volkswagen executive, to seven years in prison for his role in the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal of 2015. Schmidt was also ordered to pay a criminal penalty of $400,000, according to a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) press release. The prison term and the fine together represent the maximum sentence that Schmidt could have received under the plea deal he signed in August. Schmidt, a German citizen who lived in Detroit as an emissions compliance executive for VW, was arrested in Miami on vacation last January. In August, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy and to making a false statement under the Clean Air Act. Schmidt's plea deal stated that the former executive could face up to seven years in prison and between $40,000 and $400,000 in fines.

Last week, Schmidt's attorneys made a last-minute bid requesting a lighter sentence for Schmidt: 40 months of supervised release and a $100,000 fine. Schmidt also wrote a letter to the judge, which surfaced over the weekend, in which the executive said he felt "misused" by his own company and claimed that higher-ranked VW executives coached him on a script to help him lie to a California Air Resources Board (CARB) official. Instead, Schmidt was sentenced to the maximum penalties outlined in the plea deal. Only one other VW employee has been sentenced in connection with the emissions scandal: former engineer James Liang, who received 40 months in prison and two years of supervised release as the result of his plea deal. Although six other VW Group executives have been indicted, none is in U.S. custody.

Power

Airlines Restrict 'Smart Luggage' Over Fire Hazards Posed By Batteries (npr.org) 108

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: Airlines including American, Delta and Alaska have announced restrictions on so-called smart luggage because the lithium-ion batteries found in many of these suitcases pose a fire risk. "Beginning Jan. 15, customers who travel with a smart bag must be able to remove the battery in case the bag has to be checked at any point in the customer's journey. If the battery cannot be removed, the bag will not be allowed," American said in a statement on Friday. The same day, Delta and Alaska announced similar policies on their flights.

American's policy dictates that if the bag is carry-on size, passengers can take the luggage onboard, so long as the battery can be removed if needed. If passengers need to check the bag, the battery must be removed and carried onboard. But if the bag has a non-removable battery, it can't be checked or carried on. An FAA spokesman told The Washington Post that the airlines' policies are "consistent with our guidance that lithium-ion batteries should not be carried in the cargo hold."

Android

Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 Boosts CPU and GPU Performance, Delivers 4K HDR Capture, 3x Faster AI Processing (hothardware.com) 48

MojoKid writes: Qualcomm provided a deep-dive view today of its Snapdragon 845 mobile processor platform that it recently announced, highlighting key advancements in what the company is referring to as a completely new silicon design. The new chip now employs a Kyro 385 CPU with four high performance cores at 2.8GHz (25 percent faster than the previous gen Snapdragon 835) and four "efficiency" cores operating at 1.7GHz. The new chip also includes the new Spectra 280 image signal processor (ISP). Compared to its predecessor, the image signal processor (ISP) in the Snapdragon 845 promises a 64x uplift in the ability to capture high dynamic range (HDR) color information for 4K HDR video capture and playback. The chip's new Adreno 630 GPU promises a 30 percent boost in gaming performance compared to its predecessor, along with room-scale VR/AR experiences that support 6 degrees of freedom along with simultaneous localization and mapping, or SLAM. Finally, the new SoC platform incorporates Qualcomm's second-generation gigabit LTE modem: the Snapdragon X20. This Cat 18 modem supports peak download speeds of 1.2Gbps along with 5x carrier aggregation, 4x4 MIMO, and Dual SIM-Dual VoLTE. Qualcomm says that the first Snapdragon 845 processors will begin shipping in production devices in early 2018.
Bitcoin

'Bitcoin Could Cost Us Our Clean-Energy Future' (grist.org) 468

An anonymous reader shares an article: Bitcoin wasn't intended to be an investment instrument. Its creators envisioned it as a replacement for money itself -- a decentralized, secure, anonymous method for transferring value between people. But what they might not have accounted for is how much of an energy suck the computer network behind bitcoin could one day become. Simply put, bitcoin is slowing the effort to achieve a rapid transition away from fossil fuels. What's more, this is just the beginning. Given its rapidly growing climate footprint, bitcoin is a malignant development, and it's getting worse. Digital financial transactions come with a real-world price: The tremendous growth of cryptocurrencies has created an exponential demand for computing power. As bitcoin grows, the math problems computers must solve to make more bitcoin (a process called "mining") get more and more difficult -- a wrinkle designed to control the currency's supply. Today, each bitcoin transaction requires the same amount of energy used to power nine homes in the U.S. for one day. And miners are constantly installing more and faster computers. Already, the aggregate computing power of the bitcoin network is nearly 100,000 times larger than the world's 500 fastest supercomputers combined. The total energy use of this web of hardware is huge -- an estimated 31 terawatt-hours per year. More than 150 individual countries in the world consume less energy annually. And that power-hungry network is currently increasing its energy use every day by about 450 gigawatt-hours, roughly the same amount of electricity the entire country of Haiti uses in a year.
Android

Qualcomm Announces Latest Snapdragon 845 Processor (9to5google.com) 38

The processor to power the next generation of Android flagship smartphones has been announced today. Qualcomm unveiled the new Snapdragon 845 processor at the 2017 Snapdragon Tech Summit, where Microsoft announced it was working with its PC partners to bring Windows 10 to Qualcomm's ARM processors. While more technical details of the chip will be announced tomorrow, we do know that the Snapdragon 845 processor is based on a 10nm processor and will feature the latest X20 LTE modem for gigabit connectivity speeds. Generally speaking, the new processor will bring improved performance, better power efficiency, and improved image processing.
Power

The World's Astonishing Dependence On Fossil Fuels Hasn't Changed In 40 Years (qz.com) 243

schwit1 shares a report from Quartz, adding: "Maybe 'dependence' is a poor description of poor people using the ready availability of cheap energy to help lift themselves out of poverty": There are few ways to understand why. First, most of the world's clean-energy sources are used to generate electricity. But electricity forms only 25% of the world's energy consumption. Second, as the rich world moved towards a cleaner energy mix, much of the poor world was just starting to gain access to modern forms of energy. Inevitably, they chose the cheapest option, which was and remains fossil fuels. So yes, we're using much more clean energy than we used to. But the world's energy demand has grown so steeply that we're also using a lot more fossil fuels than in the past.
Intel

Dell Begins Offering Laptops With Intel's 'Management Engine' Disabled (liliputing.com) 140

An anonymous reader quotes Liliputing.com Linux computer vendor System76 announced this week that it will roll out a firmware update to disable Intel Management Engine on laptops sold in the past few years. Purism will also disable Intel Management Engine on computers it sells moving forward. Those two computer companies are pretty small players in the multi-billion dollar PC industry. But it turns out one of the world's largest PC companies is also offering customers the option of buying a computer with Intel Management Engine disabled.

At least three Dell computers can be configured with an "Intel vPro -- ME Inoperable, Custom Order" option, although you'll have to pay a little extra for those configurations... While Intel doesn't officially provide an option to disable its Management Engine, independent security researchers have discovered methods for doing that and we're starting to see PC makers make use of those methods.

The option appears to be available on most of Dell's Latitude laptops (from the 12- to 15-inch screens), including the 7480, 5480, and 5580 and the Latitude 14 5000 Series (as well as several "Rugged" and "Rugged Extreme" models).

Dell is charging anywhere from $20.92 to $40 to disable Intel's Management Engine.
Power

R.I.P., Cape Wind (bostonglobe.com) 228

schwit1 quotes the Boston Globe: What a long, slow death it has been for Massachusetts's first proposed offshore wind farm. But now, its proponents are finally pulling the plug. While others in the energy industry considered the Cape Wind project dead, developer Jim Gordon didn't quit after losing power contracts he needed for financing in early 2015, or after state regulators yanked permission for a power line connection last year.

Another big blow came later in 2016 when Cape Wind foes worked their magic on Beacon Hill. They successfully lobbied lawmakers to prevent Cape Wind from benefitting from a major energy bill, one that requires utilities to buy large amounts of offshore wind. This was exactly the kind of legislation Gordon needed. But he wasn't being allowed at the party...

We're embarking on a new era. Wind turbines are on their way for deeper waters, south of Martha's Vineyard. They won't be Gordon's. But at least he can take some credit, in his defeat, for being a pioneer.

Mozilla

Mozilla Releases Open Source Speech Recognition Model, Massive Voice Dataset (mozilla.org) 58

Mozilla's VP of Technology Strategy, Sean White, writes: I'm excited to announce the initial release of Mozilla's open source speech recognition model that has an accuracy approaching what humans can perceive when listening to the same recordings... There are only a few commercial quality speech recognition services available, dominated by a small number of large companies. This reduces user choice and available features for startups, researchers or even larger companies that want to speech-enable their products and services. This is why we started DeepSpeech as an open source project.

Together with a community of likeminded developers, companies and researchers, we have applied sophisticated machine learning techniques and a variety of innovations to build a speech-to-text engine that has a word error rate of just 6.5% on LibriSpeech's test-clean dataset. vIn our initial release today, we have included pre-built packages for Python, NodeJS and a command-line binary that developers can use right away to experiment with speech recognition.

The announcement also touts the release of nearly 400,000 recordings -- downloadable by anyone -- as the first offering from Project Common Voice, "the world's second largest publicly available voice dataset." It launched in July "to make it easy for people to donate their voices to a publicly available database, and in doing so build a voice dataset that everyone can use to train new voice-enabled applications." And while they've started with English-language recordings, "we are working hard to ensure that Common Voice will support voice donations in multiple languages beginning in the first half of 2018."

"We at Mozilla believe technology should be open and accessible to all, and that includes voice... As the web expands beyond the 2D page, into the myriad ways where we connect to the Internet through new means like VR, AR, Speech, and languages, we'll continue our mission to ensure the Internet is a global public resource, open and accessible to all."
Power

Electric Cars Are Already Cheaper To Own and Run Than Petrol Or Diesel, Says Study (theguardian.com) 474

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Electric cars are already cheaper to own and run than petrol or diesel cars in the UK, US and Japan, new research shows. The lower cost is a key factor driving the rapid rise in electric car sales now underway, say the researchers. At the moment the cost is partly because of government support, but electric cars are expected to become the cheapest option without subsidies in a few years. The researchers analyzed the total cost of ownership of cars over four years, including the purchase price and depreciation, fuel, insurance, taxation and maintenance. They were surprised to find that pure electric cars came out cheapest in all the markets they examined: UK, Japan, Texas and California.

Pure electric cars have much lower fuel costs -- electricity is cheaper than petrol or diesel -- and maintenance costs, as the engines are simpler and help brake the car, saving on brake pads. In the UK, the annual cost was about 10% lower than for petrol or diesel cars in 2015, the latest year analyzed. Hybrid cars which cannot be plugged in and attract lower subsidies, were usually a little more expensive than petrol or diesel cars. Plug-in hybrids were found to be significantly more expensive -- buyers are effectively paying for two engines in one car, the researchers said. The exception in this case was Japan, where plug-in hybrids receive higher subsidies.
The study has been published in the journal Applied Energy.
Iphone

Every iPhone X Is Not Created Equal (pcmag.com) 74

According to a PC Magazine report that uses data from Cellular Insights, the Qualcomm-powered iPhone X has better LTE performance than the Intel-powered model. From the report: There are three iPhone X models sold globally. Using lab equipment, Cellular Insights tested two of them: the Qualcomm-powered A1865, sold by Sprint, Verizon, and U.S. Cellular and in Australia, China, and India; and the Intel-powered A1901, sold by most other global carriers including AT&T and T-Mobile. (The third model, A1902, is only sold in Japan.) Here in the U.S., we anticipate that the SIM-free model sold directly by Apple will be the A1865, as that's the model that supports all four U.S. carriers. For this test, Cellular Insights looked at performance on LTE Band 4, which is used by every major U.S. carrier except Sprint, as well as in Canada and parts of Latin America. Cellular Insights attenuated an LTE signal from a strong -85dBm until the modems showed no performance. While both modems started out with 195Mbps of download throughput on a 20MHz carrier, the Qualcomm difference appeared quickly, as the Intel modem dropped to 169Mbps at -87dBm. The Qualcomm modem took an additional -6dBm of attenuation to get to that speed. Most consumers will feel the difference in very weak signal conditions, where every dBm of signal matters, so we zoomed in on that in the chart below. At very weak signal strength, below -120dBm, the Qualcomm modem got speeds on average 67 percent faster than the Intel modem. The Intel modem finally died at -129dBm and the Qualcomm modem died at -130dBm, so we didn't find a lot of difference in when the modems finally gave out.
Australia

Tesla Switches on Giant Battery To Shore Up Australia's Grid (reuters.com) 173

Tesla switched on the world's biggest lithium ion battery on Friday in time to feed Australia's shaky power grid for the first day of summer, meeting a promise by Elon Musk to build it in 100 days or give it free. From a report: "South Australia is now leading the world in dispatchable renewable energy," state Premier Jay Weatherill said at the official launch at the Hornsdale wind farm, owned by private French firm Neoen. Tesla won a bid in July to build the 129-megawatt hour battery for South Australia, which expanded in wind power far quicker than the rest of the country, but has suffered a string of blackouts over the past 18 months. In a politically charged debate, opponents of the state's renewables push have argued that the battery is a "Hollywood solution" in a country that still relies on fossil fuels, mainly coal, for two-thirds of its electricity.
Earth

CNN Visualizes Climate Change-Driven Arctic Melt With 360-Degree VR Video (cnn.com) 163

dryriver writes: CNN has put up a slickly produced and somewhat alarming 360-degree browser video experience that allows the viewer to see firsthand what arctic melt looks like in Greenland. The video takes the viewer to the "Ground Zero" of climate change. Throughout the 7-minute long video, the viewer can interactively look around the locations visited. Voice narration and various scientists featured in the video explain what is happening in the Arctic, what causes the melting, and what the potential consequences are for the world.
Robotics

Russia Says It Will Ignore Any UN Ban of Killer Robots (ibtimes.com) 132

According a report from Defense One, a United Nations meeting in Geneva earlier this month on lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) was derailed when Russia said they would not adhere to any prohibitions on killer robots. "The U.N. meeting appeared to be undermined both by Russia's disinterest in it and the framework of the meeting itself," reports International Business Times. "Member nations attempted to come in and define what LAWS' systems would be, and what restrictions could be developed around autonomous war machines, but no progress was made." From the report: In a statement, Russia said that the lack of already developed war machines makes coming up with prohibitions on such machines difficult. "According to the Russian Federation, the lack of working samples of such weapons systems remains the main problem in the discussion on LAWS... this can hardly be considered as an argument for taking preventive prohibitive or restrictive measures against LAWS being a by far more complex and wide class of weapons of which the current understanding of humankind is rather approximate," read the statement.
Robotics

375 Million Jobs May Be Automated By 2030, Study Suggests (cnn.com) 236

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNNMoney: The McKinsey Global Institute cautions that as many as 375 million workers will need to switch occupational categories by 2030 due to automation. The work most at risk of automation includes physical jobs in predictable environments, such as operating machinery or preparing fast food. Data collection and processing is also in the crosshairs, with implications for mortgage origination, paralegals, accounts and back-office processing. To remain viable, workers must embrace retraining in different fields. But governments and companies will need to help smooth what could be a rocky transition.

Despite the looming challenges, the report revealed how workers can move forward. While the introduction of the personal computer in the 1980s eliminated some jobs, it created many more roles. Workers who are willing to develop new skills should be able to find new jobs. The authors don't expect automation will displace jobs involving managing people, social interactions or applying expertise. Gardeners, plumbers, child and elder-care workers are among those facing less risk from automation.
The report says that 39 million to 73 million jobs in the U.S. could be destroyed, but about 20 million of those displaced workers can be shifted fairly easily into similar occupations. Globally, up to 800 million workers could be displaced.
Education

Physicists Made An Unprecedented 53 Qubit Quantum Simulator (vice.com) 70

Two teams of researchers have published papers [1, 2] in the journal Nature detailing how they were able to create unprecedented quantum simulators consisting of over 50 qubits. The University of Maryland team and National Institute of Standards and Technology team -- the two teams behind one of the two new papers -- were able to create a quantum simulator with 53 qubits. Motherboard reports: Quantum simulators are a special type of quantum computer that uses qubits to simulate complex interactions between particles. Qubits are the informational medium of quantum computers, analogous to a bit in an ordinary computer. Yet rather than existing as a 1 or 0, as is the case in a conventional bit, a qubit can exist in some superposition of both of these states at the same time. For the Maryland experiment, each of the qubits was a laser cooled ytterbium ion. Each ion had the same electrical charge, so they repelled one another when placed in close proximity. The system created by Monroe and his colleagues used an electric field to force the repelled ions into neat rows. At this point, lasers are used to manipulate all the ytterbium qubits into the same initial state. Then another set of lasers is used to manipulate the qubits so that they act like atomic magnets, where each ion has a north and south pole. The qubits either orient themselves with their neighboring ions to form a ferromagnet, where their magnetic fields are aligned, or at random. By changing the strength of the laser beams that are manipulating the qubits, the researchers are able to program them to a desired state (in terms of magnetic alignment).

According to Zhexuan Gong, a physicist at the University of Maryland, the 53 qubits can be used to simulate over a quadrillion different magnetic configurations of the qubits, a number that doubles with each additional qubit added to the array. As these types of quantum simulators keep adding more qubits into the mix, they will be able to simulate ever more complex atomic interactions that are far beyond the capabilities of conventional supercomputers and usher in a new era of physics research. Another team from Harvard and Maryland also released a paper today in which it demonstrated a quantum simulator using 51 qubits.

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