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Industry & Technology

Google's Project Dragonfly 'terminated' in China

BBC Technology News - July 17, 2019 - 11:49am
The firm's plan to launch a censored search engine in China had faced much criticism.

Losing yourself in virtual worlds can have good as well as negative effects

Ars Technica - July 17, 2019 - 11:45am

Enlarge / A visitor holds a hand control unit to play Minecraft during the EGX gaming conference in London, September 2014. (credit: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

As a teenager, Pete Etchells lost his father to motor neuron disease, and often, when the anniversary of his death rolled around, he found solace in playing video games, like hunting for the elusive Time Lost Proto-Drake in World of Warcraft. Gaming started as an escape, but over time, he found those virtual worlds helped him grapple with the difficult questions of human mortality and death. He even recreated a log cabin in Minecraft, drawing on memories of where he'd stayed at Yosemite on vacation with his father.

Now a psychologist at Bath Spa University in England but still an avid gamer, Etchells specializes in understanding the behavioral effects—both positive and negative—of video games. He chose that focus after going on an alcohol-fueled pub rant as a graduate student, annoyed by a fear-mongering newspaper headline claiming that computer games cause dementia in children. He knew from personal experience how gaming had helped him process his grief, and his research has helped bring concrete evidence to bear on the lingering debate about whether video games are bad for you.

Etchells explores all this and more in his first book, Lost in a Good Game—part personal memoir, part cultural history, part popular science. Ars sat down with Etchells to learn more about how gaming can be a force for good, instead of rotting our collective brains.

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Elon Musk reveals brain-hacking plans

BBC Technology News - July 17, 2019 - 10:37am
Start-up NeuraLink wants to start testing its human computer interface on humans.

Data of 'nearly all adults' in Bulgaria stolen

BBC Technology News - July 17, 2019 - 10:01am
A hacker targeted the Balkan country's tax agency and reportedly offered local media access to stolen data.

Justice John Paul Stevens, dead at 99, promoted the Internet revolution

Ars Technica - July 17, 2019 - 2:53am

Former Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens died Tuesday at the age of 99. During Stevens' tenure on the high court, which stretched from 1975 to 2010, Stevens had a huge impact on legal issues affecting the technology sector. Tonight we're republishing a lightly edited version of our 2010 story that originally marked his retirement from the Supreme Court.

In April 2010, the Supreme Court's most senior justice, John Paul Stevens, announced his retirement. In the weeks that followed, hundreds of articles were written about his career and his legacy. While most articles focus on "hot button" issues such as flag burning, terrorism, and affirmative action, Stevens' tech policy record has largely been ignored.

When Justice Stevens joined the court, many of the technologies we now take for granted—the PC, packet-switched networks, home video recording—were in their infancy. During his 35-year tenure on the bench, Stevens penned decisions that laid the foundation for the tremendous innovations that followed in each of these areas.

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'Cordless' Dyson fan advert falls foul of watchdog

BBC Technology News - July 17, 2019 - 1:06am
The UK Advertising Standards Authority bans a Dyson ad for implying fan is cordless.

Disability emojis: Guide dog and wheelchair user revealed

BBC Technology News - July 17, 2019 - 1:05am
The Emojis have been released by Apple and Android to better represent disabled people.

Apple is planning to buy up original podcasts with exclusivity in mind

Ars Technica - July 17, 2019 - 12:23am

Enlarge / Apple will replace iTunes with Music, Podcasts, and TV on Mac. (credit: Ron Amadeo)

Podcast fans will want to keep their ears to the ground with the latest Apple news. Bloomberg reported that Apple may be looking for deals to bring exclusive original shows to its podcast-listening platform. Unnamed sources say the company is reaching out to media companies to secure rights for podcast exclusivity.

This development would mark a shift in how Apple runs its podcast platform. Shows that list on Apple Podcasts can also make their episodes available elsewhere. Exclusive arrangements in the future could come with different restrictions. This might mean that Apple’s app is the only place where you can hear an entire show, or this could be a windowing deal where new episodes first appear on Apple before the podcaster can send them to other platforms.

Apple’s app for podcast listening has long been the most popular place to get your fix of the latest shows. However, as the audience for podcasts has grown over the past few years, more and more businesses are trying to secure their own dedicated listener bases, which could erode Apple’s dominance in the space.

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The toy-sized satellites with an eye on the world

BBC Technology News - July 17, 2019 - 12:07am
Small, cheap satellites can help us track pollution, crop yields and congestion like never before.

Musk’s newest startup is venturing into a series of hard problems

Ars Technica - July 17, 2019 - 12:06am

Enlarge / Elon Musk in Idaho in 2015. (credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Tonight, Elon Musk has scheduled an event where he intends to unveil his plans for Neuralink, a startup company he announced back in 2017, then went silent on. If you go to the Neuralink website now, all you'll find is a vague description of its goal to develop "ultra-high-bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers." These interfaces have been under development for a while, typically under the moniker of brain-computer interfaces, or BCIs. And, while there have been some notable successes in the academic-research world, there's a notable lack of products on the market.

The slow progress comes, in part, because a successful BCI has to tackle multiple hard problems and, in part, because the regulatory and market conditions are challenging. Ahead of tonight's announcement, we'll take a look at all of these and then see how Musk and the people who advise him have decided to tackle them.

A series of problems

An effective BCI means figuring out how to get the nervous system to communicate with digital hardware. Doing so requires solving three problems, which I'll call reading, coding, and feedback. We'll go through each of these below.

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Apple celebrates Apollo 11 anniversary with a new peek at For All Mankind

Ars Technica - July 16, 2019 - 11:06pm

As you've probably gathered from the Internet today, this is the 50th anniversary of the historic launch of Apollo 11. Tech giant Apple, which has recently gotten into TV production, has released a new, short sneak-peek video for its space-themed For All Mankind series to tie in with the milestone.

This marks the second trailer for the show, but this one has a different focus than the one we saw last month. In it, the showrunners discuss the motivation behind making For All Mankind, the themes it will cover, and more in a series of interviews interspersed with footage. Some of the clips are new, but many are recycled from the previous trailer.

However, those interviewed include (among others) co-creator and executive producer Ronald D. Moore—best known as the creator and showrunner of 2004's Battlestar GalacticaOutlander on Starz, and a longtime writer and producer for Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine—Maril Davis (who wrote many of Battlestar Galactica's best episodes), and Michael Okuda, who famously headed up art direction for the 24th-century-era Star Trek series. Those are obviously sci-fi fan favorites, so it's good to hear them talking about how space exploration can inspire.

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The first all-new Lotus in years will be a 1,971hp electric car

Ars Technica - July 16, 2019 - 10:50pm

Depending how old you are, the name "Lotus Cars" will mean different things. For some, it's fast-but-fragile F1 cars in the 1960s and 1970s. Or perhaps it's James Bond's submarine car. Or it's the lightweight, nimble Elise, variations of which have made up the bulk of its range since 1996. Regardless of which era you identify with, throughout those decades a common thread has always been the company's precarious financial situation. But that changed in 2017, when Geely became Lotus' new corporate parent.

Geely is the Chinese company that has been responsible for Volvo's renaissance since it purchased the Swedish automaker from Ford in 2010. And ever since news of the Lotus purchase broke, we've been wondering what the boutique British brand might be able to achieve. After all, the company has never lacked ideas, particularly those involving making cars lighter or making cars handle better (often the two are related). Many industry watchers have worried that we'd be faced with a souped-up SUV, something derived from Volvo's SPA or CMA platforms. That may still come to pass; just ask Porsche whether the Cayenne was a bad idea if you're unsure.

But before that happens—and before the Elise gets redesigned for a third generation—there will be the Evija. That's the name for its new all-electric hypercar, which is to be a low-volume halo car for the rest of the brand. Its specs are eye-opening, even among this rarefied class of vehicles.

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We’re getting a fourth Thor film, and Taika Waititi is directing it

Ars Technica - July 16, 2019 - 9:56pm

Enlarge / Chris Hemsworth will return as the Norse god of thunder in the as-yet-untitled Thor 4. (credit: Marvel Studios)

Director Taika Waititi is a hot commodity in Hollywood these days, with no sign of his star fading any time soon. He's just signed on with Marvel Studios to direct Thor 4, according to the Hollywood Reporter, and Chris Hemsworth is expected to return as the titular god of thunder.

(Some spoilers for first two Thor films and Avengers: Infinity War and End Game below.)

The first Thor was mostly good, blending action and comedy in a winning mix, although it wasn't quite as strong as other origin stories in the MCU. The second? Well, The Dark World suffered from early pacing problems and an overly elaborate plot, bolstered primarily by terrific performances by Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston as Loki. Their complicated relationship remains the heart of the franchise. Then Marvel, in a savvy move, hired relative newcomer Waititi to direct 2017's Thor: Ragnarok.

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Nintendo deletes popular Mario Maker 2 level for unexplained reasons

Ars Technica - July 16, 2019 - 9:43pm

Enlarge / A scene from the creation of the since-deleted "Kai-Zero G" in Super Mario Maker 2. (credit: YouTube / GrandPooBear)

The unexplained removal of one of the most popular, ultra-difficult Super Mario Maker 2 courses is raising concerns about Nintendo's moderation policies for the popular Switch title.

David Hunt, a popular Mario speedrunner who goes by GrandPooBear online, noted this morning that his level "Pile of Poo: Kai-Zero G" had been unceremoniously removed from Nintendo's Super Mario Maker 2 servers. Since its upload on July 5, the low-gravity course—which took its name from the ultra-hard set of Mario ROM hacks known as Kaizo games—had received over 1,200 "hearts" from over 10,500 players as of last night. This was enough to put it on the first page of popular "Super Expert" courses in the game.

But today isn't the first time GrandPooBear has faced the seeming caprice of Nintendo's online moderation. Three years ago, he found all of his popular levels in the original Super Mario Maker had been deleted, a state of affairs Nintendo was not able to adequately explain in a recorded call with the streamer at the time.

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Formula E racing tech will improve the charger for your electric car

Ars Technica - July 16, 2019 - 9:14pm

BROOKLYN, New York—This past weekend, the Formula E electric racing series made its annual return to these shores, racing in Red Hook against the backdrop of the downtown Manhattan skyline. When the checkered flag waved on Sunday, it marked the end of Formula E's fifth season. I'll have some more thoughts on the race weekend itself, as well as how the series has matured over the past half-decade shortly. But first, I wanted to look at an aspect of the sport that maybe we've neglected down the years. It's one that probably has more direct relevance to anyone who owns an electric vehicle than any other aspect of EV racing—DC fast charging.

Perhaps it should have been obvious. After all, I've written thousands of words about the reasons why car companies decide to enter motorsports. Every racing series balances competing aspects—being a sporting competition, being entertainment for the public, being a marketing platform, and being an arena for research and development for new road-car technology.

While I'm not naive enough to think that technology transfer into road cars is the most common or predominant reason to go racing, it's also not an avenue that should be dismissed out of hand. Windshield wipers, disc brakes, dual clutch transmissions, and even direct injection engines were proven on track before filtering their way into the showroom. For the automotive OEMs that are flocking to Formula E, this is one of the attractions, particularly as the series is keeping a tight control of things like race-car aerodynamics that can explode budgets without a scintilla of relevance for street cars.

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The $139 Nokia 2.2 brings back the removable battery

Ars Technica - July 16, 2019 - 8:45pm

How cheap do you like your smartphones? HMD is bringing the latest version of the Nokia 2, called the "Nokia 2.2," to the US. It's $139 and currently for sale at Best Buy and Amazon. You might expect a pretty stripped-down device for $139, but as usual, HMD is delivering a good package for the price, with a fairly modern design, the latest version of Android, and a killer update package with two years of major OS updates and three years of security updates.

On the front, you have a 5.71-inch, 1520×720 IPS LCD with a flagship-emulating notch design and rounded corners. There's a sizable bezel on the bottom with a big "Nokia" logo on it, but it's hard to complain about that for $140.

This is a cheap phone, so don't expect a ton in the specs department. Powering the Nokia 2.2 is a MediaTek Helio A22 SoC, which is just four Cortex A53 cores at 2GHz. The US version gets 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage version with an option to add a MicroSD card. The back and sides are plastic, and on the side you'll find an extra physical button, which will summon the Google Assistant. The back actually comes off, and—get this—you can remove the 3000mAh battery! Speaking of unnecessarily removed smartphone features from the past, there's also a headphone jack.

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FCC gives ISPs another $563 million to build rural-broadband networks

Ars Technica - July 16, 2019 - 8:29pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Bonilla1879)

More than 220,000 unserved rural homes and businesses in 24 states will get broadband access because of funding authorized yesterday by the Federal Communications Commission, the agency said. In all, the FCC authorized more than $563 million for distribution to ISPs over the next decade. It's the latest payout from the commission's Connect America Fund, which was created in 2011.

Under program rules, ISPs that receive funding must build out to 40 percent of the required homes and businesses within three years and an additional 20 percent each year until completing the buildout at the end of the sixth year.

The money is being distributed primarily to smaller ISPs in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia. Verizon, which is getting $18.5 million to serve 7,767 homes and businesses in New York, is the biggest home Internet provider on the list.

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The Greatest Leap, part 1: How the Apollo fire propelled NASA to the Moon

Ars Technica - July 16, 2019 - 8:16pm

Video shot by Joshua Ballinger, edited and produced by Jing Niu and David Minick. Click here for transcript.

Seated in Mission Control, Chris Kraft neared the end of a tedious Friday afternoon as he monitored a seemingly interminable ground test of the Apollo 1 spacecraft. It was January 1967, and communications between frustrated astronauts inside the capsule on its Florida launch pad and the test conductors in Houston sputtered periodically through his headset. His mind drifted.

Sudden shouts snapped him to attention. In frantic calls coming from the Apollo cockpit, fear had replaced frustration. Amid the cacophony, Kraft heard the Apollo program’s most capable astronaut, Gus Grissom, exclaim a single word.Apollo: The Greatest Leap

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Dealmaster: Amazon Prime Day deals you can snag for under $50

Ars Technica - July 16, 2019 - 7:57pm

Enlarge (credit: Valentina Palladino)

This year's Amazon Prime Day event is slowing down, but there are still dozens of deals available that are worth checking out. Though Amazon is still pushing lots of nonsense, Prime Day offers some genuinely good deals on luxury and expensive items—think laptops, monitors, headsets, gaming consoles, and so on. Our Prime Day deals list highlights the better ones—but even as curated as it is, it's still huge.

If you don't have time to comb through all of that, or if you're on a strict budget, we've outlined a few Prime Day deals we particularly like that are still live and available for $50 or less. Keep in mind that most offers are attached to the sales event, which means you must be a Prime subscriber to get them and that they'll probably expire by tomorrow. Nevertheless, as we wind down our Prime Day coverage, you can see the full list of budget-friendly deals below.

Note: Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.

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Brains scale better than CPUs. So Intel is building brains

Ars Technica - July 16, 2019 - 7:44pm

Enlarge / This is a picture of an Intel Nahuku board, which can contain 8 to 32 Loihi neuromorphic processing units, interfaced to an Intel Arria 10 FPGA development kit. Intel’s latest neuromorphic system, Pohoiki Beach, is made up of multiple Nahuku boards and contains 64 Loihi chips. (credit: Intel Labs)

Neuromorphic engineering—building machines that mimic the function of organic brains in hardware as well as software—is becoming more and more prominent. The field has progressed rapidly, from conceptual beginnings in the late 1980s to experimental field programmable neural arrays in 2006, early memristor-powered device proposals in 2012, IBM's TrueNorth NPU in 2014, and Intel's Loihi neuromorphic processor in 2017. Yesterday, Intel broke a little more new ground with the debut of a larger-scale neuromorphic system, Pohoiki Beach, which integrates 64 of its Loihi chips.

Intel's Jon Tse demonstrates teaching a single Loihi chip to identify new objects in just a few seconds each.

Where traditional computing works by running numbers through an optimized pipeline, neuromorphic hardware performs calculations using artificial "neurons" that communicate with each other. This is a workflow that's highly specialized for specific applications, much like the natural neurons it mimics in function—so you likely won't replace conventional computers with Pohoiki Beach systems or its descendants, for the same reasons you wouldn't replace a desktop calculator with a human mathematics major.

However, neuromorphic hardware is proving able to handle tasks organic brains excel at much more efficiently than conventional processors or GPUs can. Visual object recognition is perhaps the most widely realized task where neural networks excel, but other examples include playing foosball, adding kinesthetic intelligence to prosthetic limbs, and even understanding skin touch in ways similar to how a human or animal might understand it.

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