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News Source Slashdot:Hardware

How Science Fiction Imagines Data Storage
Esther Schindler (Slashdot reader #16,185) shared this story from Hewlett Packard's Enterprise blog:Storage is a staple of both science and science fiction, and forms the basis, or a crucial component, of many a piece of speculative fiction... [H]ere are eight past visions of the storage future that either passed their error checks or succumbed to bit rot. Why store vast quantities of data on a device when you can just slap it into someone's head? The article acknowledges that in many science fiction stories, data is simply preserved using such primitive technologies as "the written word" and "brute-force [human] memory," as well as ordinary real-world storage technologies like the server room in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, or basic non-cloud-based computers. But there's also wetware -- think "Johnny Mnemonic "-- and the data crystals in Babylon Five. The article even acknowledges that time Batman beat Mr. Freeze by carving binary code into a wall, giving future generations the recipe for antifreeze.

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Researchers Created Reprogrammable Molecular Algorithms For DNA Computers
dmoberhaus writes: In a major breakthrough for DNA computing, researchers from UC Davis, Caltech and Maynooth University developed a technique for creating molecular algorithms that can be reprogrammed. Prior to this research, molecular algorithms had to be painstakingly designed for specific purposes, which is "like having to build a new computer out of new hardware just to run a new piece of software," according to the researchers. This new technique could blow open the door for a host of futuristic DNA computing applications -- nanofactories, light-based computers, etc. -- that would've been impossible before. The paper was published this week in Nature.

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Germany Urged To Champion Global Treaty To Ban 'Killer Robots'
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jody Williams and other activists warned on Thursday that fully autonomous weapons could be deployed in just 3-4 years and urged Germany to lead an international campaign for a ban on so-called "killer robots." Williams, who won the Nobel in 1997 for leading efforts to ban landmines, told reporters Germany should take bold steps to ensure that humans remained in control of lethal weapons. "You cannot lead from the rear," she said. Critics fear that the increasingly autonomous drones, missile defense systems and tanks made possible by new artificial intelligence could turn rogue in a cyber-attack or as a result of programming errors. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called last week for action to ensure human control of lethal weapons, but is pushing a non-binding declaration rather than a global ban, given opposition by the United States, Russia and China. The United Nations and European Union have called for a global ban, but discussions so far have not yielded a clear commitment to conclude a treaty. Activists from over 100 non-governmental groups gathered in Berlin this week to pressure Maas and the German government to take more decisive action after twice endorsing a ban on fully autonomous weapons in their 2013 and 2018 coalition accords.

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Intel Says It Will Stop Developing Compute Cards
Intel will not develop new Compute Cards, the company said this week. From a report: Compute Cards were Intel's vision of modular computing that would allow customers to continually update point of sale systems, all-in-one desktops, laptops and other devices. Pull out one card, replace it with another, and you have a new CPU, plus RAM and storage. "We continue to believe modular computing is a market where there are many opportunities for innovation," an Intel spokesperson told Tom's Hardware. "However, as we look at the best way to address this opportunity, we've made the decision that we will not develop new Compute Card products moving forward. We will continue to sell and support the current Compute Card products through 2019 to ensure our customers receive the support they need with their current solutions, and we are thankful for their partnership on this change."

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Microsoft Boots Up the First 'DNA Drive' For Storing Data
Since 2016, Microsoft has been working with the University of Washington to develop the first device to automatically encode digital information into DNA and back to bits again. "So far, DNA storage has been carried out by hand in the lab," reports MIT Technology Review. But now Microsoft and researchers at the University of Washington "say they created a machine that converts electronic bits to DNA and back without a person involved." From the report: The gadget, made from about $10,000 in parts, uses glass bottles of chemicals to build DNA strands, and a tiny sequencing machine from Oxford Nanopore to read them out again. According to a publication on March 21 in the journal Nature Scientific Reports, the team was able to store and retrieve just a single word -- "hello" -- or five bytes of data. What's more, the process took 21 hours, mostly because of the slow chemical reactions involved in writing DNA. While the team considered that a success for their prototype, a commercially useful DNA storage system would have to store data millions of times faster.

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Many People Think AI Could Make Better Policy Decisions Than Politicians
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: A new survey on Europeans' attitudes towards technology found that a quarter of people would prefer it if policy decisions were made by artificial intelligence instead of politicians. The Center for the Governance of Change at Spain's IE University polled 2,500 adults in the UK, Spain, Germany, France, Ireland, Italy, and the Netherlands in January. The results reflect an intense anxiety about the changes brought about by advances in tech, with more than half of respondents worried that jobs would be replaced by robots, and 70% saying that unchecked technological innovation could do more harm than good to society. Respondents also expressed concerns about the impact of digital relationships replacing human contact as more people spend time online. Perhaps most interestingly, a quarter of the respondents said they would prefer AI to guide decisions about governance of their country over politicians. Around the world, citizens have expressed a growing disillusionment with democracy, and an increased skepticism that their voice has an impact on political decisions. But algorithmic decisions aren't a problem-free solution: they can be embedded with the prejudice and bias of their programmers or manipulated to achieve specific outcomes, making the results as potentially problematic as the ones made by humans. The study also found that respondents expected governments to reduce the disruption that technology might have on their lives with regulation, limits on automation, and support for people affected by job losses. This "highlights the paradox in which we live," the authors wrote. "People are disillusioned with governments, yet at the same time ask them to tackle the societal and economic negative effects that emerging technologies might have."

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China's E-Buses Dent Oil Demand More Than Electric Cars Do
China's fleet of electric buses appear to be denting oil demand more than electric cars. "By the end of this year, a cumulative 270,000 barrels a day of diesel demand will have been displaced by electric buses, most of it in China," reports Bloomberg, citing a new report published by BloombergNEF. "That's more than three times the displacement by all the world's passenger electric vehicles (a market where Tesla has a share of about 12 percent)." From the report: Despite rapid growth, the impact on the oil market from electric vehicles remains relatively small. Collectively, buses and electric vehicles account for about 3 percent of oil demand growth since 2011, and 0.3 percent of current global consumption, according to BloombergNEF figures and data from the International Energy Agency. Buses matter more because of their size and constant use. For every 1,000 electric buses on the road, 500 barrels of diesel are displaced each day, BloombergNEF estimates. By comparison, 1,000 battery electric vehicles remove just 15 barrels of oil demand. Still, the EV market's impact on oil consumption is only going to grow. By 2040, electric vehicles could displace much as 6.4 million barrels a day of demand, while fuel efficiency improvements will erase another 7.5 million barrels a day, according to BloombergNEF's May 2018 long-term EV outlook.

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Oculus Unveils the Rift S, a Higher-Resolution VR Headset With Built-In Tracking
Oculus VR unveiled the Oculus Rift S, a higher-resolution pair of virtual reality goggles that remove the need for external cameras by incorporating built-in tracking. The company partnered with Lenovo "to help it speed up manufacturing and to improve upon the design of the original Rift," reports The Verge. From the report: The result is a new VR device that is more comfortable, sports 2560 x 1440 resolution (or 1280 x 1440 per eye), and features the same inside-out tracking system that will ship on Oculus' upcoming standalone Quest headset, which the company calls Oculus Insight. That way, you won't need cumbersome cameras to enable full-body movement. In another twist, both the Quest and Rift S device will cost exactly the same at launch: $399, with the same pair of slightly modified Touch motion controllers included and the same integrated audio system (plus a headphone jack for external audio). That decision makes it clear that Oculus wants its VR platform to offer a choice not between two vastly different pieces of hardware, but by the more simple determination of whether you have the hardware to power PC-grade VR. The Rift S will support every existing and future game on the Rift platform. "The company is also enabling cross-buy and cross-play features," the report adds. "That way, you can buy a Quest and, at a later date, upgrade to a Rift S and still have your entire library intact. Additionally, multiplayer games that support both platforms will let players play one another, regardless of whether you're playing on a Quest or Rift device." The Rift S and Quest will be shipping this spring.

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It's Scary How Much Personal Data People Leave on Used Laptops and Phones, Researcher Finds
A recent experiment by Josh Frantz, a senior security consultant at Rapid7, suggests that users are taking few if any steps to protect their private information before releasing their used devices back out into the wild. From a report: For around six months, he collected used desktop, hard disks, cellphones and more from pawn shops near his home in Wisconsin. It turned out they contain a wealth of private data belonging to their former owners, including a ton of personally identifiable information (PII) -- the bread and butter of identity theft. Frantz amassed a respectable stockpile of refurbished, donated, and used hardware: 41 desktops and laptops, 27 pieces of removable media (memory cards and flash drives), 11 hard disks, and six cellphones. The total cost of the experiment was a lot less than you'd imagine. "I visited a total of 31 businesses and bought whatever I could get my hands on for a grand total of around $600," he said. Frantz used a Python-based optical character recognition (OCR) tool to scan for Social Security numbers, dates of birth, credit card information, and other sensitive data. And the result was, as you might expect, not good. The pile of junk turned out to contain 41 Social Security numbers, 50 dates of birth, 611 email accounts, 19 credit card numbers, two passport numbers, and six driver's license numbers. Additionally, more than 200,000 images were contained on the devices and over 3,400 documents. He also extracted nearly 150,000 emails.

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Researchers Create the First AI-Controlled Robotic Limb That Can Learn To Walk Without Being Programmed
schwit1 shares a report from ScienceAlert: Researchers at the University of Southern Carolina (USC) claim to have created the first AI-controlled robotic limb that can learn how to walk without being explicitly programmed to do so. The algorithm they used is inspired by real-life biology. Just like animals that can walk soon after birth, this robot can figure out how to use its animal-like tendons after only five minutes of unstructured play. Today, most robots take months or years before they are ready to interact with the rest of the world. But with this new algorithm, the team has figured out how to make robots that can learn by simply doing. This is known in robotics as "motor babbling" because it closely mimics how babies learn to speak through trial and error. "During the babbling phase, the system will send random commands to motors and sense the joint angles," co-author Ali Marjaninejad an engineer at USC, told PC Mag. "Then, it will train the three-layer neural network to guess what commands will produce a given movement. We then start performing the task and reinforce good behavior."

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Crytek Shows 4K 30 FPS Ray Tracing On Non-RTX AMD and NVIDIA GPUs
dryriver writes: Crytek has published a video showing an ordinary AMD Vega 56 GPU -- which has no raytracing specific circuitry and only costs around $450 -- real-time ray tracing a complex 3D city environment at 4K 30 FPS. Crytek says that the technology demo runs fine on most normal NVIDIA and AMD gaming GPUs. As if this wasn't impressive already, the software real-time ray tracing technology is still in development and not even final. The framerates achieved may thus go up further, raising the question of precisely what the benefits of owning a super-expensive NVIDIA RTX 20xx series GPU are. Nvidia has claimed over and over again that without its amazing new RTX cores and AI denoiser, GPUs will choke on real-time ray tracing tasks in games. Crytek appears to have proven already that with some intelligently written code, bog ordinary GPU cores can handle real-time ray tracing just fine -- no RTX cores, AI denoiser or anything else NVIDIA touts as necessary.

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Is It Time For Apple To Acknowledge Flexgate?
In January 2019, iFixit revealed a design flaw where the ribbon cable that connects the body of some MacBook Pros to their display wears down too quickly, causing uneven backlighting at the bottom of the display. There now appears to be growing frustration among users at Apple's reaction. Vlad Savov from The Verge said it is time for the company to acknowledge and deal with the issue: A petition, now numbering more than 15,000, would beg to differ. It calls for Apple to publicly recognize Flexgate as a design flaw, and to commit to repair all MacBook Pro laptops affected by it. I think that's exactly what Apple should do, and it's no less than we should expect from a company that touts its reliability and user satisfaction numbers any chance it gets. No one should have to pay upwards of $500 to replace an entire display just because Apple (a) decided to affix a fragile cable to one of the most expensive components in its MacBook Pro, and (b) miscalculated the necessary length of that cable in its first design.

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Apple Finally Updates the iMac With Significantly More Powerful CPU and GPU Options
Today, Apple will finally begin taking orders for newly refreshed 21- and 27-inch iMacs. The new versions don't change the basic design or add major new features, but they offer substantially faster configuration options for the CPU and GPU. From a report: The 21.5-inch iMac now has a 6-core, eighth-generation Intel CPU option -- up from a maximum of four cores before. The 27-inch now has six cores as the standard configuration, with an optional upgrade to a 3.6GHz, 9th-gen, 8-core Intel Core i9 CPU that Apple claims will double performance over the previous 27-inch iMac. The base 27-inch model has a 3GHz 6-core Intel Core i5 CPU, with intermediate configurations at 3.1GHz and 3.7GHz (both Core i5). The big news is arguably that both sizes now offer high-end, workstation-class Vega-graphics options for the first time. Apple added a similar upgrade option to the 15-inch MacBook Pro late last year. In this case, the 21.6-inch iMac has an option for the 20-compute-unit version of Vega with 4GB of HBM2 video memory. That's the same as the top-end 15-inch MacBook Pro option. The 27-inch iMac can now be configured with the Radeon Pro Vega 48 with 8GB of HBM2. For reference, the much pricier iMac Pro has Vega 56 and Vega 64 options. Apple claims the Vega 48 will net a 50-percent performance improvement over the Radeon Pro 580, the previous top configuration. Speaking of the previous top configuration, the non-Vega GPU options are the same as what was available yesterday. The only difference is that they now have an "X" affixed to the numbers in their names, per AMD branding conventions -- i.e., Radeon Pro 580X instead of 580. RAM options are the same in terms of volume (up to 32GB for the 21.5-inch and 64GB for the 27-inch), but the DDR4 RAM is slightly faster now, at 2666MHz.

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NVIDIA's $99 Jetson Nano is an AI Computer for DIY Enthusiasts
Sophisticated AI generally isn't an option for homebrew devices when the mini computers can rarely handle much more than the basics. NVIDIA thinks it can do better -- it's unveiling an entry-level AI computer, the Jetson Nano, that's aimed at "developers, makers and enthusiasts." From a report: NVIDIA claims that the Nano's 128-core Maxwell-based GPU and quad-core ARM A57 processor can deliver 472 gigaflops of processing power for neural networks, high-res sensors and other robotics features while still consuming a miserly 5W. On the surface, at least, it could hit the sweet spot if you're looking to build your own robot or smart speaker. The kit can run Linux out of the box, and supports a raft of AI frameworks (including, of course, NVIDIA's own). It comes equipped with 4GB of RAM, gigabit Ethernet and the I/O you'd need for cameras and other attachments.

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US Reveals Details of $500 Million Supercomputer
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times: The Department of Energy disclosed details on Monday of one of the most expensive computers being built: a $500 million machine based on Intel and Cray technology that may become crucial in a high-stakes technology race between the United States and China (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source). The supercomputer, called Aurora, is a retooling of a development effort first announced in 2015 and is scheduled to be delivered to the Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago in 2021. Lab officials predict it will be the first American machine to reach a milestone called "exascale" performance, surpassing a quintillion calculations per second. That's roughly seven times the speed rating of the most powerful system built to date, or 1,000 times faster than the first "petascale" systems that began arriving in 2008. Backers hope the new machines will let researchers create significantly more accurate simulations of phenomena such as drug responses, climate changes, the inner workings of combustion engines and solar panels. Aurora, which far exceeds the $200 million price for Summit, represents a record government contract for Intel and a test of its continued leadership in supercomputers. The Silicon Valley giant's popular processors -- the calculating engine for nearly all personal computers and server systems -- power most such machines. But additional accelerator chips are considered essential to reach the very highest speeds, and its rival Nvidia has built a sizable business adapting chips first used with video games for use in supercomputers. The version of Aurora announced in 2015 was based on an Intel accelerator chip that the company later discontinued. A revised plan to seek more ambitious performance targets was announced two years later. Features discussed on Monday include unreleased Intel accelerator chips, a version of its standard Xeon processor, new memory and communications technology and a design that packages chips on top of each other to save space and power.

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