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News Source Slashdot:Hardware

Humane's AI Pin is Slightly Delayed
Humane announced that its AI Pin would start shipping in March, but there's been a small delay. From a report: Early adopters are now being told orders will arrive in mid-April at the earliest, according to a video update from Humane staffer Sam Sheffer and emails we saw in Humane's official Discord channel. On the plus side, the company says it'll now throw in three months of its pricy $24-a-month subscription for free with the $699 pin -- and will do so for any other customers who buy one before March 31st, too.

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Engineers Use AI To Wrangle Fusion Power For the Grid
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Princeton Engineering: In the blink of an eye, the unruly, superheated plasma that drives a fusion reaction can lose its stability and escape the strong magnetic fields confining it within the donut-shaped fusion reactor. These getaways frequently spell the end of the reaction, posing a core challenge to developing fusion as a non-polluting, virtually limitless energy source. But a Princeton-led team composed of engineers, physicists, and data scientists from the University and the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) have harnessed the power of artificial intelligence to predict -- and then avoid -- the formation of a specific plasma problem in real time. In experiments at the DIII-D National Fusion Facility in San Diego, the researchers demonstrated their model, trained only on past experimental data, could forecast potential plasma instabilities known as tearing mode instabilities up to 300 milliseconds in advance. While that leaves no more than enough time for a slow blink in humans, it was plenty of time for the AI controller to change certain operating parameters to avoid what would have developed into a tear within the plasma's magnetic field lines, upsetting its equilibrium and opening the door for a reaction-ending escape. "By learning from past experiments, rather than incorporating information from physics-based models, the AI could develop a final control policy that supported a stable, high-powered plasma regime in real time, at a real reactor," said research leader Egemen Kolemen, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, as well as staff research physicist at PPPL. The research opens the door for more dynamic control of a fusion reaction than current approaches, and it provides a foundation for using artificial intelligence to solve a broad range of plasma instabilities, which have long been obstacles to achieving a sustained fusion reaction. The team published their findings in the journal Nature.

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Microsoft's Gaming CEO Says Xbox Won't Go All-Digital Just Yet
It's no surprise that the broader tech industry has largely moved away from physical disks to digital subscription-based models. But Microsoft's Gaming CEO Phil Spencer says Xbox isn't trying to do away with disks just yet -- even though making disk slots could become challenging in the future. From a report: "Our strategy does not hinge on people moving all-digital," Spencer said in a recent interview with Game File. "Getting rid of physical, that's not a strategic thing for us." While Spencer implied that disk slots have become somewhat old-school at this point, Xbox consoles will continue to offer both disk-compatible and diskless options if gamers still want to choose. Xbox hasn't confirmed yet whether the previously leaked diskless Xbox refresh of the Series X console is still coming, though. "Gaming consoles themselves have kind of become the last consumer electronic device that has a drive," Spencer conceded, calling it a "real issue." Because so few manufacturers are still making physical disk slots, it's possible making consoles with them could become cost prohibitive in the future. "When you think about cogs that we're going to go put in a console -- and as you have fewer suppliers and fewer buyers -- the cost of the drive does have an impact," Spencer said.

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Zuckerberg: Neural Wristband For AR/VR Input Will Ship 'In the Next Few Years'
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that it's working on a finger tracking neural wristband that will be ready to ship "in the next few years." UploadVR reports: Appearing on the Morning Brew Daily talk show on Friday, Mark Zuckerberg said "we're actually kind of close to having something here that we're going to have in a product in the next few years." [...] An entirely different approach to finger tracking is to sense the neural electrical signals passing through your wrist to your fingers from your brain, using a technique called electromyography (EMG). Theoretically this could have zero or even negative latency, perfect accuracy, work regardless of lighting conditions, and not be subject to occlusion. When discussing the technology in 2021 Reardon claimed that a recent breakthrough enabled decoding the activity of individual neurons for "almost infinite control over machines." Occlusion-free finger tracking of this quality and reliability could enable precise control of complex interfaces with incredibly subtle movements of your hand resting on your lap, making it an ideal input method for headsets and AR glasses. [...] So how will this arrive in a Meta product? In early 2023 an internal Meta AR/VR hardware roadmap leaked to The Verge, revealing details about Quest 3, the existence of the headset now rumored to be called Quest 3 Lite, and the cancelation of the 2024 candidate for Quest Pro 2 in favor of a more ambitious but "way out" model. But this roadmap also mentioned that Meta was planning to release the neural wristband alongside the third generation Ray-Ban smartglasses in 2025 as the input method. According to that roadmap, two models of the wristband will be offered at different price points - one with the neural input tech only and another that also has a display and camera to act as a smartwatch too. A second generation of the wristband will also apparently act as the input device for the true AR glasses Meta plans to launch in 2027. We should however note that this plan or the timeline may have changed in the year since.

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Why Are California's EV Sales Dropping?
"After years of rapid expansion, California's booming EV market may be showing signs of fatigue," reports the Los Angeles Times, "as high vehicle prices, unreliable charging networks and other consumer headaches appear to dampen enthusiasm for zero-emission vehicles. "For the first time in more than a decade, electric vehicle sales dropped significantly in the last half of 2023..."Sales of all-electric cars and light trucks in California had started off strong in 2023, rising 48% in the first half of the year compared with a year earlier. By that time, California EV sales numbered roughly 190,807 — or slightly more than a quarter of all EV sales in the nation, according to the California New Car Dealers Assn. But it's what happened in the second half of last year though that's generating jitters. Sales in the third quarter fell by 2,840 from the previous period — the first quarterly drop for EVs in California since the Tesla Model S was introduced in 2012. And the fourth quarter was even worse: Sales dropped 10.2%, from 100,151 to 89,933... Propelled by the sales success of Tesla, and boosted by electric vehicles from other automakers entering the market, consumer acceptance of EVs had seemed like a given until recently. In fact, robust sales growth is a key assumption in the state's zero-emission vehicle plan... Under the no-gas mandate, zero-emission vehicles must account for 35% of all new vehicle sales by model year 2026.... Nationally, EV sales growth also has slowed as automakers such as Ford and General Motors cut back — at least temporarily — on EV and battery production plans. Hertz, the rental car giant, is also pulling back on plans to shift heavily toward EVs. Hertz several years ago announced plans to buy 100,000 Teslas but is now selling off its EV fleet. Corey Cantor, EV analyst at Bloomberg BNEF, an energy research firm, said that although recent sales figures are worrisome, there's plenty of momentum behind the EV transition, as evidenced by government mandates around the globe and massive investments by motor vehicle manufacturers and their suppliers. Those investments total $616 billion globally over five years, according to consulting firm AlixPartners. But EVs haven't reached "price parity" with gas-powered engines, the article points out, so just 7.6% of the vehicles sold last year in the U.S. were electric — while in California, the market share for EVS was 20.1%. The article also quantifies concerns about reliability of California's public charging system, which "according to studies from academic researchers and market analysts, can be counted on to malfunction at least 20% of the time." After $1 billion in state money for charger companies, the state's Energy Commission will now also start collecting reliability statistics, according to the article. But the article also cites wait times at the chargers. "Even if they were reliable, there aren't enough chargers to go around. EV sales have outpaced public charger installation." Some good news?The federal government is spending $5 billion nationally to put fast chargers on major highways at 50-mile intervals. California will receive $384 million. Seven major automakers have also teamed up to build a North American charging network of their own, called Ionna. The joint venture plans to install at least 30,000 chargers — which would be open to any EV brand — at stations that will provide restrooms, food service and retail stores on site or nearby.

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What Happens After Throughput to DNA Storage Drives Surpasses 2 Gbps?
High-capacity DNA data storage "is closer than you think," Slashdot wrote in 2019. Now IEEE Spectrum brings an update on where we're at — and where we're headed — by a participant in the DNA storage collaboration between Microsoft and the Molecular Information Systems Lab of the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington. "Organizations around the world are already taking the first steps toward building a DNA drive that can both write and read DNA data," while "funding agencies in the United States, Europe, and Asia are investing in the technology stack required to field commercially relevant devices."The challenging part is learning how to get the information into, and back out of, the molecule in an economically viable way... For a DNA drive to compete with today's archival tape drives, it must be able to write about 2 gigabits per second, which at demonstrated DNA data storage densities is about 2 billion bases per second. To put that in context, I estimate that the total global market for synthetic DNA today is no more than about 10 terabases per year, which is the equivalent of about 300,000 bases per second over a year. The entire DNA synthesis industry would need to grow by approximately 4 orders of magnitude just to compete with a single tape drive. Keeping up with the total global demand for storage would require another 8 orders of magnitude of improvement by 2030. But humans have done this kind of scaling up before. Exponential growth in silicon-based technology is how we wound up producing so much data. Similar exponential growth will be fundamental in the transition to DNA storage... Companies like DNA Script and Molecular Assemblies are commercializing automated systems that use enzymes to synthesize DNA. These techniques are replacing traditional chemical DNA synthesis for some applications in the biotechnology industry... [I]t won't be long before we can combine the two technologies into one functional device: a semiconductor chip that converts digital signals into chemical states (for example, changes in pH), and an enzymatic system that responds to those chemical states by adding specific, individual bases to build a strand of synthetic DNA. The University of Washington and Microsoft team, collaborating with the enzymatic synthesis company Ansa Biotechnologies, recently took the first step toward this device... The path is relatively clear; building a commercially relevant DNA drive is simply a matter of time and money... At the same time, advances in DNA synthesis for DNA storage will increase access to DNA for other uses, notably in the biotechnology industry, and will thereby expand capabilities to reprogram life. Somewhere down the road, when a DNA drive achieves a throughput of 2 gigabases per second (or 120 gigabases per minute), this box could synthesize the equivalent of about 20 complete human genomes per minute. And when humans combine our improving knowledge of how to construct a genome with access to effectively free synthetic DNA, we will enter a very different world... We'll be able to design microbes to produce chemicals and drugs, as well as plants that can fend off pests or sequester minerals from the environment, such as arsenic, carbon, or gold. At 2 gigabases per second, constructing biological countermeasures against novel pathogens will take a matter of minutes. But so too will constructing the genomes of novel pathogens. Indeed, this flow of information back and forth between the digital and the biological will mean that every security concern from the world of IT will also be introduced into the world of biology... The future will be built not from DNA as we find it, but from DNA as we will write it. The article makes an interesting point — that biology labs around the world already order chemically-synthesized ssDNA, "delivered in lengths of up to several hundred bases," and sequence DNA molecules up to thousands of bases in length. "In other words, we already convert digital information to and from DNA, but generally using only sequences that make sense in terms of biology."

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OpenZFS Native Encryption Use Has New(ish) Data Corruption Bug
Some ZFS news from Phoronix this week. "At the end of last year OpenZFS 2.2.2 was released to fix a rare but nasty data corruption issue, but it turns out there are other data corruption bug(s) still lurking in the OpenZFS file-system codebase."A Phoronix reader wrote in today about an OpenZFS data corruption bug when employing native encryption and making use of send/recv support. Making use of zfs send on an encrypted dataset can cause one or more snapshots to report errors. OpenZFS data corruption issues in this area have apparently been known for years. Since May 2021 there's been this open issue around ZFS corruption related to snapshots on post-2.0 OpenZFS. That issue remains open. A new ticket has been opened for OpenZFS as well in proposing to add warnings against using ZFS native encryption and the send/receive support in production environments. jd (Slashdot reader #1,658) spotted the news — and adds a positive note. "Bugs, old and new, are being catalogued and addressed much more quickly now that core development is done under Linux, even though it is not mainstreamed in the kernel."

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Could Solar Water Heaters Become Popular Again?
An article in the Washington Post remembers a 1980s-era "glass box with metal water pipes running through it" that "converted sunlight into hot water. By trapping solar energy like a greenhouse, it heated the water to a scorching 180 degrees Fahrenheit. "[T]oday, hardly anyone is using these solar water heaters even as photovoltaic panels have popped up on the roofs of nearly 4 million American homes."Unlike photovoltaic panels, which can power your home, solar thermal panels are mainly used to heat water. But they're smaller and more efficient. The technology converts 60 to 70 percent of the sun's energy into heat. Even the best photovoltaics, which generate electricity, only achieve 24 percent efficiency. Now, a new generation of solar water heater manufacturers is hoping subsidies under the Inflation Reduction Act, and growing interest in net-zero emissions, will reignite their growth. Theoretically, solar thermal offers a big opportunity to slash emissions. Nearly 20 percent of an average home's energy is used to heat water, and nearly 50 percent globally, according to MIT. By adopting solar water heaters, the average household can keep 2 tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, the equivalent of not driving your car for four months, estimates the Environmental Protection Agency. Solar water heaters can also save money, cutting the average utility bill by $400 to $600 per year, the Energy Department estimates... Only about 370,000 solar thermal systems were operating in the United States by the end of 2021, according to the International Energy Agency, many of them on larger commercial buildings... Since they can cut fuel consumption to heat water by 50 percent to 70 percent, other countries are embracing the technology: Almost all new residential buildings in Israel must include solar thermal, while in countries as far north as Canada and Denmark, solar thermal energy warms millions of homes with district heating systems. Yet these systems represent a tiny fraction of the potential, supplying 0.4 percent of today's global energy demand for domestic hot water. New U.S. subsidies can cut the price in half depending on location, the article points out. Cheap photovoltaics still make economic sense for many homes (unless you're heating a pool). "But the cost of solar thermal could look like a bargain if we consider increasingly unreliable electric grids and the cost to the climate from burning fossil fuels."

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Microsoft Teases Next-Gen Xbox With 'Largest Technical Leap', New 'Unique' Hardware
Tom Warren reports via The Verge: Microsoft is teasing the potential for unique Xbox hardware in the future and a powerful next-gen console. Four previously exclusive Xbox games are officially coming to the PS5 and Nintendo Switch soon, and Microsoft wants to reassure Xbox fans that it's still very much invested in the future of its platform and hardware. In an official Xbox podcast today, Xbox president Sarah Bond teased that Microsoft will deliver 'the largest technical leap' with the next-generation Xbox: "We've got more to come. There's some exciting stuff coming out in hardware that we're going to share this holiday. We're also invested in the next-generation roadmap. What we're really focused on there is delivering the largest technical leap you will have ever seen in a hardware generation, which makes it better for players and better for creators and the visions that they're building." Speaking to The Verge, Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer went a step further, teasing that the Xbox hardware teams are thinking about building different kinds of hardware. "I'm very proud of the work that the hardware team is doing, not only for this year, but also into the future," says Spencer. "[We're] really thinking about creating hardware that sells to gamers because of the unique aspects of the hardware. It's kind of an unleashing of the creative capability of our hardware team that I'm really excited about." Perhaps that unique hardware is an Xbox handheld. "We see a lot of opportunity in different types of devices, and will share specifics on our future hardware plans as soon as we are ready," says Microsoft in an Xbox blog post today.

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Sam Altman's $7 Trillion Chip Dreams Are Way Off the Mark, Says Nvidia CEO
Jensen Huang took an indirect jab at Sam Altman when he said $7 trillion can buy "apparently all the GPUs." From a report: The Nvidia CEO made the quip at the World Governments Summit in Dubai on Monday when asked how many GPU chips that much money could buy. Altman, the OpenAI chief, is reportedly trying to raise trillions to boost supplies of the chips needed for AI processing. Huang told the United Arab Emirates' AI minister, Omar Al Olama, that developing AI wouldn't cost as much as the amount Altman is seeking to raise. The Nvidia CEO said AI infrastructure costs would be considerably less than the $5 trillion to $7 trillion Altman is reportedly trying to raise because of expected advances in computing. "You can't assume just that you will buy more computers. You have to also assume that the computers are going to become faster and therefore the total amount that you need is not as much," Huang said. He also suggested that the cost of building AI data centers globally would amount to $2 trillion by 2029. Huang said: "There's about a trillion dollars' worth of installed base of data centers. Over the course of the next four or five years, we'll have $2 trillion worth of data centers that will be powering software around the world."

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Backblaze's Geriatric Hard Drives Kicked the Bucket More in 2023
Backblaze has published a report on hard drive failures for 2023, finding that rates increased during the year due to aging drives that it plans to upgrade. From a report: Backblaze, which focuses on cloud-based storage services, claims to have more than three exabytes of data storage under its management. As of the end of last year, the company monitored 270,222 hard drives used for data storage, some of which are excluded from the statistics because they are still being evaluated. That still left a collection of 269,756 hard drives comprised of 35 drive models. Statistics on SSDs used as boot drives are reported separately. Backblaze found one drive model exhibited zero failures for all of 2023, the Seagate 8 TB ST8000NM000A. However, this came with the caveat that there are only 204 examples in service, and these were deployed only since Q3 2022, so have accumulated a limited number of drive days (total time operational). Nevertheless, as Backblaze's principal cloud storage evangelist Andy Klein pointed out: "Zero failures over 18 months is a nice start."

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28-Ton, 1.2-Megawatt Tidal Kite Is Now Exporting Power To the Grid
Minesto, a marine energy tech developer based in Sweden, has deployed their new Dragon 12 tidal energy harvester to the Faroe Islands. Operating like an underwater kite, the Dragon 12 "uses lift generated by tidal flows to fly patterns faster than the currents, harvesting renewable energy," reports New Atlas. From the report: Where devices like Orbital's O2 tidal turbine more or less just sit there in the water harvesting energy from tidal currents, Minesto's Dragon series are anchored to the sea bed, and fly around like kites, treating the currents like wind. Just as land-based wind energy kites fly in figure 8 patterns to accelerate themselves faster than the wind, so does the Dragon underwater. This, says Minesto, lets the Dragon pull more energy from a given tidal current than other designs -- and it also changes the economic equations for relevant sites, making slower tidal flows worth exploiting. These are by no means small kites -- the Dragon 12 needs to be disassembled to fit in a shipping container. It rocks a monster 12-meter (39-ft) wingspan, and weighs no less than 28 tons. But compared to other offshore power options like wind turbines, it's an absolute minnow, and extremely easy to install using a single smallish boat and a sea bed tether. As with any renewable energy project, the key figure here is LCoE (levelized cost of energy) -- so what's it gonna cost? Well, back in 2017, Minesto projected about US$108/MWh once its first hundred megawatts of capacity are installed -- with costs falling thereafter as low as $54/MWh. The Dragon 12, like other tidal devices, will be more effective in some places than others -- and Denmark's Faroe Islands, an archipelago in the chilly North Atlantic between Scotland and Iceland, offer ideal conditions. Home to about 55,000 people and more than a million puffins, the Faroe Islands funnel tidal currents through a number of slim channels. This accelerates the water significantly, and thus increases the energy that devices like the Dragon 12 can harvest. That's where the first Dragon has been deployed, and on Friday, it was connected to the local power grid to begin delivering energy. You can watch a video of the Dragon 12 on YouTube.

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Chernobyl's Mutant Wolves Appear To Have Developed Resistance To Cancer
"Mutant wolves roaming the deserted streets of Chernobyl appear to have developed resistance to cancer," reports Sky News, "raising hopes the findings can help scientists fight the disease in humans."Dr Cara Love, an evolutionary biologist and ecotoxicologist at Princeton University in the U.S., has been studying how the Chernobyl wolves survive despite generations of exposure to radioactive particles... The researchers discovered that Chernobyl wolves are exposed to upwards of 11.28 millirem of radiation every day for their entire lives — which is more than six times the legal safety limit for a human. Dr Love found the wolves have altered immune systems similar to cancer patients undergoing radiation treatment, but more significantly she also identified specific parts of the animals' genetic information that seemed resilient to increased cancer risk. Thanks to long-time Slashdot reader AmiMoJo for sharing the news.

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Nvidia is Forming a New Business Unit to Make Custom Chips
An anonymous reader shared this report from Reuters:Nvidia is building a new business unit focused on designing bespoke chips for cloud computing firms and others, including advanced AI processors, nine sources familiar with its plans told Reuters. The dominant global designer and supplier of AI chips aims to capture a portion of an exploding market for custom AI chips and shield itself from the growing number of companies pursuing alternatives to its products. The Santa Clara, California-based company controls about 80% of high-end AI chip market, a position that has sent its stock market value up 40% so far this year to $1.73 trillion after it more than tripled in 2023. Nvidia's customers, which include ChatGPT creator OpenAI, Microsoft, Alphabet, and Meta Platforms, have raced to snap up the dwindling supply of its chips to compete in the fast-emerging generative AI sector. Its H100 and A100 chips serve as a generalized, all-purpose AI processor for many of those major customers. But the tech companies have started to develop their own internal chips for specific needs. Doing so helps reduce energy consumption, and potentially can shrink the cost and time to design. Nvidia is now attempting to play a role in helping these companies develop custom AI chips that have flowed to rival firms such as Broadcom and Marvell Technology, said the sources, who declined to be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly... Nvidia moving into this territory has the potential to eat into Broadcom and Marvell sales.

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New Hutter Prize Awarded for Even Smaller Data Compression Milestone
Since 2006 Baldrson (Slashdot reader #78,598) has been part of the team verifying "The Hutter Prize for Lossless Compression of Human Knowledge," an ongoing challenge to compress a 100-MB excerpt of Wikipedia (approximately the amount a human can read in a lifetime). "The intention of this prize is to encourage development of intelligent compressors/programs as a path to Artificial General Intelligence," explains the project's web site. 15 years ago, Baldrson wrote a Slashdot post explaining the logic (titled "Compress Wikipedia and Win AI Prize"):The basic theory, for which Hutter provides a proof, is that after any set of observations the optimal move by an AI is find the smallest program that predicts those observations and then assume its environment is controlled by that program. Think of it as Ockham's Razor on steroids. The amount of the prize also increases based on how much compression is achieved. (So if you compress the 1GB file x% better than the current record, you'll receive x% of the prize...) The first prize was awarded in 2006. And now Baldrson writes:Kaido Orav has just improved 1.38% on the Hutter Prize for Lossless Compression of Human Knowledge with his "fx-cmix" entry. The competition seems to be heating up, with this winner coming a mere 6 months since the prior winner. This is all the more impressive since each improvement in the benchmark approaches the (unknown) minimum size called the Kolmogorov Complexity of the data.

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