All posts by Sebastian Anthony

US gov’t taps The Machine to beat China to exascale supercomputing

HPE

With China threatening to build the world's first exascale supercomputer before the US, the US Department of Energy has awarded a research grant to Hewlett Packard Enterprise to develop an exascale supercomputer reference design based on technology gleaned from the The Machine, a project that aims to "reinvent the fundamental architecture of computing."

The DoE historically operated most of the world's top supercomputers, but in recent years China has taken over in dramatic fashion. China's top supercomputer, Sunway TaihuLight, currently has five times the peak performance (93 petaflops) of Oak Ridge's Titan (18 petaflops). The US has gesticulated grandiosely about retaking the supercomputing crown with an exascale (1,000 petaflops, 1 exaflops) supercomputer that would be operational by 2021ish, but China is seemingly forging ahead at a much faster clip: in January, China's national supercomputer centre said it would have a prototype exascale computer built by the end of 2017 and operational by 2020.

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Firefox 54 finally goes multiprocess, eight years after work began

Enlarge (credit: Mozilla)

Firefox has finally been outfitted with simultaneous multiple content processes, a UI process, and a GPU acceleration process— eight years after the project, codenamed Electrolysis (E10S), began. Mozilla is calling Firefox 54 "the best Firefox ever," and they're probably not wrong (though Firefox 3.5 was pretty good, in my opinion).

In theory, moving to multiple content processes will improve stability and performance (one bad tab won't slow down the rest of your computer). Electrolysis is also a prerequisite for full security sandboxing in Firefox, which is currently only available for a few media-decoding plug-ins such as Flash.

The trade-off with multiple processes, though, is memory overhead, because each process contains an instance of the browser's rendering engine. Mozilla says they've worked hard to avoid increased memory consumption, but as a result you only get four content processes by default. Apparently that's the sweet spot between using too much RAM while still taking full advantage of multi-core CPUs. If you want to be more (or less) aggressive, you can visit about:config and tweak dom.ipc.processCount. By default Google Chrome starts a new process for every tab, which is one of the reasons it's such a memory hog.

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Logitech finally finds a good use for wireless charging: A mouse pad

Guys... guys. Put down your morning coffee. Loosen any tight clothing. Say a quick prayer to your favoured deity. Logitech has done it. Logitech has found a legitimate use for wireless charging: the Powerplay mouse pad, which constantly charges your wireless mouse. Your wireless mouse will never again run out of battery.

The Powerplay bundle ($100 in the US, probably £90 in the UK) consists of a wireless charging base, two mousing surfaces (soft and hard) that you can switch between, and a powercore module. (Did Logitech hire the Nvidia marketing guru who came up with "Forceware" or something?)

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Google sells off Boston Dynamics to SoftBank

Japanese tech company SoftBank will acquire Boston Dynamics, a high-profile robotics firm that was picked up by Google X in December 2013 and then moved under the Alphabet umbrella. Boston Dynamics is famous for creating a series of animal-like robots, including the original sounds-like-a-swarm-of-bees BigDog, robot-land-speed-record-holder Cheetah, the militarised AlphaDog, and a couple of bipedal humanoid robots (Petman, Atlas) as well.

Terms of the deal haven't been disclosed by SoftBank or Alphabet, nor do we know how much Google X originally paid for Boston Dynamics. It is probably not a small sum, though. As part of the deal SoftBank is also picking up Schaft, a smaller humanoid robotics group that Google acquired just before Boston Dynamics. Alphabet

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UK police arrest man via automatic face-recognition tech

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Automatic facial recognition (AFR) technology has been used to arrest a man, the South Wales Police told Ars.

While AFR tech has been trialled by a number of UK police forces, this appears to be the first time it has led to an arrest.

South Wales Police didn't provide details about the nature of the arrest, presumably because it's an ongoing case.

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IBM unveils world’s first 5nm chip

IBM, working with Samsung and GlobalFoundries, has unveiled the world's first 5nm silicon chip. Beyond the usual power, performance, and density improvement from moving to smaller transistors, the 5nm IBM chip is notable for being one of the first to use horizontal gate-all-around (GAA) transistors, and the first real use of extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography.

GAAFETs are the next evolution of tri-gate finFETs: finFETs, which are currently used for most 22nm-and-below chip designs, will probably run out of steam at around 7nm; GAAFETs may go all the way down to 3nm, especially when combined with EUV. No one really knows what comes after 3nm.

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We can now convert every film and TV show from the last 80 years into HDR

Bcom

Researchers at the French research institute Bcom, with the aid of a wunderkind plucked from a nearby university, have developed software that converts existing SDR (standard dynamic range) video into HDR (high dynamic range) video. That is, the software can take almost all of the colour video content produced by humanity over the last 80 years and widen its dynamic range, increasing the brightness, contrast ratio, and number of colours displayed on-screen. I've seen the software in action and interrogated the algorithm, and I'm somewhat surprised to report how good the content looks with an expanded dynamic range.

But garbage in, garbage out, right? You can't magically create more detail (or more colour data) in an image. Well, you canGoogle produced detailed face images from pixelated source images—but philosophically it is no longer the same image. When a film is cropped for TV broadcast, or you receive a blocky low-bitrate stream from Netflix, or Flickr changes the JPEG profile on an uploaded photo... are those the same image as the artist/director/videographer intended? Or are they different?

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Google’s AlphaGo AI beats world’s best human Go player

Enlarge / China's 19-year-old Go player Ke Jie (L) prepares to make a move during the first match against Google's artificial intelligence program AlphaGo in Wuzhen, east China's Zhejiang province on May 23, 2017. (credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images)

DeepMind's AlphaGo AI has defeated Ke Jie in the first round of a best-of-three Go match in China. A video of the match is embedded below. Ke Jie was defeated by just a half a point—the closest margin possible—but scoring versus AlphaGo is a little bit disingenuous: DeepMind's AI doesn't try to win by a large margin; it just plots the surest route to victory, even if it's only by half a point.

Ke Jie is generally considered to be the world's best human Go player, but he wasn't expected to win; AlphaGo defeated the Chinese 19-year-old earlier in the year during an unbeaten online 60-match victory streak.

Today's real-life match was a little different, though. According to DeepMind cofounder Demis Hassabis, Ke Jie "used the ideas AlphaGo used in the online games in January"; in other words, Ke Jie tried to use AlphaGo's own moves against itself. Clearly it didn't quite work out, but "some wonderful moves were played," says Hassabis.

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New Surface Pro: No USB-C port, minor design refresh revealed in leaked images

Evleaks

Images of the next Surface Pro leaked out yesterday—and it seems Surface chief Panos Panay wasn't lying when he said "there's no such thing as the Surface Pro 5": Microsoft's next lappable tablet will simply be called Surface Pro without a descriptive numeral.

The Surface Pro images leaked by @evleaks show a device that is slimmer and has slightly more rounded edges than the Surface Pro 4, but otherwise it seems mostly unchanged. Just like the new Surface Laptop, there's still no USB-C connector. The leaked images suggest there will be some new keyboard and pen colours, though.

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Massive ransomware attack hits UK hospitals, Spanish banks

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A large number of hospitals, GPs, and walk-in clinics across England have been locked down by a ransomware attack, reports suggest. There are also some reports of a ransomware attack hitting institutions in Portugal and Spain, though it isn't known if the incidents are connected.

NHS England says it is aware of the issue, but hasn't yet issued an official statement. At this point it isn't clear whether a central NHS network has been knocked offline by the ransomware, or whether individual computers connected to the network are being locked out. In any case, some hospitals and clinics are reporting that their computer systems are inaccessible and some telephone services are down too.

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