Robotics

Bankers Publicly Embracing Robots Are Privately Fearing Job Cuts (bloomberg.com) 151

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Within the upper echelons of many financial firms, there's a lot of soul searching as executives prepare to roll out a new generation of technology. Publicly, they're upbeat, predicting machines will perform almost all repetitive tasks, freeing humans to focus on more valuable pursuits. Privately, many confide to peers, consultants and sometimes journalists that they're worried about what will happen to their staffs -- and what to tell them. There's also uncertainty. Maybe it's all overblown, executives say, because the tech will be hard to implement and humans will find new roles. Or perhaps it's the beginning of the end for legions of professionals in one of the world's most lucrative fields. Can jobs held by office-dwelling millionaires disappear like those on factory floors? The result, is that employees aren't getting a clear message on what's to come.

For a rosy scenario, look to McKinsey & Co. In July, the consulting firm published a report estimating machines are ready to assume roughly a third of the work now performed by banks' rank and file. The authors framed it as positive: People will have more time to tend to clients, conduct research or brainstorm ideas. So far, it noted, firms at the forefront aren't slashing jobs. At JPMorgan Chase & Co., one of the most tech-savvy banks, Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon predicted in June that his workforce will more likely grow than shrink over the next 20 years. Technology may displace workers, he's said, but it also creates opportunities. Yet in interviews, about a dozen Wall Street executives and consultants responsible for deploying technologies -- and steeped in their capabilities -- were more bearish on humans. Machines will take over task after task, they said, and banks simply won't need nearly as many people.

Businesses

First Floating Wind Farm Delivers Electricity (arstechnica.com) 74

The world's first floating offshore wind farm began delivering electricity to the Scottish grid today. "The 30MW installation, situated 25km (15.5mi) from Peterhead in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, will demonstrate that offshore wind energy can be harvested in deep waters, miles away from land, where installing giant turbines was once impractical or impossible," reports Ars Technica. "At peak capacity, the wind farm will produce enough electricity to power 20,000 Scottish homes." From the report: The installation, called Hywind Scotland, is also interesting because it was built by Statoil, a Norwegian mega-corporation known for offshore oil drilling. Statoil has pursued offshore wind projects in recent years, using the companyâ(TM)s experience building and managing infrastructure in difficult open sea conditions to its advantage. Hywind Scotland began producing power in September, and today it starts delivering electricity to the Scottish grid. Now, all that's left is for Statoil and its partner company Masdar to install a 1MWh lithium-ion battery, charmingly called âoeBatwind,â on shore. Batwind will help the offshore system regulate power delivery and optimize output. After a number of small demonstration projects, the five 6MW turbines are the first commercial turbines to lack a firm attachment to the seafloor. They're held in place using three giant suction anchors, which are commonly used in offshore oil drilling. Essentially, an enormous, empty, upside-down âoebucketâ is placed on the seafloor, and air is sucked out of the bucket, which forces the bucket downward, further into the seafloor sediment. The report mentions a 2013 video that shows how offshore wind farms work.
Government

CNN Gets a First-Of-Its-Kind Waiver To Fly Drones Over Crowds (techcrunch.com) 54

The FAA has granted CNN a waiver that allows it to fly its Vantage Robotics Snap drone over open-air crowds of people at altitudes of up to 150 feet. "This is a new precedent in this kind of waiver: Previous exemptions allowed flight of drones over people in closed set operations (like for filmmaking purposes) and only when tethered, with a max height of 21 feet," reports TechCrunch. From the report: The new waiver granted to CNN, as secured through its legal counsel Hogan Lovells, allows for flight of the Vantage UAV (which is quite small and light) above crowds regardless of population density. It was a big win for the firm and the company because it represents a change in perspective on the issue for the FAA, which previously viewed all requests for exceptions from a "worst-case scenario" point of view. Now, however, the FAA has accepted CNN's "reasonableness Approach," which takes into account not just the potential results of a crashed drone, but also the safe operating history of the company doing the flying, their built-in safety procedures, and the features included on the drone model itself that are designed to mitigate the results of any negative issues.
Power

Microsoft Teases Multi-Day Battery Life For Upcoming ARM-Powered Windows Devices (techspot.com) 64

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechSpot: Microsoft late last year announced a partnership with Qualcomm to bring the full Windows 10 experience to ARM-powered devices. Terry Myerson, Executive Vice President of Microsoft's Windows and Devices Group, promised at the time that Snapdragon-powered Windows 10 devices would be efficient in the power consumption department. We're still waiting for the partnership to bear fruit but in the interim, new details regarding efficiency (and a few other subjects) have emerged. With regard to battery life, Pete Bernard, Principal Group Program Manager for Connectivity Partners at Microsoft, said that to be frank, battery life at this point is beyond their expectations: ""We set a high bar for [our developers], and we're now beyond that. It's the kind of battery life where I use it on a daily basis. I don't take my charger with me. I may charge it every couple of days or so. It's that kind of battery life."
Android

ZTE Launches Axon M, a Foldable, Dual-Screened Smartphone (theverge.com) 61

ZTE's new Axon M is a full-featured smartphone with a hinge that connects two full-size displays, making the Axon M a flip phone of sorts. "Its front screen is a 5.2-inch, 1080p panel, it has last year's Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 20-megapixel camera," reports The Verge. "But flip the phone over and there's an identical 5.2-inch display on the back, making the Axon M anything but run-of-the-mill." From the report: The M's hinge allows the rear screen to flip forward and slot right next to the main display, creating an almost tablet sized canvas. You can stretch the home screen and apps across the two displays for a larger working area, or you can run two different apps at the same time, one on each screen. You can also "tent" the phone, and mirror the displays so two people can see the same content at the same time. ZTE says that it is utilizing Android's default split-screen features to enable many of the dual-screen functions, and it has made sure the "top 100" Android apps work on the phone. In the "extended" mode, which stretches a single app across both screens, the tablet version of the app is presented (provided there is one, which isn't always a guarantee with Android apps). It's even possible to stream video on both screens at the same time and switch the audio between them on the fly, which might be useful if you want to watch a sports game and YouTube at the same time, I guess.
Android

Android Oreo Helps Google's Pixel 2 Smartphones Outperform Other Android Flagships (hothardware.com) 77

MojoKid highlights Hot Hardware's review of Google's new Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL smartphones: Google officially launched it's Pixel 2 phones today, taking the wraps off third-party reviews. Designed by Google but manufactured by HTC (Pixel 2) and LG (Pixel 2 XL), the two new handsets also boast Google's latest Android 8.0 operating system, aka Oreo, an exclusive to Google Pixel and certain Nexus devices currently. And in some ways, this is also a big advantage. Though they are based on the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor as many other Android devices, Google's new Pixel 2s manage to outpace similarly configured smartphones in certain benchmarks by significant margins (Basemark, PCMark and 3DMark). They also boot dramatically faster than any other Android handset on the market, in as little as 10 seconds. Camera performance is also excellent, with both the 5-inch Pixel 2 and 6-inch Pixel 2 XL sporting identical electronics, save for their displays and chassis sizes. Another notable feature built into Android Oreo is Google Now Playing, an always-listening, Shazam-like service (if you enable it) that displays song titles on the lock screen if it picks up on music playing in the room you're in. Processing is done right on the Pixel 2 and it doesn't need network connectivity. Another Pixel 2 Oreo-based trick is Google Lens, a machine vision system that Google notes "can recognize places like landmarks and buildings, artwork that you'd find in a museum, media covers such as books, movies, music albums, and video games..." The Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL are available now on Verizon or unlocked via the Google Store starting at $649 and $849 respectively for 64GB storage versions, with a $100 up-charge for 128GB variants.
Microsoft

Microsoft Surface Book 2 Puts Desktop Brains in a Laptop Body (wired.com) 140

David Pierce, writing for Wired: As Microsoft went to create the Surface Book 2, the company once again tried to bust categories. The result is the most combinatory device Microsoft's made yet. It's a laptop (screens measure 13 or 15 inches; there's a keyboard and trackpad) -- and it's also a tablet (the screen detaches, you can use a pen, everything's touch-friendly), and it's also a desktop. A stupendously powerful one, at that: It runs on Intel's new eighth-generation quad-core processors, in either a Core i5 or Core i7 version. The higher-end models come with Nvidia's GeForce discrete graphics, up to 16 gigs of RAM, and as much as 1 terabyte of solid storage. All that in a fanless body that gets up to 17 hours of battery life, and weighs about 3.5 pounds for the smaller model or 4.2 pounds for the larger. What does all that mean? Microsoft claims the smaller model is three times more powerful than the last Surface Book, and the 15-inch runs five times as fast. Those are meaningless comparisons, but the point holds. This thing screams. More useful are the comparisons to Apple's latest MacBook Pros: Microsoft claims up to 70 percent more battery life, and double the performance of Apple's laptops.
Android

Essential Is Getting Sued For Allegedly Stealing Wireless Connector Technology (gizmodo.com) 43

"Keyssa, a wireless technology company backed by iPod creator and Nest founder Tony Fadell, filed a lawsuit against Essential on Monday, alleging that the company stole trade secrets and breached their nondisclosure agreement," reports Gizmodo. Keyssa has proprietary technology that reportedly lets users transfer large files in a matter of seconds by holding two devices side by side. From the report: According to the lawsuit, Keyssa and Essential engaged in conversations in which the wireless tech company "divulged to Essential proprietary technology enabling every facet of Keyssa's wireless connectivity," all of which was protected under a non-disclosure agreement. More specifically, the lawsuit alleges that Keyssa "deployed a team 20 of its top engineers and scientists" to educate Essential on its proprietary tech, sending them "many thousands of confidential emails, hundreds of confidential technical documents, and dozens of confidential presentations." Essential ended this relationship after over 10 months and later told Keyssa that its engineers would use a competing chip in the Essential Phone. But Keyssa is accusing Essential of including techniques in its phone that were gleaned from their relationship, despite their confidentiality agreement. Central to this lawsuit is one of the Essential Phone's key selling points: the option to swap in modular add-ons, made possible thanks to the phone's unique cordless connector. In short, if Keyssa's claims hold water, then one of the phone's defining factors is a product of theft.
Input Devices

What Will Replace Computer Keyboards? (xconomy.com) 301

jeffengel writes:Computer keyboards will be phased out over the next 20 years, and we should think carefully about what replaces them as the dominant mode of communicating with machines, argues Android co-founder Rich Miner. Virtual reality technology and brain-computer links -- whose advocates include Elon Musk -- could lead to a "dystopian" future where people live their lives inside of goggles, or they jack directly into computers and become completely "de-personalized," Miner worries.

He takes a more "humanistic" view of the future of human-machine interfaces, one that frees us to be more expressive and requires computers to communicate on our level, not the other way around. That means software that can understand our speech, facial expressions, gestures, and handwriting. These technologies already exist, but have a lot of room for improvement.

One example he gives is holding up your hand to pause a video.
Power

Toshiba's Fast-Charging Battery Could Triple the Range of Electric Vehicles (newatlas.com) 119

Big Hairy Ian quotes New Atlas: A key focus of electric vehicle (EV) makers is maximizing the range users can get from each charge, and for that reason new battery technologies are poised to play a huge part in driving their adoption. Toshiba has developed a new fast-charging battery it claims could allow EVs to travel three times as far as they do now, and then be fully recharged again in a matter of minutes.

Toshiba's SCiB (Super Charge ion Battery) has been around in various forms since 2007, with its chief claim to fame an ability to charge to 90 percent of capacity in just five minutes. It also boasts a life-span of 10 years and high levels of safety, and has found its way into a number of notable EVs, including Mitsubishi's i MiEV and Honda's Fit EV. The current SCiB uses lithium titanium oxide as its anode, but Toshiba says it has now come up with a better way of doing things. The next-generation SCiB uses a new material for the anode called titanium niobium oxide, which Toshiba was able to arrange into a crystal structure that can store lithium ions more efficiently. So much so, that the energy density has been doubled.

Toshiba calls the battery "a game changing advance that will make a significant difference to the range and performance of EV," and hopes to put it "into practical application" in 2019.
Google

Google Slashes Prices of Its USB-C Headphone Dongle Following Minor Outrage (mashable.com) 197

At its hardware event last week, Google unveiled its two new flagship smartphones: the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. While these devices feature high-end specifications and the latest version of Android, they both lack headphone jacks, upsetting many consumers who still rely heavily on wired headphones. To add insult to injury, Google announced a USB-C adapter for a whopping price of $20 -- that's $11 more than Apple's Lightning to 3.5mm adapter. This resulted in some minor outrage and caused Google to rethink its decision(s). As reported by 9to5Google, Google decided to slash the price of the dongle by over 50%. It is now priced at a more reasonable $9.
Data Storage

Microwave Tech Could Produce 40TB Hard Drives In the Near Future (gizmodo.com) 151

Western Digital has announced a potential game changer that promises to expand the limits of traditional HDDs to up to 40TBs using a microwave-based write head, and the company says it will be able to the public in 2019. Gizmodo reports: Western Digital's new approach, microwave-assisted magnetic recording (MAMR), can utilize the company's existing production chain to cram a lot more storage onto a 3.5-inch disk. In a technical overview, Western Digital says it has managed to overcome the biggest issue with traditional HDD drive storage -- the size of the write head. These days, an average hard drive maxes out in the 10-14TB range. But by integrating a new write head, "a spin torque oscillator," microwaves can create the energy levels necessary for copying data within a lower magnetic field than was ever previously possible. There's a more thorough white paper for those who want to dive in. According to Western Digital, MAMR has "the capability to extend areal density gains up to 4 Terabits per square inch." By the year 2025, it hopes to be packing 40TBs into the same size drive it offers today.
IOS

Latest iOS Update Shows Apple Can Use Software To Break Phones Repaired By Independent Shops (vice.com) 127

The latest version of iOS fixes several bugs, including one that caused a loss of touch functionality on a small subset of phones that had been repaired with certain third-party screens and had been updated to iOS 11. "Addresses an issue where touch input was unresponsive on some iPhone 6S displays because they were not serviced with genuine Apple parts," the update reads. "Note: Non-genuine replacement displays may have compromised visual quality and may fail to work correctly. Apple-certified screen repairs are performed by trusted experts who use genuine Apple parts. See support.apple.com for more information." Jason Koebler writes via Motherboard: "This is a reminder that Apple seems to have the ability to push out software updates that can kill hardware and replacement parts it did not sell iPhone customers itself, and that it can fix those same issues remotely." From the report: So let's consider what actually happened here. iPhones that had been repaired and were in perfect working order suddenly stopped working after Apple updated its software. Apple was then able to fix the problem remotely. Apple then put out a warning blaming the parts that were used to do the repair. Poof -- phone doesn't work. Poof -- phone works again. In this case, not all phones that used third party parts were affected, and there's no reason to think that, in this case, Apple broke these particular phones on purpose. But there is currently nothing stopping the company from using software to control unauthorized repair: For instance, you cannot replace the home button on an iPhone 7 without Apple's proprietary "Horizon Machine" that re-syncs a new home button with the repaired phone. This software update is concerning because it not only undermines the reputation of independent repair among Apple customers, but because it shows that phones that don't use "genuine" parts could potentially one day be bricked remotely.
Businesses

Samsung Electronics CEO Resigns Over 'Unprecedented Crisis' (bbc.com) 16

According to BBC, Samsung Electronics chief executive Kwon Oh-hyun has resigned, saying the company is in an "unprecedented crisis." It's the latest management upheaval at the firm after the heir of the entire Samsung Group was imprisoned for corruption in August. From the report: Mr Kwon is one of three co-chief executives of Samsung Electronics. His resignation comes on the same day the firm forecast record quarterly profits, citing higher memory chip prices. Mr Kwon said he had been thinking about his departure "for quite some time" and could "no longer put it off." "As we are confronted with unprecedented crisis inside out, I believe that time has now come for the company [to] start anew, with a new spirit and young leadership to better respond to challenges arising from the rapidly changing IT industry," he said in a statement. He will remain on the board of Samsung Electronics until March 2018.
Iphone

Apple To Ditch Touch ID Altogether For All of Next Year's iPhones (macrumors.com) 135

Earlier this week, a report said that Apple is planning to equip next year's iPad Pro with the hardware necessary for Face ID. Now, according to KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, it appears the company is taking that one step further with its 2018 iPhones. All of the iPhones Apple plans to produce next year will reportedly abandon the Touch ID fingerprint sensor in favor of facial recognition. Mac Rumors reports: According to Kuo, Apple will embrace Face ID as its authentication method for a competitive advantage over Android smartphones. Kuo has previously said that it could take years for Android smartphone manufacturers to produce technology that can match the TrueDepth camera and the Face ID feature coming in the iPhone X. Face ID, says Kuo, will continue to be a major selling point of the new iPhone models in 2018, with Apple planning to capitalize on its lead in 3D sensing design and production. Kuo's prediction suggests that all upcoming 2018 iPhones will feature a full-screen design with minimal bezels like the iPhone X, meaning no additional models with the iPhone 8/iPhone 8 Plus design would be produced. That would spell the end of the line for Touch ID in the iPhone, which has been available as a biometric authentication option since 2013.
China

Why China is Winning the Clean Energy Race (axios.com) 212

An anonymous reader shares a report: U.S. politicians have been warning for years that America couldn't let China win the clean energy race. That's exactly what has happened, with the trends most stark in electric cars, solar and nuclear energy. Why it matters: Building for the last decade, these trends have accelerated in the last couple of years. Politicians and business leaders said America's dominance in this space would bring jobs to the U.S. and security to our clean-energy resources, and now both of those goals are at risk. Why China is doing this: It needs to literally energize its 1.4 billion people, both how they travel and how they power their homes. Its leadership feels compelled to do it in a cleaner way than the U.S. did. Air pollution is at dangerously high levels across many of China's cities. People are seeing and feeling health repercussions of China's dependence on fossil fuel-fired cars and power plants in an acute way. Traditional air pollution, not climate change, is a big driver.
Data Storage

Researcher Turns HDD Into Rudimentary Microphone (bleepingcomputer.com) 64

An anonymous reader writes from Bleeping Computer: Speaking at a security conference, researcher Alfredo Ortega has revealed that you can use your hard disk drive (HDD) as a rudimentary microphone to pick up nearby sounds. This is possible because of how hard drives are designed to work. Sounds or nearby vibrations are nothing more than mechanical waves that cause HDD platters to vibrate. By design, a hard drive cannot read or write information to an HDD platter that moves under vibrations, so the hard drive must wait for the oscillation to stop before carrying out any actions. Because modern operating systems come with utilities that measure HDD operations up to nanosecond accuracy, Ortega realized that he could use these tools to measure delays in HDD operations. The longer the delay, the louder the sound or the intense the vibration that causes it. These read-write delays allowed the researcher to reconstruct sound or vibration waves picked up by the HDD platters. A video demo is here.

"It's not accurate yet to pick up conversations," Ortega told Bleeping Computer in a private conversation. "However, there is research that can recover voice data from very low-quality signals using pattern recognition. I didn't have time to replicate the pattern-recognition portion of that research into mine. However, it's certainly applicable." Furthermore, the researcher also used sound to attack hard drives. Ortega played a 130Hz tone to make an HDD stop responding to commands. "The Linux kernel disconnected it entirely after 120 seconds," he said. There's a video of this demo on YouTube.

Businesses

The Real Inside Story of How Commodore Failed (youtube.com) 259

dryriver writes: Everybody who was into computers in the 1980s and 1990s remembers Commodore producing amazingly innovative, capable and popular multimedia and gaming computers one moment, and disappearing off the face of the earth the next, leaving only PCs and Macs standing. Much has been written about what went wrong with Commodore over the years, but always by outsiders looking in -- journalists, tech writers, not people who were on the inside. In a 34 minute long Youtube interview that surfaced on October 9th, former Commodore UK Managing Director David John Pleasance and Trevor Dickinson of A-EON Technology talk very frankly about how Commodore really failed, and just how crazy bad and preventable the business and tech decisions that killed Commodore were, from firing all Amiga engineers for no discernible reason, to hiring 40 IBM engineers who didn't understand multimedia computing, to not licensing the then-valuable Commodore Business Machines (CBM) brand to PC makers to generate an extra revenue stream, to one new manager suddenly deciding to manufacture in the Philippines -- a place where the man had a lady mistress apparently. The interview is a truly eye-opening preview of an upcoming book David John Pleasance is writing called Commodore: The Inside Story . The book will, for the first time, chronicle the fall of Commodore from the insider perspective of an actual Commodore Managing Director.
Google

Google Is Really Good At Design 186

Joshua Topolsky, writing for The Outline: The stuff Google showed off on October 4 was brazenly designed and strangely, invitingly touchable. These gadgets were soft, colorful... delightful? They looked human, but like something future humans had made; people who'd gotten righteously drunk with aliens. You could imagine them in your living room, your den, your bedroom. Your teleportation chamber. A fuzzy little donut you can have a conversation with. A VR headset in stunning pink. A phone with playful pops of color and an interface that seems to presage what you want, when you want it. It's weird. It's subtle. It's... good. It's Google? It's Google.

It was only a few years ago that Google was actually something of a laughing stock when it came to design. As an aggressively engineer-led company, the Mountain View behemoth's early efforts, particularly with its mobile software and devices, focused not on beauty, elegance, or simplicity, but rather concentrated on flexibility, iteration, and scale. These are useful priorities for a utilitarian search engine, but didn't translate well to many of the company's other products. Design -- the mysterious intersection of art and communication -- was a second-class citizen at Google, subordinate to The Data. That much was clear from the top down.

Enter Matias Duarte, the design impresario who was responsible for the Sidekick's UI (a wacky, yet strangely prescient mobile-everything concept) and later, the revolutionary (though ill-fated) webOS -- the striking mobile operating system and design language that would be Palm's final, valiant attempt at reclaiming the mobile market. Duarte was hired by Google in 2013 (initially as Android's User Experience Director, though he is now VP of design at the company), and spearheaded a complete reset of the company's visual and functional instincts. But even Duarte was aware of the design challenges his new role presented. "I never thought I'd work for Google," he told Surface Magazine in August. "I had zero ambition to work for Google. Everybody knew Google was a terrible place for design." Duarte went to work on a system that would ultimately be dubbed Material Design -- a set of principles that not only began to dictate how Android should look and work as a mobile operating system, but also triggered the march toward a unified system of design that slowly but surely pulled Google's disparate network of services into something that much more closely resembled a singular vision. A school of thought. A family.
Power

Driverless Cars Are Giving Engineers a Fuel Economy Headache (bloomberg.com) 208

schwit1 shares a report from Bloomberg: Judging from General Motors' test cars and Elon Musk's predictions, the world is headed toward a future that's both driverless and all-electric. In reality, autonomy and battery power could end up being at odds. That's because self-driving technology is a huge power drain. Some of today's prototypes for fully autonomous systems consume two to four kilowatts of electricity -- the equivalent of having 50 to 100 laptops continuously running in the trunk, according to BorgWarner Inc. The supplier of vehicle propulsion systems expects the first autonomous cars -- likely robotaxis that are constantly on the road -- will be too energy-hungry to run on battery power alone. A fully autonomous subcompact car like a Honda Fit, for example, will get 54.6 miles to the gallon in 2025 in the best-case scenario, more than 5 miles below the U.S. emissions target, according to BorgWarner. A small pickup or SUV would be at 45.8 mpg, versus a target of 50. Engineers don't have much time to resolve this, as companies are planning to deploy their first fully self-driving cars in the next couple of years. One way for automakers to meet the power-hungry needs of self-driving systems will be to use gasoline-electric hybrid models rather than purely electric cars, said Mary Gustanski, chief technology officer of supplier Delphi Automotive Plc's powertrain business.

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