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Google Pledges $1 Billion To Tackle Bay Area Housing Crisis
Posted by News Fetcher on June 18 '19 at 11:40 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's something-better-than-nothing department:
Google pledged $1 billion over the next 10 years to try to address an affordable housing crisis California's Bay Area. From a report: The tech giant will re-purpose $750 million of its own land for residential use, allowing the development of at least 15,000 new homes, Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai said in a blog post on Tuesday. Another $250 million will go to incentives for developers to build at least 5,000 affordable housing units. The success of Google and other Silicon Valley technology companies has contributed to massive housing cost increases in the San Francisco Bay Area. The firms employ tens of thousands of high-earners who have bought or rented homes, leaving fewer options for poor and middle-income residents. Meanwhile, the supply of new houses and apartments has not kept up with demand.

Read about hundreds of Silicon Valley residents living in RVs to make ends meet. "Our goal is to help communities succeed over the long term, and make sure that everyone has access to opportunity, whether or not they work in tech," Pichai said. He noted that just 3,000 homes were built in the South Bay area last year. Silicon Valley is the most expensive housing market in the country, with a median existing-home price of $1.2 million. The San Francisco and Oakland metro area is second with a $930,000 median, according to the National Association of Realtors.

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Boaty McBoatface Makes Significant Climate Change Discovery on First Mission
Posted by News Fetcher on June 18 '19 at 10:21 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department:
The British research submarine Boaty McBoatface has made an impressive debut in the scientific arena, discovering a significant link between Antarctic winds and rising sea temperatures on its maiden outing. From a report: The unmanned submarine, whose moniker won a landslide victory in a public poll to name a $300 million British polar research ship, undertook its inaugural mission in April 2017. The task saw McBoatface travel 180 kilometers (112 miles) through mountainous underwater valleys in Antarctica, measuring the temperature, saltiness and turbulence in the depths of the Southern Ocean.

Its findings, published in the journal PNAS on Monday, revealed how increasingly strong winds in the region are causing turbulence deep within the sea, and as a result mixing warm water from middle levels with colder water in the abyss. That process is causing the sea temperature to rise, which in turn is a significant contributor to rising sea levels, scientists behind the project said. Antarctic winds are growing in strength due to the thinning of the ozone layer and the build-up of greenhouse gases, but their impact on the ocean has never been factored in to climate models.

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City of Berlin Backs Plan To Freeze Rents For Five Years
Posted by News Fetcher on June 18 '19 at 10:21 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's taking-a-stand department:
The Berlin Senate on Tuesday approved a five-year rent freeze designed to tame soaring housing costs in the German capital, bowing to pressure from residents angry that their city has become unaffordable. From a report: Once described as "poor but sexy," Berlin's housing costs have doubled over the last decade as employees lured by the strong job market move into the city. The sharp rent hikes have led some residents to ponder radical solutions, including pushing for the seizure of housing stock from landlords. Berlin's city government agreed on Tuesday on the outlines of a draft law that would include a temporary freeze on rents for five years from 2020, with a bill to be drafted. The cap means "protection against rent increases for 1.5 million apartments," tweeted the Berlin government's department for urban development and housing. Under the plan, landlords who seek to raise rates because of renovation work will also have to seek official approval for any increases above 50 cents (44p) per sq metre (11 sq ft).

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Woman Knocked Down While on Phone Wins Payout From Cyclist
Posted by News Fetcher on June 18 '19 at 09:00 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's how-about-that department:
A woman who was knocked unconscious by a cyclist will be awarded compensation, despite a judge finding she had stepped into the road while looking at her phone. From a report: Robert Hazeldean, a garden designer , who was also knocked out by the collision, will pay thousands in damages and court fees to Gemma Brushett, who works for a finance firm in the City of London and runs yoga retreats. Hazeldean was returning from work in July 2015 when he crashed into Brushett as she crossed a busy junction near London Bridge. She launched a legal claim for compensation after sustaining a minor head injury. Judge Shanti Mauger, at Central London county court, said the cyclist was "a calm and reasonable road user" and that Brushett was looking at her phone when she walked into the road in front of him. However, she ruled that Hazeldean was liable to pay damages, saying: "Cyclists must be prepared at all times for people to behave in unexpected ways."

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Anti-Spam Service Truecaller Adds Free Voice Calling Feature
Posted by News Fetcher on June 18 '19 at 09:00 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's for-what-it-is-worth department:
An anonymous reader shares a report: Truecaller, an app best known for helping users screen calls from strangers and spammers, is adding yet another feature to its service as it bolsters its super app status. The Stockholm-based firm said today that its app can now be used to place free VoIP-powered voice calls. The company told TechCrunch on Tuesday that it has started to roll out the free voice calling feature to its Android users. It expects the rollout to reach all Android users in the coming days. The feature, which currently only supports calls between two users, will arrive on its iOS app soon. In emerging markets such as India, where 100 million of Truecaller's 140 million users live, free voice calls has been a long-sought after feature. Until late 2016, voice calls were fairly expensive in India, with telecom operators counting revenue from traditional calls as their biggest profit generator.

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Amazon's Ring May Be Branching Out Beyond Outdoor Cameras
Posted by News Fetcher on June 18 '19 at 07:40 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's shape-of-things-to-come department:
The Amazon panopticon may soon be getting a few new eyes. From a report: In February 2018, Amazon paid $1 billion to acquire Ring, the connected-camera doorbell company whose founder was once rejected on Shark Tank. Since then, Ring has been integrated with other Amazon services, allowing live feeds from its devices on Amazon Echo Shows and leading to new products such smart floodlights. Ring has also helped Amazon to flesh out its rather creepy Key service, where users with Ring doorbells (and other connected products) can choose to let people and deliveries into their homes remotely. Ring has also been building up its Neighbors app, which allows Ring users to share their camera footage with people who live nearby, allowing them to see if they believe any crimes have been committed nearby.

Ring has also forged partnerships with more than 50 police departments, leading to communities that are effectively surveilled by the police, through the camera company owned by the US's largest e-commerce company. Amazon is apparently not stopping there with its one-stop viewing. The company recently received trademarks, uncovered by Quartz, for multiple products that bear the Ring name, including Ring Beams, Ring Halo, and Ring Net. All three trademarks are listed as covering a range of uses, many matching what Ring products currently offer, including internet-connected security cameras, alarm systems, lighting, and cloud video storage.

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Google Calendar is Down
Posted by News Fetcher on June 18 '19 at 07:40 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's outage-report department:
Multiple users are reporting this hour that they are unable to use Google Calendar service. Many attempting to visit the site say they are being welcomed with a "Error 404 and Not Found" error. The app is facing the issue, too. Google's status page does not show any anomaly with the service.

Update 14:40 GMT: Google has acknowledged the issue. In a statement, it said, "We're investigating reports of an issue with Google Calendar. We will provide more information shortly. The affected users are unable to access Google Calendar."

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Siemens Gamesa Unveils World First Electrothermal Energy Storage System
Posted by News Fetcher on June 18 '19 at 06:20 AM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's first-of-its-kind department:
An anonymous reader quotes a report from CleanTechnica: Spanish renewable energy giant and offshore wind energy leader Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy last week inaugurated operations of its electrothermal energy storage system which can store up to 130 megawatt-hours of electricity for a week in volcanic rock. The newly-opened electric thermal energy storage system is billed by Siemens Gamesa as "The Future Energy Solution" and as costing "significantly" less than classic energy storage solutions. Specifically, according to the company, even at the gigawatt-hour (GWh) pilot scale, ETES "would be highly competitive compared to other available storage technologies."

The heat storage facility consists of around 1,000 tonnes of volcanic rock which is used as the storage medium. The rock is fed with electrical energy which is then converted into hot air by means of a resistance heater and a blower that, in turn, heats the rock to 750C/1382F. When demand requires the stored energy, ETES uses a steam turbine to re-electrify the stored energy and feeds it back into the grid. The new ETES facility in Hamburg-Altenwerder can store up to 130 MWh of thermal energy for a week, and storage capacity remains constant throughout the charging cycles.

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Scientists Use Sound To See Around Corners
Posted by News Fetcher on June 18 '19 at 02:20 AM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's sure-hope-you-don't-value-your-privacy department:
sciencehabit shares a report from Science Magazine: Spies may soon have another tool to carry out their shadowy missions: a new device that uses sound to "see" around corners. Previously, researchers developed gadgets that bounced light waves around corners to catch reflections and see things out of the line of sight. To see whether they could do something similar with sound, another group of scientists built a hardware prototype -- a vertical pole adorned with off-the-shelf microphones and small car speakers. The speakers emitted a series of chirps, which bounced off a nearby wall at an angle before hitting a hidden object on another wall -- a poster board cutout of the letter H. Scientists then moved their rig bit by bit, each time making more chirps, which bounced back the way they came, into the microphones. Using algorithms from seismic imaging, the system reconstructed a rough image of the letter H. The technique is years from practical application, but the authors suggest an ultrasound version might eventually be used on autonomous vehicles to detect unseen obstacles. Or it could be used to spy on your co-worker in the next cubicle.

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Facebook Announces Libra Cryptocurrency
Posted by News Fetcher on June 18 '19 at 02:20 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's it's-here department:
Facebook has finally revealed the details of its cryptocurrency Libra. From a blog post: Today we're sharing plans for Calibra, a newly formed Facebook subsidiary whose goal is to provide financial services that will let people access and participate in the Libra network. The first product Calibra will introduce is a digital wallet for Libra, a new global currency powered by blockchain technology. The wallet will be available in Messenger, WhatsApp and as a standalone app -- and we expect to launch in 2020. [...] For many people around the world, even basic financial services are still out of reach: almost half of the adults in the world don't have an active bank account and those numbers are worse in developing countries and even worse for women. The cost of that exclusion is high -- approximately 70% of small businesses in developing countries lack access to credit and $25 billion is lost by migrants every year through remittance fees. This is the challenge we're hoping to address with Calibra, a new digital wallet that you'll be able to use to save, send and spend Libra.

< article continued at Slashdot's it's-here department >

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Mysterious Clouds On Mars Formed By 'Meteoric Smoke,' Study Says
Posted by News Fetcher on June 17 '19 at 11:40 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's cause-and-effect department:
Scientists have discovered that some clouds on Mars are created from the debris of meteors that burn up in the planet's atmosphere. "This 'meteoric smoke,' described in a paper published Monday in Nature Geoscience, stimulates cloud formation at altitudes between 30 and 60 kilometers," reports Motherboard. From the report: "Until now, meteoric smoke has been neglected in general circulation model studies of the formation of Martian water ice clouds," said the study's authors, who were led by Victoria Hartwick, a graduate student at the University of Colorado Boulder. "We conclude that Mars atmospheric simulations that neglect meteoric smoke do not reproduce the observed spatial distribution of water ice clouds." These meteoric smoke clouds are distinct from low-altitude clouds that form when dust particles are kicked up from the Martian surface by winds, and also differ from high altitude clouds that nucleate around carbon dioxide particles, the team said.

The team used data from NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) orbiter to show that about three or four tons of alien dust slams into Mars' atmosphere every sol, which is the Martian version of a day. Only a fraction of this interplanetary material sprinkles down to lower altitudes, but that is more than enough to encourage cloud formation. The new research not only explains how these enigmatic clouds form on Mars, it also suggests that meteors may play a larger role in the Martian climate than previously assumed. For instance, meteoric smoke could help explain cloud formation during Mars' early years, when the planet was warmer, wetter, and possibly conducive to life.

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China Is Harvesting Organs From Detainees, Tribunal Concludes
Posted by News Fetcher on June 17 '19 at 07:41 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's straight-out-of-a-science-fiction-novel department:
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: An independent tribunal sitting in London has concluded that the killing of detainees in China for organ transplants is continuing, and victims include imprisoned followers of the Falun Gong movement. The China Tribunal, chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, who was a prosecutor at the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, said in a unanimous determination at the end of its hearings it was "certain that Falun Gong as a source -- probably the principal source -- of organs for forced organ harvesting."

Among those killed, it has been alleged, are members of religious minorities such as Falun Gong. Persecution of the group began in 1999 after it had attracted tens of millions of followers and came to be seen as a threat to the communist party. There is less evidence about the treatment of Tibetans, Uighur Muslims and some Christian sects. China announced in 2014 that it would stop removing organs for transplantation from executed prisoners and has dismissed the claims as politically-motivated and untrue. "The conclusion shows that very many people have died indescribably hideous deaths for no reason, that more may suffer in similar ways and that all of us live on a planet where extreme wickedness may be found in the power of those, for the time being, running a country with one of the oldest civilizations known to modern man," said Sir Geoffrey Nice QC. He added: "There is no evidence of the practice having been stopped and the tribunal is satisfied that it is continuing."

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Google Is Finally Taking Charge of the RCS Rollout
Posted by News Fetcher on June 17 '19 at 06:20 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's shorter-timeline department:
Google is finally taking charge of the RCS rollout by allowing Android users in the UK and France to opt in to RCS Chat services provided directly by Google instead of waiting for their carrier to support it, which is largely the reason why it hasn't been more widely adopted. Google says that it will release the services to more countries "throughout the year," but wouldn't commit to saying that it would be available in all regions by the end of the year. The Verge reports: That seems like yet another minor status check-in on the service meant to replace SMS, but in fact it's a huge shift in strategy: as Google rolls this offering out to more countries, it should eventually mean that RCS will become universally available for all Android users. For the first time in years, Google will directly offer a better default texting experience to Android users instead of waiting for cellphone carriers to do it. It's not quite the Google equivalent of an iMessage service for Android users, but it's close. Not knowing when or if RCS Chat would be available for your phone was RCS's second biggest problem, and Google is fixing it.

RCS's biggest problem is that messages are still not end-to-end encrypted. iMessage, WhatsApp, and Signal are secured in that way, and even Facebook has said it will make all its apps encrypted by default. Google's chat solution is increasingly looking out of touch -- even immoral. But there is hope on that front as well. The product management director overseeing Android Messages, Sanaz Ahari, assures me that Google recognizes the need for private chat within RCS and is working on it. Here's her full statement: "We fundamentally believe that communication, especially messaging, is highly personal and users have a right to privacy for their communications. And we're fully committed to finding a solution for our users."

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New Deepfake Algorithm Allows You To Text-Edit the Words of a Speaker In a Video
Posted by News Fetcher on June 17 '19 at 06:20 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's easier-than-it-should-be department:
It is now possible to take a talking-head style video, and add, delete or edit the speaker's words as simply as you'd edit text in a word processor. A new deepfake algorithm can process the audio and video into a new file in which the speaker says more or less whatever you want them to. New Atlas reports: It's the work of a collaborative team from Stanford University, Max Planck Institute for Informatics, Princeton University and Adobe Research, who say that in a perfect world the technology would be used to cut down on expensive re-shoots when an actor gets something wrong, or a script needs to be changed. In order to learn the face movements of a speaker, the algorithm requires about 40 minutes of training video, and a transcript of what's being said, so it's not something that can be thrown onto a short video snippet and run if you want good results. That 40 minutes of video gives the algorithm the chance to work out exactly what face shapes the subject is making for each phonetic syllable in the original script.

From there, once you edit the script, the algorithm can then create a 3D model of the face making the new shapes required. And from there, a machine learning technique called Neural Rendering can paint the 3D model over with photo-realistic textures to make it look basically indistinguishable from the real thing. Other software such as VoCo can be used if you wish to generate the speaker's audio as well as video, and it takes the same approach, by breaking down a heap of training audio into phonemes and then using that dataset to generate new words in a familiar voice.

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AT&T Cuts Another 1,800 Jobs As It Finishes Fiber-Internet Buildout
Posted by News Fetcher on June 17 '19 at 05:00 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's no-longer-needed department:
AT&T is planning to cut another 1,800 jobs from its wireline division. "Last week, AT&T declared more than 1,800 jobs nationwide as 'surplus,' meaning they are slated to be eliminated in August or September," reports Ars Technica, citing the Communications Workers of America (CWA). From the report: "They've been cutting their employment massively in the past year and a half or so," with cuts affecting both union and non-union jobs, CWA Communications Director Beth Allen told Ars. Under union contracts, AT&T can declare a surplus of jobs each quarter, she said. But even by AT&T standards, last week's surplus declaration "was a very large number," Allen said. Jobs that are declared "surplus" are taken off the payroll, CWA says. AT&T told Ars that most affected union workers will be able to stay at the company in other positions. But letters from AT&T to the CWA say that only 27 of about 550 employees declared "surplus" in the Southwest division will be given so-called "follow-the-work" opportunities in which they can take nearly identical jobs in other locations. Follow-the-work offers are given when an employee's specific job is consolidated with another position or moved to another geographic location, AT&T said. This is different from the job-offer guarantee that ensures "surplus" employees will be offered a different type of job in the company; AT&T didn't say exactly how many surplus employees will get those offers. The 1,800 newly announced AT&T job cuts affect wireline technicians who fix customer problems, install new service, and who work on AT&T's fiber expansion, Allen said. Over the past four years, AT&T expanded its fiber-to-the-home network to 12.5 million customer locations to meet a government mandate imposed on its purchase of DirecTV. But AT&T is apparently slowing its fiber deployments now that it has finished the government-mandated buildout.

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Microsoft's Plan To Split OS From Shell Takes Shape
Posted by News Fetcher on June 17 '19 at 05:00 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's unannounced-plans department:
An anonymous reader quotes a report from ZDNet: The latest Windows preview from the 20H1 branch, build 18917, has some hidden components that signal a future where the Windows Shell UI parts, such as Action Center, will be separate from the rest of Windows and can be updated with shell packages. A developer who uses the Twitter handle Albacore gave a breakdown of a new component in Build 18917 called 'Shell Update Agent,' which he notes is "capable of obtaining and updating the shell on demand."

That capability may mean nothing to most Windows 10 users. However, for Windows watchers it could be an interesting development of Microsoft's unannounced plans for Windows Core OS, in which Windows is modularized and calls on a range of shells that target different form factors, from HoloLens to Surface and dual-screen devices like the recently revealed Centaurus laptop, whose shell is called Santorini. Albacore goes on to explain that the Shell Update Agent references 'Package Family Names,' which suggests that the "shell will indeed be a separate, packaged component." Those shell packages can be acquired from both external and internal sources, which could mean shell components like the Start Menu, Action Center and Taskbar could be selectively built, based on these acquired packages. Finally, one more shell-related change noted relates to a new method for syncing settings. "The new one should support syncing more advanced and previously 'legacy' options such as File Explorer configuration," Albacore notes.

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Adobe's Experimental AI Tool Can Tell If Something's Been Photoshopped
Posted by News Fetcher on June 17 '19 at 03:40 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's ctrl-z department:
Adobe and UC Berkeley researchers are working on tool that can tell if a photo has been manipulated in Adobe Photoshop. The goal is to cut down on fake content and "to increase trust and authority in digital media." TheINQUIRER reports: A bunch of images were created using Photoshop's "Face Aware Liquify" tool, and mixed with a set of expertly human-doctored photographs. When humans were shown the original image and the doctored version, they spotted the fakes 53 percent of the time, but the artificial intelligence hit 99 percent. That's pretty good -- changing a coin toss guess into near certainty, but the AI isn't quite done showboating. As well as being able to point out what areas might have been changed, the AI can also predict what methods have been used to change the image.

Better still, it'll have a stab at undoing the vandalism, and returning the image to its former untampered glory. Not perfectly, but well enough to impress the researchers all the same: it's like having an undo button on someone else's work, and who hasn't always wanted one of those? "It might sound impossible because there are so many variations of facial geometry possible," said Professor Alexei A. Efros of UC Berkeley. "But, in this case, because deep learning can look at a combination of low-level image data, such as warping artifacts, as well as higher level cues such as layout, it seems to work."

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First Amendment Constraints Don't Apply To Private Platforms, Supreme Court Affirms
Posted by News Fetcher on June 17 '19 at 03:40 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's cause-for-concern department:
In a case that could have potential implications for social media, the Supreme Court has ruled that a nonprofit running public access channels isn't bound by governmental constraints on speech. "The case, which the conservative wing of the court decided in a split 5-4 ruling, centered around a Manhattan-based nonprofit tasked by New York City with operating public access channels in the area," reports The Verge. "The organization disciplined two producers after a film led to complaints, which the producers argued was a violation of their First Amendment speech rights. The case turned on whether the nonprofit was a 'state actor' running a platform governed by First Amendment constraints." From the report: In a decision written by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the conservative justices ruled that the First Amendment constraints didn't apply to the nonprofit, which they considered a private entity. Providing a forum for speech wasn't enough to become a government actor, the justices ruled. Nowhere is the internet or social media discussed in the ruling, but the idea that the decision could be used to penalize social media companies was raised by groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The groups argued that too broad of a decision could prevent other private entities like YouTube and Twitter from managing their platforms by imposing new constraints them. The Internet Association, a trade group, said last year that such a decision could mean the internet "will become less attractive, less safe and less welcoming to the average user." But today's decision seems to assuage those concerns. The liberal justices on the court, in a dissenting ruling, argued instead that the terms under which the nonprofit ran the channels for the city should have bound it to First Amendment constraints. The nonprofit, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote, "stepped into the City's shoes and thus qualifies as a state actor, subject to the First Amendment like any other."

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Nvidia Will Support ARM Hardware For High-Performance Computing
Posted by News Fetcher on June 17 '19 at 02:20 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's pushing-it-forward department:
An anonymous reader quotes a report from VentureBeat: At the International Supercomputing Conference (ISC) in Frankfurt, Germany this week, Santa Clara-based chipmaker Nvidia announced that it will support processors architected by British semiconductor design company Arm. Nvidia anticipates that the partnership will pave the way for supercomputers capable of "exascale" performance -- in other words, of completing at least a quintillion floating point computations ("flops") per second, where a flop equals two 15-digit numbers multiplied together. Nvidia says that by 2020 it will contribute its full stack of AI and high-performance computing (HPC) software to the Arm ecosystem, which by Nvidia's estimation now accelerates over 600 HPC applications and machine learning frameworks. Among other resources and services, it will make available CUDA-X libraries, graphics-accelerated frameworks, software development kits, PGI compilers with OpenACC support, and profilers. Nvidia founder and CEO Jensen Huang pointed out in a statement that, thanks to this commitment, Nvidia will soon accelerate all major processor architectures: x86, IBM's Power, and Arm. "As traditional compute scaling has ended, the world's supercomputers have become power constrained," said Huang. "Our support for Arm, which designs the world's most energy-efficient CPU architecture, is a giant step forward that builds on initiatives Nvidia is driving to provide the HPC industry a more power-efficient future."

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YouTube is Too Big To Fix Completely, Google CEO Says
Posted by News Fetcher on June 17 '19 at 02:20 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's how-about-that department:
Google CEO Sundar Pichai says YouTube is too big to completely fix the site's problems with harmful content. From a report: During a CNN interview that aired Sunday, Pichai was asked whether there will ever be enough humans to filter through and remove such content. "We've gotten much better at using a combination of machines and humans," Pichai said. "So it's one of those things, let's say we're getting it right 99% of the time, you'll still be able to find examples. Our goal is to take that to a very, very small percentage well below 1%." Pichai said Google probably can't get that to 100%. "Any large scale systems, it's tough," Pichai said. "Think about credit card systems, there's some fraud in that. ... Anything when you run at that scale, you have to think about percentages."

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