By BeauHD from Slashdot's apples-and-oranges department
For the second year in a row, a study found that Google's digital assistant is smarter than Amazon's assistant, Alexa. The study does note that Alexa is catching up and was far and away the most improved from 2017 and 2018. CNET reports the findings: Digital marketing company Stone Temple released the results of its 2018 smart speaker quiz earlier this week. It did a similar test last year in which it asked digital assistants roughly 5,000 questions to see which assistants answer the most correctly. For the first time this year, Stone Temple asked the questions separately to Google Assistant on the company's Home smart speaker, and an Assistant-equipped phone. The study found that Google Assistant attempts the most responses, and gets the most attempted responses correct. Strangely, Assistant performed even better on a phone than on a smart speaker. Surprisingly, Microsoft's Cortana took second place, with Alexa trailing both and Siri lagging far behind the rest. Alexa doubled the number of questions it was able to answer from 2017 and Microsoft's assistant improved as well, with Google holding relatively steady at the top while its competition catches up.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's first-of-its-kind department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Three babies with a rare genetic disorder have been spared the worst effects of their condition thanks to an experimental injection they received in utero, researchers report this week in The New England Journal of Medicine. The success marks the first time a genetic disorder has been partially reversed by such a treatment prior to birth. The in utero injections treated a rare, recessive genetic condition called X-linked hypohidrotic ectodermal dysplasia (XLHED), which affects the development of skin, hair, nails, and teeth. People with the disorder have sparse body and head hair, dry eyes, mouths, and airways, and few teeth, which are usually pointy. But most dangerously, the condition also disrupts development of sweat glands throughout the body. People with XLHED have fewer sweat glands and/or poorly functioning ones. This leaves individuals vulnerable to high fevers and over-heating (hyperthermia), which can be life-threatening and lead to medical complications.
For the new experimental treatment, the researchers realized that it all came down to timing. Humans develop sweat glands much earlier in their development, generally between the 20th and 30th week of pregnancy. To prevent XLHED from wreaking havoc, the researchers needed to deliver the protein prior to birth. After testing the idea for safety and efficacy in mice and monkeys, doctors in Germany got a compassionate-use approval to try it in a 38-year-old pregnant woman. She had a family history of XLHED, a young son with the condition, and was found to be carrying twin boys with it, too. [...] The researchers will track the babies' development to see if the effects are permanent, but data from animals suggests that they will be.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's up-next department
Carmakers have big plans for their next generation of factories: smarter designs, artificial intelligence and collaborative robots building a wide range of vehicles on the same line. From a report: The plants will also feature a component they say is the secret ingredient to flexible manufacturing: humans. SAIC-GM's factory in Shanghai, which opened in 2016, is one of the world's most advanced auto plants, assembling Buick minivans and Cadillac sedans and SUVs, including the CT-6 plug-in hybrid for U.S. consumers. GM's Shanghai plant is expected to eventually produce new electric vehicles, primarily for the Chinese market, executives have said. The plant, which GM operates with Chinese partner SAIC Motor Corp Ltd, feels almost like a scene from a Star Wars film, with battalions of machines quietly working in self-directed harmony. Collaborative robots, or "cobots," painted matte green and unrestrained by the steel cages that surround their larger industrial cousins, are being programmed to work alongside humans on the line. One unusual operation advanced models now handle is installing gears in transmissions.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's winging-it department
On the sidelines of Gmail's big refresh push, Google also released a new app called Google Tasks. It's a simple app that aims to help users manage their work and home tasks. But it's being talked about for one more reason. From a blog post: Unlike most of their other apps, though, Tasks uses an inconsistent mix of Roboto, their old brand typeface, and Product Sans, their new one. The two faces don't look good together -- it's like when Apple shipped apps that used both Helvetica and Lucida Grande. According to their announcement of Product Sans and their new logo, the typeface was supposed to be used in promotional materials and lockups, but there's no mention of it being used for product UIs. In fact, the only other product I can find that has this same inconsistent mix is the new Gmail.com, also previewed today. It isn't just about what these typefaces look like, either, but how they're used. For example, when entering a new task, the name of the task is set in Product Sans; when it is added to the list, it becomes Roboto. Tapping on the task takes you to a details view where, now, the name of the task is in Product Sans. There are three options to add more information: if you want to add details, you'll do it in Roboto, but adding a due date will be in Product Sans. The "add subtasks" button -- well, text in the same grey as everything else except other buttons that are blue -- is set in Product Sans, but the tasks are set in Roboto.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's put-to-good-use department
Esther Schindler shares an article from Hewlett Packard Enterprise: Video may have killed the radio star, but other media certainly make old AM radio towers superfluous... maybe. "As once-loyal listeners tune away, most AM stations are barely holding onto life, slashing staff and budgets as deeply as they can while struggling to find a return to profitability," reports HPE. "Once upon a time, having a broadcast license of any kind was like having a permit to print money. In today's world, that's no longer true." But, with some 10,000 AM broadcast towers in the United States stretching high into the sky, there may be an opportunity for wireless carriers who don't want to argue with community opposition from neighborhoods where residents don't want yet another cell tower. The amount of money an AM station owner can pocket by sharing its tower with a wireless partner varies widely, depending on the tower's location, height, and several other factors. But it's certainly more income -- and a way to keep "old" technology from becoming obsolete. "Using an AM tower, which has very often been in place for many years, avoids many zoning and other permitting issues, versus going in and creating a new site for a tower," Behr explains. He says local residents, businesses, and officials rarely complain about an AM broadcast tower that suddenly begins serving as a cell site. "That tower was there before they were, and it doesn't bother them," Lawrence Behr, CEO of Greenville, North Carolina-based LBA Group, says. "Hanging a few things on it is rarely controversial, so that's a real good thing for AMs."Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's rising-costs department
A new report from NASA's inspector general, Paul Martin, finds that NASA will pay significantly more for commercial cargo delivery to the ISS in the 2020s rather than enjoying cost savings from maturing systems. "NASA will likely pay $400 million more for its second round of delivery contracts from 2020 to 2024 even though the agency will be moving six fewer tons of cargo," reports Ars Technica. "On a cost per kilogram basis, this represents a 14-percent increase." From the report: One of the main reasons for this increase, the report says, is a 50-percent increase in prices from SpaceX, which has thus far flown the bulk of missions for NASA's commercial cargo program with its Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket. This is somewhat surprising because, during the first round of supply missions, which began in 2012, SpaceX had substantially lower costs than NASA's other partner, Orbital ATK. SpaceX and Orbital ATK are expected to fly 31 supply missions between 2012 and 2020, the first phase of the supply contract. Of those, the new report states, SpaceX is scheduled to complete 20 flights at an average cost of $152.1 million per mission. Orbital ATK is scheduled to complete 11 missions at an average cost of $262.6 million per mission.
But that cost differential will largely evaporate in the second round of cargo supply contracts. For flights from 2020 to 2024, SpaceX will increase its price while Orbital ATK cuts its own by 15 percent. The new report provides unprecedented public detail about the second phase of commercial resupply contracts, known as CRS-2, which NASA awarded in a competitively bid process in 2016. SpaceX and Orbital ATK again won contracts (for a minimum of six flights), along with a new provider, Sierra Nevada Corp. and its Dream Chaser vehicle. Bids by Boeing and Lockheed Martin were not accepted.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's needle-in-the-haystack department
An anonymous reader shares a report from The New York Times: The Golden State Killer raped and murdered victims all across the state of California in an era before Google searches and social media, a time when the police relied on shoe leather, not cellphone records or big data. But it was technology that got him. The suspect, Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, was arrested by the police on Tuesday. Investigators accuse him of committing more than 50 rapes and 12 murders. Investigators used DNA from crime scenes and plugged that genetic profile into a commercial online genealogy database. They found distant relatives of Mr. DeAngelo's and traced their DNA to him.
"We found a person that was the right age and lived in this area -- and that was Mr. DeAngelo," said Steve Grippi, the assistant chief in the Sacramento district attorney's office. Investigators then obtained what Anne Marie Schubert, the Sacramento district attorney, called "abandoned" DNA samples from Mr. DeAngelo. "You leave your DNA in a place that is a public domain," she said. The test result confirmed the match to more than 10 murders in California. Ms. Schubert's office then obtained a second sample and came back with the same positive result, matching the full DNA profile. Representatives at 23andMe and other gene testing services denied on Thursday that they had been involved in identifying the killer.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's quantum-entanglement department
schwit1 shares a report from ScienceAlert: For the first time, scientists have managed to show quantum entanglement -- which Einstein famously described as "spooky action at a distance" -- happening between macroscopic objects, a major step forward in our understanding of quantum physics. Quantum entanglement links particles in a way that they instantly affect each other, even over vast distances. On the surface, this powerful bond defies classical physics and, generally, our understanding of reality, which is why Einstein found it so spooky. But the phenomenon has since become a cornerstone of modern technology. Still, up until now quantum entanglement has only been demonstrated to work at the smallest of scales, in systems based on light and atoms, for example. Any attempt to increase the sizes has caused problems with stability, with the slightest of environmental disturbances breaking the connection. But new research changes all of this, by demonstrating that this "spooky action" can indeed be a reality between massive objects. We're not talking massive in the black hole sense but in the macroscopic sense -- two 15-micrometer-wide vibrating drum heads. And the next step will be to test whether those vibrations are being teleported between the two objects. The research has been published in the journal Nature.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's parental-guidance department
Google is announcing an expanded series of parental controls for its YouTube Kids application. "The new features will allow parents to lock down the YouTube Kids app so it only displays those channels that have been reviewed by humans, not just algorithms," reports TechCrunch. "And this includes both the content displayed within the app itself, as well as the recommended videos. A later update will allow parents to configure which videos and channels, specifically, can be viewed." From the report: The controls will be opt-in -- meaning parents will have to explicitly turn on the various settings within each child's profile in YouTube Kids' settings. [...] First, videos are uploaded to YouTube's main site. They're then filtered using machine learning techniques through a series of algorithms that determine if they should be added to YouTube Kids' catalog. But algorithms are not people, and they make mistakes. To fill in the gaps in this imperfect system, YouTube Kids relied on parents to flag suspect videos for review. YouTube employs a dedicated team of reviewers for YouTube Kids, but it doesn't say how many people are tasked with this job. This system, parents have felt for some time, just wasn't good enough. Now, parents will be able to toggle on a new setting for "Approved content only," which also disables search. A later version of YouTube Kids will go even further -- allowing parents to select individual videos or channels they approve of, for a truly handpicked selection. The new features in YouTube Kids will roll out over the course of the year, the company says, with everything but the explicit whitelisting option arriving this week.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's difficult-jobs department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: It is no secret that Tesla's Autopilot project is struggling. Last summer, we covered a report that Tesla was bleeding talent from its Autopilot division. Tesla Autopilot head Sterling Anderson quit Tesla at the end of 2016. His replacement was Chris Lattner, who had previously created the Swift programming language at Apple. But Lattner only lasted six months before departing last June. Now Lattner's replacement, Jim Keller, is leaving Tesla as well.
Keller was a well-known chip designer at AMD before he was recruited to lead Tesla's hardware engineering efforts for Autopilot in 2016. Keller has been working to develop custom silicon for Autopilot, potentially replacing the Nvidia chips being used in today's Tesla vehicles. When Lattner left Tesla last June, Keller was given broader authority over the Autopilot program as a whole. Keller's departure comes just weeks after the death of Walter Huang, a driver whose Model X vehicle slammed into a concrete lane divider in Mountain View, California. Tesla has said Autopilot was engaged at the time of the crash. Tesla has since gotten into public feuds with both Huang's family and the National Transportation Safety Board, the federal agency investigating the crash. "Today is Jim Keller's last day at Tesla, where he has overseen low-voltage hardware, Autopilot software and infotainment," Tesla said in a statement to Electrek. "Prior to joining Tesla, Jim's core passion was microprocessor engineering, and he's now joining a company where he'll be able to once again focus on this exclusively."Read Replies (0)