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AI Avatars Could Be the Next Generation's Favorite Entertainers
Posted by News Fetcher on May 10 '19 at 08:50 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's shape-of-things-to-come department:
Ivan Mehta, writing for The Next Web: Last year, Netflix reportedly published a whopping 1,500 hours of original content. And with the launch of streaming services from Apple and Disney, the on-demand video market is getting very competitive. Media houses and companies are already looking towards the next solution for producing content to keep up with the trend: AI avatars. Here's one sample: Last year in November, Chinese state-run media company Xinhua debuted an AI anchor that looked exactly like its real-life counterpart Zhang Zhao. The company said that the avatar speaks both in Mandarin and English. Xinhua said at that time that AI anchors are now officially a part of their team; aiming to provide "authoritative, timely and accurate news" round the clock, through its apps and social channels like WeChat. A report from Tencent news published in February stated that the first batch of AI Anchors has produced more than 3,400 news reports, with a cumulative time of more than 10,000 minutes. It even debuted a female AI anchor named Xin Xiaomeng in February. These numbers indicate that at this rate, AI anchors can outwork their human counterparts very soon.

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US Charges Chinese Hacker For 2015 Anthem Breach
Posted by News Fetcher on May 10 '19 at 07:31 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's justice-done department:
The US Department of Justice charged this week a Chinese national for his role as a member of an elite Chinese hacking group that breached at least four US companies, including Indianapolis-based health insurer Anthem Inc. in 2015. From a report: The DOJ indictment, unsealed today, names Fujie Wang, 32, as one of the group's members. According to court documents, Wang and the other hackers typically operated using spear-phishing to trick employees into installing malware on their computers. Once the group infected an employee, they used the malware to escalate access to other systems inside a victim company's network until they found and stole data of interest -- such as personally identifiable information (PII) and confidential business information. US investigators said the group operated between February 2014 and January 2015. The DOJ only named Anthem in the court documents and did not disclose the names the three other companies hacked by Wang and his co-conspirators during this span.

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India is Investigating Google Over Alleged Android Abuse
Posted by News Fetcher on May 10 '19 at 07:31 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's how-about-that department:
More than 95 percent of the smartphones that ship in India run Android operating system, according to industry estimates. Now the Indian antitrust watchdog is convinced that the nation should investigate if Google is abusing the dominant position of its mobile operating system to hurt local rivals. From a report: The Competition Commission of India (CCI), the local antimonopoly regulator, began looking at Google's Android business in India last year after it received a complaint from unspecified people. In mid-April, the regulator decided that there was merit in the accusations and ordered its investigation unit to conduct a full-investigation, according to a report by Reuters, which cites unnamed sources. In a statement to TechCrunch, a Google spokesperson said that it looks forward to working with the CCI on the probe. "Android has enabled millions of Indians to connect to the internet by making mobile devices more affordable. We look forward to working with the Competition Commission of India to demonstrate how Android has led to more competition and innovation, not less."

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Yet More Research Links Appendectomies and Parkinson's Disease
Posted by News Fetcher on May 10 '19 at 06:10 AM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's missing-links department:
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: Last October, researchers studied population data from more than a million Swedish residents and found that people who had their appendix removed were slightly less likely to develop Parkinson's. But other research has shown that there were no clear link between the two events. So Gregory Cooper and his team at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio decided to look with an even bigger microscope. They studied the electronic health records of more than 62 million Americans. Contrary to the October study, though, they spotted an increased risk of Parkinson's among those who had their appendix removed, roughly three times higher. And while Parkinson's starts becoming much more common in old age, a consistent added risk from appendix removal was even seen in those who developed it younger and across different ethnicities. "This is the largest study to date that's looked at this," Cooper told Gizmodo by phone this week. "And it's the most generalizable to the overall population, we think."

Cooper went on to say that this doesn't mean people shouldn't get an appendectomy if they need it: "Even with that threefold risk, it was still less than 1 percent of individuals who had an appendectomy and went on to develop Parkinson's. So in the grand scheme of things, it's a very low risk, and it shouldn't dissuade anyone from getting an appendectomy."

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Drones Used Missiles With Knife Warhead To Take Out Single Terrorist Targets
Posted by News Fetcher on May 10 '19 at 02:11 AM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's target-acquired department:
Zorro shares a report from The Wall Street Journal: The U.S. government has developed a specially designed, secret missile for pinpoint airstrikes that kill terrorist leaders with no explosion (Warning: source paywalled; alternative source), drastically reducing damage and minimizing the chances of civilian casualties. Both the Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon have used the weapon while closely guarding its existence. A modified version of the well-known Hellfire missile, the weapon carries an inert warhead. Instead of exploding, it is designed to plunge more than 100 pounds of metal through the tops of cars and buildings to kill its target without harming individuals and property close by.

To the targeted person, it is as if a speeding anvil fell from the sky, the officials said. But this variant of the Hellfire missile, designated as the R9X, also comes equipped with a different kind of payload: a halo of six long blades that are stowed inside and then deploy through the skin of the missile seconds before impact, shredding anything in its tracks. The R9X is known colloquially to the small community of individuals who are familiar with its use as "the flying Ginsu," for the blades that can cut through buildings or car roofs and kill the target. The nickname is a reference to the popular knives sold on TV infomercials in the late 1970s and early 1980s that showed them cutting through both tree branches and tomatoes. The weapon has also been referred to as the Ninja bomb.

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Rwanda Is Way Ahead On Delivery Drones
Posted by News Fetcher on May 09 '19 at 11:30 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's ahead-of-schedule department:
the_newsbeagle writes: While the Google spinoff Wing is just launching its first commercial service in Australia (scones and coffee are on the menu) and getting FAA clearance to operate in the United States, a company called Zipline is already offering a nationwide service in Rwanda. Zipline currently uses its fixed-wing drones to deliver blood products to hospitals across the country, and will soon begin delivering other medical supplies as well.

Medical supplies seem like they could be a killer app for delivery drones, since they're often lightweight and urgently needed. But Zipline hasn't yet proven that its business model is sustainable. So two technology reporters from IEEE Spectrum traveled to Rwanda to embed themselves in a Zipline operations center, and produced an in-depth report and a 360 video about the company's logistics and technology.

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The Rise of Fear-Based Social Media Like Nextdoor, Citizen, and Now Amazon's Neighbors
Posted by News Fetcher on May 09 '19 at 08:51 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's business-of-panic-and-paranoia department:
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Vox: Violent crime in the U.S. is at its lowest rate in decades. But you wouldn't know that from a crop of increasingly popular social media apps that are forming around crime. Apps like Nextdoor, Citizen, and Amazon Ring's Neighbors -- all of which allow users to view local crime in real time and discuss it with people nearby -- are some of the most downloaded social and news apps in the U.S., according to rankings from the App Store and Google Play.

Nextdoor was the ninth most-downloaded lifestyle app in the U.S. on iPhones at the end of April, according to App Annie, a mobile data and analytics provider; that's up from No. 27 a year ago in the social networking category. (Nextdoor changed its app category from social to lifestyle on April 30; on April 29 it was ranked 14th in social, according to App Annie.) Amazon Ring's Neighbors is the 36th most-downloaded social app. When it launched last year, it was 115th. Citizen, which considers itself a news app, was the seventh most-downloaded news app on iOS at the end of April, up from ninth last year and 29th in 2017. These apps have become popular because of -- and have aggravated -- the false sense that danger is on the rise. Americans seem to think crime is getting worse, according to data from both Gallup and Pew Research Center. In fact, crime has fallen steeply in the last 25 years according to both the FBI and the Bureau of Justice Statistics. David Ewoldsen, professor of media and information at Michigan State University, says these apps foment fear around crime, which feeds into existing biases and racism and largely reinforces stereotypes around skin color. As Steven Renderos, senior campaigns director at the Center for Media Justice, put it, "These apps are not the definitive guides to crime in a neighborhood -- it is merely a reflection of people's own bias, which criminalizes people of color, the unhoused, and other marginalized communities."

< article continued at Slashdot's business-of-panic-and-paranoia department >

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San Francisco Proposes 'IPO Tax' On Eve of Uber Offering
Posted by News Fetcher on May 09 '19 at 07:31 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's controversial-proposals department:
"San Francisco voters this November will be asked to approve a corporate tax increase on stock-based compensation from 0.38% to 1.5%," reports Axios. Since the rate hike would be retroactive to May 7, it would apply to Uber's recent $8 billion IPO. From a report: San Francisco Board of Supervisor Gordon Mar said six supervisors are supporting the ordinance -- the minimum number needed to get the measure on the Nov. 5 ballot. The full board is expected to vote on the plan within the next two months. At least two-thirds of voters would need to support the proposal for it to pass. Mar's proposal calls for raising the stock-based compensation tax from 0.38 percent to 1.5 percent. That increase would generate hundreds of millions of dollars for the city. The tax is levied on San Francisco companies when employees who receive stock as part of their compensation decide to cash in those shares on the public markets or on secondary markets.

But Mar's proposed ordinance concerns the Bay Area Council, which advocates for businesses. "There's no version of this poorly conceived scheme that would get our support," said Rufus Jeffris, a spokesman for the Bay Area Council. "And if the BOS approves putting this misguided proposal on the ballot, we believe voters will communicate the same message." The Bay Area Council is concerned that the higher tax would discourage investment, innovation and jobs in the region.

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Google Is Starting To Reveal the Secrets of Its Experimental Fuchsia OS
Posted by News Fetcher on May 09 '19 at 06:11 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's such-a-tease department:
At Google's I/O developer conference this past week, Android and Chrome chief Hiroshi Lockheimer offered some rare insight into Fuchsia, albeit at a very high level, in front of public audiences. The Verge reports: What we do know about Fuchsia is that it's an open source project, similar to AOSP, but could run all manner of devices, from smart home gadgets to laptops to phones. It's also known to be built on an all-new, Google-built kernel called "zircon," formerly known as "magenta," and not the Linux kernel that forms the foundation of Android and Chrome OS.

"We're looking at what a new take on an operating system could be like. And so I know out there people are getting pretty excited saying, 'Oh this is the new Android,' or, 'This is the new Chrome OS,'" Lockheimer said. "Fuchsia is really not about that. Fuchsia is about just pushing the state of the art in terms of operating systems and things that we learn from Fuchsia we can incorporate into other products." He says the point of the experimental OS is to also experiment with different form factors, a hint toward the possibility that Fuchsia is designed to run on smart home devices, wearables, or possibly even augmented or virtual reality devices. "You know Android works really well on phones and and you know in the context of Chrome OS as a runtime for apps there. But Fuchsia may be optimized for certain other form factors as well. So we're experimenting." Lockheimer provided some additional details at a separate Android fireside chat held at Google I/O today. "It's not just phones and PCs. In the world of [the Internet of Things], there are increasing number of devices that require operating systems and new runtimes and so on. I think there's a lot of room for multiple operating systems with different strengths and specializations. Fuchsia is one of those things and so, stay tuned," he told the audience.

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New HHS Rule To Force Drug Companies To List Prices In TV Ads
Posted by News Fetcher on May 09 '19 at 06:11 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's show-me-the-money department:
schwit1 writes: The new rule from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will force companies to disclose the prices of prescription drugs covered by Medicare and Medicaid that cost $35 or more for a month's supply. Addressing high prescription drug prices has been one issue that the Trump administration and Democrats have agreed on over the past two years, with Congress calling big pharma executives and pharmacy heads to testify. "Requiring the inclusion of drugs' list prices in TV ads is the single most significant step any administration has taken toward a simple commitment: American patients deserve to know the prices of the healthcare they receive," Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement.

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One Year Later, Restaurants Are Still Confused By Google Duplex
Posted by News Fetcher on May 09 '19 at 06:11 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's send-to-voicemail department:
An anonymous reader shares an excerpt from a report via The Verge: Google Duplex was arguably one of Google's biggest announcements in 2018, but the AI faded into the background this week at the same I/O developer conference that introduced it just one year ago. Rather than an update on how the AI has been improved since its official release, Google CEO Sundar Pichai simply noted that the technology has gotten "great feedback," then he quickly moved on to announce that Duplex would be coming to the web -- no human impersonation necessary. Instead of the stunning voice-calling AI that garnered a mix of excitement and ethical criticism, Duplex is now also a fancy autofill tool that helps move you through a webpage to quickly reserve movie tickets and car rentals.

But Google's machines don't seem to be taking over yet. As the U.S. continues to deal with an onslaught of spammy robocalls, it seems that many restaurant employees are inadvertently shielding themselves from Duplex by ignoring incoming calls that do not display a person's name. Mark Seaman, a manager at two-year-old restaurant Queens Bully, in Forest Hills, New York, says he often tries to avoid calls from businesses that look like they could be pitching the restaurant on a product or service. "Most of our growth comes from our own social media efforts and the parties we throw," Seaman tells me. "We get calls all the time from people trying to sell us something [we don't need]." Although Google does not personally call businesses to convince them to buy ads, it stands to reason why many restaurant employees would shy away from answering calls that list the company in its caller ID in the first place. [...] One year later, Duplex is still limited and, at least for now, has minimal impact on service workers aside from occasionally freaking them out, but there is perhaps an unintended byproduct of AI replacing humans: politeness.

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US Adults Are Spending Big On Video Games, Playing Mostly On Smartphones
Posted by News Fetcher on May 09 '19 at 04:51 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's show-me-the-money department:
A new report from the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) found that the average American video gamer is 33 years old, prefers to play on their smartphone and is spending big on content -- 20 percent more than a year ago and 85 percent more than in 2015. Reuters reports: The $43.4 billion spent in 2018 was mostly on content, as opposed to hardware and accessories. Of pay-to-play games, "Call of Duty: Black Ops III," "Red Dead Redemption II" and "NBA 2K19" took the top spots for most units sold but the list did not include free games such as "Fortnite."

Nearly 65 percent of U.S. adults, or more than 164 million people, play games. The most popular genre is casual games, with 60 percent of players gaming on their smartphones, though about half also play on personal computers and specialized consoles. Parents are limiting screen time for their kids and using video game ratings to screen content, and 87 percent of parents require permission for new game purchases, the study showed. Some 46 percent of all gamers are female, though they favor different kinds of games than men, particularly depending on age. The report also found that Gen Xers lean towards "Tetris," "Pac-Man," "Call of Duty," "Forza," and "NBA 2K," while baby boomers like "Solitaire," "Scrabble," "Mahjong" and "Monopoly."

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The World's First 3D-Printed Village Is Coming To Latin America This Summer
Posted by News Fetcher on May 09 '19 at 04:51 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's first-of-its-kind department:
MikeChino writes: Yves Behar, ICON, and New Story just unveiled plans to build the world's first 3D-printed community this summer in Latin America. The project will provide over 50 homes for impoverished families who typically live on less than $200 per month. ICON has developed a portable printer that will print the walls of each home in just 24 hours with nearly zero waste. "Each site-specific house will feature an outdoor kitchen and an expanded outdoor area for raising chickens and crops," reports Dwell. "The open-plan interior living areas are optimized for natural ventilation and flexibility. The 3D printer will allow for built-in elements ranging from countertops in the kitchen and bathroom to seating and shelving." ICON has made a video about the plans with mockups of what the homes will look like.

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Jeff Bezos Unveils Lunar Lander To Take Astronauts To the Moon By 2024
Posted by News Fetcher on May 09 '19 at 03:31 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's ambitious-goals department:
An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC: Jeff Bezos, chairman of Amazon and founder of Blue Origin, unveiled his space company's lunar lander for the first time on Thursday. "This vehicle is going to the moon," Bezos said during an invite-only presentation to media and space industry executives. "We were given a gift -- this nearby body called the moon," Bezos said. He added that the moon is a good place to begin manufacturing in space due to its lower gravity than the Earth. Getting resources from the moon "takes 24 times less energy to get it off the surface compared to the Earth," Bezos said, and "that is a huge lever."

Bezos also unveiled the company's BE-7 rocket engine at the event. The engine will be test fired for the first time this summer, Bezos said. "It's time to go back to the moon and this time stay," Bezos said. "I love Vice President Pence's 2024 lunar landing goal," Bezos said, adding that Blue Origin can meet that timeline "because we started this three years ago." Blue Origin's most visible program has been its New Shepard rocket system, which the company is developing to send tourists to the edge of space for 10 minutes. New Shepard has flown on 11 test flights, with its capsule, built to carry six passengers, reaching an altitude of more than 350,000. The capsule features massive windows, providing expansive views of the Earth once in space. The company plans to send its first humans onboard a New Shepard rocket sometime in the next year. But it has yet to begin selling tickets.

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Microsoft Recommends Using a Separate Device For Administrative Tasks
Posted by News Fetcher on May 09 '19 at 03:31 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's security-advice department:
In a rare article detailing insights about its staff's efforts in securing its own internal infrastructure, Microsoft has shared some very insightful advice on how companies could reduce the risk of having a security breach. From a report: The central piece of this article is Microsoft's recommendation in regards to how companies should deal with administrator accounts. Per Microsoft's Security Team, employees with administrative access should be using a separate device, dedicated only for administrative operations. This device should always be kept up to date with all the most recent software and operating system patches, Microsoft said. "Provide zero rights by default to administration accounts," the Microsoft Security Team also recommended. "Require that they request just-in-time (JIT) privileges that gives them access for a finite amount of time and logs it in a system." Furthermore, the OS vendor also recommends that administrator accounts should be created on a separate user namespace/forest that cannot access the internet, and should be different from the employee's normal work identity.

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Hackers Breached 3 US Antivirus Companies, Researchers Reveal
Posted by News Fetcher on May 09 '19 at 02:11 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's for-the-record department:
In a report published Thursday, researchers at the threat-research company Advanced Intelligence (AdvIntel) revealed that a collective of Russian and English-speaking hackers are actively marketing the spoils of data breaches at three US-based antivirus software vendors. From a report: The collective, calling itself "Fxmsp," is selling both source code and network access to the companies for $300,000 and is providing samples that show strong evidence of the validity of its claims. Yelisey Boguslavskiy, director of research at AdvIntel, told Ars that his company notified "the potential victim entities" of the breach through partner organizations; it also provided the details to US law enforcement. In March, Fxmsp offered the data "through a private conversation," Boguslavskiy said. "However, they claimed that their proxy sellers will announce the sale on forums."

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Millions of People Uploaded Photos To the Ever App. Then the Company Used Them To Develop Facial Recognition Tools.
Posted by News Fetcher on May 09 '19 at 02:11 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's privacy-woes department:
An anonymous reader shares a report: "Make memories": That's the slogan on the website for the photo storage app Ever, accompanied by a cursive logo and an example album titled "Weekend with Grandpa." Everything about Ever's branding is warm and fuzzy, about sharing your "best moments" while freeing up space on your phone. What isn't obvious on Ever's website or app -- except for a brief reference that was added to the privacy policy after NBC News reached out to the company in April -- is that the photos people share are used to train the company's facial recognition system, and that Ever then offers to sell that technology to private companies, law enforcement and the military. In other words, what began in 2013 as another cloud storage app has pivoted toward a far more lucrative business known as Ever AI -- without telling the app's millions of users.

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FCC Blocks China Mobile From Operating in US Over National Security Concerns
Posted by News Fetcher on May 09 '19 at 12:51 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's tussle-continues department:
The FCC has voted unanimously to deny China Mobile's application to provide telecommunications services in the U.S. due to concerns about national security and law enforcement risks. From a report: China Mobile's application, submitted in 2011, requested permission to provide telecom services in the U.S., including connecting calls between the U.S. and the vast majority of countries, which would involve interconnecting with American internet networks. FCC officials say China Mobile USA is indirectly and ultimately owned and controlled by the Chinese government. It's a subsidiary of global telecom giant China Mobile Limited. U.S. officials saw risks that China Mobile would comply with government espionage requests or that information about U.S. communications networks and users could be exploited. There were also concerns that Chinese government officials could use its access to U.S. networks to block or interfere with communications traffic should an issue arise between the two countries.

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A War is Brewing Over Lithium Mining at the Edge of Death Valley
Posted by News Fetcher on May 09 '19 at 12:51 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department:
An anonymous reader shares a report: A small Cessna soared high above the Mojave Desert recently, its engine growling in the choppy morning air. As the aircraft skirted the mountains on the edge of Death Valley National Park, a clutch of passengers and environmentalists peered intently at a broiling salt flat thousands of feet below. The desolate beauty of the Panamint Valley has long drawn all manner of naturalists, adventurers and social outcasts -- including Charles Manson -- off-road vehicle riders and top gun fighter pilots who blast overhead in simulated dogfights.

Now this prehistoric lake bed is shaping up to be an unlikely battleground between environmentalists and battery technologists who believe the area might hold the key to a carbon-free future. Recently, the Australia-based firm Battery Mineral Resources asked the federal government for permission to drill four exploratory wells to see if the hot, salty brine beneath the valley floor contains economically viable concentrations of lithium. The soft, silvery-white metal is a key component of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries and is crucial to the production of electric and hybrid vehicles.

The drilling request has generated strong opposition from the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club and the Defenders of Wildlife, who say the drilling project would be an initial step toward the creation of a full-scale lithium mining operation. They say lithium extraction would bring industrial sprawl, large and unsightly drying ponds and threaten a fragile ecosystem that supports Nelson's bighorn sheep, desert tortoises and the Panamint alligator lizard, among other species.

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512GB SSDs' Price-Per-GB Estimated To Fall Below $0.1 and Hit an All-Time Low This Year End
Posted by News Fetcher on May 09 '19 at 11:31 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's about-time department:
According to research by DRAMeXchange, a division of TrendForce, the NAND flash industry this year is clearly exhibiting signs of oversupply, and SSD suppliers have gotten themselves into a price war, causing SSD prices for PC OEMs to take a dive. From a post: Average contract prices for 512GB and 1TB SSDs have a chance to plunge below $0.1 per GB by the end of this year, hitting an all-time low. This change will cause 512GB SSDs to replace their 128GB counterparts and become market mainstream, second only to 256GB SSDs. We may also look forward to PCIe SSDs achieving 50% market penetration, since PCIe SSDs and SATA SSDS are nearly identical in price.

TrendForce points out that SSD adoption among notebooks had already come above the 50% threshold in 2018. Contract prices for mainstream 128/256/512GB SSDs have fallen a long way by over 50% since peaking in 2017, and those for 512GB and 1TB SSDs have a chance to fall below US$0.1 per GB by year-end. This will stimulate demand from those seeking to replace their 500GB and 1TB HDDs. SSD adoption rate is expected to land between 60 and 65% in 2019. According to TrendForce's latest investigations, 2Q19 marks the 6th consecutive quarter of average contract price decline for mainstream PC-Client OEM SSDs, with the average contract price for SATA SSDs falling QoQ by 15-26%, and PCIe SSDs by 16-37%.

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