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Elon Musk Unveils Neuralink's Plans For Brain-Reading 'Threads' and a Robot To Insert Them

Neuralink, the secretive company developing brain-machine interfaces, held a press conference today where it unveiled some of the technology it's been developing to the public for the first time. The first big advance is flexible "threads," which are less likely to damage the brain than the materials currently used in brain-machine interfaces and create the possibility of transferring a higher volume of data. "The threads are 4 to 6 micrometers in width, which makes them considerably thinner than a human hair," reports The Verge. The other big advance that Neuralink unveiled is a machine that automatically embeds the threads into the brain. From the report: In the future, scientists from Neuralink hope to use a laser beam to get through the skull, rather than drilling holes, they said in interviews with The New York Times. Early experiments will be done with neuroscientists at Stanford University, according to that report. The company aims for human trials as soon as the second quarter of next year, according to The New York Times. The system presented today, if it's functional, may be a substantial advance over older technology. BrainGate relied on the Utah Array, a series of stiff needles that allows for up to 128 electrode channels. Not only is that fewer channels than Neuralink is promising -- meaning less data from the brain is being picked up -- it's also stiffer than Neuralink's threads. That's a problem for long-term functionality: the brain shifts in the skull but the needles of the array don't, leading to damage. The thin polymers Neuralink is using may solve that problem. However, Neuralink's technology is more difficult to implant than the Utah Array, precisely because it's so flexible. To combat that problem, the company has developed "a neurosurgical robot capable of inserting six threads (192 electrodes) per minute [automatically]," according to the white paper. In photos, it looks something like a cross between a microscope and a sewing machine. It also avoids blood vessels, which may lead to less of an inflammatory response in the brain, the paper says. Finally, the paper says that Neuralink has developed a custom chip that is better able to read, clean up, and amplify signals from the brain. Right now, it can only transmit data via a wired connection (it uses USB-C), but ultimately the goal is to create a system than can work wirelessly. Currently, the company is testing the robot and threads on rats, but it's hoping to actually begin working with human test subjects as early as next year. Story is developing...

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Posted on 17 July 2019 | 5:00 am

US Heat Waves To Skyrocket As Globe Warms, Study Suggests

An anonymous reader quotes a report from USA Today: As the globe warms in the years ahead, days with extreme heat are forecasted to skyrocket across hundreds of U.S. cities, a new study suggests, perhaps even breaking the "heat index." By 2050, hundreds of U.S. cities could see an entire month each year with heat index temperatures above 100 degrees if nothing is done to rein in global warming. The heat index, also known as the apparent temperature, is what the temperature feels like to the human body when relative humidity is combined with the air temperature. This is the first study to take the heat index -- instead of just temperature -- into account when determining the impacts of global warming. The number of days per year when the heat index exceeds 100 degrees will more than double nationally, according to the study, which was published Tuesday in the journal Environmental Research Communications. On some days, conditions would be so extreme that they'd exceed the upper limit of the heat index, rendering it "incalculable," the study predicts. What is there to be done about this? "Rapidly reduce global warming emissions and help communities prepare for the extreme heat that is already inevitable," report co-author Astrid Caldas said. "Extreme heat is one of the climate change impacts most responsive to emissions reductions, making it possible to limit how extreme our hotter future becomes for today's children."

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Posted on 17 July 2019 | 3:30 am

Scientists Close In On Blood Test For Alzheimer's

pgmrdlm shares a report from CBS News: Scientists are closing in on a long-sought goal -- a blood test to screen people for possible signs of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. On Monday at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference, half a dozen research groups gave new results on various experimental tests, including one that seems 88% accurate at indicating Alzheimer's risk. Doctors are hoping for something to use during routine exams, where most dementia symptoms are evaluated, to gauge who needs more extensive testing. Current tools such as brain scans and spinal fluid tests are too expensive or impractical for regular check-ups. Dr. Richard Hodes, director of the National Institute on Aging, called the new results "very promising" and said blood tests soon will be used to choose and monitor people for federally funded studies, though it will take a little longer to establish their value in routine medical care. "In the past year we've seen a dramatic acceleration in progress" on these tests, he said. "This has happened at a pace that is far faster than any of us would have expected."

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Posted on 17 July 2019 | 2:03 am

Nokia 2.2 Brings Back the Removable Battery

HMD is bringing the latest version of the Nokia 2, called the "Nokia 2.2," to the U.S. For $139, it features a notched camera design, a plastic body, and a removable battery. Ars Technica reports: HMD is delivering a good package for the price, with a fairly modern design, the latest version of Android, and a killer update package with two years of major OS updates and three years of security updates. On the front, you have a 5.71-inch, 1520x720 IPS LCD with a flagship-emulating notch design and rounded corners. There's a sizable bezel on the bottom with a big "Nokia" logo on it, but it's hard to complain about that for $140. This is a cheap phone, so don't expect a ton in the specs department. Powering the Nokia 2.2 is a MediaTek Helio A22 SoC, which is just four Cortex A53 cores at 2GHz. The U.S. version gets 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage version with an option to add a MicroSD card. The back and sides are plastic, and on the side you'll find an extra physical button, which will summon the Google Assistant. The back actually comes off, and -- get this -- you can remove the 3000mAh battery! Speaking of unnecessarily removed smartphone features from the past, there's also a headphone jack. Unfortunately, it's missing some key features to keep the price down. There's a microUSB port instead of a USB-C port, no fingerprint reader, and cameras that have low expectations. Since it is a GSM phone, it will be supported by T-Mobile and AT&T networks, along with all their MVNOs.

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Posted on 17 July 2019 | 1:25 am

CES 2020 Will Allow Sex Toys But Crack Down On 'Sexually Revealing' Clothing

The Consumer Electronics Show will allow sex toys to win awards and be presented on the show floor next year under the show's health and wellness section. "The Consumer Technology Association, which runs the show, says they're being included on a 'one-year trial basis,' meant to assess how they fit into the category," reports The Verge. The group is also cracking down on "sexually revealing" clothing. From the report: The CTA is also updating the dress code policy for CES in an attempt to further crack down on companies hiring models to wear revealing clothing as a way to bring visitors to their booths. This kind of behavior has generally been banned already, but the CTA is now adding a punishment for violators: they risk losing rank in a tenure system that helps them attain a good position on the show floor. The new rules say that companies can get in trouble for outfits that are "sexually revealing or that could be interpreted as undergarments." If clothing reveals "an excess of bare skin" or "hugs genitalia," it will be banned as well. The guidelines apply to all staff. Pornography will remain banned on the show floor. The CTA says the ban will now be "strictly enforced with no exceptions," whereas some has slipped through in previous years. CES has maintained confusing policies around sex tech for years, and those rules have never seemed to be evenly enforced. Some companies, like the sex toy company OhMiBod, have been able to find a place on the show floor for years; others, like the porn studio Naughty America, have been able to show VR demoes in private booths. But the show's policies have seemingly prohibited all of this, and it's meant that other companies interested in showing their sex-related products have been unable to present at the enormous annual convention.

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Posted on 17 July 2019 | 12:45 am

Apple Plans To Bankroll Original Podcasts To Fend Off Rivals

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Apple plans to fund original podcasts that would be exclusive to its audio service, according to people familiar with the matter, increasing its investment in the industry to keep competitors Spotify and Stitcher at bay. Executives at the company have reached out to media companies and their representatives to discuss buying exclusive rights to podcasts, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the conversations are preliminary. Apple has yet to outline a clear strategy, but has said it plans to pursue the kind of deals it didn't make before. While Apple doesn't charge for the Podcast app or run its own advertising on the platform, adding exclusives and growing the Podcasts app could give some consumers another reason to stick to their iPhone or subscribe to complementary paid services like Apple Music. "Apple also has an advertising division focused on ads in the App Store, which theoretically could eventually be applied to Podcasts if it continues to increase its user base," the report notes.

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Posted on 17 July 2019 | 12:03 am

Glitch Causes Smart Meter Displays In England To Appear In Welsh Language

AmiMoJo shares a report from the BBC: Bulb smart energy users have reported their meter displays appearing in Welsh -- even though they are not in Wales. Some of the energy firm's customers said their displays were showing the text "defnydd heddiw," meaning "usage today." Fixing the problem involves navigating the menu, which also appears in Welsh. Bulb said the problem occurred with one in every 200 of its smart meters and could be resolved in five steps. One customer, James Tombs, who lives more than 100 miles from the Welsh border in West Sussex, said: "I don't live in Wales and don't know Welsh... I went on to the Bulb forums, found others with the same problem and followed directions to change [the] language." You can find instructions on how to change the display via Bulb.

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Posted on 16 July 2019 | 11:20 pm

Cause of SpaceX Crew Dragon Explosion Revealed

On April 20, a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, designed to take humans to the ISS, exploded during a routine test fire at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The cause has now been identified as a leaky valve in a propellant pressurization system. Thelasko shares a report from CBS News: Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX vice president of build and reliability said: "We believe that we had a liquid slug of the (NTO) in the pressurization system. When we opened the valves and pressurized the propellant system, we think that this slug was driven back into the check valve. That basically destroyed the check valve and caused an explosion." He said no one expected that "NTO driven into a titanium component would cause such a violent reaction. We then performed tests ... with the help of NASA, and we found out when the pressure is high, the temperature is high and you drive a slug with a lot of energy into a titanium component that you can have these rather violent reactions." Additional work is needed to rule out other less likely culprits but SpaceX is pressing ahead with plans to replace the valves in question with pressure-activated "burst discs" that have no moving parts and cannot leak.

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Posted on 16 July 2019 | 10:40 pm

FCC Gives ISPs Another $563 Million To Build Rural-Broadband Networks

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: More than 220,000 unserved rural homes and businesses in 24 states will get broadband access because of funding authorized yesterday by the Federal Communications Commission, the agency said. In all, the FCC authorized more than $563 million for distribution to ISPs over the next decade. It's the latest payout from the commission's Connect America Fund, which was created in 2011. Under program rules, ISPs that receive funding must build out to 40 percent of the required homes and businesses within three years and an additional 20 percent each year until completing the buildout at the end of the sixth year. The money is being distributed primarily to smaller ISPs in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia. Verizon, which is getting $18.5 million to serve 7,767 homes and businesses in New York, is the biggest home Internet provider on the list. All the ISPs committed to provide speeds of at least 25Mbps downstream and 3Mbps upstream, but many of the funded projects are for higher speeds of 100Mbps/20Mbps or 1Gbps/500Mbps. Speeds promised by each ISP are detailed in the two announcements.

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Posted on 16 July 2019 | 10:03 pm

Wall Street Finds Blockchain Hard To Tame After Early Euphoria

Two years ago Nasdaq and Citigroup announced a new blockchain system they said would make payments of private securities transactions more efficient. Nasdaq Chief Executive Adena Friedman called it "a milestone in the global financial sector." But the companies did not move forward with the project, Reuters reported Tuesday, because while it worked in testing, the cost to fully adopt it outweighed the benefits. From a report: Blockchain, the person added, "is a shiny mirage" and its wide-scale adoption may still "take a while." In a joint statement, the companies said the pilot was successful and they were "happy to partner" on other initiatives. Both companies are also working on other projects. Companies, including banks, large retailers and technology vendors, are investing billions of dollars to find uses for blockchain, a digital ledger used by cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. Just last month, Facebook revealed plans for a virtual currency and a blockchain-based payment system. But a review of 33 projects involving large companies announced over the past four years and interviews with more than a dozen executives involved with them show the technology has yet to deliver on its promise.

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Posted on 16 July 2019 | 9:25 pm

Western Tech Brands Are Recognized in China, But Their Products Are Rarely Used

Despite having insignificant market shares and being marginal players in mainland China, western tech giants have a very high brand awareness among Chinese consumers, a market survey published last week revealed. From a report: The survey, which factored in answers from more than 2,000 respondents, showed that for the most part, top western tech companies have established themselves in the consciousness of the Chinese public. The survey, carried out by market research firm Statista, found that Apple had a 91% brand awareness among Chinese users, one percent behind the brand awareness leaders -- local tech firms Alibaba, Baidu, and Tencent. However, less than half (48%) of the respondents said they used Apple products, while daily usage for the three top Chinese firms was 74%, 82%, and 82%, respectively. Similar stats were also recorded for four other western tech giants, with consumers being aware of their business, but rarely using their products -- Google (87% brand awareness, 45% consumer usage), Microsoft (86% and 62%), Amazon (82% and 32%), and Facebook (66% and 17%).

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Posted on 16 July 2019 | 8:45 pm

Microsoft Word Hits 1 Billion Installs on Google Play

Microsoft Word reached over 1 billion installations on Android over the weekend. Microsoft's flagship document editor is arguably Microsoft's greatest success story on Android. With over 1 billion downloads, Microsoft Word is one of the most used productivity apps on the platform. From a report: Microsoft has continued to push Office on Android along with other apps like Your Phone, Microsoft Edge, and Microsoft Teams. The shift has helped Microsoft stay relevant in the mobile space despite the death of Windows 10 Mobile. Microsoft has similar efforts on iOS in an effort to have its services available to as many users as possible. Some around the web have pointed out that Microsoft Office comes preinstalled on many Android phones in an effort to discount Word's milestone of 1 billion installations. While it is true that Microsoft's Office applications come preinstalled on many devices, the fact that Word recently hit 1 billion installations and other Office apps like Excel have "only" hit 500 million shows that quite a few users have downloaded Word from the Google Play Store.

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Posted on 16 July 2019 | 8:05 pm

Swiss Group That's Supposed To Oversee Privacy For Libra Says It Hasn't Heard From Facebook At All

Facebook said on Tuesday that authorities in Switzerland will oversee data and privacy protections of its new cryptocurrency Libra. But the Swiss regulator has yet to be contacted by Facebook, according to a spokesperson. From a report: In his testimony in front of the Senate Banking Committee Tuesday, David Marcus, the head of Facebook's digital currency project Libra, said, "For the purposes of data and privacy protections, the Swiss Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner (FDPIC) will be the Libra Association's privacy regulator." Asked about the agency's role regulating Libra, Hugo Wyler, head of communication at the FDPIC, said in a statement to CNBC: "We have taken note of the statements made by David Marcus, Chief of Calibra, on our potential role as data protection supervisory authority in the Libra context. Until today we have not been contacted by the promoters of Libra," Wyler said. "We expect Facebook or its promoters to provide us with concrete information when the time comes. Only then will we be able to examine the extent to which our legal advisory and supervisory competence is given. In any case, we are following the development of the project in the public debate."

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Posted on 16 July 2019 | 7:25 pm

House Orders Pentagon To Say if it Weaponized Ticks and Released Them

The House quietly voted last week to require the Pentagon inspector general to tell Congress whether the department experimented with weaponizing disease-carrying insects and whether they were released into the public realm -- either accidentally or on purpose. From a report: The unusual proposal took the form of an amendment that was adopted by voice vote July 11 during House debate on the fiscal 2020 defense authorization bill, which lawmakers passed the following day. The amendment, by New Jersey Republican Christopher H. Smith, says the inspector general "shall conduct a review of whether the Department of Defense experimented with ticks and other insects regarding use as a biological weapon between the years of 1950 and 1975." If the answer is yes, then the IG must provide the House and Senate Armed Services committees with a report on the experiments' scope and "whether any ticks or insects used in such experiments were released outside of any laboratory by accident or experiment design."

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Posted on 16 July 2019 | 6:45 pm

What Caused the 2019 New York Blackout? Infrastructure.

On Saturday night in New York City a power outage struck Midtown Manhattan, hitting Hell's Kitchen north to Lincoln Center and from Fifth Avenue west to the Hudson River. The blackout darkened the huge, electric billboards of Times Square, forced Broadway shows to cancel performances, and even disabled some subway lines. But what caused it? From a report: According to reports, the outage was caused by a transformer fire within the affected region. Power was fully restored by early the following morning. [...] Saturday's blackout was most likely caused by a disabled transformer at an area substation. There are at least 50 of those in New York City, which are fed in turn by at least 24, higher-voltage transmission substations. When it comes to power, New York is unusual because of the city's age and the density of its population, both residential and commercial. That produces different risks and consequences. In Atlanta, where I live, storms often down trees, which take out aboveground power lines. In the West, where wildfires are becoming more common, flames frequently dismantle power infrastructure (sometimes the power lines themselves cause the fires). But across the whole of New York City -- not just Manhattan -- more than 80 percent of both customers and the electrical load are serviced by underground distribution from area substations. That makes smaller problems less frequent, but bigger issues more severe. When a transformer goes down in a populous place like Manhattan, it has a greater impact than it would on Long Island, say, or in Westchester County, where density is lower. The amount of power that central Manhattan uses on a regular basis also contributes to that impact. Times Square, the theater district, hundreds of skyscrapers -- it's a substantial load. In New York's case, supplying that load is not usually the problem. Generating facilities can be located near or far away from where their power is used, and New York City draws power from a couple dozen plants. Some of it is imported from upstate. But much of New York's power is still generated locally, in large part at plants along the waterfront of Queens. Those plants are older, and more susceptible to disruption from local calamities, especially severe weather. When peak demand surges -- most common during heat waves, such as the ones that struck the region in 2006 and 2011 -- the older, less efficient generating stations have a harder time keeping up, and brownouts or blackouts become more likely. [...] But new risks associated with climate change, cyberwarfare, and other factors haven't necessarily been accounted for in the design and operation of utility infrastructure. The perils build on one another. Climate change amplifies the frequency of heat waves, which increases electrical load, which puts greater pressure on infrastructure. At the same time, it increases the likelihood of superstorms that can cause flooding, fire, and other disasters that might disrupt nodes in the network. When utility operators designed their equipment years or decades ago, they made assumptions about load, storm surge, and other factors. Those estimates might no longer apply.

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Posted on 16 July 2019 | 6:04 pm