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A look back at the state of racial representation in Hollywood this year

2017 was a good time for racial representation in movies. From films like Hidden Figures to Coco, it seems that Hollywood is more invested than ever in telling stories with diverse leads. Not all of the news is good, however; the past year also saw two more whitewashing controversies thanks to the live-action Ghost in the Shell and Netflix’s Death Note, and people of color on the big screen still lag far behind their populations in real life. Although it’s difficult to square all these trends into one easily understood narrative, especially as no single report out there has all the numbers and data, we can still piece together a general idea of how this year stacked up against years prior.

Get Out, which premiered in February, explored…

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The movies that transported and troubled us in 2017

Throughout the final week of 2017, culture writers from across Vox Media will be chatting about the best works of the year. In this installment, Vox’s Todd VanDerWerff, Alissa Wilkinson, and Genevieve Koski; The Verge’s Tasha Robinson; and Polygon’s Julia Alexander talk about the movies of 2017.

Todd VanDerWerff: My favorite movies in 2017 weren’t escapism, not precisely, but they did take me so thoroughly out of my own point of view that reentering reality afterward could feel a little like resurfacing after a deep-sea dive. From the intimate details of Lady Bird to the bleakly comedic terror of Get Out, from the cat’s-eye-view shots of Kedi to the sudden plunge into the vastness of infinity in A Ghost Story, movies often felt like a…

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HQ Trivia is now available in beta from the Play Store

Earlier this month, HQ Trivia announced that the app would finally be available for Android users, allowing them to pre-register to download it. The app is now available in the Google Play Store’s Early Access section.

The game launched this past fall on iOS. The Android app is still in beta, and the product page notes that the app is potentially unstable. Recode reported earlier this month that the company is working to raise money from venture capitalists for a potential $100 million valuation. The addition of an Android app will likely help boost its user base.

Created by Vine co-founders Rus Yusupov and fellow co-founder Colin Kroll, the game is a live trivia contest that has become extremely popular in recent months. Players…

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David Bowie’s son is launching an online book club devoted to his father’s favorite reads

Before his death in January 2016, David Bowie was a noted musician, actor, and was a prolific reader. On Twitter, Bowie’s son, Duncan Jones recently said that he has been “feeling a building sense of duty to go on the same literary marathon in tribute” to his late father, and will be holding an online book club based on his father’s favorite books.

Bowie’s website provides a list of his 100 favorite books, and Jones, the director of Moon, Warcraft, and the forthcoming film Mute, said on Twitter that he’ll be starting off with Peter Ackroyd’s 1985 novel Hawksmoor. The novel follows two parallel storylines: one follows an 18th century church builder in London who performs human sacrifices, while the other is about a detective who is…

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You can help teach a snake-spotting AI to spot snakes better

A team of reptile and amphibian enthusiasts is asking for the public’s help training artificial intelligence to spot snakes, frogs, and more from photos. The team wants to eventually create an app that can help people identify these creatures in their backyards — and prevent people from killing them. But first, their AI has to get better at making those photo IDs.

The AI, named Fitch after the late, renowned herpetologist Henry S. Fitch, is part of a new platform called What the Herp? Right now, it’s a webpage and a Twitter bot (@WhatTheHerp) where people can submit photos for Fitch to try and identify.

“The biggest issue with conservation of herps is that we work with one of the most detested groups on the planet — you’re up there…

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WhatsApp rings in the New Year with global outage

WhatsApp went down in several parts of the world today, including parts of Europe, Asia, and South America. The crowdsourced website DownDetector found the largest concentration of outages in portions of England, Germany, and virtually all of the Netherlands, as well as parts of Italy, Spain, and Central Europe.

Outages were also reported in many major cities around the world, from Rio de Janeiro to Kuala Lumpur, Tel Aviv, Dubai, Mumbai, and Toronto.

Outages tracked by DownDetector began to spike around 9 a.m. Pacific, while a WhatsApp spokesperson said outages started around 10:30 a.m. Pacific.

“WhatsApp users around the world experienced a brief outage today that has now been resolved. We apologize for the inconvenience,” a WhatsApp spokesperson told VentureBeat in an email. The spokesperson did not share the cause of the outage.

This isn’t the first New Year’s Eve outage for the chat app used by 1.3 billion monthly active users. Outages were also experienced in 2015 in many of the same parts of Europe.

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2017’s underrated VR games and experiences

2017 is wrapping up and so reflect we must on the year that was. By now you’ve hopefully seen our extensive list of nominees for our Best of 2017 awards, which we think do a pretty great job of representing the VR industry in 2017. But, as with any medium, there are a handful of apps that flew under the radar this year that we really, really don’t think you should be missing out on.

Some of these are already included in our nominations, but we’re still highlighting them here. These are the games and apps that didn’t get Oculus-backed marketing campaigns, prime spots on Viveport, or simply just didn’t make as big of a splash as we thought they should have in 2017. So once you’re done with Lone Echo and have ventured through Skyrim, maybe give some of these a spin.

Statik from Tarsier Studios (PSVR) – review

Perhaps it’s fitting that Statik remains an obscure gem in PSVR’s crown, left waiting to be discovered and examined, just like the game’s ambiguous story. In this VR debut from Tarsier Studios, you play as the lab rat of the bizarre Dr. Ingen, solving puzzles that take the form of contraptions locked to your arms, tracked in VR using the DualShock 4 controller. It’s an ingenious design that makes for one of VR’s most curious experiences so far, and something that will leave you picking the pieces of its plot apart for weeks after.

The Invisible Hours from Tequila Works (Rift, Vive, PSVR) – review

Rime developer Tequila Works seemingly produced this incredible piece of VR storytelling from thin air, with very little hype leading up to its release. The Invisible Hours is good enough to earn three spots in our best of 2017 nominees, though, telling a fascinating elseworld tale surrounding the mysterious murder of Nikola Tesla. You follow the action in real-time, but can rewind and explore at any point. Step-by-step you piece together a twisted narrative with characters and surprises that won’t soon be forgotten.

Frontier VR/Echo Grotto from Gaugepunk Games (Rift, Vive) – review

Gaugepunk Games is a developer you should really be paying attention to. Within the past 12 months the indie studio has released two of VR’s most immersive and wondrous experiences. Frontier VR presented three highly detailed environments that were a joy to lose yourself in, feeling the chill of winter or the heat of the sun as you watched nature at work. Echo Grotto, meanwhile, made for a fascinating caving experience that encouraged you to explore every nook and cranny of its intricate layers. You can get both of these apps together for just over $10 – don’t miss them.

Virtual Virtual-Reality from Tender Claws (Daydream)

Virtual Virtual-Reality is every bit as funny, bizarre and memorable as Accounting, but sadly doesn’t seem to have found the same kind of audience seeing as it’s only available on Daydream. In this surreal vision of the future you use headsets to rapidly travel from one reality to another, interacting with environments as you go. The game has something fresh and exciting to show you around every corner, and its sheer sense of imagination makes it a joy to experience from start to finish.

Form from Charm Games (Rift, Vive, Windows) – review

Form is another game that’s got a fair few nods in our nominees for the best of the year, but we still feel like more people need to play it. This is an enchanting VR adventure that takes you on a strange and surreal journey through fantastical environments with puzzles that are easy to solve but a joy to interact with. There are new sights and sounds to fall in love with every few minutes in Form, making for a rollercoaster ride that you won’t soon forget.

Eclipse: Edge of Light from White Elk Studios (Daydream) – review

Eclipse is one of the few mobile VR games that I’d suggest anyone with a PC or console-based headset still try and seek out to play. It’s an epic sci-fi adventure in which you crash land on an alien planet and explore the remains of an ancient civilization with some great platforming elements to boot. Eclipse is stunningly immersive, often easily succeeding in convincing you that you’ve touched down on an undiscovered planet. If you happen to have a Daydream-ready smartphone, this is a great reason to pick up a View headset.

Tiny Trax from FuturLab (PSVR) – review

Velocity developer FuturLab knows its stuff. The team has built a well-earned reputation for mechanical precision that makes its games hellishly addictive. For its VR debut, FuturLab took its foundation and applied it to multiplayer, creating it’s own brand of Micromachines that was tough to master, but rewarding to play once you got a grip on it. Sadly, there isn’t too much to do outside of multiplayer, so this one you should consider picking up if you can convince a friend to take the plunge with you.

This story originally appeared on Copyright 2017

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Game of X captures the making of Microsoft’s Xbox and its Windows gaming business

Rusel Demaria is interested in the history of games, and he doesn’t want it to slip away from us.

Demaria wrote High Score! The Illustrated History of Electronic Games, published in 2002. And now he’s back with 800 pages of additional reading. Demaria interviewed scores of former Xbox and PC gaming veterans, and he created a history of Microsoft’s game business, dubbed Game of X.

Volume 1 is about the creation of the Xbox, which debuted in 2001, and the Xbox Live gaming service. Volume 2 is a prequel, subtitled “The long road to Xbox.” Both volumes are about the pirates at Microsoft who first created the DirectX protocol for PC games, and then the renegades who convinced Bill Gates to go into the console business with the original Xbox.

These subjects are near and dear to my own heart, as I covered them in my own book, Opening the Xbox, published in 2002. But I don’t see this as competition, and Demaria told me in an interview that he deliberately decided not to read my book because he wanted to capture the history through his own interviews.

Above: Game of X volume 2 covers the prequel times to the Xbox.

Image Credit: Rusel Demaria

And I’m sure the result is going to be very illuminating, regardless of how much overlap there is between the books. That’s because I interviewed 100 or so people for my book as the events were happening and shortly after the launch of the machine.

By contrast, Demaria interviewed many of the same participants years afterward, after they had either left Microsoft or could more honestly reconstruct many of the events that happened as many as 18 years earlier. It took Demaria four years to write the books, on a part time basis. He interviewed 94 people, some of them multiple times. When there were disputes on the facts, Demaria reported, as a journalist, the different points of view.

“I didn’t have a publisher and I couldn’t find a publisher for this,” Demaria said. “I had 800 pages, and Amazon couldn’t accept a book that long. So I split it into two books.”

When I interviewed people in the 1999 to 2002 time frame, I felt sometimes like I wasn’t getting the full story, or that I was getting a distorted part of the truth in the making of the Xbox.

“You were writing under the auspices of Microsoft at the time, and you were hampered by that,” Demaria said. “I was able to get things because people were free to talk about it now.”

Demaria interviewed many of the original creators of the Xbox, including Otto Berkes, Ted Hase, Seamus Blackley, Kevin Bachus, Nat Brown, and many others. Demaria said his purpose was to tell the story from as many perspectives as he could. He also wanted to give credit to the creators whose contributions had been overlooked. As I did in my reporting, Demaria found the early history of the Xbox to be murky, with Berkes and Hase starting it, and then others joining in.

“So it’s kind of a Rashomon-style thing to try to piece this sort of thing together,” Bachus told Demaria. But Demaria did unearth a document that Berkes and Blackley wrote about “Evolution of Consumer 3D: The new home of visual computing,” which documented Microsoft’s concerns about the threat from the Sony PlayStation 2 game console to Microsoft’s core PC business. That was a key motivational document for getting Bill Gates to think about the Xbox.

Ed Fries, former head of Microsoft Game Studios, offered quotes at the top of the both volumes about how the story is the definitive history of the events.

Demaria’s project started on a fluke. He was expanding his old book, High Score, and began writing a chapter on the Xbox for the expanded version. He spoke with Fries, who suggested he speak with Berkes and Hase. Demaria wrote a chapter and it turned out to be 40 pages. So he decided to turn it into a book.

Above: Ed Fries is former head of Microsoft Game Studios.

Image Credit: Ed Fries

And J Allard, former leader of the Xbox group, wrote the forward for the book. Allard left Microsoft in 2010, after leading the company through two generations of consoles, and he said he declined all requests to be interviewed by journalists. But he knew Demaria’s passion for history and agreed to talk to him, but only after Demaria promised he would interview a lot of people on the team, and not just Allard or a handful of people. Allard read through the draft and offered feedback.

“Thank you Rusel, not just for hunting patiently for these details and grit, but for having the courage, decency, and respect for leaving these messy details in,” Allard wrote.

Microsoft chose not to participate in the book on an official basis, but it did not hinder Demaria from doing his interviews with current or former employees. Still, Demaria dug out some impressive information.

I’ve browsed through the appendix as well, and noticed that Microsoft did a survey via Penn,Schoen & Berland Associates on February 22, 2000, where it was evaluating the name “X-Box” or “11-X.” It concluded that “11-X seems to make a particularly good first impression.” Demaria also got his hands on the original spreadsheets for the projections on how much the Xbox would cost to produce and how much money it would generate. (One of the scenarios from executive Rick Thompson projected Microsoft would lost $900 million over eight years; the figure was more like $4 billion over four years).

Above: Game of X author Rusel Demaria.

Image Credit: Rusel Demaria

There’s also an email from J Allard to a group of executives, dated February 14, 2000, weeks before the formal announcement of the Xbox. Allard wrote, “What are we after on this plan? A seat at the table. Which table? The table of players who have a shot at defining the digital entertainment platform for the home as it is shaped over the next decade.” He said he hoped Sony would go “the way of the Macintosh (proprietary, closed, too greedy) and Microsoft could go the way of Windows (open, OEM model, etc.). The goal was to reach 50 million players in five years (Microsoft actually sold 24 million in four years).

“If we believe that we cannot achieve this last goal, we should kill the Xbox project,” Allard wrote.

By year three, Allard projected that the Xbox would sell more units than the PlayStation 2. This never happened. Allard projected that the Xbox 2.0 would launch with 10 key hardware partners in year six. In fact, the Xbox 360 launched in 2005, just four years after the original, with only Microsoft as the manufacturer.

And so Demaria tried to capture all of the screaming and yelling that happened, and the dirty tricks as well as the great moments. Demaria starts the book at a meeting, dubbed the St. Valentines Massacre, on a Valentines Day. Bill Gates reportedly walked in to the meeting and said, “This is a fucking insult to everything I’ve done at this company.”

Demaria’s book ends with the launch of Xbox Live in 2002.

“I stopped there because that was the story I wanted to tell,” Demaria said.

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Dark Future: Here’s When We’ll Have the Black Mirror Tech That Lets us Share Physical Sensations

This article is part of a series about season four of Black Mirror, in which Futurism considers the technology pivotal to each episode and evaluates how close we are to having it. Please note that this article contains mild spoilers. Season four of Black Mirror is now available on Netflix.

A Twisted Museum

Miles and miles of desert and open highway  — and then, a small roadside museum, one of those things people pull over and visit to stretch their legs but rarely seek out on purpose. It looks uninhabited; its windows are barred with rusty metal, making it a dark blemish on the peaceful, dusty continuity of the desert.

Sometimes, things look exactly as they should…because what’s inside Rolo Hayne’s Black Museum is just as twisted and dark as its exterior suggests.

Image Credit: Netflix

“There’s a sad, sick story behind almost everything in here,” whispers Rolo Haynes, owner and proprietor, to the museum’s sole visitor. Haynes has collected criminological artifacts, each of which tells its own story of hope, pain, and horror. But unlike a collection of medieval torture instruments in the basement of a history museum (and in true Black Mirror fashion) each artifact was once a gleaming specimen of cutting-edge neurotechnology.

Rolo describes each artifact to the visitor in flashbacks. The first is a web of glowing diodes, draped over a mannequin head — the first piece of Rolo’s collection that foreshadows how “the main attraction came to be” (you’ll have to watch the show to see what that is exactly).

One of the most disturbing sequences hinges on headgear-like tech. In its former utility, the cap-like device, we learn, would gather information about the physical sensations of its wearer non-invasively. The information from the transceiver would then be sent wirelessly to a neural implant that was once installed in the base of a doctor’s skull, right behind their left ear. By slipping headgear gear onto a patient, the doctor could feel the physical sensations of the wearer.

The doctor could feel and experience the exact physical sensations of their patient, figure out whether or not they could say what was wrong, and often deliver a near-perfect diagnosis. The doctors wouldn’t experience any physical damage, no matter how severe the discomfort or pain, but the frequent sensations of pain have some, well, unforeseen consequences.

But how long will it be until we have to seriously contend with this technology and the potential consequences that it brings with it?

Picking Up Signals

A device that can transmit one person’s physical sensations to another is not as impossible as it sounds, though the technology has a long way to go to until it’s able to do so perfectly. The entire process can be split into three steps: (a) recording signals from the brain, (b) decoding them and translating them into a language that the receiver brain can understand, and (c) simulating the sensation in the receiver brain.

Let’s start with the first step: recording signals from the brain. Electrodes or fiber-optics can record information such as pain signals from the sender brain. And the hardware required to link a human brain to a computer has become smaller over time, making the prospect of implanting a device or antenna a very real possibility. But any of these devices, no matter how small, would need to be surgically placed in the brain, and such an invasive procedure involving the brain is still risky and imperfect.

The surgery itself is risky, but also the recipient’s body could reject the implant, or it could deteriorate or malfunction over time.

However, there’s a non-invasive way to do the same thing, in which a device reads brain signals from the surface of the skin. “If you go the non-invasive route, you have the luxury of recording from multiple sites, sometimes the entire brain, without any surgery. However, you lose precision,” says Andrea Stocco, an assistant professor at the Department of Psychology and Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle. That is, because the receiver is so far from where the signals are coming from in the brain, devices often can’t pinpoint their origin closer than a general area.

The method most often used to do that today is called an electroencephalogram (EEG). It measures electrical signals in the brain, and its headset looks similar to Haynes’ transceiver in the show. EEGs can help doctors diagnose and treat brain disorders in which a lot of signals are going haywire, such as epilepsy, but they’re not precise enough to do much more than that. “EEG headsets can be made portable and cheap, but they have terrible problems in isolating signals, since they tend to pick up signals from all over the brain,” Stocco says.

Image Credit: Netflix/YouTube

Sending Simplistic Signals

Steps two and three in the process — replicating these signals into patterns of neural activity that the receiver can understand — are perhaps the most difficult. Of course, without a perfect reading, translating and transmitting signals becomes much more difficult. Robert Gaunt, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Pittsburgh, has taken on this challenge. But instead of relaying physical sensation from brain to brain, he has helped rehabilitate sensation in those lacking it — a device he’s working on allowed an amputee to feel touch again via a robotic arm.

Using electrical stimulation in the brain, “we can create perceptions that people would describe as being cutaneous, or touch, in nature at specific locations on the body,” Gaunt tells Futurism, no matter whether that part of the body is physically present or connected to the brain.

But your sense of touch is surprisingly complex, and simulating sensation in those who can no longer feel is still early in its development. So far, the technology can’t make many distinctions between those “cutaneous” perceptions — say, the temperature and pressure of holding an ice pack to the skin. And some sensations are more difficult to conjure than others, just because of the region of the brain that controls them. “It’s easier to create sensations of touch, pressure, vibration, or a tingle than it is with pain. And that has got to do with some detailed physiological reasons about the sizes of axons and nerve cells themselves,” Gaunt says.

Image credit: Netflix

Touch-based sensations are multimodal  a variety of sensors (nerves) in our hands send small snippets of different information to the brain, which synthesizes the entire sensation. To recreate that perfectly in a lab, scientists would have to manipulate each in the exact combination, and relay them at the right speed. In short, it would be a huge challenge.

Furthermore, no two brains are the same. “Neural codes differ from individual to individual. Although there is a fair degree of similarity, especially at the level of brain architecture, there are also many differences between individual brains,” Stocco says. So even if we could perfectly replicate all of these signals, “it is not possible to simply ‘copy’ a pattern of activity from one brain to another; you would need to adapt and ‘translate’ it,” Stocco says.

Translating these brain signals is still very complex. Neurons in the brain all act a little differently, and scientists are just starting to get a sense of how to manipulate the communication system between them. “Every time you stimulate a neuron, you create a complex cascade of effects in a dynamic system. That means that, even if you fire your probe at 50Hz [for example], the cells nearby might not be responding at the same frequency.”

So we’re still a ways from being able to stimulate the brain all that precisely.

Feeling The Future

So let’s get to it then: how far are we, exactly, from being able to read sensations, decode them, and successfully transmit them to a receiver brain? Without having to resort to highly invasive neural stimulation or applying electricity to the skin, Stocco believes the future lies in minimally invasive technologies. To record signals, “you could slip a network of tiny cortical sensors just underneath the skull, and have it reside permanently” — sort of the way the cap works in Black Mirror, except it would be placed directly on the brain. 

To stimulate the brain, Stocco is betting on ultrasound. You’ve probably heard of ultrasound— it’s been used in medicine since World War 2 to do things like take images of fetuses or opening the blood-brain barrier to deliver drugs. In 2014, researchers at Virginia Tech attempted to modulate neurons firing in the brain using a focused beam of ultrasound waves sent through the skull. The non-invasive experiment was not able make participants feel something that wasn’t there, but the ultrasound helped them better distinguish between two stimuli.

It’s not quite Black Mirror technology, but it’s an interesting finding that could warrant further study.

Even though the technology overall has a ways to go, it’s changing fast. And Stocco is optimistic that we could send physical sensations from one brain to the other pretty soon. “In twenty years, we have moved from crude pilots to having working limb prosthetics and cochlear implants, and as of now even a working memory prosthetic. My bet is that something close to a full neural interface that would let us feel what others feel could be reached by the end of 2038,” Stocco says.

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DARPA and NASA Form a Partnership to Create New Satellites


DARPA has a reputation for taking on seemingly impossible, ambitious projects that some would describe as moonshots and others might describe as ludicrous. However, the agency has teamed up with NASA to build robotic satellites that can refuel and repair friendly satellites.

These robotic satellites, known as “service stations in orbit,” would not only refuel satellites, they could drastically improve their longevity and lifespan. The robots could fix minor maintenance issues, keeping up with current orbiters as they age and sustain damage. This is an ability that we don’t have yet, so faulty billion-dollar satellites not only cause issues, but have to be replaced, which is both difficult and extremely expensive.

Additionally, while the service stations would serve as repair bots, they could also face off against mechanical foes in orbit. Yes, NASA and DARPA are teaming up to build satellites that sabotage enemy satellites in the event of war. Possible applications would include dismantling opponents or forcing them to crash. They could also play defense, monitoring for tampering.

Space Pollution

The service stations will also make a significant dent in space pollution. Not only is allowing broken satellites to continue to orbit while we replace them a billion-dollar pain, it contributes to the growing problem of space pollution.

In 2015, there were about 25,000 human-made objects larger than a human fist and roughly half a million larger than a dime orbiting Earth. Putting objects into orbit and then replacing them (without recalling the old ones) when they get damaged or need updating is a practice that’s not only astronomically costly, it also pollutes the orbit around our planet.

It makes the most sense to repair, maintain, and update satellites and other orbiting objects, but it hasn’t been possible. Hopefully, these service stations will launch and help to keep our orbit clear of debris and threatening activity, though there are no current plans to use them in an offensive role.

However, the recently released National Security Strategy states, according to The Washington Post, “Any harmful interference with or an attack upon critical components of our space architecture that directly affects this vital U.S. interest will be met with a deliberate response at a time, place, manner, and domain of our choosing.” This means the Pentagon is at least planning for all possibilities — including war in space.

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The Verge 2017 tech report card: Streaming music

If 2016 was the year that streaming music became a necessity, 2017 is the year streaming music showed its clout. This couldn’t have been showcased any more clearly than at the Grammys, where Chance the Rapper won best new artist, best rap album, and best rap performance — an honor only made possible because nomination rules changed, allowing for streaming-only albums to be eligible for nomination. In his acceptance speech, Chance gave a shout out to SoundCloud.

Streaming music consumption continues to ramp up, not slow down. Mid-way through the year, the RIAA (the Recording Industry Association of America) released statistics on the US music industry, and during the first half of 2017, revenues from streaming services accounted for 62…

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Physicists Have Created a Set of Conditions in Which Time Seems to Run in Reverse

While we all take for granted the fact that time’s arrow forever points towards the future, physicists have always had trouble showing why this is necessarily the case.

A mix of chloroform and acetone might seem like an odd place to hunt for clues, but researchers have used just such a combination to create conditions where for some purposes time actually appears to move backwards.

This research won’t take us on a journey to see dinosaurs, but it just might tell us why our Universe is stuck on a one way street.

The recent experiment conducted by an international team of physicists focused on a principal feature we often use to define time — the movement of energy.

Intuitively, time is pretty simple. We can remember the past and not the future, for example.

But when breaking things down into simple rules, we discover there’s no clear reason why a cause has to come before its effect. On the smallest levels, we can flip the formula describing the movements and interactions of particles and still get a useful picture.

So why doesn’t time wobble back and forth?

A clue lies in something called entropy. In a system cut off from gaining energy — such as our Universe — things tend to go from ordered to disordered, giving large scale systems a bias in how energy is distributed.

In terms of the laws of thermodynamics, that means you can’t put a hot object in a cold room and expect the room to get colder and the object to get hotter. Hot things tend to cool down.

Even if this doesn’t tell us exactly why time exists, thermodynamics gives us a sloping direction to investigate.

Various experiments have shown that, even on a quantum level, particles will generally behave in a way that’s dependent on initial starting conditions. In other words, they’re moving forward.

Are there limits to this generalization? Apparently so, at least according to the results of this experiment.

The team looked at chloroform, a molecule made up of a carbon atom connected to one hydrogen and three chlorine atoms.

The researchers used a strong magnetic field to line up the nuclei of the carbon and hydrogen atoms when the molecules were suspended in acetone, and manipulated a property of their particles called spin.

This allowed them to ‘listen in’ on their behavior as they slowly heated the nuclei using nuclear magnetic resonance.

Playing by the rulebook of time, as one nucleus warms up it should transfer its random movements to colder particles until they’re both the same temperature, a change that would be recognisable in their respective energy states.

In normal conditions, that’s exactly what happened. But the researchers found a rather intriguing exception when the particles were correlated.

This means certain probabilities became locked together over a distance thanks to previous interactions, a little like a softer version of quantum entanglement.

The particle correlation made a significant difference to how energy was shared between the bodies — the heated hydrogen particles got even hotter, while their colder entangled carbon partner got colder.

In other words, the study revealed the thermodynamic equivalent of reversing time in a very tiny pocket of the Universe.

“We observe a spontaneous heat flow from the cold to the hot system,” the team writes in the study.

The research was published on the pre-review website, which means we do need to be cautious in how we interpret the results.

And, to be clear, the work is limited to a very small scale — it won’t give us a flux capacitor we can use to swing back to the ’60s. But it does show the arrow of time isn’t absolute.

The demonstration also provides promising details on where quantum mechanics and thermodynamics overlap, which is itself an exciting brave new world physicists are still teasing apart.

On a practical level it shows how heat can be channeled in strange ways using the rules of quantum physics, which could have some interesting technical applications.

Exactly how these observations scale up from tiny to macroscopic systems the size of a Universe is something for future experiments to investigate.

In any case, it could help fill in some of the gaps in understanding why the dimension of time leans so heavily in one direction.

You can read the study on the pre-print server

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New Calculations May Finally Make Fusion Energy a Reality

It’s well established that nuclear fusion — the reaction that powers our Sun — could be the key to unlocking clean, limitless energy here on Earth.

But one of the biggest challenges of modern science is how to harness the fusion reaction so that it produces more energy than it consumes. And a new paper claims to have found a way to do just that.

Instead of looking at how to optimize common fusion reactor designs, such as tokamaks or stellerators, a group of physicists experimentally tested some novel reactor types.

They found that a strange-looking sphere design could be the key to achieving net-positive nuclear fusion because, surprisingly, it has the potential to generate more energy than it uses.

The key difference, aside from its shape, is that this nuclear sphere would fuse hydrogen and boron, rather than hydrogen isotopes such as deuterium and tritium. And it uses lasers to heat the core up to 200 times hotter than the center of the Sun.

If the team’s calculations are correct, the hydrogen-boron reactor device could be built and producing net-positive energy way before any of the reactors currently being tested reach completion.

Even better, the hydrogen-boron reaction produces no neutrons, and therefore doesn’t create any radioactive waste as a byproduct.

“It is a most exciting thing to see these reactions confirmed in recent experiments and simulations,” says lead researcher Heinrich Hora, from the University of New South Wales in Australia.

“I think this puts our approach ahead of all other fusion energy technologies.”

Fusion reactions take the opposite approach to the nuclear fission reactions we rely on for our nuclear power today: instead of atoms being split, they’re combined, or fused, together.

It’s similar to the reactions that power the Sun, as lighter nuclei are fused to build heavier ones with the help of incredible temperatures and pressures.

As great as it sounds in theory, it’s proving very difficult to harness in practice. The past two years have been record-breaking for fusion reactors around the world, with Germany switching on their much-hyped Wendelstein 7-X stellerator reactor.

But despite all our advances, we’re not a whole lot closer to creating net-positive nuclear fusion. Put simply, that’s because these machines just take so much energy to generate plasma.

In fact, Wendelstein 7-X isn’t even intended to generate usable amounts of energy, ever. It’s just a proof of concept.

But for years, Hora and her team have been working on alternative designs. And in this study, they tested them out experimentally as well as through simulations.

Their hydrogen-boron reactor works by triggering an “avalanche” fusion reaction from a laser beam packing a quadrillion watts of power in just a trillionth of a second.

You can see what it would look like below.

Diagram showing a hydrogen-boron reaction. Image Credit: UNSW

The latest tests put the hydrogen-boron approach ahead of other similar technologies, including deuterium-tritium fusion, which is being explored at the National Ignition Facility in the US (and also has the drawback of producing radioactive waste).

The team also put together a roadmap for further development of hydrogen-boron fusion.

The best news? If future research doesn’t reveal any major engineering hurdles to this approach, the scientists reckon that a prototype reactor could be built within a decade.

While plenty of challenges remain in optimizing the necessary reactions and keeping them stable enough to generate electricity, if this new fusion technique can be made to work, the benefits could be huge.

“The fuels and waste are safe, the reactor won’t need a heat exchanger and steam turbine generator, and the lasers we need can be bought off the shelf,” says Warren McKenzie, managing director of HB 11, which owns the patents to the new technology.

The research has been published in Laser and Particle Beams.

The post New Calculations May Finally Make Fusion Energy a Reality appeared first on Futurism.

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Google is testing the mysterious Fuchsia OS on the Pixelbook

Remember Fuchsia OS? It’s the mysterious operating system about which we know very little, except that Google is actively developing it and has described it as an “experimental project” that isn’t replacing Chrome OS or Android… at least for the time being.

Well, we just learned a something new about it – it’s being tested on the Google Pixelbook, the standard bearer for Google’s Chromebooks. As Android Police spotted, the laptop has been added to Fuchsia’s official documentation on the web, which shows that at least some developers are playing around with it on the Pixelbook.

Chromebooks in general are flexible devices, and it makes sense for Google’s flagship computer to be used as a testbed for its next-generation operating system, even if it’s not exactly clear what the whole purpose of Fuchsia is at this point.

The future is Fuchsia

Google is keeping its cards close to its chest for the time being as far as Fuchsia is concerned, but from what we’ve been able to put together it sounds like the OS is being written from the ground up with modern-day hardware in mind.

That means it doesn’t have to deal with older, legacy devices and software code in the same way that Android and Chrome OS might have to – and that in turn should result in a leaner, more efficient operating system. We’ve already seen some indication of what the finished product might look like.

As for whether Google will stick with Fuchsia, nobody knows: the company might decide that the combination of Chrome OS with Android apps, just like on the Pixelbook currently, is enough for users in the future.

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How Humans Might Outlive Earth, the Sun, and Even the Universe Itself

Nuclear war. Runaway climate change. A global pandemic. Today our world faces all manner of existential threats. But scary possibilities like these are nothing compared to what astronomers say lies in store for Earth. Our planet’s ultimate destiny is to be baked, blasted, and eventually disintegrated.

There’s nothing we can do to prevent this cataclysm. Yet according to scientists who study the far future, including University of California astronomer Gregory Laughlin, the prospect for life is, oddly, rather bright. Given technological advances and the continuing evolution of our species, humans should be able to survive — in some form — long after Earth has ceased to exist.

But our distant descendants are going to have to do some planet-hopping.

The Multiplanet Era

The first major cosmic crisis will strike in about 1.5 billion years. At that point, according to projections by environmental scientist Andrew J. Rushby at the University of East Anglia in England, the brightening sun will set off what might be termed “super-global” warming. Earth will be heated until the oceans boil.

By then, though, will we care? We already have the technology to establish bases on the moon and Mars. So a billion and a half years from now, we’ll likely have colonized the whole solar system — and perhaps other star systems in our Milky Way galaxy.

As the sun grows hotter, other planets will become more appealing. Just as Earth becomes too toasty to sustain life, Mars will reach a temperature that makes it habitable. Cornell University astronomer Lisa Kaltenegger has run models showing that the Red Planet could then stay pleasant for another 5 billion years.

About 7.5 billion years from now, the sun will exhaust its hydrogen fuel and switch to helium. That will cause it to balloon into an enormous red giant. Mars as well as Earth will be fried. On the other hand, the once icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn will have become tropical water worlds — prime real estate for human colonies. We could live there for a few hundred million years.

Jupiter’s moon Io is dotted with volcanoes heated by gravitational friction. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/University Of Arizona

About 8 billion years from now, the flaring sun will make conditions intolerably hot all the way out past Pluto. “The exact dates depend on how much mass you estimate the sun will lose and how much planets will move,” Kaltenegger says. But the message is clear: Life will be impossible in our solar system.

The Star-Hopping Era

Fortunately, Laughlin points out, there are 200 billion other stars in the Milky Way, most with planets of their own. Perhaps our descendants will have mastered near-light-speed travel. Even with current technology, however, interstellar travel is conceivable on the kind of timescales we’re talking about.

The fastest spacecraft built to date, Voyager 1, is racing away from the sun at 38,027 miles per hour. At that speed, it would take 70,000 years to reach the nearest star. But future humans might build interstellar arks, giant ships on which generations of travelers would live and die before delivering colonists to a new destination. Such star-hopping colonists could spread across our entire galaxy before Earth overheats, even assuming no advances in rocketry.

An artist’s conception shows NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft entering interstellar space. Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

At first, those voyagers might choose to set sail for planets around midsize, yellow stars similar to our own. That will take care of us for quite a while, since sunlike stars last 12 billion years before they fizzle. As one star ages and dies, we can move on to the next. We’ve got time.

Fifty billion to 100 billion years from now, though, all of the raw material for new stars will be used up. The last generation of sunlike stars will burn out, and humans will need a new kind of place to live.

It turns out that we have better options than yellow stars like our sun. The Milky Way is dotted with red dwarfs, cooler and dimmer than our sun but built to last. “For the next 10 trillion years, the red dwarfs are just coming into their own,” Laughlin says.

And so planets around red dwarf stars may be our homes until about 15 trillion years from now, when they too will expire.

The Gravitational Era

Red dwarfs will be the last generation of stars. Once they die, the universe will go dark — literally. Even so, Laughlin doesn’t see this as the end of the line for life. Instead, we will enter what he calls “the gravitational era.”

In this dark future, we might build enormous space power plants around black holes, lowering masses toward them to harvest their gravitational pull “like the weights pulling down in a grandfather’s clock,” says Princeton physicist J. Richard Gott. Or we might tap the internal heat of planets to generate energy: The gravitational interaction between celestial bodies creates friction, which can keep planets hot inside even without any starshine.

Don’t picture cave dwellers huddling around geothermal heaters. Trillions of years of evolution will have long since transformed us, Laughlin says. Perhaps we will have merged with our computers. Perhaps we won’t even have a physical form. The only thing our descendants will definitely have in common with us is the essential spark of life: not flesh and blood necessarily but information.

“That’s the most important lesson from thinking about the far future universe,” Laughlin says. “We’re being naïve when we think of life only in terms of Earthlike planets and carbon-based life.”

Information-based life can keep going almost forever. The gravitational era that begins around 15 trillion years from now could continue for quintillion years and beyond, Laughlin estimates. A quintillion is a 1 followed by 18 zeroes. It is trillion times as long as the entire history of our hominid line on Earth.

Will the Universe Die Before We Do?

Still, even this near-eternity is not the same as eternity. At some point, life runs into the physical limits of matter itself.

Physics theories suggest that sometime between 10^34 (1 decillion) and 10^64 (1 vigintillion) years from now, the protons found in the nuclei of all atoms will decay. That means black holes will be the only organized form of matter in the universe. Future humanity can’t have any physical form at this point.

At 10^100 years — 10 duotrigintillion years A.D. — even black holes will evaporate. There will be no energy or structures of any kind — just a cold, eternal mist of farflung particles. This really is the end point for life.

Or maybe not. Paul Steinhardt of Princeton University, one of the founders of modern cosmological theory, is exploring a model in which the universe goes through endless cycles of creation. His latest version, developed with Anna Ijjas of Columbia University, suggests that the universe could experience a new Big Bang well before the final black hole apocalypse.

If it does come, a new Big Bang would wipe away all traces of this universe — unless we can find a way to leapfrog into the next cosmic cycle. Current physics offers no guidance here.

Then again, we have quite a while to ponder the problem.

How Humans Might Outlive Earth, the Sun…and Even the Universe was originally published by NBC Universal Media, LLC on December 20, 2017 by Corey S. Powell. Copyright 2017 NBC Universal Media, LLC. All rights reserved.

The post How Humans Might Outlive Earth, the Sun, and Even the Universe Itself appeared first on Futurism.

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The best cheap tablets and deals 2018: the top budget options

You don’t have to pay hundreds of pounds for a tablet these days, and there are a number of top cheap tablets available.

[Update: A new year, and perhaps a new dawn for cheap tablets? 2018 will likely bring us an updated fleet of Amazon’s low-cost slates, alongside a handful of budget Android tablets from some of the main players. Anyone hoping for a low-cost iPad, well you’ll need to keep your fingers crossed Apple launches a new iPad Mini and as a result slashes the price of the iPad Mini 4 (currently £419).]

It’s a strange time for cheap tablets, and even tablets in general. Exciting releases are few and far between these days, and the most fascinating tech is restricted to the top end of the market. 

The best tablet in the world is the new iPad Pro, and that will set you back an awful lot of cash. Best budget tablet it is not. 

In fact, none of Apple’s current fleet of slates manage to break the £250, but if it’s iPads you desire you’ll want to check out our best iPad roundup.

All hope is not lost though, and we’ve got the list of the best cheap tablets you can buy right now below – but let’s make one thing clear. There aren’t many to choose from.

It’s slim pickings for anyone looking to pick up a cheap tablet these days as the market for low-cost slates has somewhat fallen away, but the ones below offer excellent value for money.

The Huawei MediaPad M3 8.0 is the best cheap tablet right now, combining an excellent screen, a whole heap of power and slick Android interface in a slate that offers great value for money.

One of the best things about the MediaPad M3 is its slim, light aluminium frame that looks and feels good while being seriously practical.

The screen is sharp, and has colour modes that provide both more natural and saturated tones, while the speakers are another high point, delivering impressive volume for a tablet this slim.

Read the full review: Huawei MediaPad M3 8.0

In a sea of slates and smartphones, crafting a device that has enough personality to stand out and enough quality to be worth caring about is a difficult proposition.

With the Tab 4 8 Plus, Lenovo has succeeded in producing something with a flavor of its own, and something that makes the mid-range Android tablet market worth attention once again.

If you already have an Android device, commute regularly and want something a little nicer than an Amazon tablet, this is the obvious next step.

Read the full review: Lenovo Tab 4 8 Plus

When the Galaxy Tab S2 launched, it was Samsung’s thinnest and lightest tablet. While that’s no longer the case, it remains a highly portable option in its 8-inch form factor.

There is a larger (and more expensive) 9.7-inch option, but the only really difference is screen and battery size – the 8-inch version still boasts top notch power and a high definition display. 

The metal frame adds a premium touch, there’s a comfortable, soft touch plastic back and a microSD slot to expand on the internal storage.

Read the full review: Samsung Galaxy Tab S2

If you have an Amazon Prime membership and you want a big screen tablet for watching movies and TV, reading, and a spot of gaming, the Fire HD 10 is a great option. If you also have a limited budget, then it’s your best option.

It’s a great value package for a 10-inch screen tablet. It does have obvious weaknesses, like the plastic design and useless cameras, but they’re understandable in a tablet at this price.

Read the full review: Amazon Fire HD 10 (2017)

The Amazon HD 6 may be showing its age, but it’s still a top-notch tablet for the money, which is why it features so highly in our best budget tablet list. 

It’s no tablet king, but it does what it sets out to well. Its crazy low price tag means it’s perfect to hand off to the kids without the fear that they’re wielding an expensive bit of kit around.

It may be too small for some, and the cameras aren’t up to much, but the Fire HD 6 gives you the core tablet experience for not very much outlay, making it a budget tablet worth buying.

Read the full review: Amazon Fire HD 8

If you’re in the market for a low cost tablet with up to date specs then the new Amazon Fire HD 8 and HD 10 deliver.

They won’t bless you with a stunning display, sultry design or slick performance – but they will give you enough grunt under the hood to play even the most demanding of games.

The heavily modified Android interface (known as Fire OS) may not be to everyone’s liking, but for less tech savvy users it’s arguably less cluttered and easier to use.

Read the full review: Amazon Fire 7 (2017)

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10 best Android phones 2018: which should you buy?

Update: Happy New Year! 2017 may be behind us, but its best Android phones are still very much in the here and now. 2018 promises to bring us a raft of new Android smartphones, but it’s still early days and no new launches have happened just yet.

There’s one key way in which Android is massively different from its Apple-branded smartphone competition – the number of phones out there running Google’s hot mobile OS.

The big names are all here; Samsung, Sony, LG and Google are at the fore. The many variations in screen size, processor power, software features and design makes finding the best Android phone for you extremely tough.

2018 promises to bring us a new fleet of high-powered, highly attractive and showstopping handsets, with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S9, HTC U12, LG G7, Huawei P11 and OnePlus 6 all rumored – but for now that’s all they are, rumors.

Want to know our top 5 smartphones you can buy right now? Watch below!

To help find the most fitting Android phone for you, we’ve rounded up the best Android handsets out there today, rating the phones on hardware performance, OS upgrade potential and, of course, how shiny and nice they are to have and boast about to work colleagues.

So here they are – the best Android phones money can buy today. For many, many different reasons.

Samsung has once again taken the top spot of the best Android phone in the world right now.

Samsung’s latest Galaxy S8 is in the top position of this list thanks to an incredible design, amazing display and some truly great power packed into the phone.

Everything that has made Samsung phones great over the last few years has been packed into this 5.8-inch device – that’s almost bezeless too – and comes with top of the range hardware and some easy to use Android software.

There’s a new iris scanner to allow you to unlock the phone with just your eyes and Samsung has also included a new voice assistant called Bixby. It’s not the perfect device some had hoped for, but it’s the best Android phone you can buy at the moment.

Read the full review: Samsung Galaxy S8

  • Also consider: If you budget can’t quite stretch to the new Galaxy S8, the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge is still an excellent option with a strong screen and excellent camera, plus it’s now cheaper thanks to the arrival of the S8.

Second place goes to the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus. We’ve loved both the Galaxy S6 Edge and the Galaxy S7 Edge, but this year we prefer the smaller device of the flagship pairing.

The size of the Galaxy S8 Plus may put some people off at 6.2-inches, but we found the device easy to use and the main reason the Plus sits in second place is its higher price.

Everything we love about the Galaxy S8 is available here as Samsung has decided to only really changed the sizes of the screens rather than fiddling with the spec inside the device.

That same powerful 12MP camera and top of the range power setup is here to do everything you want it to as well as the new biometric tech that may allow you to unlock your phone faster than ever before.

Read the full review: Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus

  • Also consider: Looking for a big screen Android phone? Then say hello to the new HTC U11 Plus. It won’t be for everyone, but for those who want something a bit different the large 6-inch QHD display, punchy performance and solid camera will suit.

A big-screen handset isn’t for everyone though, and for those looking for a palm-friendly phone which still boasts the power and performance of a flagship will like the look of the Google Pixel 2.

It’s bezel heavy design won’t exactly dazzle, but this is a phone you can comfortably use one-handed, with a crisp, clear full HD display and stock Android 8 Oreo at your fingertips.

Like its bigger brother, the Pixel 2 XL, the Pixel 2 also boasts Google’s stunning 12MP camera which takes seriously impressive snaps.

The smaller size does mean the Pixel 2 carries a smaller price tag, but it’s still far from cheap and when it comes to spending this amount we’d recommend plumping for the Pixel 2 XL if its size doesn’t put you off.

Read our full review: Google Pixel 2

  • Also consider: Another palm-friendly handset with plenty of power under the hood is the Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact. It too is bezel heavy, and Sony’s implementation of Android isn’t as slick as Google’s, but when it comes to one handed use, it’s top notch.

Huawei is getting really good at making competitive, high-end flagships these days and the Mate 10 Pro is its best handset to date. 

The standout feature is battery life, toppling pretty much every other phone on this list, but it’s also got a decent slug of power under the hood to handle any task you can chuck at it. 

For those looking for a strong camera performance from their phone need to take a look at the Mate 10 Pro as well. Phones higher up in this list offer better auto modes, but for camera enthusiasts the Mate 10 Pro provides a great selection of modes and settings.

Read our full review: Huawei Mate 10 Pro

  • Also consider: After something a little smaller, and a little cheaper? Then check out the Huawei P10 – a flagship phone that fits neatly into the palm of your hand, it has a heap of power and dual cameras too.

Three Samsung phones in the top five?! It may seem extreme, but there’s a very good reason why – they’re all really, really good.

The Galaxy Note 8 doesn’t quite hit the heights of its S8 siblings thanks to its lofty price tag and number of similarities to the S8 Plus, but it’s a triumphant return to form for a series that was potentially in trouble after the Note 7 debacle.

But enough about other handsets, what makes the Galaxy Note 8 worthy of its fifth place birth? There’s no question the phablet is more of a niche device, but its iconic S Pen stylus is now even better, with higher accuracy and more levels of pressure sensitivity making it great for sketching and drawing.

Then there’s the massive 6.3-inch QHD Infinity Display which is superb for movies and games, and with a display this big using apps side-by-side isn’t just possible, it makes sense!

Read the full review: Samsung Galaxy Note 8

  • Also consider: Does the S Pen scream productivity to you? If it’s a business workhorse you’re looking for then the BlackBerry KeyOne delivers you an email machine with a full QWERTY keyboard for you to bash out messages on.

Just when you think it’s a Samsung landslide in the best Android phones list, the LG V30 appears! 

Building on the G6 from earlier in 2016, the V30 improves in a number of ways including an improved design, larger, more colorful display and an update-to-date chipset under the hood.

In short what you get is a super smartphone absolutely bursting with features, making it great for gaming, movies, photography and music.

Its design isn’t quite as jaw-dropping as the Samsung’s that rank higher than it, nor are its dual-cameras quite the all-round super snappers, but this is a seriously impressive smartphone.

Read the full review: LG V30 

  • Also consider: LG may have ditched the modular setup we saw on the LG G5, but Motorola’s range of high-end handsets go from strength to strength as it grows its MotoMods catalog. Check out the Moto Z2 Force and Moto Z2 Play for some hot modular action.

The LG G6 is a top Android smartphone, with an excellent premium design, lovely QHD display and clever dual camera setup round the back giving you plenty to play with and enjoy.

However, some odd choices to go with lower-spec performance and not upgrade the camera in a meaningful way, but with more recent price drops the LG G6 is still more than good enough for our best Android phone list.

That doesn’t mean the G6 isn’t innovative – the screen looks great and there’s raw power, from the camera to the battery to the general snappiness of the handset, rippling through this phone.

Read the full review: LG G6

  • Also consider: The HTC U11 arrived around the same time as the LG G6, and while it doesn’t quite make it into the top ten (it was so close though) it’s an exciting alternative with squeezable sides and your choice of Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa.

The OnePlus 5T offers a pleasing array of upgrades that keeps fans of the brand happy without reinventing the wheel or upping the price. 

It’s the best phone the brand has ever made, and one that can mix it with the best handsets around without looking out of place

While there are a few small compromises to consider – no QHD display, stereo speakers, expandable storage or standout camera – the OnePlus 5T represents some of the best value for money in the market. You won’t be disappointed.

Read the full review: OnePlus 5T

  • Also consider: The OnePlus 5T isn’t the only low-cost flagship around, and the Honor 9 only just missed out on a spot in our top 10. It’s even cheaper than the 5T, and boasts a strong feature set and an eye-catching design.

Google’s Pixel range has matured in 2017, and the Pixel 2 XL is the firm’s top dog with its impressive, slender bezel design, dual front-facing speakers and simply fantastic camera.

If you’re in the market for a new smartphone and camera quality is of high importance, STOP WHAT YOU’RE DOING. The camera on the Google Pixel 2 XL is one of the most – if not the most – impressive snappers we’ve used on a phone.

There’s also a whole heap of power under the hood, and the 6-inch display gives you lots of space to operate.

The design isn’t overly inspiring on the rear, it’s not the most premium feeling phone in the hand – a shame considering the price tag – and the viewing angle on the screen is very narrow before a blue tint creeps in, but there’s no question this is a great device.

Read the full review: Google Pixel 2 XL

The Xperia XZ Premium is the flagship smartphone Sony fans have been waiting for, bringing together an eye-popping display, strong snapper and solid battery life.

Those who love watching films and TV shows in 4K can do so on the move with the 4K screen on the XZ Premium – no other phone on this list can boast that – while the front-facing dual speakers also enhance videos and gaming.

If there’s an area the XZ Premium does lack in, it’s design. The flat glass front and rear are sleek, but the plastic edges of the phone detract from the ‘Premium’ part of the name.

Make no mistake though, this is a proper, fully-loaded Android flagship which easily holds its own against the competition.

Read our full review: Sony Xperia XZ Premium

  • Also consider: If you fancy something a little smaller, and a little more wallet friendly, then check out the Sony Xperia XZ1. As the name suggests, it lives in the same family as the XZ Premium, but has a smaller 5.2-inch full HD display and 2700mAh battery.
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Here Are All the Companies Buying Tesla’s Electric Semi Truck

Tesla is now taking Semi pre-orders from some European countries, as Norwegian food distribution company Asko has ordered 10 of the electric semi-trucks, Electrek reports.

Asko has already integrated a European electric truck into its fleet, but the company believes Tesla’s Semi has more advanced features.

“We have an electric truck today from a Dutch company, which we have had for almost two years,” CEO Tore Bekken told E24, Electrek first reported. “So, we think that Tesla is the one who has come the furthest with the technology so far. Therefore, we choose to book ten trucks from them.”

While some had doubts about Tesla’s ability to break into the trucking industry before it introduced the Semi, early orders indicate Tesla may beat expectations.

The electric trucks have impressive features, including a 500-mile range per charge and the ability to travel 400 miles on a 30-minute charge, impact resistant glass, an innovative cabin design, and the ability to go from 0-60 mph in five seconds without any cargo and in 20 seconds while carrying 80,000 pounds of cargo. But Tesla will ultimately be judged on the number of clients who buy and use the trucks over the long term.

These are the companies who have placed orders for the Tesla Semi so far:

  • Walmart: One of the first major companies to reserve the trucks, the retailer has made aggressive investments in technology in recent years as part of its effort to compete with Amazon.
  • Pepsi: Pepsi previously had the largest Semi order, reserving 100 trucks in December.
  • Anheuser-Busch: The brewer announced it ordered 40 Semis in December.
  • Sysco: The food distributor has reserved 50 Semis.
  • UPS: The delivery company placed the largest Semi order to date, reserving 125 trucks on Tuesday.
  • DHL: The transportation and logistics company has reserved 10 Semis to add to its fleet.
  • Meijer: Based in Michigan, the grocery chain has ordered four of the electric trucks.
  • Ryder: The transportation company reserved an unspecified number of Semis in November.
  • J.B. Hunt: The trucking company is set to purchase “multiple” Semis, but hasn’t revealed the exact number.
  • Asko: The Norwegian food distribution company has ordered 10 Semis.
  • Flexport: Ryan Peterson, the freight company’s CEO, announced the company has ordered one Semi.
  • JK Moving: The independent moving company has reserved four Semis.
  • Loblaw: After ordering 25 Semis, the Canadian supermarket chain announced plans to make its trucking fleet 100% electric by 2030.
  • Fercam: Based in Italy, the trucking company has reserved a single Semi.
  • Girteka Logistics: Not to be outdone by Fercam, the European transportation company also announced its plans to invest in one of Tesla’s electric trucks.
  • Fortigo Freight Services: The Canadian logistics company reserved one Semi.
  • Best Transportation: The shipping company also ordered one Semi.
  • Mecca & Son Trucking: According to Jalopnik, this trucking company has reserved one Semi.

The post Here Are All the Companies Buying Tesla’s Electric Semi Truck appeared first on Futurism.

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Dark Future: Here’s When We’ll Have the Autonomous Guard Dogs from Black Mirror

This article is part of a series about season four of Black Mirror, in which Futurism considers the technology pivotal to each episode and evaluates how close we are to having it. Please note that this article contains mild spoilers. Season four of Black Mirror is now available on Netflix.

The Headless Guard Dog

Three people prepare for their mission to break into a seemingly abandoned warehouse. They had made a promise to help someone who was dying, to make his final days easier. They seem nervous and a little frantic, like they were undertaking this task out of sheer desperation.

Within a few minutes, we find out what they’re afraid of — and as the episode continues, we understand why the characters were so worried. It’s a four-legged, solar-powered robot-dog. It looks eerily similar to the latest iteration of Boston Dynamics’ SpotMini. Like the SpotMini, “the dog,” as it’s called in the “Metalhead” episode of the latest season of Black Mirror, doesn’t have a head. Instead, it has a front piece encased in glass that houses its many sensors, including a sophisticated computer vision system (we see this as the screen flips periodically to the dog’s view of the world).

Unlike the SpotMini, however, the metalhead dog comes with a whole bunch of advanced weaponry — a grenade that launches shrapnel-like tracking devices into the flesh of prospective thieves or assailants, for example. And in its front legs, the dog is armed with guns powerful enough to pop a person’s head off. It can also connect to computer systems, which allows it to conduct more high-tech tasks like unlocking security doors and driving a smart vehicle.

The metalhead dog is no regular guard dog. It’s lethal and relentless, able to hunt down and destroy anyone who crosses it. Potential robbers, like the characters at the beginning of the episode, would be wise to stay away, no matter how promising the payload of a break-in.

Like a lot of the technology in Black Mirror, the dog isn’t so far-fetched. Countries like the United States and Russia are keen on developing weapons powered by artificial intelligence (AI); companies like Boston Dynamics are actively developing robo-dogs to suit those needs, among others.

But how close are we to having the AI-enhanced security dog like the one in “Metalhead”?

Beware of (robo)Dog

According to experts, some of the features in Black Mirror’s robotic dog are alarmingly close to reality. In November, a video about futuristic “slaughterbots” — autonomous drones that are designed to search out specific human targets and kill them — went viral. The comments section reflects people’s discomfort with a future filled with increasingly facile ways to kill people.

Mercifully, the technology was fictional, as was the video. But that may not be the case for long, Stuart Russell, a professor of computer science at the University of California, Berkeley who was part of the team that worked on the video, tells Futurism. “The basic technologies are all in place. It’s not a harder task than autonomous driving; so it’s mainly a matter of investment and effort,” Russell said. “With a crash project and unlimited resources [like the Manhattan Project had], something like the slaughterbots could be fielded in less than two years.”

Metalhead. Image credit: Netflix

Louis Rosenberg, the CEO and founder of Unanimous AI, a company that creates AI algorithms that can “think together” in a swarm, agrees with Russel’s assertion that fully autonomous robotic security drones could soon be a regular part of our lives. “It’s very close,” Rosenberg told Futurism. “[T]wenty years ago I estimated that fully autonomous robotic security drones would happen by 2048. Today, I have to say it will happen much sooner.” He expects that autonomous weapons like these could be mass produced between 2020 and 2025.

But while the “search and destroy” AI features may be alarmingly close, Black Mirror‘s metalhead dog is still some ways off, Russell noted.

The problem with creating this robo-killer, it seems, goes back to the dog’s ability to move seamlessly through a number of different environments. “The dog functions successfully for extended periods in the physical world, which includes a lot of unexpected events. Current software is easily confused and then gets ‘stuck’ because it has no idea what’s going on,” Russell said.

It’s not just software problems that stand in the way. “Robots with arms and legs still have some difficulties with dextrous manipulation of unfamiliar objects,” Russell said. The dog, in contrast, is able to wield a kitchen knife with some finesse.

And the dog is not so easy to outsmart, unlike today’s robots.  “Robots are still easily fooled, of course — they currently would be unable to cope with previously unknown countermeasures, say, a tripwire that is too thin for the [LIDAR] to detect properly, or some jamming device that messes up navigation using false signals,” Russell said.

Please Curb Your (robo)Dog

In the end, the consensus seems to be that, in the future, we could bring such robo-dogs to life. But should we?

Both Rosenberg and Russell agree that the weaponization of AI, particularly as security or “killer-robots,” will bring the world more harm than good. “I sincerely hope it never happens. I believe autonomous weapons are inherently dangerous — [they leave] complex moral decisions to algorithms devoid of human judgement,” Rosenberg explained. The autocorrect algorithms on most smartphones makes errors often enough, he continued, and an autonomous weapon would probably still make errors. “I believe we are [a] long way from making such a technology foolproof,” Rosenberg said.

Granted, most AIs today are pretty sophisticated. But this doesn’t mean they are ready to make life-or-death decisions.

One big hurdle: the central inner-workings of most algorithms are incomprehensible to us. “Right now, a big problem with deep learning is the ‘black box’ aspect of the technology, which prevents us from really understanding why these types of algorithms take certain decisions,” Pierre Barreau, the CEO of Aiva Technologies, which created an artificial intelligence that composes music, told Futurism via email. “Thus, there is a safety problem when applying these technologies to take sensitive decisions in the field of security because we may not know exactly how the AI will react to every type of situation, and if its intentions will be the same as ours.”

That seeming arbitrariness with which AIs make enormous, important decisions concerns critics of autonomous weapons, such as Amnesty International. “We believe that fully autonomous weapons systems would not be able to comply with international human rights law and international policing standards,” Rasha Abdul-Rahim, an arms control advisor for Amnesty, told Futurism via email.

Humans aren’t perfect in making these decisions, either, but at least we can show our mental work and understand how someone reached a particular decision. That’s not the case if, say, a robo-cop is deciding whether or not to use a taser on someone. “If used for policing, we’d have to agree that machines can decide on the application of force against humans,” Russell said. “I suspect there will be a lot of resistance to this.”

In the future, global governing bodies might prohibit or discourage the use of autonomous robotic weapons — at least, according to Unanimous AI’s swarm, which has successfully predicted a number of decisions in the past.

However, others claim that there may be situations in which countries might be justified in using autonomous weapons, so long as they are heavily regulated and the technology does as it’s intended. Russell pointed out that a number of global leaders, including Henry Kissinger, propose a ban on autonomous weapons designed to directly attack people, but still allow their use in aerial combat and submarine warfare.

“Therefore there must always be effective and meaningful human control over what the [International Committee of the Red Cross] has termed as their ‘critical functions’ — meaning the identification of targets and the deployment of force,” Abdul-Rahim said.

Then again, the kind of nuance some experts suggest — autonomous weapons are fine in one case, but not allowed in others — might be difficult to implement, and some assert that such plans might not be enough. “Amnesty International has consistently called for a preemptive ban on the development, production, transfer, and use of fully autonomous weapons systems,” Abdul-Rahim said. But it might already be too late for a preemptive ban, since some countries are already progressing in their development of AI weapons.

Still, Russell and numerous other experts have been campaigning for halting the development and use of AI weapons; the group of 116 global leaders recently an open letter to the United Nations on the subject. The U.N. is supposedly already considering a ban. “Let’s hope legal restrictions block this reality from happening anytime soon,” Rosenberg concluded.

There’s little question that AI is poised to revolutionize much of our world, including how we fight wars and other international conflicts. It will be up to international lawmakers and leaders to determine if developments like autonomous weapons, or faceless robotic guard dogs, would cause more harm than good.

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The Verge 2017 tech report card: Headphones

My best way to look back on 2017 in the world of headphones is to consider the things I wasn’t able to say a year ago.

The best portable headphones today are wireless. That wasn’t true last year — at least not in my Beoplay H6-loving judgment — however Bowers & Wilkins’ PX have shot to the top of the charts with an exquisitely tuned sound, handsome looks, and solid battery life. The noise-cancelling PX are a transformational pair of headphones because they take NC cans out of their traditional role of being merely functional and into the competition for best sound quality. Gone are the days of Bose singularly dominating the NC field with awesome ergonomics but mediocre sound: today we have all the big names like Beats, Sony, and…

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Red Dead Redemption 2 release date, news and rumors

Update: We have a new Red Dead Redemption 2 release date leak! This time it’s being pegged for a June 8, 2018 arrival, which is a touch later than ‘Spring 2018’ arrival Rockstar has currently touted.  

Original article continues below…

With so many great games being announced every day, it’s not that frequent any more that we see the kind of clamoring excitement that accompanied the announcement of Red Dead Redemption 2. 

Teased and announced with perfect pacing on the part of Rockstar, the game will be the developer’s third set in the Wild West and its first release since Grand Theft Auto 5 in 2013. To say Rockstar fans are waiting with bated breath is an understatement.

Though the game isn’t due to be released until Spring 2018, news and rumors are circulating and we’ve gathered everything you need to know right here. 

Cut to the chase

  • What is it? The sequel to the Wild West Rockstar hit, Red Dead Redemption
  • When can I play it? Spring 2018
  • What can I play it on? PlayStation 4 and Xbox One have been confirmed so far

Trailers and screenshots

The first trailer for Red Dead Redemption 2 which was released shortly after the game’s announcement. It doesn’t reveal much other than that we’re going to be returning to the Wild West. The game locations in the trailer are diverse and beautiful and it looks highly likely that the game will be open world. 

The game’s second trailer came on September 28, after Rockstar teased some new information would be coming in a tweet earlier that week. This time around we got to see a bit more about the game, including a glimpse of its new protagonist Arthur Morgan.

Watch the trailer for yourself below and take a gander at all the screenshots we’ve collected as well as see some of the new theories this trailer has dragged up:


Release date

We thought we’d have Red Dead Redemption 2 in our stockings come Holiday 2017, but it turns out that may have been a bit preemptive on our part. 

According to a blog post on the publisher’s website from May 2017, we’ll have to wait until Spring of 2018 to saddle up for Rockstar Games’ next epic western:

“Red Dead Redemption 2 is now set to launch Spring 2018 on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. This outlaw epic set across the vast and unforgiving American heartland will be the first Rockstar game created from the ground up for the latest generation of console hardware, and some extra time is necessary to ensure that we can deliver the best experience possible for our fans … We are very sorry for any disappointment this delay causes, but we are firm believers in delivering a game only when it is ready.”

However, a more recent leak now points towards a June 8, 2018 release date for RDR2, although the Dutch retailer in question has now updated its product page to read just “2018” – is there another delay on the cards? We’ll have to wait and see.

News and features

We have very little in the way of solid facts when it comes to Red Dead Redemption 2 but what has been confirmed by Rockstar can be found below.

There’s a new protagonist

John Marston is no more. Red Dead Redemption 2 brings players a brand new protagonist called Arthur Morgan and the game will follow this outlaw and the Van der Linde gang as they rob and fight their way across America. 

Dutch is back

The main antagonist from Red Dead Redemption showed his face in this game’s second trailer which confirms he’ll be back. Whether or not he’ll be the same antagonistic force is unclear but we think it’s highly unlikely he’s going to be a force for good.

It’ll have an open world

Red Dead Redemption 2 is a sequel to an open world game and it’s being developed by Rockstar so this isn’t exactly surprising information. Though Red Dead Revolver was a more linear affair, it was apparent that Rockstar was moving away from this with its spiritual successor Red Dead Redemption and we imagine this trend will continue. 

On the game’s site, Rockstar has called the game world “vast and atmospheric” and the trailer certainly backs up this claim. 

The environments shown in the trailer are diverse and stunning and we imagine that as before you’ll be able to traverse them on foot, horseback and perhaps even by rail at your own pace. 

It’ll have single and multiplayer

As you’d expect of a Rockstar game, Red Dead Redemption 2’s vast open game world will be the backdrop to a thrilling single-player campaign. 

Though the first game followed the story of one man, we’re not sure whether that will be the case with Red Dead Redemption 2. The game’s trailer shows 7 figures on horseback which does suggest there could be multiple stories weaving together here like Rockstar did with Grand Theft Auto 5. We’ll just have to wait to find out if this is the case.

One similarity we do know Red Dead Redemption 2 will have to Grand Theft Auto 5 is its huge online multiplayer world and it could be this element of the game that the 7 cowboys on horseback imagery is referring to. 

On the game’s website, Rockstar has stated that the world of the single player campaign will “also provide the foundation for a brand new online multiplayer experience.” 

Considering Grand Theft Auto 5’s online world is still growing and thriving 4 years after the game’s initial release this is an exciting prospect. We imagine the cooperative missions that involve heists, races, gangs and money making will transfer neatly over to the Wild West world of Red Dead Redemption 2. 

PlayStation 4 players will get early access to some online content

Thanks to a partnership between PlayStation and Rockstar, PlayStation 4 owners will get early access to some of the game’s online content. In a post on the official PlayStation Blog where the announcement was made it wasn’t clear what the online content would be, however it was promised that more details would be revealed soon. 

There’s an unlockable weapon in Grand Theft Auto Online

Grand theft Auto Online players are getting an interesting Red Dead Redemption 2 treat in the form of an unlockable weapon. Players should be on the lookout for an in-game email over the next few days containing a clue which will allow them to start a scavenger hunt of sorts. Following the trail in the game will lead players to the Double Action Revolver.

Once the revolver is acquired, a Headshot Challenge will launch in Freemode which, if completed, will give players a $250,000 in-game prize and the opportunity to unlock the revolver for use in Red Dead Redemption 2 when it’s released in 2018.  

Rumors and what we want to see

Considering solid facts on the game are pretty thin on the ground, speculation and rumors are understandably rife, with most of the basis for guessing at possible features coming from the game’s two trailers.

It could be a prequel or sequel

Red Dead Redemption 2 will have a brand new protagonist called Arthur Morgan which puts John Marston out of the picture. 

It was the appearance of Red Dead Redemption antagonist, Dutch Van der Linde, in the second trailer for this game, however, that made fans think it could very well be a prequel. Dutch looks much younger and more fresh in the trailer which gives this pre-Red Dead Redemption theory credence. 

That said, others have pointed out some anachronistic background details from the trailer which throw the prequel nature of the story into question. First up is a telephone which appears in an office scene of the trailer. This phone has a design which would have been in use long after 1890. However, a train which appears later in the trailer is being pointed out as being from a much earlier time than this.

Red Dead Redemption is largely set in 1911, so all of these details taken together suggest that Red Dead Redemption 2 could actually have a very long timeline which begins before John Marston’s Red Dead Redemption and then runs concurrent to it, perhaps starring multiple characters.

However, it could also be a prequel that just doesn’t stretch too far back in time – it’s also being rumored that the game is set only 5 years before the previous game around 1906 which would make a great deal of sense. 

Bows and arrows and dual wielding weapons 

In the game’s second trailer we see protagonist Morgan wielding a bow and arrow as well as simultaneously firing two revolvers. This suggests combat mechanics have advanced significantly from the previous game. 

Bow and arrows were actually a weapon option in Red Dead Revolver before being nixed in Red Dead Redemption. Since then, fans have been crying out for their return and the trailer certainly seems to show that’s happening. 

Out on the water

You couldn’t even swim in Red Dead Redemption but a glimpse of a character out on the open water in a kayak in the trailer for the sequel has people wondering if you’ll be able to travel across water or maybe even swim this time around. It’d certainly make an already sure to be large game world even larger. 

More animals than ever 

The game’s second trailers shows in no uncertain terms that bears are back. But this time they’re being joined by crocodiles. This makes the surrounding game world significantly more dangerous and although we like to see as much wildlife as possible, we’re not looking forward to being taken by surprise by a crocodile in a swamp. 

Sharing the load

A scene of a character walking alongside a mule loaded up with equipment also has fans wondering if it’ll be possible to share your inventory with your steed. We imagine this would work in a similar manner to sharing your inventory with your companion in games like Skyrim. 

Could this be the game’s map?

Earlier this April, a map claiming to be the setting for the next Red Dead leaked on NeoGAF.

The biggest takeaways from the tentative topography was a slight move eastward from the arid plains of Red Dead Redemption, showing more marshy locations, islands, and even a mention of a bayou city called New Bordeaux – possibly a tie-in with the recently released, 2K-published Mafia III?

A source with insider knowledge did confirm to us that the map was legit, adding that the game plans to take place before the events of Red Dead Redemption.

However, it is still a leaked map from the internet, so checked expectations are always a smart move. 

Rockstar has revealed that the map of the game will be used as the foundation for building an online multiplayer world similar to that of Grand Theft Auto 5 so the incredible scale and diverse landscape suggested by this map would be suited to an online world. 

Keep checking back here for more Red Dead Redemption 2 news and rumors! We’ll report everything as and when it’s revealed. 

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Red Dead Redemption 2 release date leak pegs arrival for June 8

A fresh Red Dead Redemption 2 release date of June 8, 2018  has been leaked by a Dutch retailer, making it later than Rockstar’s teased “Spring 2018” arrival.

Retailer slip-ups can be honest mistakes, as they ready product pages for upcoming games, allowing them to switch the pages live as soon as an announcement is made, with fake information entered into them before the real details are made clear.

While this doesn’t bode particularly well for this leak, it’s the retailer itself – Dutch-based Coolshop – which is of interest as it’s the same place that correctly leaked the official launch date for Grand Theft Auto V.

Spring no more?

The listing no longer has the June 8 date on it, with Coolshop changing the expected release date to say just “2018”.

However, if the leaked release date is correct it would mean Rockstar has slipped behind the “Spring 2018” promise it made back in May 2017.

It’s already pushed the game back from a ‘Fall 2017’ launch which was touted in the first trailer, so it’s not out of the question that the game may have been delayed again.

We have contacted Rockstar for clarification on its launch intentions for the game, and Coolshop on the June 8 date it posted. We will update this article once we hear back.

Via NME and Game Informer

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VR helped make the world better in 2017

2017 has been quiet a year for VR entertainment as Oculus, HTC and Sony continue to push their respective headsets as gaming devices first and everything else second. That said, everything else has had a pretty good year too; VR has started to prove its worth as a tool for positive change in 2017.

Over the past year we’ve shed pounds, looked after ourselves and learned more about the world around us with the help of headsets that let us see and do anything we want to.

Shedding The Pounds

The idea of strapping on a VR headset and fogging up the lenses with your sweat as you prance around with your vision obscured might not sound like the safest or most hygienic exercise regime, but that hasn’t stopped gamers using VR to shed weight. Perhaps the most positive aspect of VR right now is how it can disguise exercise as a fun, engaging and even addictive hobby. Chop your way through an army of undead soldiers in Skyrim VR and you’ll unintentionally work up a sweat. Go a few rounds in Gorn and you’ll have basically enjoyed a full work out.

We’ve seen people put this unexpected benefit to great use in 2017. In February, we reported that Job Stauffer had lost a stunning 50 lbs with a VR gaming schedule and a few months later William Brierly did the same with the help of the VirZoom VR bike. As VR’s use as a fitness tool has become more apparent we’ve even seen a new ratings system that can tell you how much energy you’ll burn playing a game. With the advent of new apps like BOX VR, 2018 is sure to continue this welcome trend.

A Home In Healthcare

VR’s potential impacts on the healthcare seem near limitless. From simply spending time in serene environments all the way up to helping people to control their limbs again, this technology is having a profound impact on the way we look after ourselves and it’s only just getting started. It’s being used across all ages; while mobile VR headsets help entertain children in hospitals during treatments, other apps bring comforts to the elderly the might not otherwise have.

A key part of VR healthcare is how it crosses over with education, too. Through apps like You VR we’ve begun accurately visualizing what’s going on inside of us, helping us to understand and care for ourselves better than we have before. As VR technology becomes more accessible in 2018 we expect the industry to play an even bigger role in the future of healthcare.

Education Expands

With VR now nearly two years into its life, it’s past time we stopped talking about the potential of educational apps and started seeing them. And that’s happening on a lot of fronts; low-end VR is finding a place in classrooms across the globe with initiatives like Google Expeditions reaching schools in remote corners of countries. There’s a space for the high-end stuff too; companies such as Lifeliqe are putting HoloLens kits in schools to make learning more immersive and engaging than it’s ever been before.

Just as exercise has found a place in VR gaming, so too has learning. Operation Apex from Curiscope hides its lessons within repetitive mechanics that teach you the mechanations of the food chain underneath the ocean. In some games we travel back in time and find out what life was really like for people back then while other apps expand upon classic works of art. We’re just scratching the surface of what VR is going to do for education.

This story originally appeared on Copyright 2017

The PC Gaming channel is presented by Intel®‘s Game Dev program.

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VR’s biggest stories in 2017

Here’s how hectic the world of virtual reality has been in 2017: while writing up this list of the biggest stories to break this year, I could have sworn Palmer Luckey had parted ways with Oculus more than 12 months ago. There’s been so much to keep up with that even some of the year’s industry-shaking stories managed to slip through the cracks.

VR has had an interesting year filled with some amazing ups and unexpected downs. These are the most essential stories that will shape the industry as we head into 2018.

Oculus’ lawsuit goes awry

Oculus did not have a great start to 2017. The year began with Facebook’s VR division being taken to court by ZeniMax Media, the parent company of gaming publisher Bethesda, which itself owns id Software, the former home of Oculus CTO John Carmack. ZeniMax claimed that Carmack and Oculus founder Palmer Luckey had used Bethesda resources when working on the first versions of the Oculus Rift — which the two collaborated over online in the early 10’s. When Carmack joined Oculus later on, ZeniMax claimed, he’d stolen Bethesda technology.

When news of the lawsuit first broke many had assumed it wouldn’t get far but, after a fascinating few days of legal battling, which saw Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg take the stand and thousands of intriguing tiny details about the early days of Oculus pour onto the web, the court ordered Facebook to pay ZeniMax $500 million in damages. Currently, Oculus is attempting to appeal the decision while ZeniMax works to cut it off at every turn. We haven’t heard the last of this story.

Palmer parts ways with Oculus

In late 2016 a report surfaced claiming that Oculus Rift inventor Palmer Luckey had funded a political smear campaign. Luckey denied these accusations in part, but the news shook the VR industry to the core. For the past six years, Luckey had been the face of VR, the industry’s very own golden boy. In space of just a few days, though, he vanished from sight; social media accounts were left unused and Luckey was noticeably absent from major events like that year’s Oculus Connect developer conference.

Towards the end of the year Oculus had told us that Luckey had a new role within Oculus which would soon be revealed. A few months into 2017, however, we broke the news that Luckey was parting ways with Facebook for good. No reason was given, but it’s largely assumed 2016’s controversy kicked these events into action. Since then, Luckey has formed a new company working in the security sector, but has also kept one foot firmly in the VR industry. He’s back on Twitter, where he regularly talks about the industry (and sometimes even his departure from Facebook) and has even appeared at events like 2017’s Connect. Where will 2018 take him?

The Oculus Rift’s rapid price drop

Oculus told us 2017 would be all about content but, looking back on the year, the biggest story for the Rift has been all about price. In January the Rift itself was $599, which got you the headset, a tracking sensor and an Xbox gamepad. A pair of essential Touch controllers along with another sensor cost $99, bringing the price up to $698 for a 180 degree-tracked VR system with hand controls. Adding on a third sensor for 360 degree tracking on par with the HTC Vive brought you to around $770 (about $30 what Vive itself cost). Over the course of past nine months, though, that price has fallen at an unusual pace.

At GDC in March, Oculus took $99 off the price of the Rift and Touch, making it $599 all-told. That, we assumed, would be the new price of the headset for at least another year. Just four months later in July, though, Oculus held a lengthy Summer Sale promotion in which the Rift with Touch was discounted to just $399, cutting a huge $200 off the price. It was a surprising move on Oculus’ part that also saw the company introduce the Rift/Touch bundle in one box (ditching the Xbox controller). During the promotion Oculus also confirmed the new permanent price for this bundle would be $499 once the deal was over. This didn’t last long; a few months later the price yet again dropped to the now-permanent $399. Oculus even slashed another $50 off for Black Friday and other recent sales.

The dizzying rate of discounts had to be seen to be believed, and it’s left HTC Vive in a tight spot; the company cut price to $599 during Oculus’ Summer Sale but the company widened the gap yet again after that. Where does that leave Rift in 2018? Will we see more price cuts? Or does this mean new hardware is in store?

Sony shares PSVR success while Oculus and HTC stay silent

Trying to determine sales figures for VR headsets is like trying to get blood from a stone. Since launch both Oculus and HTC have remained frustratingly tight-lipped about the sales of their respective headsets, leaving us to study unofficial and unreliable sources like Steam Hardware Surveys as vague barometers for how each is performing. Sony, though, was a different story; about five months after PSVR launched the company announced it had sold a million units. Much more recently it also passed the two million mark.

Those might not be the most impressive numbers, but Oculus and HTC’s silence leads us to assume it’s a fair bit better than what PSVR’s PC-based rivals have achieved (the silence is kind of deafening at this point). Perhaps, though, we’ll finally see a bit more transparenct between Oculus and HTC in 2018.

The VR ecosystem expands as the standalone race begins

The Rift, Vive and PSVR may be enjoying the majority of the limelight for now, but VR has quietly grown far beyond these three headsets in 2017. Microsoft, for starters, recently introduced a new line of Windows-based headsets in partnership with companies like Lenovo, utilizing inside-out tracking. LG, meanwhile, provided a glimpse of the next SteamVR headset that we’re excited to see more of in 2018.

Perhaps the bigger story, though, is birth of the standalone VR headset. This new category of all-in-one devices that don’t need a smartphone, console or PC to run represent a new hope for getting as many people as possible into VR. It’s a broad category in and of itself; cheaper headsets like the Pico Goblin that used old smartphone parts and feature mobile VR-like three degrees of freedom (3DOF) tracking are already rolling out while the $199 Oculus Go promises to shake things up in early 2018. More elaborate devices are also on the way; Oculus’ Santa Cruz prototype is shipping dev kits with 6DOF tracking and hand controllers next year while Google works with Lenovo on a Daydream standalone headset with its own WorldSense tracking. HTC, having pulled out of another Google partnership, recently released the 6DOF Vive Focus in China with 3DOF controls, but there’s no word on a western launch just yet.

This story originally appeared on Copyright 2017

The PC Gaming channel is presented by Intel®‘s Game Dev program.

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Best look yet at Tesla Model 3 handling snowy conditions on standard tires

Tesla owners from around the world have managed to help the company brand its Model S and Model X vehicle as having world-class performance, both for its supercar-destroying acceleration as well as for its winter handling capabilities.

The current versions of Tesla’s flagship vehicles control power to all four wheels through dual independently operated electric motors, providing unparalleled traction in even the worst of winter conditions. Short of driving your Tesla through a snow-covered off-road track with deep, muddy ruts, Model S and Model X’s all-wheel drive system will largely handle snowy conditions with relative ease. But, how does Tesla’s newest Model 3 compact sedan with rear-wheel drive fare on winter roadways, let alone on factory tires? Surprisingly well.

Tesla owners Zac and Jesse demonstrated Model 3’s winter handling capabilities in their latest video on the Now You Know YouTube channel. The show hosts drive through an active winter snow storm in a Model 3 that’s equipped with factory all-season tires, and at one point even activate the vehicle’s Autopilot system. Despite having only a single motor and rear-wheel drive – Tesla will be producing a dual motor Model 3 with all-wheel drive around mid-2018 – the vehicle navigates the snowy roadway without encountering any difficult.

Zac and Jesse then take the Model 3 to an empty, snow-covered parking lot to test the vehicle’s traction control capabilities. Despite several attempts to initiate full power and spin the Model 3, the vehicle’s traction control system consistently limited power, and prevented the vehicle from unnecessarily spinning the tires on the slippery surface. Tesla’s traction control system constantly monitors the speed of the front and rear wheels, and minimizes wheel spin by controlling brake pressure and motor power. 

RELATED: Tesla adds Model 3 snow chains to its online store

A slow-motion capture of Model 3’s rear wheels reveal a delicate dance of power limiting and power transfer to the ground, thereby allowing the driver to maintain control of the vehicle at all times. It wasn’t until the Model 3 was placed into Slip Start mode that the vehicle began to show any signs of sliding, when purposely pushed to the limits in an attempt to drift the vehicle.



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2018 will be the year chatbot conversations get real


As we enter 2018, it’s clear the expectations of intelligent assistance providers and enterprise practitioners are more in balance than ever before. It has also become evident that the number of “known knowns” is growing rapidly.

Here are five examples of how we will learn more about the complex workings of conversational commerce  in the coming year.

1. Intelligent assistants (IAs) can do a lot right out of the box

Solution providers have access to a history of FAQs, recordings, call detail records (CDRs), chat transcripts, product literature, CRM records, and even interactive voice response (IVR) scripts to inform IAs on the basic intents of customers in the top vertical categories. Even if you are not Google, Facebook, or another one of the tech giants that benefit from exposure to inconceivably large data sets, it’s possible to access quality insights about your consumers. Big data is no longer required to get started in conversational commerce.

2. Humans still have a place in training and tuning

IAs can have a nearly immediate negative impact on operating costs and positive impact on customer satisfaction, but their ability to replace live agents and assistants is vastly overrated. On the contrary, the need to monitor and constantly tune responses to keep them relevant for prospects and satisfactory for customers is growing. Meeting this need will prove a source of new of jobs and reliable employment for the foreseeable future.

3. Managing true conversations comes next

Categorization? √ Understanding? √ Conversation? Nope! Some solution providers are better than others at recognizing context, promoting turn-taking, and allowing customers’ minds to wander and jump between topics, but the game board is still largely governed by statistics and branches on logic trees that can come up empty. When that happens, IAs are no better than poorly designed, frustrating IVR apps. Watch for some real advancements to correct this situation in 2018.

4. We will be able to hurdle the walled gardens of #ConvComm

It’s a shame that the branded Big Four (and other heavy hitters in the tech industry) have elected to create separate and unequal “platforms” for messaging bots and voice first agents. Companies would like to see intelligent assistance infrastructure that lets them develop a service once and have it render correctly on all devices and in all modes. Instead, in the short to medium term, we are stuck with the same duplicated efforts that plague mobile apps (iOS versus Android, for instance). Separate staffs maintain the code base for Alexa skills, Google actions, Facebook Messenger bots, and a few others.

5. Our reach will exceed our grasp

Now that we’ve tackled the “known knowns,” we can expect startups and stealthy entrepreneurs to emerge in 2018 ready to tackle “known unknowns.” They will do this by blending machine learning, natural language processing, knowledge management, and other elements of AI with the human touch. Some might even expose and exploit the “unknown knowns.” Their nature is to be determined, but there is always room for breakthrough technologies. At the very minimum, solutions will span the traditional lines of demarcation between customer care, marketing, user ID, and authentication and relationship management platforms.

Adoption and use of conversational commerce will accelerate in 2018. Forces are aligning for people to employ conversational technologies at home, in their cars, and in their offices. It’s up to solution providers to manage the complexity of underlying processes to keep things simple for end users and enterprises alike.

This article originally appeared on the Opus Research blog. Copyright 2017.

Dan Miller is founder and lead analyst at Opus Research, a market research firm focused on conversational commerce.

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Ad targeters are pulling data from your browser’s password manager

Nearly every web browser now comes with a password manager tool, a lightweight version of the same service offered by plugins like LastPass and 1Password. But according to new research from Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy, those same managers are being exploited as a way to track users from site to site.

The researchers examined two different scripts — AdThink and OnAudience — both of are designed to get identifiable information out of browser-based password managers. The scripts work by injecting invisible login forms in the background of the webpage and scooping up whatever the browsers autofill into the available slots. That information can then be used as a persistent ID to track users from page to page, a…

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Stop calling cities ‘the next Silicon Valley’


I’ve written previously about finding ways to have better conversations about Heartland startups in 2018. Now I’d like to make one of my own goals public in the hopes that others will join me: Let’s stop thinking of tech ecosystems as trying to be “the next Silicon Valley.”

Comparing Kansas City or Omaha to Silicon Valley is helpful in understanding how large a gap still exists between these cities, but it does little to shed light on the kind of progress tech hubs outside the Bay Area are actually making.

There’s a reason San Jose and San Francisco receive roughly 40 percent of U.S. venture capital funding each year. Silicon Valley’s tech ecosystem has been able to build upon 60 years’ worth of failures and successes. That’s nearly 6 times as long as many of the accelerators and incubators that Heartland cities created have been in existence.

VentureBeat’s Heartland Tech channel invites you to join us and other senior business leaders at BLUEPRINT in Reno on March 5-7. Learn how to expand jobs to Middle America, lower costs, and boost profits. Click here to request an invite and be a part of the conversation. 

Think of Silicon Valley as a family tree. Most of its startups are either founded by people who previously worked at another tech company in Silicon Valley or they receive funding from a venture capital fund that counts a number of ex-CEOs and entrepreneurs among its partners.

A startup that goes on to sell for hundreds of millions of dollars doesn’t just add another success story to Silicon Valley — it also encourages employees to start companies of their own. One of the most powerful examples of this spin-off effect is Fairchild Semiconductor, founded in San Jose in 1957. Former cofounders or former employees of Fairchild went on to found Intel, AMD, and VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers — all of which continue to play formidable roles in Silicon Valley today.

If you search some of the top tech publications for headlines containing the phrase “next Silicon Valley,” you’ll see that Reno, Salt Lake City, and Detroit have at some point or another been proclaimed the next Silicon Valley (and yes, I’ve been guilty of using the phrase too).

These three growing tech hubs have seen a significant increase in either the amount of venture capital funds, the density of startups, or the number of technology jobs in their city. Utah, for example, saw a roughly 300 percent increase in venture capital funding from 2010 to 2017. But the state still only accounts for about 1-1.5 percent of all U.S. venture capital funding each year. And that’s okay — Silicon Valley wasn’t built in five, 10, or even 15 years.

To be fair, many tech journalists have begun to shy away from labeling cities “the next Silicon Valley” over the past couple of years. But there are still steps media organizations and stakeholders (government leaders, investors, entrepreneurs) in Heartland cities can take in 2018 to more accurately describe their city’s growth.

1) Don’t pitch your city as some variation of Silicon Valley

In 2017, Wisconsin attempted to rebrand itself as Wisconn Valley after securing an agreement from Foxconn to build an LCD factory in the state. This moniker joined Silicon Alley, Silicon Beach, and Silicon Slopes as names cities have adopted to make themselves seem more tech-friendly. As Wired pointed out, these names are hardly original and they don’t do a very good job of explaining what is unique about the city in question. In a similar vein, Dallas, Des Moines, Kansas City, Nebraska, and Indiana have all referred to themselves as part of the “Silicon Prairie” at one point or another — which brings me to point number two.

2) Think about the specific metric that makes a city worth watching

A number of puzzle pieces had to fall into place in order to make Silicon Valley the dense tech ecosystem it is today. Is a city or state seeing an uptick in the number of advanced manufacturing startups? In the number of software jobs? In the amount of government funding earmarked to support startups? Focusing on how a city developed one particular strength might help it garner national attention and even inspire another city that’s struggling with similar challenges.

3) Take a long-term view

Don’t pretend that having one or two successful startups makes it easier to build a company in a particular city. Be honest about what resources a city still lacks, and better yet, highlight the people or organizations that are trying to ease that challenge.

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Apple Makes $29 Battery Replacements Available Immediately for iPhone 6 and Newer

Apple today announced it is making its reduced $29 battery replacements available immediately for iPhone 6 and all newer models.

Apple previously said it would offer the cheaper battery replacements in late January, but it has removed that timeframe from its letter to customers, and has confirmed immediate availability in a statement to TechCrunch.

We expected to need more time to be ready, but we are happy to offer our customers the lower pricing right away. Initial supplies of some replacement batteries may be limited.

Apple normally charges $79 for out-of-warranty iPhone battery replacements, but it reduced the price by $50 following a wave of controversy over its process of dynamically managing the peak performance of some older iPhone models with degraded batteries to prevent unexpected shutdowns.

Given a lack of nuance in some mainstream coverage, many headlines have fueled speculation that Apple artificially slows down older iPhones to drive customers to upgrade to newer models, but the actual issue was Apple’s lack of transparency about the power management changes it made starting in iOS 10.2.1.

When it released iOS 10.2.1 in February, Apple only vaguely said it made “improvements” to reduce occurrences of unexpected shutdowns. It only chose to explain that the changes it made may result in temporary slowdowns on some older iPhone models with degraded batteries after controversy recently reignited.

The issue came into the spotlight in early December after a Reddit user claimed that his iPhone’s performance significantly increased after replacing the device’s battery. Soon after, analysis of iPhone 6s benchmarks visualized an apparent link between lower performance and degraded battery health.

Apple responded by noting the power management process is a “feature” rolled out to iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, and iPhone SE, but since it didn’t fully communicate this change, some iPhone users may not have realized all they needed was a new battery.

Apple said it will release an iOS update in early 2018 with new features that give users more visibility into the health of their iPhone’s battery, so they can see for themselves if its condition is affecting performance. It’s unclear if Apple will ever let customers opt out of the power management process.

Apple said the cheaper iPhone battery replacements will be available worldwide through December 2018. The $29 fee applies to the United States, with prices varying in other countries based on exchange rates.

To initiate the battery replacement process, we recommend contacting Apple Support by phone, online chat, email, or Twitter, or scheduling a Genius Bar appointment at an Apple Store with the Apple Support app. You can also inquire about a battery replacement with select Apple Authorized Service Providers.

Related Roundups: iPhone 7, iPhone SE

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Falcon Heavy’s Maiden Launch 101

In less than a month Space X will launch its Falcon Heavy Space craft on its maiden voyage.  The 70 meter (229 ft) tall rocket is composed of two refurbished Falcon 9 boosters and a newly designed central core stage. The rocket’s first stage is made up of a total of 27 engines that will be able to carry up to 63,800 kg (140,600 lbs) of cargo into low Earth orbit. The Falcon Heavy is set to be the single most powerful rocket ever built, producing the most thrust of any launch vehicle since the space shuttle.

The maiden launch will feature a dummy payload, since Musk has previously stated that he believes there is a “good chance” of the launch going awry. Even so, the payload very well may contain something that will be entirely new to spaceflight: a Tesla Roadster. Musk has posted photos that seem to show the vehicle prepped for launch, though the jury is still out as to whether he is serious.

The Falcon Heavy launch has been delayed multiple times since summer 2017, so it’s encouraging to see it finally rising on the launch pad. An official test of the Falcon Heavy rocket will kick off SpaceX’s long-term plan of landing on, and eventually colonizing, Mars. Musk said in September that he hopes to send  cargo ships to supply and explore the Red Planet by 2022, and human colonists by 2024.

Since Falcon Heavy is slated to carry some of those supplies, and eventually a Dragon spacecraft containing humans en route to the moon, it’s fitting that it will be launching from one of the most historic launch pads out there.

Launch pad 39A has a storied history as part of the Kennedy Space Center. The launch pad and its accompanying complex is the former home to the Apollo program and was also modified to accommodate the Space Shuttle program. Launch pad 39A has once again been modified to serve as the launch spot for the beginnings and future of Falcon Heavy, the next evolution is SpaceX’s rocket design.

The Falcon Heavy rocket will be an important part of the overreaching goal of SpaceX to put a human on the Red Planet. There is a lot riding on this rocket’s success; while it will be wonderful if the first Heavy launch goes off without a hitch, the company does have a history of learning from its mistakes.

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Talon is a $129 motion-sensing ring, preorders start on January 9

Everything is becoming smart, so why not our rings as well? Titanium Falcon recently unveiled its smart ring, the Talon, which can sense motion and be used to control a variety of devices in the home, from games to virtual reality experiences.

San Jose, California-based Titanium Falcon has been prepping its product for a while, and it will start taking preorders for the $129 Talon on January 9, 2018, during CES 2018, the big tech trade show in Las Vegas. The Talon is aimed at simplifying device control for users, making managing tech more fun and convenient.

Talon is an all-in-one lifestyle device for gameplay, virtual reality, augmented reality, the smart home, internet of things, mobile phones, and more. For VR/AR, Talon is solving a specific pain point of not being able to see the controller while using a VR app and the resulting break in experience that causes.

Above: The Talon is a lifestyle-oriented motion-sensing device.

Image Credit: Titanium Falcon

Talon has proprietary noise reduction technology, sensor fusion algorithms, and other innovations that make it both accurate and fast. Preorders are expected to ship in the spring of 2018.

At that point, the company hopes that new apps for Talon will be available for mobile mini-games and camera use. The Talon also has HID functionality, making it compatible with most mobile games.

“Being that gesture control is a definite part of our technology-driven future, Talon is the perfect introduction for consumers to begin acclimating to this new frontier of interaction with technology,” said June Guo, founder and CEO of Titanium Falcon, in a statement. “We knew that in order for Talon to become an essential, everyday accessory, the form factor had to be truly wearable, and it had to be affordable. In addition to being user-friendly and aligned with our natural human gestures, Talon is the only smart ring coming to market to minimize the drifting and response-time challenges of previous gesture rings.”

Users can easily calibrate and control Talon via a Bluetooth connection. As it is an open-source smart ring, it also syncs with different devices and applications. Developer kits are currently in the hands of potential partners in the gaming, VR, mobile, and IoT spaces.

Titanium Falcon was founded in 2014.

The PC Gaming channel is presented by Intel®‘s Game Dev program.

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Macro Grids May Be the Future of Renewable Energy

Macro Grids Are the Future

While micro grids are in the public eye as a solution to power remote communities with solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy, the transformative potential of macro grids utilizing vast electric lines often falls off the radar.

Projects slowly mushrooming all over the world are poised to revolutionize the way we transport clean electricity from the places where it’s produced to where it’s needed the most, solving the problem of intermittent power supply that still holds back the mass deployment of renewable infrastructure.

Click to View Full Infographic

For example, a single solar panel installed on a family home may produce too much electricity if it’s sunny and too little when it rains. On a much larger scale, macro grids could help solve this problem once and for all.

While most energy grids rely on alternating current (AC), direct current (DC), where electricity flows in a single direction, is now making nationwide, high-voltage transmission lines possible. This is because DC can reliably carry a lot of power over greater distances, reducing energy losses typically occurring with alternating current systems.

Long Term Experiments

In Wyoming, where the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre wind farm currently under construction could generate around 12 million megawatt-hours of electricity every year, one such line is already taking shape. A series of steel transmission towers able to carry up to 3,000 megawatts of electricity will connect Wyoming with California, Nevada, and Arizona. Once in place, the line could also carry back electricity produced in California on its sunniest days.

While extremely slow and costly in its development, the $3 billion TransWest Express Transmission Project is betting on a vision that is supported by an increasing body of research.

A paper was published in Nature Climate Change which suggested that, given that some form of renewable energy is always being produced at any given time somewhere in the U.S., better transmission infrastructure could supply most of the nation’s electricity at costs similar to today’s.

The researchers modeled future cost, demand, generation, and transmission scenarios and concluded that greenhouse gas emissions could go down by 78 percent below 1990 levels within less than 15 years. Most importantly, this could be achieved with technologies already available.

“We’re basically getting that big battery we want for free,” said Christopher Clack, a lead author of the study with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado .

Around the World

Beyond the U.S., other superpowers are tapping into the potential of macro grids. For example, China’s extensive territory requires moving a lot of energy to distant places and back. While four-fifths of its hydroelectric power is in the south-west of the country, most people live in eastern mega cities.

The government is halfway through a plan to invest $88 billion on ultra high-voltage, direct-current lines between 2009 and 2020. The largest project under construction will carry 12,000 megawatts over 3,400 km (2113 miles).

If that wasn’t ambitious enough, China has also a plan to use the same technology to move clean energy across the entire world with a $50 trillion investment. The Global Energy Interconnection, which could become reality by 2050, is designed to connect a massive wind farm at the North Pole, solar power from equatorial areas, and more to cities all over the world.

Research shows that producing and consuming energy locally has its advantages. But macro grids could prove truly revolutionary for the new low carbon economy.

The post Macro Grids May Be the Future of Renewable Energy appeared first on Futurism.

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Schools of Robots Are Mapping the Unknown Features of the Deep Sea

Unknown Planet

If Planet Earth were the back of our hand, we’d disprove the truism about knowing it well pretty quickly. The problem: 71 percent of our planet is covered by ocean, and only about 15 percent of the features under the deep sea have been accurately mapped. These unknowns pose a problem for creating safe navigational charts for boats and underwater vehicles, inhibit scientists from identifying habitats that could host unknown or endangered biodiversity, and even affect our estimates of how the oceans are influencing climate change.

Leaders in science and industry are rallying to remedy this imbalance. In June 2017, Japan’s grant-making Nippon Foundation and the General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (GEBCO) announced a joint project to map the deep sea, and gave the scientific community a deadline: 100 percent of the ocean floor mapped by 2030.

To that end, Shell is holding the Ocean Discovery XPRIZE, a $7 million competition that challenges participants to create new technologies that allow fast, autonomous, and high-resolution ocean exploration and mapping. Presently, 19 semifinalist teams — hailing from Germany, Ghana, India, Portugal, France, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and Japan — are in the process of Round 1 Testing for their products in the waters of their choice.

Earlier this month, the UK entrants, called Team Tao, demonstrated their entry in Lake Windermere: a group of torpedo-shaped robots called Bathypelagic Excursion Modules, or BEMs, which move together in a grid to rapidly map an area. The team likens them to “cubesats for the ocean.”

Several teams in the Shell competition have drawn inspiration from hive minds in nature, modeling small groups of robots after creatures like ants, which work together to accomplish a goal. The French team, Eauligo, plans to utilize hundreds of “marine bees” for mapping, controlled from an autonomous “hive” ship that launches the vehicles and recalls any bees that aren’t functioning properly. Germany’s team, ARGGONAUTS, plans to utilize multiple pairs of robots that collaborate: one at the surface (the “water strider”) and one in the depths (the “great diver”).

Send in the Swarm

Such designs mark a departure from previous methods of deep sea mapping, which often relied on bulky and expensive vehicles working solo. Yet as technology becomes ever more miniaturized, these robot “swarms” are likely the future of science and exploration in the ocean — and beyond.

Image Credit: Team Tao

Groups of ocean-exploring robots have been developed by researchers at the University of Lisbon, in Portugal; the Scripps Oceanographic Institution also has their own version made for studying ocean currents.

Collections of nanobots also hold great promise for medicine, where they can be used to deliver drugs from within the body, combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and destroy cancerous tumor cells. Ingenious robo-hives have been created to manufacture objects like a cooperative 3D printer and repair broken electronic circuitry. À la Netflix’s Black Mirror, swarms of robotic bees might even be recruited to help pollinate flowers amongst an insect extinction crisis.

Even within the field of ocean robotics, these automated swarms could take us well beyond learning more about our own world. With the discovery that multiple planets within our solar system — and likely millions more in the universe — are host to extraterrestrial oceans, these robo-schools could potentially help us learn more about other planets. Given that these oceans are one of the foremost places experts believe we may find alien life, efforts like that of the Nippon Foundation and Shell could end up discovering more about life on multiple worlds.

The post Schools of Robots Are Mapping the Unknown Features of the Deep Sea appeared first on Futurism.

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Dark Future: Here’s When We’ll Have a Location-Tracking Implant from Black Mirror

This article is part of a series about season four of Black Mirror, in which Futurism considers the technology pivotal to each episode and evaluates how close we are to having it. Please note that this article contains mild spoilers. Season four of Black Mirror is now available on Netflix.

A Short Leash

Sarah is a reasonably happy four-year-old. She’s blond and gap-toothed with a cherubic smile. She can be a picky eater and is frightened by the neighbor’s dog that barks loudly as her mother takes her to the park. But she’s curious and trusting.

Then, every parent’s nightmare. Sarah wanders off from the playground, and her mother is gripped with panic. The neighbors find her a few hours later, but Sarah’s mother is shaken. She brings Sarah to Arkangel, a company that creates neural implants to set Sarah’s mom’s mind at ease. A technician places the implant into Sarah’s temple quickly and painlessly.

With this device, the mother can monitor her daughter’s location, track her vitals, and even see through her daughter’s eyes. Sarah’s mom tracks it all with the system’s “parental hub,” a tablet device that’s remarkably similar those we use today. She can limit what Sarah sees. Anything that causes stress — a growling dog, a violent movie scene — the device can “filter” from the child’s view.

Would you want the ability to always know your child’s location and what they were seeing? This is the question explored in this episode of Black Mirror. And because it’s Black Mirror, it’s safe to assume that not everything goes according to plan.

So, how far are we from being able to take helicopter parenting to this new, high-tech level?

According to L. Syd M. Johnson, a neuroethicist/bioethicist at Michigan Technological University, we’re not far from digitally-enhanced parenting at all. As Johnson told Futurism, we already have the technology for the basis for such a system. Today’s smartphones track our whereabouts and can make them visible to others if we so choose; tech such as Google Glass lets others see what we are seeing.

The bionic eyes and retinal implants currently in development could take the system to the next level. Once perfected, the data and images from those implants could plausibly be transmitted to another device, such as the parental hub used in the Black Mirror episode. Researchers are already working to develop brain implants that detect stress, and future iterations could integrate features that block whatever sounds and sights might be causing the stress.

Manufacturers behind the most cutting-edge implants in use today, such as pacemakers and electrode systems for deep brain stimulation, are wirelessly integrating those devices with user-friendly portals that patients can access via an app on a smartphone or tablet, Johnson noted. In some cases, patients can even control the functionality of their devices through those apps. The same sort of mobile control for an Arkangel-like system wouldn’t be much different.

Arkangel. Image credit: Netflix

Peace of Mind, At a Cost

So, an implant like Arkangel’s is plausible, possibly even in the next few decades. The question then becomes not could parents give their children the implant, but should they?

First, the case in favor of the implant. Perhaps most obviously, it could reduce the number of cases of missing children — as of December 2016, there were 33,706 active reports of missing persons under the age of 18 in the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database (almost all children reported missing in the U.S. make it home alive). And it could decrease the number of cases filed as the result of simple miscommunications or misunderstandings, of which tens of thousands are filed each year, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. That would free up investigators to look into the real cases, and it would save parents and children alike undue emotional trauma.

An implant like this one could also help keep children healthy. In the Black Mirror episode, an alert on the parental hub let the mother know her picky daughter wasn’t getting enough iron. Such a system could also tell a parent immediately if a child was falling ill or needed more serious medical attention, or notify authorities if a child is being neglected.

Arkangel. Image credit: Netflix

But the problems an Arkangel-type implant causes may outweigh its benefits.

The simplicity of the Arkangel system invites abuse and excessive control, Johnson said. Instead of tracking kids’ locations only when they’re missing, parents could use it to keep track of their children at all times. This constant surveillance could stunt those children, preventing them from developing into self-sufficient adults capable of navigating the world without a parent’s interjection. “While parents are expected to protect and help shape and guide their children as they grow up, everyone at some point wants and needs their parents to loosen the reins,” Johnson said.

Over-involved parents aren’t the only ones who could be listening in to an Arkangel-type implant — governments could eventually take advantage of the devices to maintain control over citizens. That is extremely problematic, as many dictators around the world already keep a tight leash on their populations.

Hackers, too, could gain access to the devices, granting them control over a person’s emotions or actions, Johnson said. Today, the digital security of implantable medical devices leaves much to be desired — just this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recalled half a million pacemakers because they were vulnerable to hacking. Other implantable medical devices, such as insulin pumps, have also demonstrated such vulnerabilities. Manipulating a person via their brain implant would be difficult and crude at first, but it would likely become more sophisticated over time. Another person taking control over your feeling or actions, no matter how imprecise, would feel distressing, to say the least.

Americans are already worried about their cybersecurity, and rightly so. Internet browsers track our viewing habits and smartphones track our location. Hacking systems small and large is easier than ever. As we become more connected to the Internet of Things (IoT), we know intuitively that our privacy will continue to erode. But so far, most people seem comfortable with the trade off of privacy for convenience.

“Is there a threshold beyond which we’ll stop being so comfortable [with the diminishment of our privacy]? Possibly,” Johnson said. “Possibly that threshold will be in the vicinity of our skulls.”

If (or when) parents do have the option to implant their children with an Arkangel-type device, they’ll need to weigh these pros and cons very carefully. The peace of mind that comes with always knowing your child’s location could come at a cost far beyond the monthly subscription fee.

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Dust Collisions Could Transport Microbial Life to Other Planets

Microbial life lofted into Earth’s upper atmosphere could be sputtering into space thanks to collisions with interplanetary dust streams, potentially resulting in life being transported from planet to planet.

The Solar System is filled with dust, left over from the formation of the planets, produced by asteroid collisions and expelled by comets. Professor Arjun Berera, a physicist at the University of Edinburgh, UK, has modeled how streams of interplanetary dust impact Earth’s atmosphere at velocities of up to 70 kilometers (43.5 miles) per second. Writing in the journal Astrobiology, Berera finds that the dust impacts provide enough energy to knock atmospheric molecules, as well as any organic matter or microbes that may exist at altitudes of 150 kilometers (93 miles), free of Earth’s gravity and into space.

The findings provide a potential mode of transport for organic matter between planets, raising the possibility that life could have begun elsewhere in the Solar System before being transported to Earth, or vis versa.

However, Berera admits that there are caveats to his work. Number one is that no life has ever been found 150 kilometers above Earth’s surface. However, there are ways to feasibly transport microbes up there, such as vertical winds in the upper atmosphere, and phenomena linked to thunderstorms such as sprites and blue jets.

“What my calculations show is that one would need just a vanishingly small concentration [of life] at 150 kilometers altitude for my mechanism to work,” Berera tells Astrobiology Magazine.

Have microbes ejected from Earth’s atmosphere made their way to Mars? Have microbes ejected from Mars ever made their way to Earth? Image Credit: NASA/JPL–Caltech.

Another potential problem is the high-velocity impacts of dust particles striking microbes could kill them. Previous studies, says Berera, have shown that bacteria can survive shock pressures of 50 gigapascal, and Berera’s calculations indicate that in some cases the dust collisions will inflict shock pressures less than that. However, he sees this as a major factor in limiting how many microbes can escape into space.

Although Berera’s work shows how microbes could escape Earth, his research indicates that “it is extremely difficult for any small organisms to escape Earth’s gravity, since many things have to come together,” he says. “More research is now needed to assess what the concentration of biological material is high up in the atmosphere, how well it could withstand the violent blows of collisions with space dust and how well it could survive in space.”

The research was funded by the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council.

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The Verge 2017 tech report card: Cameras

Digital photography as we know it is about to change. It’s already changing, really, judging by some of the cameras released in 2017. Where last year was a solid, occasionally exciting one for the camera industry, the past 12 months held even more signs that the basics of photography are evolving. And a lot that has to do with advancements in software and computational photography.

That sounds boring! But hear me out.

Let’s start with consumer 360-degree cameras, which until this year have often felt like a solution in search of a problem. While professionals have spent years crafting high-end VR productions using 360-degree cameras with outrageous resolution, the consumer versions of these cameras have left a lot to be desired….

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2017: Year of the podcast

The year 2017 will likely be remembered for many things across the technology spectrum, from major breakthroughs in artificial intelligence (AI) and milestone moments in autonomous vehicles to Amazon conceding that a major offline presence in groceries was needed to compete in retail.

But buried within the big headline-grabbing stories of the year were microtrends that sprang up almost by surprise. And one of those relates to the humble podcast.

Podcast push

Though the podcast is far from a new medium, 2017 saw a surge of activity related to the audio broadcast format.

A couple of weeks back, Apple finally launched its podcast analytics feature so creators can garner more data about how their listeners consume podcasts on iOS devices and can gain potentially valuable insights into their listening habits.

This could be a game-changer not only in terms of how podcasters use data to inform their handiwork but in their ability to attract revenue by giving advertisers more information about listeners.

When the feature was quietly announced at WWDC back in June, some of those in the know suggested that Apple’s podcast analytics tool was the biggest thing to have happened to podcasting in quite some time, given that Apple’s mobile platforms still play a pivotal role in the podcast industry.

It may look obscure, but this is the biggest thing to happen to the podcast business since Serial first went nuclear

— Matthew Lieber (@mlieber) June 10, 2017

But Apple’s announcement was really the cherry on the cake for a year that saw interest in podcasting hit new heights in terms of popularity, ad revenue, and investment.

Big bucks

In a one-month period between August and September, New York-based podcast studio and network Gimlet Media raised $20 million, with big-name backers including advertising giant WPP. In August, San Francisco-based podcast hosting and distribution company Art19 closed a $7.5 million series A round from notable New York- and Menlo Park-based VC firms Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments (BDMI) and DCM Ventures. Later in the month, HowStuffWorks revealed it was spinning out from its parent company as an indie podcast network backed by a fresh $15 million series A investment.

Fast-forward to September, and Google investment arm GV led a $10 million investment in Anchor, a New York-based mobile-focused platform that makes it easy for anyone to record audio on the move and transform that audio into a podcast. This came a week after Stockholm-based podcasting platform Acast raised $19.5 million from a group of Swedish investors.

Podcasting platforms haven’t traditionally garnered significant sums of cash, yet over a two-month period five podcasting companies announced more than $70 million in raises. And that’s not including CastBox, a podcasting startup founded by a former Googler last year, which announced $16 million in funding in October — this was a delayed announcement and constituted a series of investments from early 2016 to June 2017.

The upshot of all this is that podcasting has emerged as a hot industry for investment. But why?

Consumers, it seems, are hungry for audio-based entertainment. The proliferation of smartphones is leading to an explosion in digital audio content, and companies such as Amazon and Google are pushing their voice-enabled smart speakers out to the masses — which bodes well for continued growth. “With some of the biggest companies in the world investing in smart speakers, microphones, and content, audio and voice will only become more popular in the coming years,” Anchor cofounder and CEO Mike Mignano told VentureBeat in an interview earlier this year.

Though the major tech firms have increasingly invested in video, audio holds a number of advantages — you can drive to work, cook dinner, or wire your house while listening to podcasts. “Audio is great because it saves you time,” added Mignano. “You can consume it no matter what you’re doing.”

This multitasking is something people would once do while listening to broadcast radio, but on-demand audio could be changing the landscape. Why listen to your local radio news bulletins when you can turn to podcasts to soak up all things boxing or baseball as you decorate your house?

“The content environment is shifting quickly, and as radio becomes less and less relevant, audio-on-demand will take its place,” said Acast cofounder and chief strategy officer Karl Rosander.

report by Edison Research and Triton Digital earlier this year delved into digital media consumption trends, with audio and podcasting featuring prominently. The report found that 67 million Americans, or 24 percent of the population, listen to podcasts each month, which represents a rise of 3 percentage points on the previous year’s 57 million figure.

Additionally, the report found that 60 percent of Americans are now familiar with the term “podcasting,” an increase of 22 percent in two years.

The Apple factor

There is no shortage of channels through which to consume podcasts. Countless cross-platform distribution platforms and apps are available, from SoundCloud and Pocket Casts to Stitcher and beyond, making it easy to subscribe to your favorites. However, reports generally indicate that more than 55 percent of podcast listening takes place through Apple’s native iOS Podcast app or iTunes. This is why Apple’s move to open up data to creators (beyond the number of downloads) could prove crucial for the industry’s continued growth — advertisers love data.

U.S. podcast ad revenues are expected to have grown by around 85 percent for 2017, compared to last year’s $119 million, according to recent data from the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). And this is something that the ad agencies are noticing, too.

“Our clients’ media spend has increased 300 percent vs. 2016, and I’d say we have 2 to 5 potential clients cold-calling us every week, interested in learning more about podcast advertising,” said Kurt Kaufer, partner and CMO at audio-focused advertising agency Ad Results Media, in an interview with VentureBeat. “Advertisers are really seeing success, which in return is fueling the ecosystem — raising talent, raising content, and raising ad dollars.”

Apple’s analytics service, which is available in beta now, should allow podcasters to track unique devices and playback metrics, including when the audience drops off during a show. Advertisers will surely be more inclined to spend on podcasts if they know exactly how many people are listening to their ads, rather than paying a fee based on a show’s overall number of downloads, for example.

“We’re optimistic about the idea that creators will have access to more data, as we feel it will create more efficiency in the marketplace,” explained Steve Shanks, partner and CRO at Ad Results Media. “This, in turn, will help the entire industry, both on the advertising and content sides. With increased data and insights, we’ll have the ability to better predict the potential winners and losers for our campaigns, which should create even better results for our clients.”

Of course, the data revealed by the analytics may have the opposite effect — if it turns out that one million people download a podcast but only 5 percent bother listening to the ads, this could deter potential advertisers. But the data arms everyone with the right tools to tackle whatever needs tackling — even if it means rethinking how advertising is delivered through podcasts.

“While some might see this as a complete game-changer for podcast advertising, we still have a ‘wait and see’ mindset,” added Shanks. “While results are everything for us, and we’re excited to see Apple’s interest in developing its analytics platform, it’s still anyone’s guess what exact data will be provided and how this may shift the perceived performance of each individual podcast.”

When U.S. presidential candidates kick off their campaigns with a podcast and online language-learning platforms branch into podcasts to help you learn Spanish, you know there is probably something major bubbling under the surface.

If 2017 was big, 2018 could prove a particularly pivotal year for podcasting as a business.

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How Firefox won the 2017 browser wars

It’s been a great year for Firefox. After falling behind its rivals in terms of speed and market share, Mozilla launched itself back into the game in 2017 with Firefox Quantum – the browser’s biggest update since its first release in 2004.

“We fell behind for five years, so it feels good to come out swinging,” Mark Mayo, vice president of Firefox, told TechRadar just before the launch of Quantum in November. We’re just going to go straight at them!”

Quantum is a huge step up for Firefox, with speeds that challenge Chrome and a new interface designed to make browsing a smooth, more pleasant experience, but it was just one part of Mozilla’s 2017 success story.

Focus on privacy

Along with speed, privacy was one of Mozilla’s biggest focal points for 2017. We spoke to Mayo at Mozilla’s Glass Room exhibition in London – a pop-up art exhibition exploring the way our personal data is harvested, used and sold when we use online services – often without us fully realizing.

Exhibits including an eight-hour video of a man reading the full Kindle terms and conditions, printed books of leaked LinkedIn logins that visitors could check for their own details, and a vast web of pins and string showing the hundreds of connections between Google and other online service providers.

The Glass Room pop-up art installation pulled no punches, highlighting the way other web companies collect, use and share your personal data

The show pulled no punches, and followed the release of the privacy-focused Firefox Focus for Android. The mobile browser, which was released for iOS in 2016, automatically deletes users’ browsing history at the end of each session. It also disables ads that track browsing activity, which has a knock-on effect of speeding up page load times.

“The focus is on simplicity, so you don’t have to go into private mode in your usual browser – you’re there straight away,” Barbara Bermes, senior product manager of Firefox Mobile Browsers, told us after the launch.

There’s no desktop version of Focus in the works yet, but Chromebook users can download it from the Google Play Store like any other app.

Firefox on phones

Mobile will continue to be a particular focus for Firefox in 2018, as the team aim to bring some of the improvements from Quantum to the small screen. There’s already been a halo effect, with installs of the mobile browser picking up pace since November.

It’s a challenge Mayo is looking forward to. “There’s more need for big leaps in performance on mobile than on desktop,” he told us just before Christmas, when we caught up to discuss 2017’s highlights, and what we can expect to see in the new year.

Firefox Focus for Android

Firefox Focus came to Android in 2017, letting you browse on mobile without leaving a trace

“The big [achievement] I’m super happy about is that we were able to release a new Firefox,” he said. “That’s been especially great for the team after a pretty intense 18 months.”

He sees Quantum’s speed as great news for all internet users, forcing Microsoft and Google to focus on delivering quicker, smoother performance as well.

“Other browsers should get faster as well,” he told us. “It’s just going to be great for all users because everyone is going to compete on speed again, which hasn’t happened for a while. Chrome will get faster, Edge will get faster.”

Mozilla is far from done, though. The Quantum project as a whole is only halfway done, so we’re expecting plenty more developments in the new year – on all platforms. That’s good for everyone; as Mayo says: “When the web gets better, everyone wins”.

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LG considering phones with extendable, flexible screens

LG has long experimented with flexible displays, with years of research starting to bear fruit in the company’s super-light, super-bendy (and super-expensive) OLED TV displays. It now looks as though the company may be ready to begin trickling that tech down into some interesting portable devices.

A 2016 patent, uncovered by LetsGoDigital describes a device with a flexible, extendable display. Filed with the World Intellectual Property Organisation and published last week, it shows a device that can be pulled at the sides, extending the screen depending on the application. This appears to leave an exposed edge to the extended part of the screen, with a metal frame circling the display when back in its ‘neutral’ position.

The patent shows a number of different applications for the device, including an extended keyboard, and more screen real estate for when dealing with emails, versus the at-a-glance portability of its smaller portrait position.

Other mod cons

The device, as described in the patent, would include many of the features you’d expect to find in your average smartphone too, from a wireless module to a camera and mic, right down to a removable battery.

However, as ever, a patent is now sure-fire sign of a product in the works, but merely a company protecting its ideas from the competition.

But, as the smartphone market has matured, and flexible screen technologies improved, the potential for a real device like this has grown. It’s increasingly difficult for phone buyers to get excited by yet another metal-and-glass slate phone. An idea like this brought to fruition could reap rewards for LG, whose smartphone business – while turning out solid devices – has never quite reached the heights it hoped for. 

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A look back at 2017’s good, bad, and most comforting TV

Throughout the final week of 2017, culture writers from across Vox Media will be chatting about the best works of the year. In this installment, Vox’s Todd VanDerWerff and Caroline Framke, the Verge’s Laura Hudson, and Polygon’s Julia Alexander talk about TV in 2017.

Todd VanDerWerff: In 2017, everything about TV felt condensed and supercharged. Game of Thrones aired only seven episodes, but those seven episodes were all crammed full of stuff (arguably too much stuff, given the season’s weird, disjointed quality).

Instead of unspooling over the course of several weeks as people discovered it, Stranger Things mania was over in about 10 days — and that’s me being generous. The TV shows critics went nuts for, from Twin Peaks to The…

Continue reading…

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Top 5 uses for VPN software

Most VPN services come with pre-installed settings and protocols, making them extremely accessible. There are dozens of reasons why you should use a VPN, but here are our top five.

With the US FCC (Federal Communications Commission) stripping away current net neutrality provisions, there’s never been a better time to arm yourself with a VPN (Virtual Private Network). Using a trustworthy VPN service is a great way to encrypt your online traffic and avoid government censorship, not to mention bypass certain ISP (Internet Service Provider) restrictions.

1. Browse anonymously

When you connect to a secure VPN, you’re able to browse the web with complete anonymity. That’s because a good VPN service will hide your actual location, letting you browse without ever leaving a ‘physical’ trace.

More than that, VPNs also block your ISP from tracking your every move on the internet. Whereas incognito mode simply hides your browsing history from your browser, a VPN lets you hide your traffic from your ISP. Connecting to a VPN server essentially ‘masks’ your location, connecting you to a location in another area, making it difficult for your ISP to see – and therefore block – the sites you’re accessing.

This is especially important if you’re concerned about your internet browsing history. In 2017, the US government gave ISPs the power to package and sell user data. That means everything you do online could become fodder for marketers or insurance companies. If that sounds spooky to you, then using a VPN is a great way to keep your digital life private.

2. Encrypt your network

2017 wasn’t a good year for cybersecurity, and the forecast for 2018 isn’t looking any better. Using a VPN to encrypt your internet connection lets you browse without worrying about exposing your network. This is especially helpful when you’re traveling and find yourself browsing via public Wi-Fi hotspots (in hotels for example).

ExpressVPN, NordVPN, IPVanish, VyprVPN and other top-tier VPN providers use AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) encryption. That means your network is fully encrypted, making it near impossible for anyone to see what you’re doing online, whether you’re browsing on a secure network or an open one.

Better yet, if you set up a VPN on your router, you can encrypt the traffic of all the devices in your house. That way you never have to remember to turn on the VPN each time you boot up your computer or switch on your phone.

This is one of the defining differences between VPNs and proxy services: whereas a proxy only covers a single device’s web traffic, you can hook up your VPN to a router to cover every device in your network. Many small- and medium-sized businesses have begun installing VPNs on their office networks. It’s an upward trend that’s only expected to gain momentum as cybercrime becomes more prevalent.

3. Unblock blacklisted sites

When it comes to watching content from abroad – whether it be unblocking Netflix or Hulu – a VPN makes it easier to stream your favorite shows.

Connecting to a VPN automatically changes your IP address. Sites that may be blocked in your region become readily available, making it possible to access any site and service from virtually anywhere in the world.

You can also use a VPN to download and torrent without having to worry about your ISP zeroing in on your online activity. Most VPNs come with unlimited bandwidth and server switches, which means there are no data caps restricting the amount of content you’re able to access. It also means you can endlessly hop from location to location, which is useful when content is only available in certain areas.

Furthermore, this is a big deal when you’re logging on from censorship-heavy countries like China or Egypt. A VPN provides an important lifeline that keeps you connected with key sites like Facebook, YouTube and Google. Think of a VPN as the ultimate travel tool in this respect.

4. Avoid network throttling

With the net neutrality repeal, ISPs in the US now have more power over how they market their services, which means users can soon expect some sites to load faster – while others may load much, much slower.

In the UK, traffic throttling (or shaping) is an accepted fact that is detailed and documented by most of the country’s big ISPs (Virgin Media, BT, Plusnet).

Fortunately, a VPN service can help reset your online network to its original settings and allow you to browse, stream, and download without having to worry about slow-loading sites.

More than that, it’s a simple and effective way to fight back against the status quo. Privacy advocates say using a VPN to slip through the cracks and browse normally isn’t only recommended, it’s encouraged.

And while it’s entirely possible that Comcast, AT&T and other internet providers could one day ban VPNs, the staggering amount of both business and everyday VPN usage makes this a very unlikely scenario.

5. Find better deals online

This lesser-known VPN trick is a great way to save on flights and hotels. By connecting to a VPN server outside your home region and comparing prices online, you may be able to save a significant amount of money on rentals and airfares.

That’s because most sites (including Kayak and Priceline) actually charge different amounts based on a user’s IP address. Start by checking prices in and around your location.

Then try comparing prices between different cities and, if possible, nearby states. After that, try switching your VPN location to a few different countries and check the same prices. It’s a fairly simple trick, though it’s worth taking the time to do a more wide-ranging search – that way you’ll cast a more expansive net for trying to find the best deals.

Next time you’re looking for cheap flights, try using a VPN to check prices from different countries – just remember to browse in incognito mode and clear your cookies after each visit.

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Nintendo Switch hacked, opening door for homebrew games (and pirates)

The Nintendo Switch, this Christmas’s most sought-after present, has been hacked, paving the way for installations of unofficial “homebrew” software – and potentially even pirated games.

A recent hacking conference in Germany saw a team of tinkerers take advantage of a quirk of the console’s off-the-shelf Nvidia Tegra chip, allowing them to use a feature that Nvidia’s own engineers and developers use to access deep-level functions of the chipset not usually accessible to the public.

While the video explaining the specifics of the hack has now been removed, should you be interested in exploring the hack in the future it appears that you’ll need to make sure your console stays at Switch firmware version 3.0. That means keeping your console offline to avoid newer system updates, and picking up a physical copy of Pokken Tournament DX, which comes with firmware version 3.0 onboard. Should the hackers then release their homebrew launcher, it should work.

Hacking dangers

There are inherent dangers in attempting such a hack however. Firstly, and most obviously, it voids your warranty, leaving you without Nintendo’s support should your console fail.

Also, installing software not sanctioned by Nintendo loses the quality assurance that the company offers, potentially leading to a sub-par experience, and perhaps even locking you out of later Nintendo releases that require newer firmware. That’s before considering the damage piracy does to the gaming industry and the people that work in it – a path that is often walked from the first steps of honest homebrew tinkering to more nefarious piratical ends.

Nintendo has long struggled with the homebrew community and pirates, with its Wii and Nintendo DS consoles particularly susceptible to hacking and piratical activities. Don’t be suprised if the Switch’s security is stepped up in the coming weeks.

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The Samsung Galaxy S9 is about to hit the production line

Good news for fans of finely crafted, exquisitely detailed smartphones – sources in South Korea say production is about to start on the Samsung Galaxy S9 and Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus, putting them on course for an official unveiling at the Mobile World Congress expo in Barcelona at the end of February.

ETNews reports that as soon as the New Year celebrations are ended, the wheels are going to begin to turn in earnest as far as cranking out the Galaxy S9 phones goes. In other words, everything’s right on course as Samsung looks to wow us with its 2018 offerings.

One of the upgrades that parts suppliers are hinting at this year is an upgraded, ‘stacked’ motherboard, similar to the one used in the iPhone X. As well as enabling the usual speed and efficiency improvements we’ve come to expect each year, the board also means there’s more room inside the phone for a bigger battery.

Those rumors in full

With the S9 and S9 Plus reveal now probably less than two months away, we’ve heard plenty about what to expect from Samsung’s next top-end handsets. Apparently the 3.5mm audio headphone jack has again made the cut, while the Snapdragon 845 will be powering the phones (in some countries at least).

We’ve also seen leaked renders of the Galaxy S9, which may even manage to embed a fingerprint reader under the front display, if the rumor mill is to be believed. As for that 18.5:9 Infinity Display, supply chain sources say the visible bezels are going to be shrunk even further for a screen-to-body ratio of around 90%.

All of which leaves us eagerly awaiting Mobile World Congress, which kicks off with a press day on February 25. Samsung has a history of launching flagships at the event, although the Galaxy S8 was an exception.

Via SlashGear

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The 10 best games of 2017 and GamesBeat’s Game of the Year

So 2017 was … well, the games were great. We spent 2.5 hours last week determining our top 10, and that list has some all-time greats on them.

This is the culmination of our GamesBeat Rewind 2017 coverage. We’ve looked at some of the biggest trends, the best strategy games, and more. For our top 10, we don’t vote. Voting has gotten us into some messes in 2017, we came to a consensus through yelling and gritted teeth. You can hear that discussion by clicking play on the video above of the audio podcast below. Enjoy, and we’ll see you in 2018 where you shouldn’t @ us for whatever we get wrong here.

10. Horizon: Zero Dawn

Developer: Guerrilla Games
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platforms: PlayStation 4

GamesBeat reviews editor Mike Minotti: “Like with God of War and Uncharted before, Horizon: Zero Dawn should be the start of another PlayStation iconic franchise. It offers a gorgeous and interesting world rich with adventure (including plenty of giant robots to kill). While it borrows heavily from the likes of Far Cry, it’s a more interesting and less repetitive effort than we’ve seen from that series.”

9. Nier: Automata

Developer: Platinum Games
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4

Mike Minotti: Nier: Automata is the game that came out of nowhere. I didn’t play the first Nier. I don’t think I even considered playing the first Nier. But the buzz for Automata roped me in, and the pedigree of Platinum Games when it comes to action is so high, that I decided to try it.

Surprisingly, it’s not the combat that makes Automata so memorable. Instead, its tortured world, bizarre characters, and quirky twists ensared me. It’s both wonderfully weird and beautifully melancholy.”

8. Persona 5

Developer: Atlus
Publisher: Sega
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3

Dean Takahashi: “Persona 4 is such a beautiful RPG that it seemed like an impossible task to ask any sequel to surpass it, but Persona 5 manages to keep the series’ conceits working while adding meaningful improvements. Dungeons are more fun to explore and you have more options in battles. Other, smaller quality-of-life changes make things easier, like getting texts from friends when they want to hang out. 

This is a deep and gorgeous RPG that’s slicker than Fonzie after wrestling with an oiled pig. If you loved Persona 3 or Persona 4, you’re going to be ecstatic with how Persona 5 keeps the momentum going and delivers one of the greatest JRPG experiences of all time.”

7. Divinity: Original Sin 2


Developer: Larian Studios
Publisher: Larian Studios
Platforms: PC

GamesBeat managing editor Jason Wilson: “Divinity: Original Sin 2 shines in every area: It tells a story of powerful heroes struggling not just against people who hate them for whom they are (and the threat they represent) but the essence of godhood. Are you a god? Is one of your companions a god? Will your enemy become divine? You deal with all these questions in a world rich in quests that run the gamut of emotions. It also gives you more choice than any of the other RPGs I’ve played this year, giving you an outstandingly written selection of “origin” characters such as Beast, a dwarf with a royal vendetta; or Fane, an undead sack of sarcasm.”

6. Wolfenstein II


Developer: Machine Games
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

GamesBeat reporter Jeffrey Grubb: “The New Colossus delivers on upping the stakes by bringing the game to the United States and establishing it as the best potential platform for staging a true fight against the Nazis. But Wolfenstein II shines whenever you can feel how resistant the people of the United States are to the idea of overthrowing their new emperor. That is effective both dramatically and as a commentary on our current politics.

Developer Machine Games also brought the most amazing characters, quality storytelling, and well-paced gameplay to The New Colossus. You’ll want to spend time with these people and learn their fate — sometimes that will warm your heart, and sometimes it will break it.”

5) Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

Publisher: Atlus USA
Platform: PlayStation 4


Dean Takahashi: “You could say that the weak villains, repetitive play, lack of multiplayer, and clipping bugs could doom a game like Hellblade. But I’ll happily overlook those because of the great character, compelling acting, awesome cinematics, beautiful environments, variety of gameplay, and its deep exploration of madness. It is a difficult game to beat, and it is hard to experience.

The ending of the game will leave you wondering just what was real and what was an illusion. I thoroughly enjoyed the dramatic arc of each major scene. It starts out calm, moves to disturbing, and then descends into chaos and madness. I think the storytellers and designers exercised tight creative control, with a game that is understated as well as explosive.”

4) PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds

Developers: The PUBG Corporation
Publisher: Bluehole Studios
Platform: PC

Jeff Grubb: “This is a once-in-a-generation game. We’re already seeing major companies trying to copy it with their own games like the aforementioned GTA Online mode and Fortnite: Battle Royale. Bluehole’s last-player-standing shooter is already changing the gaming industry.

But this isn’t about some academic exercise in experiencing an influential game. You are cheating yourself if you miss out on making your own memories with this game even while it is still in Early Access.”

3) Night in the Woods

Developers: Infinite Fall
Publisher: Finji
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Mac, Linux

GamesBeat reporter Stephanie Chan: “I love everything about Night in the Woods — ominous dream sequences filled with deep indigo blues and sinister reds, casual references to fluid sexuality, random minigames, barely contained anger and melancholy. I still listen to the soundtrack at least every other week.

Its landscape is familiar to me, speckled with dead malls and blown-out junkyards as well as marvelously rich and beautiful trees in the fall. The characters’ friendships feel real — some are defined with easy acceptance, and others by simmering resentment, the kind that arises when you’re stuck with someone and you can’t get out. This is the kind of game I wanted to play when I was a little queer girl growing up in Ohio.”

2) Super Mario Odyssey

Developers: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Switch

Mike Minotti“Super Mario Odyssey captures the best parts of Mario’s past 3D adventures. It has Super Mario 64’s open design while matching Super Mario Galaxy’s sense of awe. But the capture mechanic gives it a creative edge. It’s a huge game. Even once you finish the Odyssey’s final boss, you’ll want to go back to levels to keep exploring and collecting Moons. Thanks to the sharp controls, large worlds, and creative quests, boredom feels like an impossibility.

This is another Mario all-time classic that we’ll be remembering and celebrating for decades to come.”

1) The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Developers: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Switch

Jeff Grubb: “Zelda’s problems are tiny, and they look even smaller next to the its gigantic accomplishments. Nintendo has made a special video game in Breath of the Wild. As the name suggests, it is a breathing wilderness that Nintendo brought to life by abandoning the structured, predictable Zelda formula. At the same time, it feels like the ultimate culmination of the ideas we encountered in the first Zelda in 1987. And I think the result of all of its interlocking systems is a game that wants to slam you with moments of epiphanies. For me, my experience with Link’s Awakening was about getting that one major flash of insight and then using that to understand the rest of the game and then the rest of the Zelda series. For Breath of the Wild, Nintendo made a game that could replicate that moment over and over.

In his presentation at the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco, Breath of the Wild technical director Takuhiro Dohta said, “We really want players to have these moments where they interact with the world and think, ‘Wow! I’m a genius!” And that was always the core of Zelda, Breath of the Wild found a way to build an entire game where those moments were no longer scripted and instead emerged naturally from the player interacting with the systems.

And while I don’t know if I ever felt like a genius while playing Breath of the Wild, I did feel like I was 11 years old and unlocking the magical secrets of Zelda all over again.”

The PC Gaming channel is presented by Intel®‘s Game Dev program.

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Here’s how electric vehicle adoption has grown worldwide [Infographic]

If you’re reading this, chances are you don’t need to be convinced that electric cars (especially Teslas) are the future. However, most of us often find ourselves having to explain what’s going on to less-enlightened friends, co-workers and relations. For those who read about electric vehicles only in the mainstream press, it’s easy to get the idea that they still “may not catch on,” or to become concerned about imaginary bugaboos like lithium shortages, exploding batteries, etc.

A picture is worth a thousand words, and a new infographic from Title Pro, a company that offers auto loans online, depicts the accelerating rise of e-mobility in an attractive and fun chart that’s easy to understand. If you don’t have the patience to educate your EV-clueless acquaintances, you could do worse than to show them this infographic.

Those who are just starting to learn about electric driving often fail to understand that the current generation of EVs has been evolving for a decade, and that electrification is not a US-only phenomenon, but is in fact proceeding at a faster pace in Europe and in China’s colossal auto market. Most people also aren’t aware of the large number of plug-in models available. This infographic covers all these bases, weaving a timeline of mobility milestones through a set of charts depicting the geographic spread of EVs and the top models on sale in the US.

No, this graphic was not created by EV experts – it contains a few minor inaccuracies and ambiguous statements – in particular, it fails to dispel the all-too-common confusion among hybrids, plug-in hybrids and pure EVs. However, it’s an accessible plug-in primer for those who are just learning of the existence of plug-in vehicles (and that’s a larger group of people than you might think).

It also has a certain dilettantish charm that, in a way, offers yet another sign of how far electrification has come. Even auto finance companies are finding it necessary to explain the rise of EVs to their customers these days, an indication that the e-mobility revolution is steadily spreading to every niche in the automotive ecosystem.


Note: Article originally published on, by Charles Morris

Source: Title Pro

The post Here’s how electric vehicle adoption has grown worldwide [Infographic] appeared first on

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Donald Trump wants U.S. Postal Service to charge Amazon ‘much more’

(Reuters) – President Donald Trump called on the U.S. Postal Service on Friday to charge “much more” to ship packages for Amazon, picking another fight with an online retail giant he has criticized in the past.

“Why is the United States Post Office, which is losing many billions of dollars a year, while charging Amazon and others so little to deliver their packages, making Amazon richer and the Post Office dumber and poorer? Should be charging MUCH MORE!” Trump wrote on Twitter.

The president’s tweet drew fresh attention to the fragile finances of the Postal Service at a time when tens of millions of parcels have just been shipped all over the country for the holiday season.

Why is the United States Post Office, which is losing many billions of dollars a year, while charging Amazon and others so little to deliver their packages, making Amazon richer and the Post Office dumber and poorer? Should be charging MUCH MORE!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 29, 2017

The U.S. Postal Service, which runs at a big loss, is an independent agency within the federal government and does not receive tax dollars for operating expenses, according to its website.

Package delivery has become an increasingly important part of its business as the Internet has led to a sharp decline in the amount of first-class letters.

The president does not determine postal rates. They are set by the Postal Regulatory Commission, an independent government agency with commissioners selected by the president from both political parties. That panel raised prices on packages by almost 2 percent in November.

Amazon was founded by Jeff Bezos, who remains the chief executive officer of the retail company and is the richest person in the world, according to Bloomberg News. Bezos also owns The Washington Post, a newspaper Trump has repeatedly railed against in his criticisms of the news media.

In tweets over the past year, Trump has said the “Amazon Washington Post” fabricated stories. He has said Amazon does not pay sales tax, which is not true, and so hurts other retailers, part of a pattern by the former businessman and reality television host of periodically turning his ire on big American companies since he took office in January.

Daniel Ives, a research analyst at GBH Insights, said Trump’s comment could be taken as a warning to the retail giant. However, he said he was not concerned for Amazon.

“We do not see any price hikes in the future. However, that is a risk that Amazon is clearly aware of and (it) is building out its distribution (system) aggressively,” he said.

Amazon has shown interest in the past in shifting into its own delivery service, including testing drones for deliveries. In 2015, the company spent $11.5 billion on shipping, 46 percent of its total operating expenses that year.

Amazon shares were down 0.86 percent to $1,175.90 by early afternoon. Overall, U.S. stock prices were down slightly on Friday.

Millions of Parcels

Satish Jindel, president of ShipMatrix Inc, which analyzes shipping data, disputed the idea that the Postal Service charges less than United Parcel Service Inc (UPS.N) and FedEx Corp (FDX.N), the other biggest players in the parcel delivery business in the United States.

Many customers get lower rates from UPS and FedEx than they would get from the post office for comparable services, he said.

The Postal Service delivers about 62 percent of Amazon packages, for about 3.5 to 4 million a day during the current peak year-end holiday shipping season, Jindel said. The Seattle-based company and the post office have an agreement in which mail carriers take Amazon packages on the last leg of their journeys, from post offices to customers’ doorsteps.

Amazon’s No. 2 carrier is UPS, at 21 percent, and FedEx is third, with 8 percent or so, according to Jindel.

Trump’s comment tapped into a debate over whether Postal Service pricing has kept pace with the rise of e-commerce, which has flooded the mail with small packages.Private companies like UPS have long claimed the current system unfairly undercuts their business.

Steve Gaut, a spokesman for UPS, noted that the company values its “productive relationship” with the postal service, but that it has filed with the Postal Regulatory Commission its concerns about the postal service’s methods for covering costs.

Representatives for Amazon, the White House, the U.S. Postal Service and FedEx declined comment or were not immediately available for comment on Trump’s tweet.

According to its annual report, the Postal Service lost $2.74 billion this year, and its deficit has ballooned to $61.86 billion.

While the Postal Service’s revenue for first class mail, marketing mail and periodicals is flat or declining, revenue from package delivery is up 44 percent since 2014 to $19.5 billion in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2017.

But it also lost about $2 billion in revenue when a temporary surcharge expired in April 2016.

According to a Government Accountability Office report in February, the service is facing growing personnel expenses, particularly $73.4 billion in unfunded pension and benefits liabilities. The Postal Service has not announced any plans to cut costs.

By law, the Postal Service has to set prices for package delivery to cover the costs attributable to that service. But the postal service allocates only 5.5 percent of its total costs to its business of shipping packages even though that line of business is 28 percent of its total revenue.

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Drop is a VR productivity environment for HTC Vive

Drop Software Inc. wants to change the way people access information in virtual reality. Its flagship VR title, Drop, provides a 360-degree environment that folks can use to browse the internet. It raised a seed round of an undisclosed amount in August, drawing investments from HTC as well as firms such as Macro Ventures, Autochrome Ventures, and Backstage Capital. Drop is available on the HTC Vive headset.

“If I told you to open your MacBook right now the first thing you’d do is open Safari or Google Chrome or something along those lines,” said Drop Software’s CEO and co-founder Russell Ladson in a phone call with GamesBeat. “We’ve done it on desktops. We’ve done it on mobile phones. For our team, we asked ourselves, ‘What does this look like in VR?’”

Ladson says that users spend an average of 26 minutes inside Drop, typically performing actions such as sending emails, watching videos, and reading articles. Its audience is primarily folks who use their VR headsets six to eight hours every week. Some of its users have called it a “virtual Pinterest board,” referring to how they can visually organize content around them in a 3D space.

Drop has had to tackle a few issues in the course of developing its user interface, a few of which it’s still working out. Ladson says that input is a big challenge, particularly because the team doesn’t believe keyboards are the best way to interact with a virtual environment.

“We built an initial version of Drop using hand gesture technology and a keyboard, and we found that—the idea of using hand gestures in the environment makes sense when it’s a one-off action, but it can’t be the primary part of the interface, because of arm fatigue,” said Ladson.

Other issues include readability of websites and figuring out how to optimally use the 360-degree environment. In Drop, users can point at a window and pull it toward them, enlarging it so it’s easier to read. When they’re done, they can toss it away and it will poof out of existence.

“The tutorial is the first thing you have to use before it even allows you to search in the environment. It’s almost mandatory,” said Ladson. “The reason we did that was because people wouldn’t necessarily know, once they did a query, that all they had to do was point the laser pointer at that web link, and that panel will fly out to you.”

Drop isn’t the only virtual browsing space out there. Earlier this year, Oculus announced a new Dash interface for its Rift headset, which can run PC applications. It also has developed the Oculus Browser, which enables folks to surf the web and look at 3D content. Google also released a version of its web browser Chrome that is VR-capable.

“That’s what we’re seeing right now in this idea that VR does have this amazing use case, to be a productivity suite, a place where I go and I lock in for the first two hours of my work day,” said Ladson. “That’s where I get everything done. That’s going to change the way that people work. I think we’ll move from this idea of how open floor plans became so popular to everyone having some type of VR station. Especially as more standalone headsets become available on the market.”

It’s not just VR, either. Drop is talking to some companies that specialize in augmented reality and exploring how it could create a similar browsing environment for AR. It’s also interested in incorporating other technologies, such as AI assistants that use voice, such as Amazon’s Alexa.

The main challenge it has to solve is distribution, which Ladson says it’s approaching by talking to more hardware providers. Not only will that get Drop in front of more users, but it may help with monetization down the line. Most browsers bring in cash by signing deals with search engines, as Mozilla did with Google in the early 2000s. By the end of 2018, Drop is planning to roll out to the Rift as well as Microsoft Mixed Reality headsets.

“We want to create that first piece of hardware that replaces the smartphone and becomes as ubiquitous as the smartphone,” said Ladson. “But we know that for us, that’s a 7-10 year vision type of thing. We just felt that it made sense to start here today with the early adopters, the early enthusiasts, and start understanding the space from there.”

The PC Gaming channel is presented by Intel®‘s Game Dev program.

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With Hundreds of New Low-Orbit Satellites, OneWeb Promises to Bridge the Digital Divide

Connecting the Entire World

Advances have been made in broadband technology, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that many live with poor broadband connection, while others simply have to settle for having no internet connection at all. OneWeb is a company focused on changing things for the better, and its plans are taking off in 2018.

As reported by Fierce Wireless, OneWeb and its CEO Greg Wyler are committed to connecting the billions of “unconnected or underconnected” people around the world. In June, OneWeb received approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to access the United States satellite market using 720 low-Earth orbit satellites — these satellites will utilize the Ka (20/30 GHz) and Ku (11/14
GHz) frequency bands to provide global Internet connectivity.

This isn’t even the full extent of the company’s plans. As their website explains they wish to use 900 satellites, building 3 per day at their satellite factory in Exploration Park, Florida.

“Those affected by hurricanes, earthquakes and refugee situations are often abruptly without infrastructure,” explains the company’s website. “OneWeb will bridge these gaps providing instantly deployable connectivity or long-term access solutions.”

Gigabit Internet in 2021

As reported by The Financial Times, OneWeb will launch the first 10 satellites early next year, with Fierce Wireless reporting OneWeb will be using their own rockets for the task. Following the initial launch, broadband services are expected to be offered in Alaska in 2019, then expanded to more people in 2020.

Speaking before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee,Wyler said: “Our second constellation planned, for 2021, will enable ultra-high speeds beyond 2.5 gigabits per second — faster than fiber — direct to every rural home using a small lightweight antenna.”

He added that by 2027, OneWeb intends to fully bridge the digital divide with an investment of nearly $30 billion.

“Our network is everyone’s network,” continues the OneWeb website. “Our system can provide access to health centers, schools, libraries, and homes through our low cost user terminal, ensuring relief to communities in need, tools to drive education, access to knowledge, and opportunities for local businesses. It’s all part of our mission to connect the world.”

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