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Scientists want to perfect humanity with synthetic DNA

Following a controversial top-secret meeting last month, a group of scientists have announced that they’re working on synthesizing human genes from scratch. The project, currently titled HGP-Write, has the stated aim of reducing the cost of gene synthesis to “address a number of human health challenges.” As the group explains, that includes growing replacement organs, engineering cancer resistance and building new vaccinations using human cells. But in order for all of that to happen, the scientists may have to also work on developing a blueprint for what a perfect human would look like.

In some ways, the concept is just an extension of current gene editing (CRISPR) techniques that are proving their worth by saving lives. CRISPR has already been used to save the life of a one-year-old girl with a terminal case of drug-resistant leukemia. Other initiatives using the system involve curing hemophilia and HIV, although the latter has proven capable of fighting back against attempts to kill it. This new project, meanwhile, will devote time and resources to examining the ethics and economics of how far we should go with gene editing.

HGP-Write is being led by DNA pioneer George Church, a Harvard biologist who is already working on various projects to tweak humanity. In a profile, Stat revealed that the scientist published a paper in 2014 pushing “de novo synthesis,” the concept of creating perfect genes from scratch. In early 2015, he used CRISPR to implant wooly mammoth DNA into a living Asian elephant as the first step toward bringing extinct animals back from the dead. Which, when you write it down like that, makes him sound like a less plausible version of John Hammond, the fictional creator of Jurassic Park.

Via: Stat

Source: Science


Target has an in-store space for explaining the smart home

Last year Target unveiled its Internet of Things “Open House” experiment in San Francisco. The goal was to create a shopping experience that would help customers figure out how connected devices work with each other. In the confusing and fragmented world of IoT, the retailer carved out a little corner of knowledge. Now it’s moving past the testing phase and opening a “connected living experience” in a suburban Minneapolis store.

The Minneapolis setup won’t be as elaborate as Open House in San Francisco with its touchscreen tables. Instead it will have large displays above the products that explain how a gadget interacts with other devices. Target will also make sure the staff is up to speed.

But it will still be more than just a fancy display. Scott Nygaard, Target senior vice president of hardline told Engadget everyone in the department will be ready. “All of them will have special training, and there will be dedicated staff there at all times.”

The Ridgedale store will be the first in what could be a major change to how the retail chain sells electronics. Like Google, Apple and Amazon, Target sees the connected home as one the next big things in tech. But the company has found that its shoppers are confused not only about how these devices work together, but where they’re actually kept in the store. Would a smart thermostat be in the electronics or home section?

Putting all the devices together in one spot and creating scenarios that emphasize how a smart light and a connected garage work together not only highlights what’s possible, it helps sell stuff. “When we have working displays in-store we see a significant sales increase,” Nygaard said. “It shows what the experience is like. That’s where we really see the benefit.”

Target plans on bringing its connected experience to other stores to see how shoppers react. Cupertino, California, and Tribeca in New York City are the next two locations, according to Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer Casey Carl. After that? “We want to become the go-to resource that’s credible in this space,” Carl said.


Now TiVo Bolt owners can stream TV anywhere

When I reviewed the TiVo Bolt last year I didn’t mind its odd design as much as I missed some features it lacked compared to the older Roamio DVR. Now the recently-acquired company is fixing that with a software update (the full list of changes is here) it’s rolling out that lets owners stream recordings or live TV on even when they’re away from home, and also download shows recorded from protected premium channels (like HBO or Showtime, usually) to a mobile device for offline viewing.

The choice between a Bolt and a Roamio Pro is still a tough one, especially now that the older box with more tuners (6) and storage (3TB) has added those SkipMode commercial skipping and QuickMode fast watching features that debuted on the Bolt. At least now, opting for the newer model doesn’t mean missing out on any Slingbox-like placeshifting.

Source: TiVo Blog, TiVo Support


ASUS’ Zenbo proves our robot butler dreams remain just that

Another robot wants to join your family. Announced earlier this week, ASUS’ Zenbo is aimed at providing “assistance, entertainment and companionship.” Like numerous home robots that have (literally) rolled out before Zenbo, it involves voice-activated commands, cameras, an internet connection and a touchscreen. It can’t wash your clothes or clear the table and you still need separate robots to vacuum your house, or get you from A to B. ASUS says Zenbo can help with cooking, but that just means it can read out recipes. It’s not chopping onions for you — it doesn’t even have arms. Let’s take a look at the promo video.

In the world of ASUS’ TV ad, WiFi connections are strong and acting skills are weak. We’re shown how Zenbo can detect faces and take photos and videos through voice commands. It will also respond to questions. It gives reminders for medication or upcoming events, has built-in speakers for streaming music, and can even connect with smart home devices like air conditioners, lighting, TVs and connected door locks. And yet, smartphones and tablets can already do all of that. I have Siri on my iPhone, I can play music on it, I can use apps to control my smart devices and it even has an alarm and calendar.

What differentiates the robot from your smartphone is its ability to move around either independently or through smartphone controls, like remote home monitoring. According to the company, Zenbo will learn and adapt to how you use it with with proactive artificial intelligence. As it lives alongside you, it’ll get better at identifying objects and people on its cameras, as well as recognize speech commands. ASUS says machine learning and cloud computing will help improve the robot’s functionality; Zenbo will be connected to a hive mind of all the other robots. It’s still so very far away from the robotic butler we’re still waiting for: Machines are getting smarter, but robotics are hard. There’s no Rosie, no C3P0, no Kryten. Heck, there’s not even a Bender. They’re all still many years away.

Here in the present, the world isn’t as perfect as the ASUS family vignette. The on-stage debut of Zenbo (and three subsequent demonstrations I saw over this past week) showed that manipulating a robot can be just as frustrating as working with pets and children. Sometimes Zenbo didn’t go where it was told, or it didn’t hear the host’s simple commands (despite them being repeated multiple times). On other occasions, Zenbo failed to pick up on camera gestures, or it simply stopped and did nothing. Yes, this was an early model. And yes, the company will continue to refine its behavior and sensitivity, but as it stands, it doesn’t have enough pros to outweigh the cons.

It’s not fair to single out ASUS’ Zenbo bot, although the promotional ad was particularly awful. I’ve already written about how we have to lower our expectations about what robots are capable of at this point in time. Indeed, the same criticism can be leveled at most home robots, some of which are already on sale. Softbank’s Pepper could also be described as a glorified tablet on wheels. Its gestures and movements are adorable and endearing, but its speech recognition is far from perfect and there’s still no killer app, other than the romantic notion of having a robot in your home.

There are still so many technical challenges facing robots, with researchers and companies chipping away at challenges related to movement, motor control and object detection, among other things. Sci-fi films and television shows have set our expectations very high, so it’s no surprise that current home robots are a bit of a letdown. ASUS’ first bot is at least “reasonably” priced at $599, but the reasons for buying one aren’t strong enough — yet.


Computex 2016: It’s a wrap!

Just like that, Computex 2016 has come to an end. As in previous years, the show kicked off with ASUS’ big keynote presentation, but this time it wasn’t just laptops, tablets and smartphones — the company also unveiled its first home robot, Zenbo. We met up with Chairman Jonney Shih who gave us an exclusive demo of this $599 machine, so do check out our interview wit him. We also saw Intel launch its first 10-core desktop processor geared towards hardcore gamers, followed by yet another exclusive interview — this time with the company’s new consumer head, Navin Shenoy.

The rest of the show gave us a lot of opportunities to play around in virtual reality. HTC was there with several cool Vive demos; MSI showed off its Backpack PC; AMD announced its $199 Radeon RX480 graphics card to lower the entry barrier for VR; and even Microsoft is opening up its Windows Holographic platform to embrace the virtual world. Find all that and more in the video above.


Avegant’s wearable cinema gets more game-friendly features

Avegant’s wearable cinema is getting a software update that makes it an even more tempting purchase, especially for gamers. The new firmware adds plug-and-play 3D support, enabling you to enjoy 3D content on the PlayStation 4. In addition, the gear now works with any PC game that’s compatible with NVIDIA’s 3D Vision, and all units now get head tracking, which you can activate by holding the bottom left button in video mode. As Polygon explains, it’s this latter feature that has the most potential, since users can control their PC’s mouse pointer with their head.

It’s not a full-fat virtual reality device like the Rift or Vive, but the addition of head tracking does make it possible to play games with similar immersion. For instance, Polygon used the feature to play both Overwatch and Doom and said that while it took time to get used to, it does make you more precise. The update is available in both the iOS and Android apps and should be fairly easy to get your hardware ready for a good weekend of gaming.

Source: Kickstarter


Walmart is testing grocery deliveries with Uber and Lyft

Online grocery deliveries are commonplace in Europe, but America’s size makes it difficult for even the largest firms to offer it nationwide. That’s why Walmart is teaming up with Uber and Lyft to test a delivery service for online shoppers. All a user has to do is order their usual groceries online and a Walmart employee will gather all of it together. When ready, an Uber or Lyft will be called and dispatched to your home with a trunk full of pizza rolls, toothpaste and Kleenex.

So far, this limited trial is kicking off with Uber in Denver and, according to Business Insider, Lyft in Phoenix. Rather than paying the driver directly, Walmart shoppers will be charged between $7-10 per delivery. The company is also testing a similar service with Deliv, out of its Sam’s Club stores in Miami. Grocery deliveries are becoming a big deal, with firms like Target and Amazon hoping to elbow-out more established players in the market. The fact that Walmart is leveraging Uber and other ride-sharing companies is, in a way, a tacit indictment of its failure to get this going with this soon enough.

Via: Business Insider

Source: Walmart


The best cable modem

By David Murphy

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a buyer’s guide to the best technology. Read the full article here.

After researching 88 cable modems this year, the Arris SURFboard SB6141 DOCSIS 3.0 remains the cable modem we recommend for most people. It’s compatible with seven of the nine biggest ISPs—including Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox, and Charter—and it supports the Internet speeds available to the vast majority of Americans. Our pick is popular and reliable, and it gives you the most flexibility for switching providers if you move somewhere else (or if you’re lucky enough to have multiple ISPs to choose from).

Who should (and shouldn’t) buy this

If you’re paying a fee to rent a cable modem from your ISP, you should buy a cable modem. For example, Comcast and Time Warner Cable charge between $8 and $10 per month to rent a modem, so if you buy a $70 cable modem, you’ll start saving money within one year. (Though some ISPs, like Charter, integrate the modem rental fee into their prices, so you won’t save any money if you buy your own.)

You should also get a new modem if yours doesn’t support DOCSIS 3.0, the current iteration of the Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification that governs how cable operators deliver high-speed Internet. If you’ve had your modem for a few years, give the model name a quick Google search; you might still be using a modem that supports only DOCSIS 2.0.

Don’t buy our cable modem picks if you’re using DSL or fiber, which use entirely different standards from DOCSIS. Also, don’t buy it if you use your cable provider for telephone service: The models we cover here don’t have phone ports. Finally, if your Internet plan has download speeds of 150 Mbps or greater, you’ll need a higher-end modem like the Arris SURFBoard SB6183.

How we picked

All DOCSIS 3.0 modems support at least four downstream channels and four upstream channels. Downstream channels are more important because they impact streaming and download speeds—and your new cable modem should support at least eight.

An 8×4 cable modem—with eight downstream channels and four upstream—gives most people plenty of overhead to upgrade to faster service later. It also does a better job of handling your ISP’s network congestion than a 4×4 cable modem, because each channel is almost like a separate connection: If one channel is congested, another channel may have capacity. Although Comcast recommends people buy a 16×4 modem, and Cox prefers a 24×8 model, those are both overkill for most Internet plans slower than 150 Mbps.

We started our research by going through all of the DOCSIS 3.0 modems that work with the nation’s eight biggest ISPs—Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Charter, Cablevision, Suddenlink, Mediacom, WideOpenWest, and Cable One—as well as Cox. We didn’t include (and don’t recommend) modems that double as wireless routers.

Nobody really reviews cable modems—it’s difficult to do because you can’t know whether it’s the modem or your ISP that’s to blame for slower speeds, so the few reviews that exist aren’t very scientific. We also don’t have the ability to test multiple modems on multiple ISPs ourselves. We looked at the Amazon reviews of these modems to be sure that people who owned them didn’t have any issues with the devices or their manufacturers’ customer support.

Our pick

Before January 2016, SURFboard SB6141 modems like this one were co-branded with Motorola, but new ones have only the Arris brand. Photo: Grant Kindrick

The Arris SURFboard SB6141 cable modem is the best choice for most people because it’s compatible with six of the eight biggest US cable ISPs—including the top three—as well as Cox. It supports speeds much faster than most people’s Internet plans, and it has thousands of glowing Amazon reviews and a history of reliability.

The SB6141 has an 8×4 channel configuration, which means it should work for all Internet plans up to about 150 Mbps. It’s also less expensive than an a 16×4 modem, letting you recoup your money faster. Plus, if your Internet plan doesn’t require a 16×4 modem, you’re unlikely to get a speed boost by using one instead of an 8×4 modem.

Our pick is the most popular purchase for visitors at Buy A Cable Modem. On Amazon, the SB6141 is the site’s best-selling cable modem, with a rating of 4.4 stars (out of five) across 9,450 reviews. Though the SB6141’s one-year warranty seems short, cable modems are extremely reliable—so much so that you could even buy a refurbished or used version of the SB6141 to save money. If it works for the first week, chances are it will work for a long time because there are no moving parts to wear out.

For high-speed plans

You’ll need the SB6183 for very fast Internet plans like Comcast’s 250Mbps or Time Warner Cable’s 300Mbps offerings.

The Arris SURFboard SB6183 is a 16×4 cable modem that works with the fastest listed Internet plans from the nation’s three biggest ISPs (Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Charter), as well as from Cox, Suddenlink, and Cable One.

The SB6183 has 16 downstream channels—twice as many as the SB6141. Very few people have an Internet plan fast enough to need a 16×4 modem, but some ISPs require one for plans that an 8×4 modem could theoretically handle. For example, you’ll need a 16×4 modem like the SB6183 on Comcast’s Extreme 250 plan, Time Warner Cable’s 300Mbps plan, and Cox’s Ultimate tier.

On Amazon, the SB6183 is the second best-selling cable modem (after the SB6141), with a rating of 4.5 stars (out of five) across 1,473 reviews. On Buy A Cable Modem, the SB6183 is the best-selling 16×4 cable modem.

Care, maintenance, and setup

A cable modem doesn’t have any settings you need to adjust; you don’t even update the firmware yourself. Your modem’s manufacturer will deploy firmware updates for your ISP to send to your modem (as long as your ISP still supports the modem). Just connect the modem to your cable company’s coaxial line, connect your modem to your router with an Ethernet cable, and plug the cable modem and the router in.

Because its configuration page does not require a login, the Arris SURFboard SB6141 is vulnerable to cross-site-scripting attacks that trick you into rebooting your modem or restoring it to factory settings. Such an attack is more annoying than dangerous, but it can cause you to lose your Internet connection for anywhere from a couple of minutes to half an hour. To prevent this kind of attack, go into your router’s configuration page and block access to the IP address (the modem’s configuration page) for anyone inside your network.

This guide may have been updated by The Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.


Uber’s food delivery service is coming to London

In some parts of the world, Uber is known for more than just helping people get from A to B. UberEats, for example, is a food delivery service the company runs in various large North American cities, Paris, and as of a week ago, Singapore. It even has its own dedicated app in some places, and there are more than a few clues knocking around that point to the service launching in London in the near future. Uber is currently recruiting a “restaurant partnerships manager” and “marketing manager” for UberEats, both based in the capital, and according to BuzzFeed News, cyclists and scooter riders that will end up doing the legwork are being encouraged to pledge their allegiance prior to the service going live.

Regarding the mounting evidence, an Uber spokesperson said:

“UberEats has been hugely popular in every city around the world we have launched it in, so the fact we are exploring the UK market shouldn’t come as a surprise. We’re always looking at what other services we can bring to the market here.”

UberEats will have some tough competition on its hands in the form of Deliveroo, the popular food delivery outfit that serves as an up-market alternative to the kind of grub you can get through Just Eat and Hungryhouse. Considering there are senior UberEats roles still up for grabs, though, we don’t expect an imminent launch. But the fact Uber is seeking out two-wheeling “delivery partners” could also help the company expand beyond just food. They sound like the perfect group to have on hand if Uber wanted to bring its courier service to London, for instance.

Source: Uber (1), (2), BuzzFeed News


Synaptics’ under-glass fingerprint reader is almost here

It was just a month ago when LG Innotek unveiled its under-glass fingerprint sensor, but it’s clearly not the only company working on this space. At Computex, the folks over at Synaptics were kind enough to let me take a sneak peek at a similar technology that they’ve been working on for two years. For some reason, photography was forbidden, but the prototype was simply a special glass trackpad — with extra details which I am not at liberty to disclose — retrofitted into an existing laptop. It’ll essentially be a spiritual successor to Synaptics’ SecurePad (pictured above), but rather than having to cut a hole through the trackpad, the next-gen fingerprint sensor will simply sit underneath the glass layer, so that when it’s idle, you can still use the entire trackpad area for the usual cursor and gesture controls.

The company reps wouldn’t give a timeline here, but based on the prototype’s responsiveness when I tried it, I have a feeling that it’ll be made available to OEMs soon. And as you’d expect, the same technology can be applied to smartphones — Synaptics is the supplier behind the fingerprint readers on Samsung’s flagship smartphones, after all. The company reps added that this will be ready for Windows Hello.

“I don’t see laptops shipping without fingerprint reader in three years’ time.”

According to Vice President of Marketing Godfrey Cheng, Synaptics is shipping over 100 million trackpads a year these days, which explains why his company is working hard on refining the fingerprint-on-trackpad integration. “I don’t see laptops shipping without fingerprint reader in three years’ time. People are transitioning aggressively, probably more so on the consumer side than the business side,” Cheng added. For the same reasons, Synaptics has been bolstering its fingerprint anti-spoofing technology to stay ahead of the curve: The demo I saw was able to differentiate between a real finger and its wood glue copy after a new algorithm was enabled.

Despite its increased effort in pushing integrated fingerprint readers, Synaptics is actually also looking into bringing back the fingerprint USB module, but in a much smaller form factor — so much that it can just stay in the USB port without getting in your way. Starting in Q3, the company will be sampling its small, fully-housed IronVeil “Catalyst” fingerprint module turnkey solution (featuring the same rectangular sensor made for modern mobile devices), followed by mass-production in Q4. It’d only cost OEMs less than $40 a pop, plus the device will also be compatible with Windows Hello, so they’ll only have to worry about the packaging, branding and marketing costs.

Perhaps what’s more readily available is the Tt eSports Black FP gaming mouse, which we first saw back at last year’s Computex and is now finally prepping for retail launch. The mouse features a Synaptics IronVeil fingerprint sensor on where your right thumb would rest, so you’ll only need to register one finger here. As for the actual mouse itself, it’s powered by a 5700 dpi laser sensor and features seven programmable buttons. Alas, there’s no pricing info just yet.

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