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15
Sep

‘Travis Strikes Again’ puts 15 indie titles in one Suda51 game


Nintendo went all out this week showcasing a slew of high-profile games heading to the Switch, 3DS and 2DS — titles like Doom, Wolfenstein II and Pokemon Gold. But, just last month, Nintendo was all about indie love. That’s when the company and renowned ultra-violent game director Goichi “Suda51” Suda revealed Travis Strikes Again, the third title in the No More Heroes series. And, this time around, he’s brought 15 indie video game creators along for the ride.

Suda51’s studio, Grasshopper Manufacture, debuted No More Heroes on the Wii in 2008 as a pop-culture-infused, cel-shaded, hack-and-slash adventure game starring Travis Touchdown, an anime-obsessed assassin with a lot of sass. And a glowing beam katana. Of course.

The game took advantage of the Wii’s motion controls, a revolutionary input system back in those days. It became a quick cult hit and was followed by a PlayStation 3 port and a sequel, No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle, in 2010. That one was also exclusive to the Wii. By 2011, Suda51 said he was eager to release a third title in the series, but it wasn’t going to happen any time soon.

Eight years later, Suda51 is bringing the franchise back with Travis Strikes Again, a new game exclusive to the Nintendo Switch. The third No More Heroes installment stars Travis Touchdown and it will feature motion-based mechanics, as usual. But this time around, Suda51 decided to expand his vision: He collaborated with more than a dozen independent studios to feature their own games inside Travis Strikes Again. Travis and his nemesis are sucked into a possessed gaming console and forced to battle their way through big-name indie titles including Hotline Miami and Shovel Knight.

Those are the only two confirmed games with starring roles in Travis Strikes Again, but Suda51 says to expect more announcements over the coming months. He’s excited about the growing indie industry — he’s spoken at conferences like BitSummit, Tokyo’s annual independent gaming festival — and Travis Strikes Again is a testament to the potential he sees in these smaller-scale games.

We asked Suda51 all about his recent rush of indie appreciation, his commitment to the Switch (and Nintendo in general), and the importance of Travis Touchdown in his career. The following interview has been edited for clarity:

It’s been 10 years since No More Heroes — how does it feel to return to this series?

It really feels great to finally return to the No More Heroes series. Over the past 10 years, I’d been wanting to revisit the character of Travis Touchdown and see how he’s been doing, as well as to reintroduce him and the series itself to the newer generation of gamers who may not have had the chance to meet him back during the original run. With the unveiling of the Nintendo Switch and all its capabilities and features, this felt like the perfect time to do that.

Why is Travis Strikes Again a Switch exclusive?

I’ve been working with Nintendo since the first two No More Heroes games, and they have always offered an immense amount of support and have always been willing to allow me to try new things and make the games I want to make. Just as the Wii was revolutionary in its time, with its motion controls and its various features, the Switch is also a revolutionary console, and I feel that the Switch and Nintendo are really the most “punk” console and maker out there, doing things that nobody else has done yet.

On top of that, as always, Nintendo has been extremely supportive and helpful throughout development of Travis Strikes Again as they were with the first two titles. And in addition to the ease and comfort of working with them, I also simply felt that the Switch would be the perfect platform on which to bring Travis back, from the first time I saw it demonstrated back when it was still called the “NX.”

Aside from Hotline Miami, which other indie games will be featured in Travis Strikes Again?

While I can’t get into specifics just yet, at the moment we’ve got around 15 games altogether, including Hotline Miami and Shovel Knight — which was revealed at the Nindies Night event during PAX — with which we’re going to collaborate. More games will be announced in the coming months, and hopefully that number may also grow as well.

Why did you decide to collaborate with indie developers for Travis Strikes Again?

I decided to work with indie developers because, not only am I a huge fan of indie games, I feel that Travis would definitely be a huge fan as well. You can see him playing Hotline Miami in the trailer, and if you look closely you can see that he’s actually really close to beating the game — that’s how much of a fan he is.

I also wanted to work with indie developers because I still see myself and Grasshopper as indie creators, which is how we began, and I wanted to show my support for these guys and help get the word out, as I feel that what they’re doing is truly great and they really deserve all the recognition they can get.

15
Sep

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8 hits stores today


Samsung Galaxy Note 8 fans, the day is here. The phone hits stores today after breaking series pre-order records in the US and abroad. Samsung announced earlier this week that it sold over 650,000 phones in the first five days of its presale, outselling the Note 7 over the same time period.

The Note 8 is now available for purchase through AT&T, C Spire, Sprint, Straight Talk Wireless, T-Mobile, US Cellular, Verizon, Xfinity Mobile, Best Buy stores, BestBuy.com, Target, Walmart and through Samsung itself via its website and ShopSamsung app. The Note 8 is an exceptional phone with some really great features including its camera and display. Whether it’s worth the extra cost over the similarly great Galaxy S8 Plus, however, is up to how useful you find its other offerings. You can check out our Galaxy Note 8 review here.

Source: Samsung

15
Sep

Stroll down The Emmys red carpet live on Facebook


For those planning to watch the Emmy Awards this Sunday, CBS and the Television Academy have put together a slew of different ways for you to experience the event. As Variety reports, with content on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, they have every bit of the show covered including pre-show prep, red carpet and backstage access.

The Television Academy will air Backstage Live! on the big day via their Facebook Page and the livestream will include moments with fans as well as Emmy winners. CBS, which will broadcast the show on Sunday, will also have a Facebook Live feed streaming from the red carpet as celebrities arrive. Additionally, nominees — including Reese Witherspoon, Felicity Huffman and Sterling K. Brown — will air their own award-day content via Facebook Live.

On Instagram, CBS’s Story will give a behind-the-scenes look at the event and the Television Academy’s account will be updated with Emmy content, including interactions with winners and presenters, throughout the night. Instagram’s own account will be taken over by Yara Shahidi of Black-ish while Reese Witherspoon, Uzo Aduba, Gaten Matarazzo and Caleb McLaughlin are expected to air content via Instagram Stories, Feed and Live.

And lastly, Snapchat will air three “Our Stories” collections over the weekend. On Saturday “Stars on Set: Emmys Story” will feature snaps from nominees and the sets of nominated shows like Veep and This Is Us. On Sunday, “Emmys: The Carpet” will include red carpet snaps from E! News’ Erin Lim. And of course “Emmys: The Show” will collect snaps from inside Los Angeles’ Microsoft Theater throughout the event.

The Emmy Awards air this Sunday, the 17th at 8 PM Eastern, 5 PM Pacific.

Source: Variety (1), (2)

15
Sep

Fitness wearables will soon diagnose by design, not by chance


Apple has been very busy. This week, on the 10th anniversary of the iPhone, the company unveiled a 4K-ready Apple TV, three new phones and a campus and theater dedicated to late founder Steve Jobs. It also announced the Apple Watch Series 3, which sports a barometric altimeter to track your elevation, can now stream music and connect to a cellular network so you no longer need your phone for all your notifications and calls. But while those additions all sound useful, what really stuck out was a feature that has the potential to save lives.

At this week’s event, Apple teased something called Heart Study, which launches later this year. With the help of Stanford Medicine and the FDA, Heart Study will use Apple Watch data to detect irregularities in heart rhythms, including potentially serious conditions like atrial fibrillation. Details on how Heart Study will work or look are sparse at the moment, but it appears Apple’s device will keep an eye out for, and actively flag, irregularities in your pulse. That’s different from existing systems that simply chart your performance and don’t alert you to anomalies.

Of course, there are good reasons other companies haven’t implemented something like this. Just as trying to diagnose yourself via Google or WebMD could scare you into thinking you have cancer, having your fitness tracker alert you to every little pulse variation could lead to undue paranoia, if not severe hypochondria. Plus, coming up with accurate algorithms that can detect and differentiate between an actual pause in your heart rate versus, say, a temporary loss of contact between the sensors and your skin is tricky. But companies are already trying.

Fitbit, for example, is working on using the blood oxygen monitor on its new Ionic smartwatch to study and detect sleep apnea — a potentially serious disorder where a person randomly stops (and starts) breathing. Fitbit hasn’t rolled out this capability yet, so for now the hardware doesn’t do anything.

Some fitness devices, however, have already managed to save lives (or at least alert users to potentially life-threatening conditions) without specific sensors. Fitbit, for instance, shared a story of how 48-year-old Ken Cook from Wisconsin discovered he had “atrial flutter” after noticing the app said he had been working out for 90 minutes when he had not. There are many other examples of this happening — people saying their Fitbits and Apple Watches made them notice their abnormal heart rates and catching signs of conditions like atrial fibrillation that they would otherwise have missed.

In those situations, the anomalies were discovered by chance. For example, Cook happened to be looking up his calorie intake in the Fitbit app when he noticed the supposed 90-minute workout it had been tracking. Instead of being a byproduct of the constant heart-rate monitoring, the Apple Watch’s updated Heart Rate app is programmed to specifically seek out these blips. According to the company’s page for the Apple Watch Series 3, “the Heart Rate app also notifies you if your heart rate rises above a set threshold when you’ve been inactive for a 10-minute period.”

What that means is if the Heart Rate app was in charge in Cook’s scenario, he would have gotten a notification that stated clearly what happened instead of a confusing page about a workout he never did. Whether that is informative or just plain scary will depend on Apple’s ability to deliver a convincing and reliable system.

Regardless, this is just the beginning of a future where our wearables and homes look out for, think for and perhaps even protect us by design. Just think: it’s not that much of a stretch to see these fitness wearables reporting our symptoms directly to our doctors or calling for an ambulance when they detect our hearts have stopped for longer than a specified period of time. Then, further in the future, trackers could even work with smart home devices to study the relationship between your bedroom’s air quality and your sleep in combinations with other real-time health data.

It’s too early to tell what Apple’s Heart Study will do and how accurate it will be at this stage. Figuring out the conditions under which to alert someone to a potential health problem and how to identify symptoms are enormously challenging and frankly perilous tasks. Will people eventually get desensitized to such alerts? Can you really trust your fitness tracker to tell you when your heart skipped a beat? When is such a symptom serious and when is it negligible? There are many questions left that we can’t answer until these systems roll out and mature, but until then we can only wait to see if tech companies will figure out a competent method at all.

15
Sep

Cassini mission ends with final plunge into Saturn


At around 7:31 AM eastern time, the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft disintegrated and plunged into Saturn, becoming the only man-made object ever to touch our solar system’s second largest planet. “The signal from the spacecraft is gone and within the next 45 seconds, so will be the spacecraft,” said NASA JPL Cassini program manager Earl Maize. “This has been an incredible mission, an incredible spacecraft, and you’re all an incredible team.”

In a fitting end to the tough spacecraft, which outlasted its projected mission lifespan by over nine years, Cassini kept sending science data back to Earth a full 30 seconds longer than expected. It spent that precious half-minute sampling molecules in the planet’s atmosphere. “Those last few seconds were our first taste of the atmosphere of Saturn,” JPL Director Mike Watkins said. “Who knows how many PhD theses are in that data?”

The spacecraft didn’t quite die when it hit Saturn, as a tiny trace of it — its final radio signals — reached Earth 83 minutes later. It was a billion miles aways when it crashed on Saturn, a gas giant 764 times larger than Earth by volume. Despite minimal risks, NASA, JPL and its partners crashed and burned it on Saturn to ensure that any stray microbes wouldn’t get to Titan and other moons, which hold the potential to support life.

During its mission, Cassini made numerous scientific discoveries and significantly changed the way we think about our solar system. Some of the highlights include finding vertical structures on Saturn’s rings, landing the Huygens probe on Titan, photographing Titan’s surprisingly Earth-like frozen landscape, finding saline flats that show Titan could support life and finding water on the tiny moon Enceladus (for more, see our summary here).

Suffice to say, the Cassini team was emotional in the final hours. “I’m going to call this the end of mission,” said Maize, once the signal disappeared. “Project manager, off the net.” As with Voyager, the Mars rover Spirit and other prolific spacecraft, the team became more than attached to Cassini. “We can’t go there ourselves, so we build a spacecraft and load it up with instruments, and then we put on our hopes and desires and we send them there,” said science planner Jo Pitesky.

Still, all good things must end, and NASA’s mission statement is “to pioneer the future in space exploration.” So what’s next? There’s plenty to look forward to, including the ARRM Asteroid Redirect mission, Europa Clipper to Jupiter’s icy, potentially life-supporting Europa moon and the Mars 2020 Rover mission, to name just a few. For an overview on what’s to come, we’ve got much more here.

A bittersweet farewell to a mission that changed our view of the solar system: https://t.co/h01rZn8mvY #GrandFinale #GoodbyeCassini #Cassini pic.twitter.com/2OvOVQ9f9K

— CassiniSaturn (@CassiniSaturn) September 15, 2017

Source: NASA/JPL

15
Sep

A nanoparticle-coated skin patch could treat obesity and diabetes


A new study out today in ACS Nano presents an interesting and effective way to reduce fat stores in the body. Researchers at Columbia University and the University of North Carolina showed that a patch loaded with nanoparticles could reduce fat, increase energy expenditure and ameliorate type-2 diabetes in obese mice.

The patch consists of an array of microscopic needles that help deliver drugs enclosed in nanoparticles directly into fat lying beneath the skin. Those drugs help turn white fat, which stores energy, into brown fat, which burns energy. Humans have both types, but as we age, we lose more and more of our brown fat, leaving mostly white fat behind. Therefore, it’s harder to get rid of the fat we have once we store it. Turning white fat into brown — a process called browning — has been a concept explored by researchers looking to treat obesity and diabetes, but earlier efforts have been largely done with pills or injections, which can cause a number of side effects since they deliver the drugs to the entire body.

This patch, however, can concentrate the drug to just the area with the fat. And when they tested it on obese rats, putting a patch with drug on one side and a patch without drug on the other, researchers found that the drug side showed around 30 percent reductions of a particular type of white fat. Additionally, genes associated with brown fat were upregulated in the treated side, meaning the changes appeared to be due to a browning of the white fat stores. The patches even had an effect in healthy mice, leading to increased metabolic activity and upregulated brown fat genes.

The research team is now working on figuring out which drugs work best and at which concentrations. The treatment isn’t ready for human testing, but these first results seem promising. “Many people will no doubt be excited to learn that we may be able to offer a noninvasive alternative to liposuction for reducing love handles,” Li Qiang, one of the lead researchers of the study, said in a statement. “What’s much more important is that our patch may provide a safe and effective means of treating obesity and related metabolic disorders such as diabetes.”

Via: Phys.org

Source: ACS Nano, Columbia University

15
Sep

The missing trade war against China’s digital protectionism


Earlier this summer, the Trump administration took its first concrete step toward what some think could turn into an all-out trade war with China. The product that it put an import tax on? Aluminum foil. Like the Obama administration, which took action against China’s subsidies to auto parts manufacturers and withholding of rare earth exports that are crucial to tech manufacturing, Trump seems focused on physical goods.

But China’s main trade barrier against the US isn’t on manufactured or raw goods; rather, it targets Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and the bulk of the multi-billion-dollar, fast-growing tech sector. Many of these companies have been facing market access issues in China for years due to the blocking or censoring of their digital content or tools, likely costing them billions in potential revenue.

“China’s extensive use of digital trade barriers … have reshaped the production and sales of many global tech sectors as they’ve been forced to either adapt to China’s restrictive and costly requirements or avoid the market entirely,” said Nigel Cory, trade policy analyst at the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation.

Unlike the flashpoint over aluminum foil, there has so far not been a single trade case against China for the blocking of websites, apps, or platforms by what is the world’s biggest internet market. This digital protectionism has resulted in the creation of China’s own tech superpowers — Tencent, Alibaba, and Baidu — which are now competing globally with their US counterparts. The new president has not yet shown any sign of taking on digital trade with China. Tech companies like Apple, Facebook, and Amazon either have been silent or are openly courting or complying with Chinese regulators.

As China’s digital economic power grows, the question is whether that will change, as freedom-of-expression groups and, increasingly, the tech industry have been asking. The goal: ensure that digital trade and information flows as freely in and out of China as do lightbulbs, shoes, or any of the other Chinese-made consumer goods found in stores across the US. Otherwise, some fear that the Chinese model of the internet — state control of information and access — may be copied by other countries for censorship and protectionism purposes. At risk is nothing more than the future of the internet as a global public forum.

Not too long ago, many argued that the spread of the internet to authoritarian states like China would lead to greater democratization. In reaction, countries like North Korea and Cuba severely restricted their citizens’ access to the web. China, however, was in the midst of opening its markets to global companies, and wanted to become a hub for manufacturing devices that would give internet access to the world. Blocking the web entirely was not an option.

The solution was called the Golden Shield Project, announced in 2000 by the Chinese Ministry of Public Security. Today, the project is more commonly known outside of China as the Great Firewall. It was an attempt to give China the best of both worlds: courting local innovation and foreign investment to make the country a hub for tech manufacturing without the pesky side effect of relinquishing too much of the Communist Party’s near-monopoly on information.

What was initially the blocking of a few web pages that the Chinese government deemed sensitive, such as those about the Chinese occupation of Tibet or the Tiananmen Square Massacre, has turned into a massive filter between the Chinese web and the websites and apps of many foreign companies, news media, and NGOs. The Great Firewall has gotten progressively more sophisticated, and a major move came in 2009 when the growing social networks Facebook and Twitter were blocked, along with YouTube.

“Twitter and Facebook and other large social media apps, in the eyes of the authorities, simply cannot operate in China without censorship.

“Twitter and Facebook and other large social media apps, in the eyes of the authorities, simply cannot operate in China without censorship,” said Charlie Smith, co-founder of GreatFire.org, a nonprofit that provides analysis and circumvention tools for the Great Firewall. “This has everything to do with protecting the party’s grip on power … Helping domestic companies may be an additional side benefit, but it is not the main reason.”

Facebook and Twitter were blocked in June 2009, just days before the 20th anniversary of the crackdown on the pro-Democracy protests in Tiananmen Square, and alongside deadly riots in China’s restive western province of Xinjiang.

Since then, the list of blocked sites and apps, as well as the number of restrictions on internet companies, has only grown, as has the Chinese digital market. Today, the vast majority of Chinese internet users are not just prohibited from searching about sensitive topics but can’t share files via Google Drive, chat with overseas coworkers through Slack or post anything, sensitive or not, to Facebook or Twitter.

Yet according to Matthew Schruers, the vice president for law and policy at the Computer & Communications Industry Association, which counts Google, Facebook and Amazon as members, it is difficult to quantify how much China’s trade barriers impact US companies.

“It’s relatively easy to tell if a country is blocking bananas at the border and to calculate the scope of the banana market,” said Schruers. “With digital trade, it is not always that straightforward. Sometimes services are not fully blocked, but they are throttled, and quality of service is diminished, or they are selectively filtered over time.”

Still, the impact is real. In 2010, Google controlled 40 percent of the Chinese search market, but since it left the country (and was subsequently blocked), Chinese search traffic has gone to the local, censored alternative Baidu, which now controls a nearly 80 percent market share.

Since China joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, the US has filed, and won, several trade cases against the world’s second-largest economy. But these cases are focused entirely on physical products, like the December 2016 complaint about tariff rate quotes for wheat, rice, and corn. None, so far, address digital trade.

“Unfortunately, countries [like China] are able to enact barriers to digital trade, as there is a vacuum in terms of rules that deal with digital trade issues,” said Cory.

This is a limitation in nearly all existing agreements governing trade, which mostly date from the pre-internet era. The WTO came into force in 1995, and its predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), in 1947. Both focus on the trade of goods, not services.

“Existing rules at the WTO — mostly agreed to in the mid-1990s, when the internet as we know it didn’t exist — have proven ineffective,” said Cory.

That’s why when the Chinese tried to block American-made auto parts from entering the country, the US quickly filed a complaint at the WTO and won. Yet when China blocks or throttles a US-based website or tool like Flickr, Pinterest or Instagram, there is little action.

“We’re going to continue seeing countries restrict information access if they think there will be no trade consequences.”

“We’re going to continue seeing countries restrict information access if they think there will be no trade consequences,” said Schruer. “Not until a trade case is brought will these practices disappear.”

One of the few opportunities to rework global trade, at least for the US, may have been lost when Donald Trump won the 2016 US presidential election. He campaigned against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which was officially abandoned shortly after his arrival at the White House. The TPP, for all its faults, could have provided a basis for regulating the trade of digital services, at least among the 11 countries meant to be its original members.

“The e-commerce chapter of the TPP … represented a major step forward in developing new rules to support and protect digital trade,” said Cory. ITIF is still hopeful that even a TPP without the US could provide at least a framework for future global policy.

“If enacted — even without the United States — these rules will still cover a large part of the global economy, thereby going a long way toward establishing a new global norm for China and others at the WTO to work towards.”

baidufleet.jpg

Baidu’s fleet of self-driving car prototypes.

There is a flipside to this argument. In most of the world, the US digital giants — Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple — control the so-called open web. To “Google” has become a verb in many languages, as has to “Instagram,” “tweet” and “Snap.” In most countries, one or more US companies dominate search, social media, chat or streaming, with some exceptions, like Korea (which has Naver) and Myanmar (Viber). While China’s internet is not likely what techno-utopians had in mind in the late ’90s and early 2000s, neither is the oligarchic corporate control of the internet in the rest of the world.

The only place where the US giants don’t have a firm foothold in the market is China. While the origins of the Great Firewall may have been to protect the Communist Party, another impact has been to enable the growth of local internet companies. In China, you don’t Google something, you “Baidu” it (百度). To tweet is to “Weibo” (微博), referring to the national Twitter alternative. The language reflects the power of these Chinese alternatives, which grew under the protection of the Great Firewall.

“Essentially, the absence of US tech companies allowed China’s Internet companies to grow without strong competition and capture the lion’s share of the domestic market,” said Shanthi Kalathil, director of the International Forum for Democratic Studies at the National Endowment for Democracy.

The result is China’s own digital giants — Tencent, Baidu and Alibaba. In fact, this model of protectionism as a form of economic development is not new, and was used by some of China’s neighbors to grow their economies.

“There are some parallels with Japan’s protectionism of its auto industry, which runs very deep in its political and economic system.”

“There are some parallels with Japan’s protectionism of its auto industry, which runs very deep in its political and economic system,” said Anindya Ghose, a China business expert at NYU’s Stern School of Business.

Protectionism works only as long as you aren’t held accountable or facing retaliation. Japan couldn’t protect its auto industry forever, and in 1981 it was forced to accept quotas that limited its ability to freely export cars into the US. By then, however, Japanese companies were large enough to compete on a level playing field with US and European automakers. Toyota, which benefited greatly from pre- and post-1981 protectionist policies, is today the largest automaker in the world.

Korea followed a similar model for both its auto industry and its tech companies, like Samsung and LG. Countries that did not protect local industries have faltering national car industries — case in point: Malaysia, whose automaker Proton was recently acquired by a Chinese competitor — or are almost completely dependent on foreign companies setting up factories, as in Indonesia.

“The fact that Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube are all blocked in China has no doubt benefited the tech titans of China, such as Baidu, Weibo and Tencent,” said Ghose. Now these companies are so entrenched that they can not only compete with the US giants but lead on innovations.

The question is: What’s next? China shows no sign of lowering its digital trade barriers. In fact, they are getting stronger and more widespread, as the crackdown on virtual private networks (VPNs) and a new cybersecurity law show.

Moreover, in the past few years, China has been pushing to transform internet governance in its own image, through an ideology of “internet sovereignty.”

“China uses the phrase ‘Internet sovereignty’ as a broad framing device for all of China’s activity related to the Internet,” said Kalathil. This approach allows each country to govern its internal digital space as it sees fit, with little or no overarching global governance structures.

China’s influence is massive — it is already the world’s biggest internet market, with an estimated 1.1 billion internet users in 2016 — and other countries, like Russia, have expressed support for China’s style of digital control.

“China wields tremendous power because of its market, and this allows it to dictate terms in a way that other countries without that same market cannot,” said Kalathil. For example, WeChat, the most ubiquitous Chinese app, has nearly 800 million users and accounts for an astounding one-third of all Chinese user time on the mobile web. That gives it a powerful base from which to expand globally, as it has done with some success.

Other countries are looking to emulate the Chinese model, mostly because it has proven so successful at its original goal. The Communist Party is still in power, and China’s economy is still growing. For authoritarian regimes like Thailand and Egypt, where social-media-driven protests have caused considerable stress to the ruling military juntas, the notion of controlling the domestic internet is enticing.

“China is exporting its great firewall to other countries,” said Smith. “To think that other countries could easily replicate China’s draconian censorship is frightening.”

Tactics that were once features of the Chinese digital space are starting to become more common throughout the world. Internet shutdowns have taken place in Egypt, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, India (Kashmir) and several other countries in the past year. Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks pioneered by the Great Cannon are on the rise, targeting, for example, news media sites.

Meanwhile, in China, digital security measures tested in restive regions like Xinjiang and Tibet are being implemented all across the country, in what some are calling the “digital totalitarian state.” Together with projects like the social credit system, Chinese authorities could ultimately gain complete control of all information flows from Chinese internet users. This control could even extend beyond China’s borders.

“By exerting growing influence over the platforms for global speech, the Chinese government is shaping and controlling expression not only domestically but internationally as well,” said Kalathil. “The international community — not just governments, but civil society and the private sector as well — should recognize that this phenomenon is well under way, and speak with one voice in support of core democratic values.”

If the WTO or a US-less TPP can’t open up digital trade barriers, then it may be time to fight fire with fire. We saw a taste of this earlier this year, when Russia, a supporter of internet sovereignty, blocked WeChat, the first major instance of China getting a taste of its own digital medicine. Could other countries — perhaps the US, which used retaliatory measures to force, for example, Japan to accept car export quotas in the 1980s — do the same?

“The US government could easily make WeChat inaccessible in the United States, creating a great inconvenience for Chinese who are living, working and studying in the country,” said Smith. “However, this really goes against the idea of internet freedom and this is not a position that I would advocate. But as the situation gets worse in China, maybe it is time to try a different approach.”

Meanwhile, tech companies may be contorting themselves to national requirements. Facebook, openly courting China for years, has already developed a censorship tool for the country, in a bid to get back into the market. Left unchecked, this could be the future of the internet: more Great Firewalls, with tech giants reworking their products for different countries to satisfy the government. It would be a far cry from the open, global internet many dreamed of not so long ago.

15
Sep

Alphabet reportedly considers a $1 billion Lyft investment


Alphabet’s autonomous driving aspirations are pretty well-known at this point. The company formerly known as Google owns Waymo, and as a way to further its interests in the space, it’s apparently considering a $1 billion investment in Lyft according to Bloomberg. What does Lyft have to do with self-driving cars, pray tell? In May, Waymo and Lyft announced they were working together on testing self-driving taxis. Two months later Lyft announced it would start developing an autonomous platform as a “core” part of its business and that it’d begin licensing the tech out to hardware manufacturers (think: Ford, General Motors and Chrysler). This would give Alphabet another leg up in the space.

If you’ll remember, Alphabet was an early Uber investor, which gets tricky when you realize that Waymo is currently suing Uber over theft of trade secrets. Axios reports that the investment is being pushed by top-level executives rather than Alphabet’s in-house investment fund organizations. This has been your daily ride-hailing app business-deal update for Friday, September 15th, 2017.

Source: Bloomberg, Axios

15
Sep

Apple Started Developing A11 Bionic Chip When A8 Chip Was Released Three Years Ago


Shortly after Apple’s iPhone X event this week, the company’s silicon chief Johny Srouji and marketing chief Phil Schiller sat down for an interview about its new A11 Bionic chip with Mashable’s editor-at-large Lance Ulanoff.

One interesting tidbit mentioned was that Apple began exploring and developing the core technologies in the A11 chip at least three years ago, when the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus launched with A8 chips.

Srouji told me that when Apple architects silicon, they start by looking three years out, which means the A11 Bionic was under development when Apple was shipping the iPhone 6 and its A8 chip. Back then we weren’t even talking about AI and machine learning at a mobile level and, yet, Srouji said, “The neural engine embed, it’s a bet we made three years ahead.”

Apple’s three-year roadmap can change if new features are planned, like the Super Retina HD Display in iPhone X.

“The process is flexible to changes,” said Srouji, who’s been with Apple since the first iPhone. If a team comes in with a request that wasn’t part of the original plan, “We need to make that happen. We don’t say, ‘No, let me get back to my road map and, five years later, I’ll give you something.”

Apple senior executives Phil Schiller, left, and Johny Srouji
In fact, Schiller praised Srouji’s team for its ability to “move heaven and earth” when the roadmap suddenly changes.

“There have been some critical things in the past few years, where we’ve asked Johny’s team to do something on a different schedule, on a different plan than they had in place for years, and they moved heaven and earth and done it, and it’s remarkable to see.”

A11 Bionic six-core chip has two performance cores that are 25 percent faster, and four high-efficiency cores that are 70 percent faster, than the A10 chip in iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. Early benchmarks suggest the A11 Bionic is even on par with the performance of Apple’s latest 13-inch MacBook Pro models.

The A11 chip is more efficient at multi-threaded tasks thanks to a second-generation performance controller that is able to access all six of the cores simultaneously if a particular task demands it.

Gaming might use more cores, said Srouji, but something as simple as predictive texting, where the system suggests the next word to type, can tap into the high-performance CPUs, as well.

The A11 chip also has an Apple-designed neural engine that handles facial recognition for Face ID and Animoji, and other machine learning algorithms. The dual-core engine recognizes people, places, and objects, and processes machine learning tasks at up to 600 billion operations per second, according to Apple.

“When you look at applications and software, there are certain algorithms that are better off using a functional programming model,” said Srouji.

This includes the iPhone X’s new face tracking and Face ID as well as the augmented-reality-related object detection. All of them use neural networks, machine learning or deep learning (which is part of machine learning). This kind of neural processing could run on a CPU or, preferably, a GPU. “But for these neural networking kinds of programming models, implementing custom silicon that’s targeted for that application, that will perform the exact same tasks, is much more energy efficient than a graphics engine,” said Srouji.

Apple’s new iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X are all equipped with an A11 chip.

In related news, Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science has announced that Srouji will take part in a distinguished industry lecture on Monday, September 18 from 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. local time.

Full Interview: The Inside Story of the iPhone X ‘Brain,’ the A11 Bionic Chip

Related Roundups: iPhone 8, iPhone X
Tags: Phil Schiller, Johny Srouji, A11 chip
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15
Sep

Ming-Chi Kuo Says iPhone X Unlikely to Reach Supply-Demand Balance Until Next Year


While the iPhone X launches November 3, with pre-orders beginning October 27, reliable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo believes Apple’s high-end smartphone won’t achieve complete supply-demand equilibrium until next year.

In his latest research note with KGI Securities, obtained by MacRumors, Kuo said customer demand for the iPhone X won’t be fully met until at least the first half of 2018 due to supply constraints.

We believe the fullscreen design and facial recognition features will drive replacement demand for the iPhone X. However, due to supply constraints, we expect market demand won’t be fully met before 1H18. We revise down our forecast for 2017F iPhone X shipments from 45-50 million to around 40 million units, but we therefore revise up our 2018 iPhone X shipment estimate to 80-90 million units.

In fewer words, getting an iPhone X in your hands may prove especially challenging this holiday shopping season.

In addition to supply constraints, Kuo said the reason why iPhone X pre-orders won’t begin for another six weeks is likely because Apple doesn’t want to cannibalize sales of the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus.

iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus pre-orders began at 12:01 a.m. Pacific Time today. The devices launch Friday, September 22.

Earlier this week, Kuo said Apple’s iPhone X production was less than 10,000 units per day, but the yield may be increasing as Apple ramps up mass production. He anticipated the iPhone X will remain in “severe short supply for a while.”

Kuo also anticipated that a gold iPhone X would encounter some production problems and initially be available only in “extremely low volume,” or launch at a later date, but Apple said the iPhone X comes only in Silver and Space Gray.

In today’s research note, he said the lack of a gold color echoes his production concerns, but he didn’t elaborate if he still thinks the iPhone X will eventually be released in gold like the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus.

Related Roundup: iPhone X
Tags: KGI Securities, Ming-Chi Kuo
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