Microsoft Will Use Intel To Manufacture Home-Grown Processor
Intel has landed Microsoft as a customer for its made-to-order chip business, marking a key win for an ambitious turnaround effort under Chief Executive Officer Pat Gelsinger. From a report:
Microsoft plans to use Intel’s 18A manufacturing technology to make a forthcoming chip that the software maker designed in-house, the two companies said at an event Wednesday. They didn’t identify the product, but Microsoft recently announced plans for two homegrown chips: a computer processor and an artificial intelligence accelerator.
Intel has been seeking to prove it can compete in the foundry market, where companies produce custom chips for clients. It’s a major shift for the semiconductor pioneer, which once had the world’s most advanced chipmaking facilities and kept them to itself. These days, Intel is racing to catch up with companies like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., which leads the foundry industry. Microsoft, meanwhile, is looking to secure a steady supply of semiconductors to power its data-center operations — especially as demand for AI grows. Designing its own chips also lets Microsoft fine-tune the products to its specific needs. “We need a reliable supply of the most advanced, high-performance and high-quality semiconductors,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in a statement. âoeThat’s why we are so excited to work with Intel.”
US Offers Up To $15 Million For Information on LockBit Leaders
A day after the U.S., UK and EU said they had disrupted the ransomware group LockBit, the State Department said the U.S. is offering a reward of up to $15 million for information leading to the identification or location of the leaders of the ransomware group.
Lives vs. Livelihoods: The Impact of the Great Recession on Mortality and Welfare
Academics have found that the U.S. mortality declines during recessions, with “reductions in air pollution… a quantitatively important mechanism.” Abstract of a paper on National Bureau of Economic Research:
We leverage spatial variation in the severity of the Great Recession across the United States to examine its impact on mortality and to explore implications for the welfare consequences of recessions. We estimate that an increase in the unemployment rate of the magnitude of the Great Recession reduces the average, annual age-adjusted mortality rate by 2.3 percent, with effects persisting for at least 10 years. Mortality reductions appear across causes of death and are concentrated in the half of the population with a high school degree or less. We estimate similar percentage reductions in mortality at all ages, with declines in elderly mortality thus responsible for about three-quarters of the total mortality reduction. Recession-induced mortality declines are driven primarily by external effects of reduced aggregate economic activity on mortality, and recession-induced reductions in air pollution appear to be a quantitatively important mechanism. Incorporating our estimates of pro-cyclical mortality into a standard macroeconomics framework substantially reduces the welfare costs of recessions, particularly for people with less education, and at older ages where they may even be welfare-improving.
Apple Says the iPhone 15’s Battery Has Double the Promised Lifespan
Apple has updated the iPhone 15’s battery lifespan, noting the new handsets can retain 80 percent of their original charging capacity after 1,000 cycles — double the company’s previous estimate — without any new hardware or software updates. From a report:
Not so coincidentally, the change will arrive in time for upcoming EU regulations that will assign an energy grade for phones’ battery longevity. Before today, Apple’s online support documents quoted iPhone batteries as maintaining 80 percent of their original full charge after 500 cycles. But after the company retested long-term battery health in its 2023 smartphones — iPhone 15, iPhone 15 Plus, iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max — it found they can retain 80 percent capacity after at least 1,000 cycles. The company said its support documents will be updated on Tuesday to reflect the new estimate.
Apple Rolls Out iMessage Upgrade To Withstand Decryption By Quantum Computers
Apple is rolling out an upgrade to its iMessage texting platform to defend against future encryption-breaking technologies. From a report:
The new protocol, known as PQ3, is another sign that U.S. tech firms are bracing for a potential future breakthrough in quantum computing that could make current methods of protecting users’ communications obsolete. “More than simply replacing an existing algorithm with a new one, we rebuilt the iMessage cryptographic protocol from the ground up,” an Apple blog post published on Wednesday reads. “It will fully replace the existing protocol within all supported conversations this year.”
More on Apple’s security blog.
The Cupertino, California-based iPhone maker says its encryption algorithms are state-of-the-art and that it has found no evidence so far of a successful attack on them. Still, government officials and scientists are concerned that the advent of quantum computers, advanced machines that tap in to the properties of subatomic particles, could suddenly and dramatically weaken those protections. Late last year, a Reuters investigation explored how the United States and China are racing to prepare for that moment, dubbed “Q-Day,” both by pouring money into quantum research and by investing in new encryption standards known as post-quantum cryptography. Washington and Beijing have traded allegations of intercepting massive amounts of encrypted data in preparation for Q-Day, an approach sometimes dubbed “catch now, crack later.”
Google Launches Two New Open LLMs
Barely a week after launching the latest iteration of its Gemini models, Google today announced the launch of Gemma, a new family of lightweight open-weight models. From a report:
Starting with Gemma 2B and Gemma 7B, these new models were “inspired by Gemini” and are available for commercial and research usage. Google did not provide us with a detailed paper on how these models perform against similar models from Meta and Mistral, for example, and only noted that they are “state-of-the-art.”
The company did note that these are dense decoder-only models, though, which is the same architecture it used for its Gemini models (and its earlier PaLM models) and that we will see the benchmarks later today on Hugging Face’s leaderboard. To get started with Gemma, developers can get access to ready-to-use Colab and Kaggle notebooks, as well as integrations with Hugging Face, MaxText and Nvidia’s NeMo. Once pre-trained and tuned, these models can then run everywhere. While Google highlights that these are open models, it’s worth noting that they are not open-source. Indeed, in a press briefing ahead of today’s announcement, Google’s Janine Banks stressed the company’s commitment to open source but also noted that Google is very intentional about how it refers to the Gemma models.
Google DeepMind Alumni Unveil Bioptimus: Aiming To Build First Universal Biology AI Model
An anonymous reader quotes a report from VentureBeat:
As the French startup ecosystem continues to boom — think Mistral, Poolside, and Adaptive — today the Paris-based Bioptimus, with a mission to build the first universal AI foundation model for biology, emerged from stealth following a seed funding round of $35 million. The new open science model will connect the different scales of biology with generative AI — from molecules to cells, tissues and whole organisms. Bioptimus unites a team of Google DeepMind alumni and Owkin scientists (AI biotech startup Owkin is itself a French unicorn) who will take advantage of AWS compute and Owkin’s data generation capabilities and access to multimodal patient data sourced from leading academic hospitals worldwide. According to a press release, “this all gives the power to create computational representations that establish a strong differentiation against models trained solely on public datasets and a single data modality that are not able to capture the full diversity of biology.”
In an interview with VentureBeat, Jean-Philippe Vert, co-founder and CEO of Bioptimus, chief R&D Officer of Owkin and former research lead at Google Brain, said as a smaller, independent company, Bioptimus can move faster than Google DeepMind to gain direct access to the data needed to train biology models. “We have the advantage of being able to more easily and securely collaborate with partners, and have established a level of trust in our work by sharing our AI expertise and making models available to them for research,” he said. “This can be hard for big tech to do. Bioptimus will also leverage some of the strongest sovereignty controls in the market today.”
Rodolphe Jenatton, a former research scientist at Google DeepMind, has also joined the Bioptimus team, telling VentureBeat the Bioptimus work will be released as open source/open science, at a similar level to Mistral’s model releases. “Transparency and sharing and community will be key elements for us,” he said. Currently, AI models are limited to specific aspects of biology, Vert explained. “For example, several companies are starting to build language models for protein sequences,” he said, adding that there are also initiatives to build a foundation model for images of cells.
However, there is no holistic view of the totality of biology: “The good news is that the AI technology is converging very quickly, with some architectures that allow to have all the data contribute together to a unified model,” he explained. “So this is what we want to do. As far as I know that it does not exist yet. But I’m certain that if we didn’t do it, someone else would do it in the near future.” The biggest bottleneck, he said, is access to data. “It’s very different from training an LLM on text on the web,” he said. And that access, he pointed out, is what Bioptimus has in spades, through its Owkin partnership.
Darwin Online Has Virtually Reassembled the Naturalist’s Personal Library
Jennifer Ouellette reports via Ars Technica:
Famed naturalist Charles Darwin amassed an impressive personal library over the course of his life, much of which was preserved and cataloged upon his death in 1882. But many other items were lost, including more ephemeral items like unbound volumes, pamphlets, journals, clippings, and so forth, often only vaguely referenced in Darwin’s own records. For the last 18 years, the Darwin Online project has painstakingly scoured all manner of archival records to reassemble a complete catalog of Darwin’s personal library virtually. The project released its complete 300-page online catalog — consisting of 7,400 titles across 13,000 volumes, with links to electronic copies of the works — to mark Darwin’s 215th birthday on February 12.
“This unprecedentedly detailed view of Darwin’s complete library allows one to appreciate more than ever that he was not an isolated figure working alone but an expert of his time building on the sophisticated science and studies and other knowledge of thousands of people,” project leader John van Wyhe of the National University of Singapore said. “Indeed, the size and range of works in the library makes manifest the extraordinary extent of Darwin’s research into the work of others.”
Disney Strikes Deal For Sony To Take Over Its DVD, Blu-ray Disc Business
Disney is outsourcing its DVD and Blu-ray disc business to Sony Pictures Entertainment. Variety reports:
As part of the deal, Sony will market, sell and distribute all Disney’s new releases and catalog titles on physical media to consumers through retailers and distributors in the U.S. and Canada. Disney will continue to manage its own digital media, like premium video-on-demand. It’s unclear if this will result in layoffs at Disney. However, the studio is expected to conduct an internal assessment across all business functions that support physical entertainment amid the transition to Sony, according to sources familiar with the agreement.
According to Disney, the licensing model allows the studio to continue to offer films and TV shows through physical retailers and to respond to consumer demand more efficiently. The company said the shift is consistent with strategies it’s implemented companywide, as well as transitions in other markets.
Frozen Embryos Are ‘Children,’ According To Alabama’s Supreme Court
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica:
The Alabama Supreme Court on Friday ruled that frozen embryos are “children,” entitled to full personhood rights, and anyone who destroys them could be liable in a wrongful death case. The first-of-its-kind ruling throws into question the future use of assisted reproductive technology (ART) involving in vitro fertilization for patients in Alabama — and beyond. For this technology, people who want children but face challenges to conceiving can create embryos in clinical settings, which may or may not go on to be implanted in a uterus.
The result of this ruling “could mean that any embryos that are destroyed or discarded in the process of IVF or afterward could be the subject of wrongful death lawsuits,” notes Ars. [According to national ART data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of egg retrievals that fail to result in a live birth ranges from 46 percent to 91 percent, depending on the patient’s age. Meanwhile, the percentage of fertilized egg or embryo transfers that fail to result in a live birth range from 51 percent to 76 percent, depending on age.]
In the Alabama case, a hospital patient wandered through an unlocked door, removed frozen, preserved embryos from subzero storage and, suffering an ice burn, dropped the embryos, killing them. Affected IVF patients filed wrongful-death lawsuits against the IVF clinic under the state’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act. The case was initially dismissed in a lower court, which ruled the embryos did not meet the definition of a child. But the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that “it applies to all children, born and unborn, without limitation.” In a concurring opinion, Chief Justice Tom Parker cited his religious beliefs and quoted the Bible to support the stance.
“Human life cannot be wrongfully destroyed without incurring the wrath of a holy God, who views the destruction of His image as an affront to Himself,” Parker wrote. “Even before birth, all human beings bear the image of God, and their lives cannot be destroyed without effacing his glory.” In 2020, the US Department of Health and Human Services estimated that there were over 600,000 embryos frozen in storage around the country, a significant percentage of which will likely never result in a live birth.
“The ruling creates potentially paralyzing liability for ART clinics and patients who use them. Doctors may choose to only attempt creating embryos one at a time to avoid liability attached to creating extras, or they may decline to provide IVF altogether to avoid liability when embryos do not survive the process. This could exacerbate the already financially draining and emotionally exhausting process of IVF, potentially putting it entirely out of reach for those who want to use the technology and putting clinics out of business.”
YouTube Dominates TV Streaming In US, Per Nielsen’s Latest Report
In a new report today, Nielsen found that YouTube is once again the overall top streaming service in the U.S., with 8.6% of viewing on television screens. Netflix was a close second at 7.9% of TV usage. TechCrunch reports:
In a blog post celebrating the achievement, the Google-owned streaming service announced that viewers now watch a daily average of over 1 billion hours of YouTube content on their televisions, which could indicate that there’s a preference for user-generated videos among U.S. consumers rather than traditional TV shows. Sixty-one percent of Gen Z reported that they favor user-generated content over other content formats. […]
Although YouTube may have precedence in the living room, TikTok continues to dominate on mobile devices. The short-form video app recently began testing the ability for TikTokers to upload 30-minute videos, which could step on YouTube’s toes. TikTok also entered the spatial reality space, launching a native app on the Apple Vision Pro. Meanwhile, YouTube decided to not build a dedicated app for the device.
Zuckerberg: Neural Wristband For AR/VR Input Will Ship ‘In the Next Few Years’
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that it’s working on a finger tracking neural wristband that will be ready to ship “in the next few years.” UploadVR reports:
Appearing on the Morning Brew Daily talk show on Friday, Mark Zuckerberg said “we’re actually kind of close to having something here that we’re going to have in a product in the next few years.” […] An entirely different approach to finger tracking is to sense the neural electrical signals passing through your wrist to your fingers from your brain, using a technique called electromyography (EMG). Theoretically this could have zero or even negative latency, perfect accuracy, work regardless of lighting conditions, and not be subject to occlusion. When discussing the technology in 2021 Reardon claimed that a recent breakthrough enabled decoding the activity of individual neurons for “almost infinite control over machines.” Occlusion-free finger tracking of this quality and reliability could enable precise control of complex interfaces with incredibly subtle movements of your hand resting on your lap, making it an ideal input method for headsets and AR glasses. […]
So how will this arrive in a Meta product? In early 2023 an internal Meta AR/VR hardware roadmap leaked to The Verge, revealing details about Quest 3, the existence of the headset now rumored to be called Quest 3 Lite, and the cancelation of the 2024 candidate for Quest Pro 2 in favor of a more ambitious but “way out” model. But this roadmap also mentioned that Meta was planning to release the neural wristband alongside the third generation Ray-Ban smartglasses in 2025 as the input method.
According to that roadmap, two models of the wristband will be offered at different price points - one with the neural input tech only and another that also has a display and camera to act as a smartwatch too. A second generation of the wristband will also apparently act as the input device for the true AR glasses Meta plans to launch in 2027. We should however note that this plan or the timeline may have changed in the year since.
Cox Communications Wins Order Overturning $1 Billion US Copyright Verdict
Internet service provider Cox Communications has been cleared of a $1 billion jury verdict in favor of several major record labels that had accused it of failing to curb user piracy. “The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, ruled on Tuesday that the amount of damages was not justified and that a federal district court should hold a new trial to determine the appropriate amount,” reports Reuters. From the report:
A Virginia jury in 2019 found Cox, the largest unit of privately-owned Cox Enterprises, liable for its customers’ violations of over 10,000 copyrights belonging to labels including Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group, and Universal Music Group. The labels’ attorney Matt Oppenheim said that the appeals court “affirmed the jury’s verdict that Cox is a willful infringer,” and that “the evidence of Cox’s complete disregard for copyright law and copyright owners has not changed.” “A second jury will get to hear that same compelling evidence, and we fully expect it will render a significant verdict,” Oppenheim said.
More than 50 labels teamed up to sue Cox in 2018, in what was seen as a test of the obligations of internet service providers (ISPs) to thwart piracy. The labels accused Cox of failing to address thousands of infringement notices, cut off access for repeat infringers, or take reasonable measures to deter pirates. Atlanta-based Cox had told the 4th Circuit that upholding the verdict would force ISPs to boot households or businesses based on “isolated and potentially inaccurate allegations,” or require intrusive oversight of customers’ internet usage. Other ISPs, including Charter Communications, Frontier Communications and Astound Broadband, formerly RCN, have also been sued by the record labels.
Fingerprints Can Be Recreated From the Sounds Made When Swiping On a Touchscreen
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Tom’s Hardware:
An interesting new attack on biometric security has been outlined by a group of researchers from China and the US. PrintListener: Uncovering the Vulnerability of Fingerprint Authentication via the Finger Friction Sound [PDF] proposes a side-channel attack on the sophisticated Automatic Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS). The attack leverages the sound characteristics of a user’s finger swiping on a touchscreen to extract fingerprint pattern features. Following tests, the researchers assert that they can successfully attack “up to 27.9% of partial fingerprints and 9.3% of complete fingerprints within five attempts at the highest security FAR [False Acceptance Rate] setting of 0.01%.” This is claimed to be the first work that leverages swiping sounds to infer fingerprint information.
Without contact prints or finger detail photos, how can an attacker hope to get any fingerprint data to enhance MasterPrint and DeepMasterPrint dictionary attack results on user fingerprints? One answer is as follows: the PrintListener paper says that “finger-swiping friction sounds can be captured by attackers online with a high possibility.” The source of the finger-swiping sounds can be popular apps like Discord, Skype, WeChat, FaceTime, etc. Any chatty app where users carelessly perform swiping actions on the screen while the device mic is live. Hence the side-channel attack name — PrintListener. […]
To prove the theory, the scientists practically developed their attack research as PrintListener. In brief, PrintListener uses a series of algorithms for pre-processing the raw audio signals which are then used to generate targeted synthetics for PatternMasterPrint (the MasterPrint generated by fingerprints with a specific pattern). Importantly, PrintListener went through extensive experiments “in real-world scenarios,” and, as mentioned in the intro, can facilitate successful partial fingerprint attacks in better than one in four cases, and complete fingerprint attacks in nearly one in ten cases. These results far exceed unaided MasterPrint fingerprint dictionary attacks.
Valve Makes All Steam Audio SDK Source Code Available Under Apache 2.0 License
Michael Larabel reports via Phoronix:
With Valve’s release today of the Steam Audio SDK 4.5.2 they have made the software development kit fully open-source under an Apache 2.0 license. Steam Audio 4.5.2 may not sound exciting in the context of a version number but as described in the release announcement is now “the first open source release of the Steam Audio SDK source code.” The rest of this work in this Steam Audio SDK release amounts to bug fixes and other standard changes.
You can learn more about Steam Audio via the project site.
In a SteamCommunity.com announcement posted today entitled “Steam Audio Open Source Release,” it notes: “The entire Steam Audio codebase, including both the SDK and all plugins, is now released under the Apache 2.0 license. This allows developers to use Steam Audio in commercial products, and to modify or redistribute it under their own licensing terms without having to include source code. We welcome contributions from developers who would like to fix bugs or add features to Steam Audio.”