(CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.) — SpaceX completed the last big test of its crew capsule before launching astronauts in as little as two months, mimicking an emergency escape shortly after liftoff Sunday.
No one was aboard for the wild ride in the skies above Cape Canaveral, just two mannequins.
A Falcon 9 rocket blasted off as normal, but just over a minute into its supersonic flight, the Dragon crew capsule catapulted off the top 12 miles (20 kilometers) above the Atlantic. Powerful thrusters on the capsule propelled it up and out of harm’s way, as the rocket engines deliberately shut down and the booster tumbled out of control in a giant fireball.
The capsule reached an altitude of about 27 miles (44 kilometers) before parachuting into the ocean just offshore to bring the nine-minute test flight to a close and pave the way for two NASA astronauts to climb aboard next time.
SpaceX flight controllers at the company’s California headquarters cheered every milestone — especially the splashdown. Everything appeared to go well despite the choppy seas and overcast skies.
Recycled from three previous launches, the SpaceX rocket was destroyed as it crashed into the sea in pieces. The company founded and led by Elon Musk normally recovers its boosters, landing them upright on a floating platform or back at the launch site.
“That’s the main objective of this test, is to show that we can carry the astronauts safely away from the rocket in case anything’s going wrong,” said SpaceX’s Benji Reed, director of crew mission management.
“This test is very important to us … a huge practice session,” Reed added.
NASA’s commercial crew program manager, Kathy Lueders, said the launch abort test was “our last open milestone” before allowing SpaceX to launch Doug Hurley and Robert Behnken to the International Space Station.
She said that could happen as soon as March. NASA astronauts have not launched from the U.S. since 2011 when the space shuttle program ended.
“We are purposely failing a launch vehicle to make sure that our abort system on the spacecraft, that will be flying for our crews, works,” Lueders said in advance of the demo.
Delayed a day by bad weather, Sunday’s launch from Kennedy Space Center brought together hundreds of SpaceX, NASA and Air Force employees on land, at sea and in the air. Tourists and locals alike packed the adjoining visitor complex and nearby beaches to see the dramatic fiery spectacle of an out-of-control rocket.
“Dragon high altitude, supersonic abort test is a risky mission, as it’s pushing the envelope in so many ways,” Musk tweeted minutes before liftoff.
Hurley and Behnken, the NASA astronauts assigned to the first SpaceX crew, monitored the flight from the firing room, including the capsule recovery effort They took part in a dress rehearsal Friday, suiting up and heading to the launch pad.
Preferring to focus on the moon and Mars, NASA hired SpaceX and Boeing for billions of dollars to transport astronauts to and from the space station. That should have happened long before now, but both companies struggled with technical problems, adding years of delay and forcing NASA to shell out hundreds of millions of dollars extra for Russian rocket rides.
SpaceX successfully flew a Crew Dragon to the space station last March without anyone on board, but the capsule exploded a month later during ground testing. The emergency escape thrusters — the kind used in Sunday’s test — had to be retooled. In all, SpaceX has tested these powerful Super Draco thrusters some 700 times.
Last month, meanwhile, Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule ended up in the wrong orbit on its first test flight and had to skip the space station. The previous month, only two of the Starliner’s three parachutes deployed during a launch abort test.
Lueders said it’s too soon to know whether Boeing will need to send another Starliner to the space station without a crew or go straight to launching astronauts later this year. An investigation team is still looking into why the Starliner’s automated timer was off by 11 hours during the December test flight.
Source: Tech – TIME | 20 Jan 2020 | 5:31 am
This year marks the start of a new decade, and the end of a generation of video games. Sony and Microsoft are set to launch new systems during the holidays, marking the beginning of a new phase in gaming. But that’s good news: Traditionally, the games launched at the end of a generation are among that generation’s best.
Here are the video games we’re most looking forward to playing in 2020:
Computers, synt-wave, betrayal, and Keanu Reeves — Cyberpunk 2077 is the most hyped game of the year. Fresh from the success of The Witcher 3, developer CD Projekt Red has gone from medieval fantasy to the dark and gritty world Night City in the year 2077.
This is an open-world action RPG in which players create their character and play their own way. Sneak through a base, hiding in the shadows and controlling the security system, or smash through the walls guns blazing. It’s up to you. Also, Keanu Reeves plays the ghost or a revolutionary rockstar that’s stuck in you head.
Cyberpunk 2020 hits PC, Xbox One, and PS4 on September 17, 2020.
Final Fantasy VII defined role-playing games for a generation of gamers when it arrived in 1997. Cloud, Aerith, and Sephiroth are gaming icons. More than 20 years later, developer Square Enix has remade the game from the ground up. The old turn-based combat system has been overhauled, the graphics look incredible, and the music is orchestrated to tug on our heartstrings.
Let Final Fantasy VII break your heart all over again on the PlayStation 4 starting April 10, 2020.
DOOM’s 2016 release brought the first-person shooter franchise back to its roots. DOOM Eternal is more of the same, but perfected. Rip and tear your way through hundreds of demons as you wage war against heaven and hell to save Earth from the apocalypse.
Raise hell in Doom Eternal on the PC, PS4, and Xbox One starting March 3, 2020.
The Last of Us set a high bar for storytelling in big-budget video games. Like The Walking Dead, its zombies are a background for a drama about a family in upheaval. Joel is a man with a terrible tragedy in his past, Ellie is a girl who can save the world. Part II picks up the story years after the end of the previous game. Joel and Ellie are older, but the world is no better.
Play The Last of Us Part II on PlayStation 4 on May 29, 2020.
You know how it is. You purchase a vacation package from that rascally racoon Tom Nook, and the next thing you know you’re stranded on a deserted island. You try to spruce up the place as best you can, all while making regular payments to Nook. The Animal Crossing franchise is Nintendo’s version of The Sims, but more adorable and full of strange mysteries. There are talking animals, adventures, and one industrious raccoon who expects his debts to be repaid.
Half-Life 2: Episode Two ended on a cliffhanger more than a decade ago. Since then, fans have watched as their hope for a Half-Life 3 went from hope to horror. The idea that developer Valve, the company behind the digital distribution platform Steam, would ever release a follow-up to the genre defining Half-Life franchise has become a joke.
But Valve recently announced that a new Half-Life is coming out this year. The twist is that it’s a prequel. The second twist is that it’s exclusive to virtual reality headsets. With Valve’s track record of success, Half-Life: Alyx might be VR’s first killer app.
Half Life: Alyx comes to PC Virtual Reality headsets in March 2020.
Master Chief is eternal. Master Chief is infinite. We don’t know much about Halo Infinite — only that’s it’ll be a first-person shooter like its predecessors, and launch alongside Microsoft’s new Xbox Series X over the holiday. And honestly, that’s enough.
Halo Infinite is set to launch alongside the Xbox Series X this holiday season.
The year will end with the launch of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. We know precious little about both consoles — only that they’ll be hardware powerhouses able to run games in 4K at high frame rates with minimal loading times. At the moment, that’s all marketing. We know some of the games coming to the Xbox Series X, and very little about what’s coming to the PlayStation 5. But there’s a whole year ahead of us to hype the machines and learn what delights are planned.
Both new consoles are set to arrive over the holidays.
Source: Tech – TIME | 18 Jan 2020 | 4:21 am
Apple’s stance on encryption and user privacy is once again under the spotlight as the Federal Bureau of Investigation seeks the company’s help in decrypting two iPhones used by a Royal Saudi Air Force cadet who opened fire at a naval base in Pensacola, Fl. in December, killing three people before he himself was killed by police.
As it was last time, Apple is once again reluctant to decrypt the devices, citing user privacy. “We have always maintained there is no such thing as a backdoor just for the good guys,” the company said in a statement.
Attorney General William Barr expressed his frustration with Apple on Monday. “We have asked Apple for their help in unlocking the shooter’s phones,” Barr said during a press conference. “So far, Apple has not given any substantive assistance. This situation perfectly illustrates why it is critical that the public be able to get access to digital evidence once it is obtained a court order based on probable cause.”
Apple, however, insists its responses have been “timely, thorough and are ongoing.” Some critics of Barr and the FBI argue the government’s approach is less about unlocking these particular phones and more about weakening Apple’s encryption more broadly. That would make it easier for law enforcement to access locked devices, but at the cost of privacy for millions of iPhone users.
Here’s what to know about the latest standoff between Apple and the FBI.
The Justice Department has a warrant for searching the two iPhones used by the shooter, Second Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, but the agency says it lacks the technical know-how required to decrypt data stored on the devices. Simply entering every possible passcode combination in a so-called “brute force” approach risks locking or erasing the device forever, rendering them useless to investigators who are searching for clues.
The government’s latest request for Apple’s help echoes a similar situation in 2016, when investigators wanted the company’s assistance to unlock an iPhone used by one of the shooters in the 2015 attack in San Bernardino, California. At the time, Apple refused to create decryption software for the FBI, saying the request violated the company’s First Amendment and Fifth Amendment rights. If such software were created, some fear, it could get into the hands of hackers and other bad actors who could use it for their own nefarious ends.
“We see that this is our moment to stand up and say, Stop and force a dialogue,” Apple CEO Tim Cook told TIME amid the 2016 dispute. “There’s been too many times that government is just so strong and so powerful and so loud that they really just limit or they don’t hear the discourse.”
After Apple’s rebuttal, the FBI successfully applied for a court order under the All Writs Act of 1789 compelling the company to write software allowing investigators a limitless number of passcode attempts. But before Apple created such software, the FBI used a third-party tool to decrypt the iPhone, rendering the dispute moot.
This week’s revived debate could result in another attempt by the U.S. government to compel Apple to create a “backdoor” to its own encryption software.
Trump on Tuesday suggested it would be Apple’s best interests to assist the FBI with its investigation.
“We are helping Apple all of the time on TRADE and so many other issues, and yet they refuse to unlock phones used by killers, drug dealers and other violent criminal elements,” reads Trump’s tweet. “They will have to step up to the plate and help our great Country, NOW! MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.”
We are helping Apple all of the time on TRADE and so many other issues, and yet they refuse to unlock phones used by killers, drug dealers and other violent criminal elements. They will have to step up to the plate and help our great Country, NOW! MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 14, 2020
Beyond underscoring the President’s frustration with Apple’s reluctance to provide further assistance, Trump’s tweet also highlights the complex relationship between himself and Apple. While the company has been outspoken about privacy and other hot-button social issues, it has benefitted financially under the Trump administration — In 2018, it took advantage of a new tax code provision signed into law under the current administration to repatriate an estimated $250 billion in overseas profits, for instance.
“I promised that my policies would allow companies like Apple to bring massive amounts of money back to the United States,” Trump said in a 2018 tweet. “Great to see Apple follow through as a result of TAX CUTS. Huge win for American workers and the USA!”
Apple is contradicting Barr’s statement, saying that it is trying to find ways to help investigators without sacrificing other users’ privacy.
“We reject the characterization that Apple has not provided substantive assistance in the Pensacola investigation,” the company said in a statement to TIME, contradicting Barr’s statement on Monday. “Our responses to their many requests since the attack have been timely, thorough and are ongoing.”
The company’s position against creating a “backdoor” to its encryption software remains unchanged, despite its willingness to provide other forms of assistance to law enforcement.
“We are continuing to work with the FBI, and our engineering teams recently had a call to provide additional technical assistance,” reads Apple’s statement. “Apple has great respect for the Bureau’s work, and we will work tirelessly to help them investigate this tragic attack on our nation.”
That sentiment echoes Cook’s response to customer questions amid the 2016 dispute.
That depends on how the dispute plays out, especially if Congress or the courts take up the matter.
“I think the real consequences are going to be whether or not legislation comes out of it,” says Amy Gaudion, a professor of national security and cybersecurity policy at Penn State Dickinson Law. “And then if a case actually decides the issue, which is what I think many of us would like to see, a court to consider the issue and provide some guidance there.”
Legislation, of course, could go either way — lawmakers could take steps to better protect users’ privacy, or we could wind up with stronger laws requiring companies like Apple to comply with law enforcement requests, despite technological difficulties with doing so.
“I think we have two separate pressures on Congress,” says Gaudion. “The desire for some type of legislation to deal with data privacy and data protection based on a number of stories, particularly about the aggregation of data and location services … and then you’ve got to push for legislation which many thought would come about after the San Bernardino case, where Congress would update the All Writs Act or put in place some legislation that mandated assistance for law enforcement.”
Apple could face economic consequences, too. Trump’s message to Apple reads like a not-so-thinly veiled threat, and the tiff risks souring the relationship that Cook has cultivated with Trump and has benefitted Apple in the form of tariff exemptions and more.
Whether or not Apple decides to help the FBI decrypt the Pensacola iPhones may once again become a moot point, mostly due to the devices in question. The iPhone 5 and iPhone 7 handsets used by Alshamrani were released in 2012 and 2016, respectively. While both are encrypted, only the newer iPhone 7 supports the company’s latest iOS 13 operating system, released in September 2019. The older devices may still have security flaws that third-party companies could exploit to access the data therein, especially if the devices don’t have the latest software and its accompanying security fixes.
Source: Tech – TIME | 17 Jan 2020 | 5:57 am
YouTube has been “actively promoting” videos containing misinformation about climate change, a report released Thursday by campaign group Avaaz claims, despite recent policy changes by the platform intended to drive users away from harmful content and conspiracy theories.
Avaaz examined 5,537 videos retrieved by the search terms “climate change,” global warming” and “climate manipulation,” and then the videos most likely to be suggested next by YouTube’s “up next” sidebar. For each of those search terms respectively, 8%, 16% and 21% of the top 100 related videos included by YouTube in the “up-next” feature contained information that goes against the scientific consensus on climate change – such as denying climate change is taking place, or claiming that human activity is not a cause of climate change. Avaaz claims this promotion process means YouTube is helping to spread climate denialism.
“We’ve found that it’s very likely that at least one in five users who search for a term like global warming or climate change could be sent down this type of misinformation rabbit hole,” says Fadi Quran, a campaigns director at Avaaz, and one of the report’s authors. “Scientists are working so hard to educate people about the existential threat we face and YouTube is allowing bad actors among us the last word on this issue for many people.”
Smaller scale studies have previously suggested that a majority of climate-related videos on YouTube oppose the scientific consensus on climate change.
The “up next” feature dictates what users watch for 70% of the time they spend on YouTube. The exact make-up of the YouTube algorithm that drives recommendations, designed to keep users on the platform for as long as possible, is a closely guarded secret. Experts say the algorithm appears to have learned that radical or outrageous content is more likely to engage viewers.
When it comes to climate change, Avaaz says, that leads to the promotion of controversial videos with titles such as “Global warming is a hoax” and “ACTUAL SCIENTIST: Climate Change is a Scam!” The algorithm is also personalized to each user, meaning that after you watch one video containing climate misinformation, it is more likely to recommend another for you.
In January 2019, responding to criticism over the platform’s tendency to drive people towards more radical political and social viewpoints, YouTube announced that in the U.S. it would begin reducing recommendations of “borderline” content that pushed the limits of Community Guidelines on areas like hate speech, as well as “content that could misinform users in harmful ways—such as videos promoting a phony miracle cure for a serious illness, claiming the earth is flat, or making blatantly false claims about historic events like 9/11”. In December, YouTube said that policy had been successful, driving down the average time spent by U.S. users watching recommended “borderline” content or harmful misinformation by 70%.
But Quran says it remains unclear if that policy is effectively applied to climate denialist content. “They say all scientifically inaccurate information that causes harm is included under that policy—which should indicate that climate denial is part of it,” he says. “However [YouTube’s parent company] is not transparent and our research so far indicates that climate denial videos are still being actively recommended. Either their downgrading tools are not working as they should, or they have decided to exclude climate denial from the system.”
A YouTube spokesperson tells TIME, “We can’t speak to Avaaz’s methodology or results, and our recommendations systems are not designed to filter or demote videos or channels based on specific perspectives.” They add that YouTube’s systems “prioritize authoritative voices for millions of news and information queries, and surface information panels on topics prone to misinformation — including climate change — to provide users with context alongside their content” and that the systems appear to have done so “in the majority of cases in this report”.
Ads for major brands appeared alongside the videos containing climate misinformation seen by Avaaz. The campaign group claims that by promoting climate denial videos to drive more viewing time, and by placing ads alongside these videos, YouTube is profiting from the spread of misinformation.
The YouTube spokesperson says they have “strict ad policies that govern where ads are allowed to appear and we give advertisers tools to opt out of content that doesn’t align with their brand.”
Pressure from advertisers, some of whom Avaaz informed about their findings, could potentially push YouTube to take more action on climate denial content. An advertising boycott in 2017, when brands sought to prevent their ads appearing alongside extremist content, cost Google millions of dollars in revenue, and helped drive YouTube to strengthen efforts to limit how often its platform surfaced extremist content. (As well as reducing the promotion of borderline content, in June, the platform began removing thousands of videos displaying white supremacism and other hateful ideologies.)
Stephan Lewandowsky, chair of the cognitive psychology department at the University of Bristol, who studies climate misinformation, says the question isn’t whether YouTube could deal with climate denialism on its platform, but whether there the company’s leadership have the political will to do so when there is not yet “political consensus” in all countries around climate change. “With the radical Islamist and the white supremacist material [that YouTube has been successful in policing], they recognized that was something they definitely couldn’t get away with [hosting],” he says. “With climate denial, even though it is a scientifically totally absurd position, there are plenty of politicians in the U.S. and Australia, for example, who are immersed in this stuff.”
Misinformation around climate change and its impacts are still commonplace in some prominent mainstream media. On Jan. 14, James Murdoch, son of Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch, criticized the “ongoing denial” of the climate crisis displayed by his father’s news outlets, particularly in coverage of Australia’s current bushfire crisis.
For Lewandowsky, the promotion of climate denialism, both in the media and to YouTube users searching for content about climate change, creates a major stumbling block to political momentum on cutting greenhouse gas emissions. “For many people who are not trained scientists,” he says, “the moment they’re exposed to what appears to be a scientific debate—but isn’t actually, because the science was settled a long time ago— they feel they can say “Oh, well, the scientists don’t agree on this—we don’t have to do anything.”
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Source: Tech – TIME | 16 Jan 2020 | 10:00 pm
The National Security Agency has discovered a major security flaw in Microsoft’s Windows operating system and tipped off the company rather than exploit it for its own intelligence needs.
Microsoft made a software patch to fix it available Tuesday and credited the agency for discovering the flaw. The company said it has not seen any evidence that hackers have used the technique discovered by the NSA.
Microsoft said the flaw affected Windows 10, the newest version of its operating system. Microsoft said an attacker could exploit the vulnerability by spoofing a code-signing certificate so it looked like a file came from a trusted source.
“The user would have no way of knowing the file was malicious, because the digital signature would appear to from a trusted provider,” the company said.
If successfully exploited, an attacker would have been able to conduct “man-in-the-middle attacks” and decrypt confidential information on user connections to the affected software, the company said.
Some computers will get the free update automatically if they have the option turned on. Others can get it manually. Microsoft typically releases security and other updates once a month and waited until Tuesday to disclose the flaw and the NSA’s involvement.
Priscilla Moriuchi, who retired from the NSA in 2017 after running its East Asia and Pacific operations, said this is a good example of the “constructive role” that the NSA can play in improving global information security. Moriuchi, now an analyst at the U.S. cybersecurity firm Recorded Future, said it’s likely a reflection of changes made in 2017 to how the U.S. determines whether to disclose a major vulnerability or exploit it for intelligence purposes.
The revamping of what’s known as the “Vulnerability Equities Process” put more emphasis on disclosing unpatched vulnerabilities whenever possible to protect core internet systems and the U.S. economy and general public.
Those changes happened after a group calling itself “Shadow Brokers” released a trove of high-level hacking tools stolen from the NSA.
Source: Tech – TIME | 15 Jan 2020 | 8:19 am
At this year’s CES in Las Vegas, Sony revealed the next generation of its 8K television lineup, its own take on the electric car with the Sony Vision-S, and more.
The Vision-S, an electric concept car focused on “safety, entertainment, and adaptability,” incorporates Sony’s automotive-focused imaging technology, and is surrounded by an array of sensors Sony is calling the “Safety Cocoon,” which provides the Vision-S with a 360-degree view of its environment and any potential hazards. Of course, it makes sense when you remember Sony’s recent focus on the automotive industry, and former Sony chairman Kaz Hirai’s last CES, when he declared that the company would be “taking a leadership position” when it came to providing sensor technology to the automotive industry.
TIME spoke to Sony Electronics President Mike Fasulo at CES about what the Vision-S means for Sony as an automotive company, and how its march toward more commercial technology doesn’t preclude an abandonment of its most loyal customers. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
TIME: Is the Vision-S a concept car simply because you haven’t bought a manufacturing plant, or is it more of a showcase of the talents Sony possesses?
Fasulo: The latter. Let me explain that a little bit. It’s built around our core technologies, or at least the parts that we are focused on, which are safety, security, and entertainment. The reason we designed the car was, from Ken’s view, to understand from scratch what the engineering feats are, so that we can provide what we do best when it comes to trends in automobiles, autonomous or otherwise.
So there are 33 sensors inside and outside the car, and they are there for different purposes. On the outside, image sensors can detect things the human eye or the human being can’t, and prevent it. We call it a “Safety Cocoon” because it’s a 360 degrees of protection. On the inside, maybe somebody is just tired or starting to nod off, it can detect movement of the individual, or lack thereof, and signal to the individual. And of course, the entertainment on the inside as well.
Read more: The 25 best products of CES 2020
TIME: Speaking of entertainment, the Vision-S has that giant display in it. It’s not like the old DVD player in the back of the minivan. What do you imagine people will do on it? Or is it up to other companies to provide something like that?
Fasulo: It’s interesting because your question is very specific, but it has a much bigger implication. Last year, we talked about Sony being a creative entertainment company and tried to explain our core technology, the foundation for delivering emotional experiences to people through entertainment and gaming, to creators and artists, and ultimately building communities. And that was kind of a vision of where we’re headed. But the whole intent was to show it’s underpinned by technology, and our capability of innovation.
I think what is different today versus years ago at this show is it’s less about individual products and more about ecosystems — which is a word I don’t like saying — and environments or experiences. So, to your question, with 5G coming, why not deliver whatever you want to your car? And it doesn’t always have to be movies or shows or music, you know — there’s navigation or information — it’s kind of exciting, this fourth industrial revolution. It’s not about just one transition, there are a number of things happening at the same time. And the greatest thing is to see industries working together. If you noticed, every time we had the opportunity, we talked about partnerships. It’s, “why don’t we work with partners to deliver this experience?”
TIME: Do you see Sony shifting gears to more ecosystem-focused technology advancements? There are fewer Sony products but more technology in these products, and more potential applications with partners to take advantage of Sony’s tech. So in the next five years, will Sony be more industry or consumer-facing?
Fasulo: There will definitely be a mix of both. I think the B2B space is a significant opportunity. While I think you’re going to see rapid innovation from Sony, our premise will remain the same, which is superior experiences through superior quality and innovation.
By no means are we changing our DNA or what customers give us credit for, whether that’s our motion picture group, our gaming group, our electronics group or otherwise. What the opportunity is providing for us today is the capability of architecture and infrastructure. It’s been kind of clunky and, well, still not ready for prime time. But it’s moving faster than I’ve seen in the many evolutions of technology I’ve seen in the past few decades. There are so many collisions happening right now that If you look at it with an open mind from a creator’s point of view, it’s nothing but opportunity.
TIME: Do you think the transition to 8K TV is necessary? It seems a little premature to push right as 4K technology is taking off.
Fasulo: There’s no reason a customer shouldn’t buy 4K. 4K picture quality, upscaling capability, availability of content, is remarkable. And that’s why we’re seeing gangbusters adoption. Here’s my position on 8K: it’s the future. From today’s perspective, if you’re going to go bigger than 75 inches, you need more pixels to get the resolution and quality of the picture. There’s a place for 8K, I’d say on screens 75 inches and above, but the upscaling on 8K with Sony’s X1 processor is phenomenal. You’ll get a beautiful viewing experience even without 8K content.
We have the capability, obviously, but there are a lot of limitations — bandwidth limitations, distribution, uplinking — so 8K will happen from a content acquisition point of view, but right now 4K is the place to be from a consumer and industry point of view.
TIME: It seems like the competition in terms of entertainment and gaming is really heating up thanks to advances like AR and 5G. Apple’s getting into games a little bit, Google is streaming games with Stadia, Microsoft is already showing off its upcoming console and teasing the future of the Xbox, which is gaming everywhere. What is Sony’s perspective on the state of the gaming industry, and how are you getting ahead of it?
Fasulo: I don’t want to speak for Jim Ryan, who manages the PlayStation group, but I can say a couple of things. A few years ago there was the notion that the console was dead. And last night, he announced a 106 million install base. I don’t think that’s dead. We’ve got 103 million active users on our PlayStation Network. What he and his team and the company has done is really make a focused approach to the true gamers. Not by alienating casual gamers, but by making sure the experience with hardcore, true gamers was met and exceeded. And that doesn’t change.
So it’s exciting to see new entrants, it’s just going to make the space more robust and more exciting. But I find it hard to understand how someone will be able to provide a better experience than what the PlayStation team is currently doing with PS4 and planning to do with PS5, PlayStation Network, and everything in between.
Source: Tech – TIME | 15 Jan 2020 | 4:40 am
It’s become a virtually unchallenged piece of conventional wisdom that exposure to blue light—the type emitted by electronic device screens—is bad for sleep. That thinking has spurred a mini-industry of innovations meant to stop those effects, like warm-toned “night mode” settings on gadgets and glasses that claim to block blue light.
But in December, a group of researchers at the University of Manchester in the U.K. published a paper in Current Biology challenging that notion. After exposing mice to lights that were different in hue but equal brightness and assessing their subsequent activity, the researchers concluded that yellow light actually seems to disturb sleep more than blue. Warm-toned light, they hypothesized, could trick the body into thinking it’s daytime, while cooler blue light more closely mimics twilight.
The study was surprising, given the widespread thinking around blue light, but it wasn’t unprecedented. Some researchers have argued that, while electronics can keep you up because of their bright lights and ability to time-suck, blue light isn’t necessarily the problem. So what’s the best way to get a full eight hours each night? Here’s what experts say about blue light.
Your body is dictated by its circadian rhythms, a set of time-dependent physical, mental and behavioral shifts. The most obvious circadian rhythm is the one that drives you to be tired at night and alert during the day. This process is dependent upon melatonin, a hormone secreted when it’s dark outside. Nighttime light exposure can confuse this process, suppressing melatonin production and keeping you up longer.
Studies have suggested that blue light is an especially powerful melatonin suppressant. Melanopsin, the pigment that helps eye cells assess light brightness, is particularly sensitive to shorter, cooler wavelengths like blue light, which some research says means blue light may affect the body more dramatically than other hues. One highly cited study from 2014 showed that using a blue-light-emitting iPad before bed suppresses melatonin, while reading a traditional book does not. IPad readers started producing melatonin 1.5 hours later than usual the next day, and experienced REM sleep—the phase during which dreams occur and memories are consolidated—once they conked out, the study found.
Animal studies should always be taken with a grain of salt, as they often do not translate directly to human behavior. And there are additional caveats to this particular paper, says Dr. Cathy Goldstein, a sleep specialist at Michigan Medicine. The researchers looked specifically at cones in the animals’ eyes, which detect color, instead of melanopsin, which senses light and is central to the issue of melatonin secretion.
They also kept light levels dim, regardless of color, which may not reflect the bright lights of electronics.
And finally, though mice are frequently used in sleep research, Goldstein notes that since the rodents are nocturnal, they may respond differently to light than humans do. Taken together, Goldstein says these conditions mean the study’s results apply only to a very narrow set of circumstances and metrics. “For this to get extrapolated to saying ‘blue light at night isn’t bad for you’ is a little bit of an extension,” Goldstein says.
But that doesn’t mean blue light is evil. “Blue light has become the gluten of the sleep world,” Goldstein says with a laugh. In other words, though it may be a potential trigger for health issues, its impact has been blown way out of proportion.
“We put the cart so far ahead of the horse” with blue light, agrees James Wyatt, who directs sleep disorders and sleep-wake research at Rush University Medical Center. In Wyatt’s view, recommendations around limiting blue light have far outpaced science around its effects. There is a valid scientific basis to the idea that blue light interrupts sleep, since research consistently shows that light of any kind suppresses melatonin and blue light may do so to an especially extreme degree. But Wyatt says most human research done in this field hasn’t been representative of the way the average person is exposed to blue light. That is, most experimental conditions don’t correspond to the average person’s day, and even then they often result in only tiny changes in sleep.
Take that iPad study, for example. While it did show that bedtime exposure to blue light through an iPad can suppress melatonin, Wyatt notes that people who read on their devices for hours took only 10 minutes longer to fall asleep than paper book readers. “In over 20 years of practicing sleep medicine, I have never had a patient come to me and say, ‘Hey, doc, can you help me fall asleep 10 minutes faster?'” Wyatt says.
Goldstein adds that the spectrum of light isn’t the only thing that matters—so do brightness, and duration of exposure. “You can’t just worry about spectrum alone,” she says. “You can’t have your blue light filter on, and then have your phone or your tablet at maximal brightness” and expect to drift right off with no problem.
There are plenty of reasons other than sleeplessness to not spend all your time staring at screens, from possible mental health consequences to their correlation with a sedentary lifestyle. But in terms of eye health, there’s no reason to spend your time and money looking for blue-light-filtering glasses or gadgets, says Dr. Matthew Gardiner, an ophthalmologist at Massachusetts Eye and Ear. While some people report improvements in eye-strain or headaches after using these products, Gardiner says there’s no research to suggest blue light damages your eyes. “If you feel more comfortable, then that’s fine, but it does not do anything for the health of your eyes,” he says.
For sleep, Wyatt says the evidence isn’t strong enough to issue a blanket recommendation on blue light. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea to use technology before bed—any bright light right before sleep can mess with circadian rhythms, and firing off last-minute emails is unlikely to lull you to sleep—but blue light may not be as universally bad for slumber as people think. Personal preference plays a role, too. Wyatt notes that some people feel relaxed and sleepy after watching television, while others feel wide-awake after flipping through a page-turning book.
Goldstein agrees that blue light research isn’t as conclusive as it’s often portrayed, but says there’s also no reason not to use night-mode filters on electronics if you find them helpful. Just remember to turn down the brightness and avoid hours of aimless scrolling, she says.
Finally, research is pretty definitive on the fact that a dark room is the best environment for sleep, so it’s smart to block out light sources when it’s actually time for bed. Wyatt suggests keeping your room at a cool 65° to 68° Fahrenheit, limiting intermittent noise and sticking to roughly the same sleep and wake times each day to get quality rest.
Source: Tech – TIME | 11 Jan 2020 | 5:31 am
The last thing on Geru Drolma’s mind was becoming an internet celebrity. All she wanted was to make rent.
But the steamed buns Drolma rose at 5 a.m. each morning to make in her village in western China’s Sichuan province just weren’t selling fast enough. So with the bills mounting up, Drolma set off to hunt for wild fungi she hoped to sell at the local market, following the same azalea-strewn mountain paths carved by generations of her fellow ethnic Tibetans before her.
Finding the best fungi varieties—like the sought-after matsutake, or pine mushroom—is not easy. The finest specimens only grow around the roots of pine trees from August to September at an elevation above 13,000 feet. But Drolma grew up foraging on the frigid Tibetan Plateau, and was well-trained by her father how to spot that telltale bulge of the earth, the loosened topsoil, which betrays a fattened mushroom ripe for picking.
“Matsutakes can only be found by experienced people,” Drolma, 22, tells TIME, adding with a laugh, “My husband, for example, hasn’t dug out a single one so far!”
Matsutakes are one of the world’s most valuable mushrooms. Impossible to commercially farm, they can command up to $1,000 per kilo in the tony delis of Tokyo or Shanghai. Not that people in Drolma’s remote village on the Tibetan plateau had any idea. That was until Drolma posted a cellphone video to live-streaming app Kuaishou of her trip for picking fungi.
That post received 600,000 views; commenters swamped Drolma with positive feedback and requests for matsutake mushrooms and cordyceps, another fungus native to the region that grows on the bodies of caterpillars and is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and can fetch a whopping $20 per gram.
Before long, Drolma had sold the family’s small shop and dedicated herself full time to live-streaming. As her celebrity grew, so did demand for fungi, leading Drolma to set up a collective with local villagers and farmers. Last year, the group generated $500,000 in revenue over the five-month picking season—an enormous windfall in what’s historically one of China’s most impoverished regions. Other than foraging, her posts showcase other aspects of traditional Tibetan life, such as roasting meat over campfires, dancing in traditional garb, and herding black pigs across the snow-capped landscape. Just over two years since she posted that initial viral clip, Drolma now has 1.9 million followers.
“My family strongly opposed our decision to concentrate on live-streaming at the beginning,” she recalls with a smile. “They didn’t understand online money you cannot see or touch, and said that I acted like a beggar by taking videos during private times like meals. But I never thought about giving up.”
It’s a success story that highlights how even people in the most far-flung communities are being lifted out of poverty by technology—particularly artificial intelligence, or AI. Since China embraced economic reforms in the late 1970s and embarked upon an export-led boom, rural people sought fortunes in coastal manufacturing hubs, which often decimated the communities they left behind. But now, modern delivery services and AI-powered online marketing are allowing people like Drolma to develop flourishing businesses that showcase and enhance traditional life without leaving home. Eradicating poverty by 2020 is a key policy priority of China’s strongman, President Xi Jinping.
For a while, it was Drolma’s natural charm that clicked with harried urbanites eager to rediscover China’s forgotten cultures. But key to connecting content provider and consumer were the algorithms employed by the Kuaishou live-streaming app that she uses, which has garnered 200 million daily active users since its launch in 2011.
All uploaded content is forensically parsed: the facial expressions of those featured, any objects included or action taking place, what background music is playing, even the style of a protagonist’s dancing. Any words uttered are automatically transcribed by embedded voice recognition software and mined for keyword tags.
Users, too, are evaluated depending on their location, whether they connect by Wi-Fi or 4G, and their behaviors on the platform, such as how often they click, comment and share videos. Kuaishou doesn’t only show users content that directly correlates to their interests, but also attempts to broader the topics they see depending on what works with similar profile types. That, the firm says, enhances users’ experience. The firm recorded close to $78 million in gross revenue in the second quarter of 2019, according to data analytics firm Sensor Tower, a 57% year-on-year rise.
“We want to give as many people as possible the opportunity to be seen by the world,” says Zheng Wen, head of AI for Kuaishou.
While most social media is dominated by a tiny number of celebrities and viral videos, what sets Kuaishou apart, says the firm, is the “democratization” of the 15 million videos uploaded every day by its 700 million registered users. The app helps laypeople without any photography training produce professional-style video clips—including Hollywood-esque special effects—with just a click of a button, and ensures that those clips are seen by a wide range of people.
Kuaishou’s archive of 13 billion videos is filled with surprise stars, ranging from wacky amateur inventors, rural schoolchildren who must scale cliffs via rickety ladders to reach class, to chefs who specialize in giant seafood. An online store and gift application allows easy monetization.
“China is so vast and dynamic,” says Maggie Long, until recently senior public relations officer for Kuaishou. “Your life might be really common to yourself, but it can be really interesting to other people.”
Drolma can attest to that, though she’s careful not to lose touch with what led to her stardom in the first place. Thanks to the revenue streams offered by an AI-powered app, she hopes her two young children can live prosperous lives while maintaining their traditional Tibetan culture.
“I grew up digging mushrooms and feel that my life is meaningful in this way,” says Drolma. “So I love it very much.”
—With reporting and video by Zhang Chi/Daocheng, Sichuan
Source: Tech – TIME | 11 Jan 2020 | 3:14 am
Netflix’s fantasy epic The Witcher is an enchanting mix of European folktales, Xena-era action/adventure, and courtly intrigue. The show is coming back for a second season in October, but that’s a long wait. If you’ve tossed a coin to your witcher, finished the show, and long for more adventures with Geralt, Ciri, and Yennefer, you should play The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, out for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC.
Yes, The Witcher is based on a series of novels from Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, and you can absolutely read those. But Netflix’s The Witcher shares its tone, aesthetics, and story beats with the video game series more than the books. The show’s plot may be ripped from the novels, but its feel comes straight from the video games.
A word of warning before we proceed: Playing through the Witcher video games will spoil the events of the TV show. The story told in the novels come to a definitive conclusion, and the video games are a continuation of that story. So if you’re worried about spoilers, don’t play the games.
If spoilers aren’t a concern, jump straight into 2015’s The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt — the first two games are skippable. The Witcher 3 does a good job of bringing the player up to speed, and Ciri and Yennefer aren’t in the first two games at all. The first game, in particular, hasn’t aged well. It’s hard to play, harder to look at, and none of Jaskier’s songs slap as hard as Toss a Coin to Your Witcher.
The Witcher 3 starts with Geralt in a familiar place, hunting monsters in a backwater called White Orchard, trying to find Yennefer, and chasing rumors of Ciri. Nilfgaard has recently invaded, the land is in turmoil, and rumors of monsters abound. At first, the game’s systems and story can be daunting. Here are a few tips to help you get started:
Whether in battle or during an investigation, preparation is key. Talk to everyone, look through every drawer, and constantly check Geralt’s journal. The Witcher 3 is a grand and epic adventure but, moment to moment, it’s a detective game. Geralt wanders into a new town, takes contracts to hunt monsters, and often finds out that the beast is more than it seems. In The Witcher 3, the player’s choices matter and the more research and investigation you’ve done before you make decisions often leads to better outcomes. As in the Netflix show, the truth of a contract is often more complicated than it initially appears.
Combat is a dance. Geralt can switch between two different swords and several different stances. The instinct is to sit in one position, take the bad guys as they come, and slice them down. But Geralt isn’t your typical action hero. Remember the show. He moves around the field, striking and spinning. Emulate him while you’re playing, always be on the move, always be ready to parry and spin.
The Witcher 3 is so big that it has a whole other game inside it. Gwent is a card game played by the people of Temeria. It’s silly, fun, and breaks up the action between hunting monsters and tracking down Ciri. Every town will have a few Gwent-heads willing to throw down, and the dedicated can even spend hours tracking down special cards and participating in a special tournament. If cards games aren’t your thing, you can completely ignore Gwent. That’s one of the great things about The Witcher 3: the player has a lot of control to shape the experience.
Experiment with the difficulty setting. The Witcher 3 has four difficulty settings and you can change them while you’re playing the game with no consequence. It’s important to find the level that’s fun for you. If you’re not a big gamer and just want to watch the further adventures of Geralt and Ciri, set the game to “Just the story.” If you want a bit of a challenge, start at “Blood and Broken Bones.”
The Witcher 3 is its own, self-contained story. Playing through it will give show watchers a satisfying sense of closure for many of their favorite characters. Its expansions, Blood and Wine and Heart of Stone, are comforting epilogues. Heart of Stone is steeped in Polish film and mythological history—an Eastern European retelling of Faust. Blood and Wine is all about vampires, fairy tales, and Geralt finding a place to settle down. If you beat The Witcher 3 and still need more, they’re absolutely worth your time.
Source: Tech – TIME | 10 Jan 2020 | 5:53 am
Responding to popular demand, Facebook will soon give users the option to see fewer political and social issue advertisements in their feed. This new setting, which will also be available in Instagram, is part of an effort to give people more control over what they see ahead of the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
Facebook announced the new option Thursday in a broader update about political ads on the service. The company did not, however, announce major changes or restrictions to the ad-targeting tools available to political campaigns. Facebook has discussed potential changes to ad targeting internally in recent months following restrictions from rivals Google and Twitter Inc. The social network decided against changing its targeting tools, which can be very granular and specific, after “extensive outreach and consultations” with third parties, the company said in a blog post.
Facebook is also sticking with a controversial policy that stipulates the company will not fact-check posts from politicians, including political ads. It has claimed repeatedly that it doesn’t want to be the final word on what is true or false in the world of political theater.
The company wrote that its policies were based “on the principle that people should be able to hear from those who wish to lead them, warts and all, and that what they say should be scrutinized and debated in public.”
Facebook has been at the center of a debate around online political advertising for months. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg has stood firm in his belief that Facebook should not fact-check politicians, a stance that has drawn ire from Democratic presidential hopefuls like Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Facebook has also decided against ad-targeting restrictions despite changes from others in the industry. Twitter, for example, banned some political ads altogether and is limiting targeting for other ads that focus on social issues. “A political message earns reach when people decide to follow an account or retweet,” Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey explained at the time. “Paying for reach removes that decision, forcing highly optimized and targeted political messages on people. We believe this decision should not be compromised by money.”
Google has prohibited political campaigns from targeting ads to users based on political affiliation.
Zuckerberg has called repeatedly for the U.S. government to step in and regulate online political ads in the hope of creating some kind of industry standard. Facebook did so again on Thursday. “Ultimately, we don’t think decisions about political ads should be made by private companies,” the social giant wrote on its blog. “We believe the sooner Facebook and other companies are subject to democratically accountable rules on this the better.”
Source: Tech – TIME | 10 Jan 2020 | 5:40 am