Google Readies Its Own Chip For Future Pixel Smartphones, Chromebooks

Google has made significant progress toward developing its own processor to power future versions of its Pixel smartphone as soon as next year — and eventually Chromebooks as well, Axios reported Tuesday. From the report: The move could help Google better compete with Apple, which designs its own chips. It would be a blow to Qualcomm, which supplies processors for many current high-end phones, including the Pixel. The chip, code-named Whitechapel, was designed in cooperation with Samsung, whose state-of-the-art 5-nanometer technology would be used to manufacture the chips, according to a source familiar with Google’s effort. Samsung also manufactures Apple’s iPhone chips, as well as its own Exynos processors.

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VC Firms Raised $21 Billion Last Quarter Despite Pandemic Chaos

The spreading coronavirus pandemic has slammed tech startups, forcing dozens to shed thousands of jobs. But so far, the venture capitalists that fund them appear to be doing alright, according to a new report — though some funds are faring better than others. From a report: In the first quarter of this year, 62 venture capital funds raised a total of $21 billion in the U.S., according to data gathered by PitchBook and the National Venture Capital Association. That cash puts them in a strong position as the economy weakens: In 2019, firms raised $51 billion for the full year. As an added buffer, VCs reported a total of $121 billion in committed but unspent capital as of the middle of 2019, the latest numbers available, according to the NVCA. But while the biggest firms have announced large new funds, first-time VCs have found themselves in a more difficult position. Just nine funds launched by managers hanging out their own shingles raised $1.1 billion last quarter, the report said. That’s on track to fall short of the 49 or more that set up shop in each of the last three years.

New funds also made up a smaller chunk of total VC funding raised so far this year than in years past. As shelter-in-place mandates continue to dictate business practices, part of the problem at the end of last quarter and at least the start of this one is that first-time fund managers aren’t able to travel or meet investors as they seek to raise money. “Name-brand VC firms may be able to streamline the fundraising process,” wrote the authors of the report, and limited partner investors might be more inclined to invest in a firm that’s already famous, without first meeting the general partners face to face.

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Your COVID-19 Internet problems might be COVID-19 Wi-Fi problems

orbi, plume, eero

Enlarge / Left to right: a looming Netgear Orbi satellite, an upside-down Plume superpod, and an older Eero model. (credit: Jim Salter)

The Great Telework Experiment of 2020 has brought a lot of network challenges to the fore. Obviously some jobs are better suited to remote work than others, and some companies were better prepared to shift in that direction. However, successful telework isn’t just about the company infrastructure—it’s about employees’ home setups, too.

Most of the folks needing to work from home also need to work from Wi-Fi. And Wi-Fi, unfortunately, doesn’t scale very well: the more people and devices you cram onto it, the slower and balkier it gets. There are two ways you can alleviate this problem: you can plug your device directly into the router (or a connected switch) with an Ethernet cable, or you can improve your Wi-Fi itself.

Buying a new router is unlikely to substantially improve your Wi-Fi—but if you’ve got a single router now, upgrading to mesh almost certainly will.

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Source: Tech – Ars Technica

SoftBank’s Troubles Deepen With Warning of $16.7 Billion Writedown

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times: SoftBank warned investors on Monday that the value of its technology fund may have dropped by as much as $16.7 billion over the last fiscal year (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source), as its investments have been hit hard by the fallout from the coronavirus and by big bets on unprofitable companies like WeWork. SoftBank, which had deployed a $100 billion Vision Fund to make huge wagers on young companies like WeWork and Uber over the last few years, said in a statement (PDF) posted to its website that the fund would record a loss of 1.8 trillion yen for the fiscal year that ended in March “due to the deteriorating market environment.”

While the loss will be partially offset by revenue from SoftBank’s other businesses, the company said it expected to end the year with a 1.35 trillion yen loss, its first annual loss in 15 years. The disclosure marked another stumble for SoftBank, which upended the start-up investment world when it began the Vision Fund in 2017 but has lately been struggling. The fund was the largest pool of money ever raised for private technology companies, with backing from sovereign wealth funds in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, as well as Apple and Foxconn.

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Artificial Intelligence Is Evolving All By Itself

sciencehabit shares a report from Science Magazine: Artificial intelligence (AI) is evolving — literally. Researchers have created software that borrows concepts from Darwinian evolution, including “survival of the fittest,” to build AI programs that improve generation after generation without human input. The program replicated decades of AI research in a matter of days, and its designers think that one day, it could discover new approaches to AI. The program discovers algorithms using a loose approximation of evolution. It starts by creating a population of 100 candidate algorithms by randomly combining mathematical operations. It then tests them on a simple task, such as an image recognition problem where it has to decide whether a picture shows a cat or a truck. In each cycle, the program compares the algorithms’ performance against hand-designed algorithms. Copies of the top performers are “mutated” by randomly replacing, editing, or deleting some of its code to create slight variations of the best algorithms. These “children” get added to the population, while older programs get culled. The cycle repeats. In a preprint paper published last month on arXiv, the researchers show the approach can stumble on a number of classic machine learning techniques, including neural networks.

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Scientists Develop Potentially Vital Nasal Vaccine For Treating Alzheimer’s

Researchers have developed a nasal Alzheimer’s vaccine that was successful in reducing atrophied brain matter in mice by blocking a protein that causes the disease. It also reduced changes and abnormal behavior in the brain normally associated with the disease. The study was published in the journal Nature. Interesting Engineering reports: “Much more research is necessary for the vaccine to be used in humans, but it is an accomplishment that can contribute to the development of a dementia cure,” team member Haruhisa Inoue, a professor at Kyoto University, told The Asahi Shimbun. Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are characterized by an abnormal accumulation of tau proteins in the brain. In the study, the research team incorporated a gene into a harmless virus to make it produce tau.

They then administered the virus nasally to mice with genes that made them prone to developing dementia. The vaccine proceeded to stimulate the mice’s immune system, causing them to build antibodies that removed the tau proteins. These antibodies were more than double in mice who had the vaccine administered compared to those that did not. In addition, the vaccinated mice’s brain areas were only two-thirds as atrophied as those who were not vaccinated. Finally, no detrimental side effects were recorded during the eight months the scientists observed the mice.

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Ticketmaster Will No Longer Refund Postponed Shows

Ticketmaster has quietly changed its refund policy to no longer cover postponed or rescheduled shows. Now, the Live Nation company’s refund policy simply says: “Refunds are available if your event is canceled.” From a report: It’s hardly a secret that the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis has brought the live-event industry to a screeching halt. Responding both to government mandates and health concerns, promoters have canceled (or delayed) sporting events, concerts, and essentially all other audience-based entertainment functions. And predictably, a substantial number of would-be attendees are looking to receive refunds for the tickets they bought prior to the pandemic. In responding to this unprecedented cluster of repayment requests, Ticketmaster has quietly changed its refund policy to cover only canceled events — not the many functions that promoters have indefinitely “postponed” or rescheduled to a date/time that some ticketholders cannot make.

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Redox-Flow Cell Stores Renewable Energy As Hydrogen

An anonymous reader quotes a report from IEEE Spectrum: Hydrogen is a very good carrier for this type of work,” says Wei Wang, who is the chief scientist for stationary energy storage research at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington. It’s an efficient energy carrier, and can be easily stored in pressurized tanks. When needed, the gas can then be converted back into electrical energy via a fuel cell and fed into the grid. But water electrolyzers are expensive. They work under acidic conditions which require corrosion-resistant metal plates and catalysts made from precious metals such as titanium, platinum, and iridium. “Also, the oxygen electrode isn’t very efficient,” says Kathy Ayers, vice-president of R&D at Nel Hydrogen, an Oslo-based company that specializes in hydrogen production and storage. “You lose about 0.3 volts just from the fact that you’re trying to convert water to oxygen or vice versa,” she says. Splitting a water molecule requires 1.23 V of energy.

In a bid to overcome this problem, Nel Hydrogen and Wang’s team at Pacific Northwest joined forces in 2016, after receiving funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. The solution they’ve come up with is a fuel cell that acts as both a battery and hydrogen generator. “We call it a redox-flow cell because it’s a hybrid between a redox-flow battery and a water electrolyzer,” explains Wang. A redox-flow battery, in essence a reversible fuel cell, is typically made up of a positive and negative electrolyte stored in two separate tanks. When the liquids are pumped into the battery cell stack situated between the tanks, a redox reaction occurs, and generates electricity at the battery’s electrodes. Compared to normal flow batteries, the new redox-flow cell exhibited a charge capacity of up to one ampere per square centimeter, a ten-fold increase. “It was also able to withstand ‘several hundred cycles’ of charging, which has never been demonstrated before in hydrogen ion flow batteries,” the report says.

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Would a Post Office Bankruptcy Kill E-Commerce?

MountainLogic writes: With the U.S. Postal Service slated to run out of money this summer, a congressional bailout has become embroiled in the usual, critical and unusual political fights. Every day letter carriers deliver some of our web orders, there are many other functions the post office performs including providing an address validation API that is the core of many shipping systems. Would the collapse of this service mean a major disruption of e-commerce? What other impacts to technology would we face with the collapse of this constitutionally guaranteed service (Article I, Section 8, Clause 7). Are there other services that the post office could perform to gain revenue? For example, the post office is where many Americans who live outside of major metro areas go to get a passport. A U.S. passport is the gold standard of ID. Could the post office become the ultimate place to go to validate ID and act as a signing authority? If you forget your password, go in to your local post office, show ID and reset your password. Seems like financial institutions would happily pay a few cents per reset to prevent billions in identity theft. Is there any other institution in America that could perform such a service on this scale. How else can the post office become more relevant and more solvent? Is profitability even a reasonable standard as we do not hold DoD to such a standard?

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Samsung’s S-Voice Is Shutting Down On June 1st

Samsung is reportedly shutting off the servers for its S-Voice voice assistant on June 1, 2020, “at which point Samsung’s original voice assistant will stop attempting to respond to your voice queries,” reports Ars Technica. From the report: S-Voice arose in the early days of voice assistants, when Android OEMs were scrambling to photocopy Apple’s Siri voice assistant, which launched in 2011. Samsung licensed the same underlying technology for S-Voice that Apple originally used for Siri — Nuance Communication’s voice recognition — and set about building its Siri sibling. S-Voice was Samsung’s chosen voice assistant for its smartphones until it rebooted its voice efforts with the launch of “Bixby” in 2017. Samsung’s Bixby project initially grew out of an acquisition of Viv Labs, a voice-assistant company founded by members of the original Siri team (see a pattern here?).

The Galaxy S8 and every device after it launched with Bixby and not S-Voice, so this shutdown should only effect older devices. SamMobile hunted down a list of applicable devices, saying “The affected models that have the S Voice icon on the app screen include the Galaxy A3, A5, A7, A8, A9, Galaxy Note FE, Galaxy Note 2, 3, 4, 5, Galaxy S3, 4, S5, S6, S6 edge in addition to the Galaxy Note Pro 12.2, Galaxy W, Galaxy Tab 4, Galaxy Tab 4 8.0/10.1, Galaxy Tab S8.4 and S10.5.

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