Majority of Promising AI Startups Are Still Based in the US

The most promising startups using artificial intelligence are U.S.-based companies working in the fields of health care, retail and transportation, according to a study that looked at budding AI companies around the world. From a report: Of the top 100 startups in AI, 65% were based in the U.S., though some of those had dual headquarters in China or elsewhere, according to the analysis by CB Insights, a tech research group that analyzed data on close to 5,000 startups around the world. “These would be companies to watch that are doing really interesting research in AI,” said Deepashri Varadharajan, the lead analyst on the report. “Some of them might get acquired. Some might have successful product launches.” The research group considered venture capital investment, patent activity and market potential to develop its list of the companies most likely to succeed. The high percentage of U.S.-based companies reflect the country’s historical dominance in AI research, Varadharajan said.

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India Lifts Ban on Cryptocurrency Trading

India’s Supreme Court on Wednesday overturned central bank’s two-year-old ban on cryptocurrency trading in the country in what many said was a “historic” verdict. From a report: The Reserve Bank of India had imposed a ban on cryptocurrency trading in April 2018 that barred banks and other financial institutions from facilitating “any service in relation to virtual currencies.” At the time, RBI said the move was necessary to curb “ring-fencing” of the country’s financial system. It had also argued that Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies cannot be treated as currencies as they are not made of metal or exist in physical form, nor were they stamped by the government. The 2018 notice from the central bank sent a panic to several local startups and companies offering services to trade in cryptocurrency. Nearly all of them have since closed shop.

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SETI@Home Search For Alien Life Project Shuts Down After 21 Years

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bleeping Computer: SETI@home has announced that they will no longer be distributing new work to clients starting on March 31st as they have enough data and want to focus on completing their back-end analysis of the data. SETI@home is a distributed computing project where volunteers contribute their CPU resources to analyze radio data from the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico and the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI).

Run by the Berkeley SETI Research Center since 1999, SETI@home has been a popular project where people from all over the world have been donating their CPU resources to process small chunks of data, or “jobs,” for interesting radio transmissions or anomalies. This data is then sent back to the researchers for analysis. In an announcement posted yesterday, the project stated that they will no longer send data to SETI@home clients starting on March 31st, 2020 as they have reached a “point of diminishing returns” and have analyzed all the data that they need for now. Instead, they want to focus on analyzing the back-end results in order to publish a scientific paper. SETI@Home has a list of BOINC projects on their website for those interested in donating their CPU resources.

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Microsoft’s Original Halo Game Is Now Available On PC

Microsoft is bringing the original Halo campaign to Windows PCs today. The Verge reports: Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary has been remastered with 4K support for PC, and it arrives 18 years after the game debuted as a launch title for the original Xbox. Microsoft is also including 60fps support, variable frame rates, and even native keyboard and mouse support. You’ll also be able to use the classic audio in multiplayer and customize Spartans further. Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is part of Microsoft’s ongoing effort to bring all of the Halo: The Master Chief Collection to PC.

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Protein Discovered Inside a Meteorite

A team of researchers from Plex Corporation, Bruker Scientific LLC and Harvard University has found evidence of a protein inside of a meteorite. They have written a paper describing their findings and have uploaded it to the arXiv preprint server. Phys.Org reports: In this new effort, the researchers have discovered a protein called hemolithin inside of a meteorite that was found in Algeria back in 1990. The hemolithin protein found by the researchers was a small one, and was made up mostly of glycine, and amino acids. It also had oxygen, lithium and iron atoms at its ends — an arrangement never seen before. The team’s paper has not yet been peer reviewed, but once the findings are confirmed, their discovery will add another piece to the puzzle that surrounds the development of life on Earth. Proteins are considered to be essential building blocks for the development of living things, and finding one on a meteorite bolsters theories that suggest either life, or something very close to it, came to Earth from elsewhere in space.

Proteins are considered by chemists to be quite complex, which means a lot of things would have to happen by chance for protein formation. For hemolithin to have formed naturally in the configuration found would require glycine to form first, perhaps on the surface of grains of space dust. After that, heat by way of molecular clouds might have induced units of glycine to begin linking into polymer chains, which at some point, could evolve into fully formed proteins. The researchers note that the atom groupings on the tips of the protein form an iron oxide that has been seen in prior research to absorb photons — a means of splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen, thereby producing an energy source that would also be necessary for the development of life.

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‘Cosmic String’ Gravitational Waves Could Solve Antimatter Mystery

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Scientific American: Billions of years ago, soon after the Big Bang, cosmic inflation stretched the tiny seed of our universe and transformed energy into matter. Physicists think inflation initially created the same amount of matter and antimatter, which annihilate each other on contact. But then something happened that tipped the scales in favor of matter, allowing everything we can see and touch to come into existence — and a new study suggests that the explanation is hidden in very slight ripples in space-time. “If you just start off with an equal component of matter and antimatter, you would just end up with having nothing,” because antimatter and matter have equal but opposite charge, said lead study author Jeff Dror, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, and physics researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “Everything would just annihilate.” Obviously, everything did not annihilate, but researchers are unsure why. The answer might involve very strange elementary particles known as neutrinos, which don’t have electrical charge and can thus act as either matter or antimatter.

One idea is that about a million years after the Big Bang, the universe cooled and underwent a phase transition, an event similar to how boiling water turns liquid into gas. This phase change prompted decaying neutrinos to create more matter than antimatter by some “small, small amount,” Dror said. But “there are no very simple ways — or almost any ways — to probe [this theory] and understand if it actually occurred in the early universe.” But Dror and his team, through theoretical models and calculations, figured out a way we might be able to see this phase transition. They proposed that the change would have created extremely long and extremely thin threads of energy called “cosmic strings” that still pervade the universe. Dror and his team realized that these cosmic strings would most likely create very slight ripples in space-time called gravitational waves. Detect these gravitational waves, and we can discover whether this theory is true. The findings have been published in the journal Physical Review Letters.

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Google cancels I/O developer conference amid coronavirus concerns

Google (and now also Alphabet) CEO Sundar Pichai speaking at the last year's Google I/O conference, May 7, 2019.

Enlarge / Google (and now also Alphabet) CEO Sundar Pichai speaking at the last year’s Google I/O conference, May 7, 2019. (credit: JOSH EDELSON | AFP | Getty Images)

Silicon Valley’s spring series of tech shows continues to dwindle in the face of communicable disease: Google’s I/O developer conference for 2020 has now been canceled as the company cites coronavirus concerns.

“Due to concerns around the coronavirus (COVID-19), and in accordance with health guidance from the CDC, WHO, and other health authorities, we have decided to cancel the physical Google I/O event,” the company said. In lieu of bringing a whole bunch of breathing, potentially coughing people together in one place, “we will explore other ways to evolve Google I/O to best connect with our developer community,” likely with a heavy focus on online delivery.

Anyone who purchased a pass to the 2020 I/O will receive a full refund by March 13, Google’s website says, and all registered attendees for the 2020 show will automatically be “extended an invitation” for the 2021 edition.

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ACLU Sues To End ICE’s Rigged Algorithms That Keep Immigrants In Jail

A new lawsuit filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union and Bronx Defenders alleges that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement uses a rigged algorithm to detain virtually everyone ICE’s New York Field Office brings in, even when the government itself believes they present a minimal threat to public safety. The Intercept reports: The suit, which asks that ICE’s “Risk Classification Assessment” tool be ruled illegal and the affected detainees reassessed by humans, includes damning new data obtained by the NYCLU through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The data illuminates the extent to which the so-called algorithm has been perverted. Between 2013 and 2017, the FOIA data shows, the algorithm recommended detention without bond for “low risk” individuals 53 percent of the time, according an analysis by the NYCLU and Bronx Defenders. But from June 2017 — shortly after President Donald Trump took office — to September 2019, that number exploded to 97 percent.

“This dramatic drop in the release rate comes at a time when exponentially more people are being arrested in the New York City area and immigration officials have expanded arrests of those not convicted of criminal offenses,” says the groups’ lawsuit. “The federal government’s sweeping detention dragnet means that people who pose no flight or safety risk are being jailed as a matter of course — in an unlawful trend that is getting worse.” Individuals detained under what the lawsuit calls a “no-release policy” will remain jailed until they can be seen by an immigration judge. People arrested by ICE had no access to information about how they were classified by the algorithm — that’s why the FOIAs were necessary — and most don’t have access to lawyers at the time of their detention, Thomas Scott-Railton, a fellow at the Bronx Defenders told The Intercept. “The result,” he said, “is that people are detained for weeks, even months, without having been given the actual justification for their detention and without a real chance to challenge it.”

The lawsuit alleges that this algorithmic rubber stamp violates both the constitutional guarantee to due process and federal immigration law that calls for “individualized determinations” about release, rather than blanket denials with a computerized imprimatur. Reached by email, ICE New York spokesperson Rachael Yong Yow told The Intercept, “I am not familiar with the lawsuit you reference, but I am not inclined to comment on pending litigation.” The risk assessment algorithm is supposed to provide a recommendation to ICE officers who are then meant to make the final decision, but the agency’s New York Field Office diverged from the algorithm’s ruling less than 1 percent of the time since 2017. When detainees are finally seen by a human, non-algorithmic immigration judge, the lawsuit says, “approximately 40% of people detained by ICE are granted release on bond.”

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Google Cloned Apple’s 3D Touch For the Pixel Using Just Software

The latest “feature drop” for Google’s Pixel line of Android phones includes the ability to “firmly press” on the screen “to get more help from your apps more quickly.” If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s a lot like iPhone’s 3D Touch, which Apple stopped supporting in all of its 2019 iPhones. The Verge reports: “Firmly press” sets off alarm bells because it sounds a lot like the iPhone’s 3D Touch, which enables different actions depending on how hard you press on the touchscreen. It was a beloved feature for some people because it gave faster access to the cursor mode on the iPhone’s keyboard (I think long-pressing the space bar works fine for that, but I get that people love it). It’s also gone on the latest versions of the iPhone — Apple has seemingly abandoned it because the hardware to support it was too expensive/thick/complex/finicky/whatever. But now, it seems that Google has done the same thing for the touchscreen that it does with the camera: use its software algorithms to make commodity parts do something special. That is a very Googley thing to do, but not quite as Googley as the fact that there was virtually no information about this feature to be found anywhere on the internet beyond a speculative note over at XDA Developers.

After a few hours of back and forth, I finally got more details from Google. Here’s what this feature does, according to Google: “Long Press currently works in a select set of apps and system user interfaces such as the app Launcher, Photos, and Drive. This update accelerates the press to bring up more options faster. We also plan to expand its applications to more first party apps in the near future.” Essentially, this new feature lets you press harder to bring up long-press menus faster. In fact, Google’s documentation for Android’s Deep Press API explicitly says it should never do a new thing, it should only be a faster way to execute a long press. The answer to why it only works in certain apps is that a lot of Android developers aren’t using standard APIs for long press actions. Because Android. Okay, but how does it work? It turns out my hunch was correct: Google has figured out how to use machine learning algorithms to detect a firm press, something Apple had to use hardware for.

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WHO Estimates Coronavirus Death Rate At 3.4 Percent — Higher Than Earlier Estimates

The World Health Organization is warning that the novel coronavirus could be far more dangerous than the flu, with a mortality rate of 3.4%. The new estimates come as the U.S. death toll from the virus reaches 9. From a report: The global mortality rate — which includes more than 3,000 deaths — is many times higher than the “mortality rate” of the flu, which is less than 1%. WHO director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that is at least partly because COVID-19 is a new disease, and no one has built up an immunity to it. Still, Tedros reiterated the WHO’s belief that containment was still within reach. “We don’t even talk about containment for seasonal flu,” Tedros said. “It’s just not possible, but it’s possible for COVID-19.” Officials say they have learned the coronavirus is less transmissible than the flu, which is often spread by people who are infected yet don’t have symptoms. That doesn’t seem to be the case for COVID-19, he said. “There are not yet any vaccines or therapeutics, which is why we must do everything we can to contain it.”

Tedros said he’s concerned by shortages of masks, gowns and other equipment needed by healthcare workers to stop the spread of disease “caused by rising demands and hoarding and misuse.” “We can’t stop COVID-19 without protecting our health workers,” said Tedros, noting that prices of surgical masks have increased sixfold.

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