SatNav makes you stupid

Using SatNav messes with the parts of your brain which help you navigate normally.

Boffins writing in the journal Nature Communications rscanned the brains of 24 volunteers as they explored a simulation through the streets of London’s Soho district.

The researchers from the University of London found that listening to a satellite navigation’s instructions “switched off” activity in parts of the brain used for navigation.

A bit of the brain called the hippocampus, which is involved in both memory and spatial navigation, appears to encode two different maps of the environment. The first tracks the distance to the final destination as the crow flies and is encoded by the frontal region of the hippocampus, the other tracks the “true path” to the goal and is encoded by its rear region.

During the navigation tasks, the hippocampus acts like a flexible guidance system, flipping between these two maps according to changing demands. Activity in the hippocampal rear region acts like a homing signal, increasing as the goal gets closer.

Analysis of the brain-scanning data revealed activity in the rear right of the hippocampus increased whenever the participants entered a new street while navigating. It also varied with the number of new path options available. The more alternatives there were, the greater the brain activity.

The researchers also found that activity in the front of the hippocampus was associated with a property called centrality, defined by the proximity of each new street to the centre of the network.

Activity could be seen in the participants’ prefrontal cortices when they were forced to make a detour and had to replan their route — and this increased in relation to the number of options available.

However when participants followed SatNav instructions, brain activity in these regions “switched off” and the whole lot had a snooze.

Together, the new findings suggest the rear portion of the hippocampus reactivates spatial memories of possible navigation paths, with more available paths evoking more activity, and that the prefrontal cortex may contribute to path-planning by searching though different route options and selecting the best one.

FBI is investigating Russian gaming of the US election

 

The FBI is investigating how Russia used an internet army to bombard America with right-wing news and fake stories when candidate Donald (Prince of Orange) Trump was on the defensive during the 2016 election.

The Untouchables are concerned that some of those news outlets might have worked to help Russian operatives.

Led by the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, the investigation is examining how stories from sites like Breitbart News, InfoWars, and the Kremlin-backed RT News and Sputnik News, were spread across the internet.

The investigation, the sources said, is examining whether certain far-right sites took any action to aid Tsar Putin.

In early January 2017, America’s intelligence agencies concluded Russia had mounted a disinformation campaign to influence the US election and picked out RT’s American division as one of the culprits.

FBI Director James Comey told a House Intelligence Committee hearing on the issue that Russia’s efforts were targeted to “hurt our democracy” and specifically “hurt” Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and “help” current President Donald Trump.

Of course, he did a little bit of that himself during the election and managed to keep his job after Trump took office.

Investigators are now looking at millions of Twitter and Facebook posts carrying links to real stories, and others that mixed fact and fiction, on conservative websites sent out by social media bots. These computer programmes, of “bots,” were operated by Russia on multiple social media accounts and were programmed and coordinated to spread and amplify messages across the internet.

Russia apparently used these social media accounts to bombard the internet with pro-Trump stories at times during the campaign when he was on the defensive against Clinton.

Russian bots and paid trolls used the timed release of information “to propagate stories underground and these stories appear to have been amplified by fringe elements of our media like Breitbart.

The investigation into the bots is just one branch of several investigations being run by the FBI probing Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 election. Others are working to identify those behind the hacks and publication of the Democratic National Committee’s emails, leading Republicans, and Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager John Podesta.

Others are pursuing leads from informants and foreign communications intercepts about the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian intelligence officers before the November election.

This is the first time that Comey has revealed officially that the FBI is investigating the Trump campaign.

Meanwhile Alex Jones of the conspiracy theory website InfoWars has claimed that the whole thing is a witch hunt by the left. “I’m not gonna sit here and say, ‘I’m not a Russian stooge,’ because it’s a ******* lie,” said on his talk show.

Beijing turns to tech to resolve the battle of the bog rolls

Beijing fears that locals are stealing bog-rolls from the cities loos and are turning to facial recognition to resolve the issue.

Toilet-paper theft has become a serious issue in the city, and police clearly have nothing to go on.

But the Chinese method involves grabbing a scan of your face via a built-in camera. Once it’s satisfied you’re not the same person who requested paper a moment earlier, it’ll dispense a strip of paper two feet long (about 60 cm).

If more is needed you will have to wait nine minutes before you can use the machine again.

Of course the work around for more determined thieves includes using masks or clever disguises, but one has to wonder if it is worth the effort.

The marketing director of the company that created the machine told the Times that his engineers had “brainstormed many options” for the design, including “fingerprints, infrared and facial recognition.” He said they settled with facial recognition because “it’s the most hygienic way.’’

The Temple of Heaven Park operator suggested the perpetrators are locals rather than tourists, with some slipping into the restroom on their way home from an early-morning tai chi session.

Apple may have knifed Andy Rubin in his Essentials

Earlier this year, Andy Rubin, creator of the Android operating system, was happily building a new company called Essential and working on a “high-end smartphone with a large edge-to-edge screen that lacks a surrounding bezel.”

Much was riding on a $100 million investment from Softbank. Rubin’s company, Essential Products, was to release a new high-end smartphone this spring, and SoftBank planned to market the phone in Japan

However suddenly it appears that Softbank has withdrawn the investment and no longer wants to market the phone on its home turf. The reason appears to be that the fruity cargo cult Apple has suddenly developed an interest in working with Softbank.

Apple has written a $1 billion cheque to SoftBank’s Vision Fund, and according to the Wall Street Journal that deal “complicated” SoftBank’s investment in Essential Products.

Jobs’ Mob did not directly block the deal but the Journal claims but Rubin’s premium phone would be released ahead of the 10th anniversary iPhone and it would have been happy to see it not in the shops.

US government insists Muslim airlines ban electronics

Donald (Prince of Orange) Trump has decided that people flying on Muslim airlines should not be allowed to use electronic equipment.

Apparently the world is full of terrorists who play games on their notebooks before taking over the aircraft and flying into buildings.

Royal Jordanian airlines banned the use of electronics on flights servicing the US after government officials here expressed concerns.  CNN is reporting that 12 other carriers based on the Middle East and Africa may be affected as well.

Royal Jordanian told its passengers that the ban includes laptops, tablets, and video games, but does not include smartphones or medical devices.

A spokesperson for DHS had only this to say: “We have no comment on potential security precautions, but will provide any update as appropriate.”

A Saudi executive also tweeted that “directives by US authorities” could affect passengers traveling from 13 countries, with the new measure set to go into effect over the next 96 hours.

In January, the Trump administration created chaos at the nation’s airports when it issued a travel ban directed at seven Muslim-majority nations. A federal court blocked the ban, leading the president to issue a second, more watered-down version of the ban. That executive order has also been blocked.

The ban does not block mobile phones so terrorists can still play games, read their instructions from their handlers and remotely set off the bomb in the luggage bay.

 

Don’t make the Samsung S8 angry it will have Bixby

Samsung has confirmed that it is Bixby digital assistant will be part of the Galaxy S8 that’ll be unveiled later this month.

The S8 will have a dedicated Bixby button on its side to make it easier to access the assistant.

It will have three key features to sort itself out from the herd. The first is that a Bixby-enabled app will allow the assistant to perform every task that the app normally supports using touch.

It will also have context awareness, which means that when Bixby is activated, it’ll can understand the current context and the state of the app that you’re in without interrupting the work that you’re doing.

Samsung says that Bixby is smart enough to understand commands with incomplete commands, meaning that you do not have to remember the exact phrase that you have to say to perform a task with an assistant. Bixby will ask you for more information when performing a task and then execute it.

Several apps on the Galaxy S8 will be Bixby-enabled at launch, and Samsung plans to add more over time. The company will release an SDK so that third-party app developers can add Bixby support.

Samsung said that the assistant will first appear on Samsung smartphones and then expand to all Samsung appliances.

“Since Bixby will be implemented in the cloud, if a device has an internet connection and simple circuitry to receive voice inputs, it can connect with Bixby,” the company said.

TSMC mulls US chip plant

TSMC fab in Hsinchu - Wikimedia CommonsTSMC has said that it will decide next year on building a US chip plant to get the Trump government off its back.

TSMC chairman Morris Chang had said the company did not rule out the idea of building a US foundry, however it now is clear the company is waiting until next year to see what happens.

The company said that there would be a loss of some benefits if it moved to the States. If an earthquake happened for instance in Taiwan, it could send thousands of people there as support, while it is harder in the States.

Local media CNA news agency reported on Monday that TSMC would make a decision on the plant in the first half of 2018.

The report also said TSMC was considering a $16.41 billion investment for the plant.

But the company could also be distracted by another more pressing matter of investing in Toshiba’s chip business. An industry source familiar with the matter said TSMC was deeply interested in the Toshiba unit.

Time warp takes a jump to the left on common sense

Boffins are becoming increasingly bewildered by some of the antics of time including one which means that time is getting fuzzier as clocks become more precise

A team of physicists from the University of Vienna and the Austrian Academy of Sciences have applied quantum mechanics and general relativity to argue that increasing the precision of measurements on clocks in the same space warps time.

But while the theories are both supported by experiments, they usually do not play well together, forcing physicists to consider a new theory that will allow them both to be correct at the same time.

Now the boffins are working on a theory which suggests that the act of measuring time in greater detail needs the possibility of increasing amounts of energy into time makes any clocks less precise.

Researcher Esteban Castro said the findings suggest that it needs to re-examine its ideas about the nature of time when both quantum mechanics and general relativity are considered.

It also means that the universe doesn’t have a master clock which it runs to and it can never make spaceships run on time.

Silicon Valley’s top brains try to sort out the singularity

Some of Silicon Valley’s top brains are trying to work out how to stuff their grey matter into the machines they build.

Bryan Johnson, the founder of Braintree online payments, and Elon Musk have both been trying to work out how to store their brains on their PCs to obtain a form of immortality.

According to MIT Technology Review, Johnson is effectively jumping on an opportunity created by the Brain Initiative, an Obama-era project which ploughed money into new schemes for recording neurons.

That influx of cash has spurred the formation of several other startups, including Paradromics and Cortera, also developing novel hardware for collecting brain signals. As part of the government brain project, the defense R&D agency DARPA says it is close to announcing $60 million in contracts under a program to create a “high-fidelity” brain interface able to simultaneously record from one million neurons – the current record is about 200 – and stimulate 100,000 at a time.

Several tech sector luminaries are looking for technology that might fuse human and artificial intelligence. In addition to Johnson, Elon Musk has been teasing a project called “neural lace,” which he said at a 2016 conference will lead to “symbiosis with machines”.

And Mark Zuckerberg declared in a 2015 Q&A that people will one day can share “full sensory and emotional experiences,” not just photos. Facebook has been hiring neuroscientists for an undisclosed project at Building 8, its secretive hardware division.

However, Elon Musk has been also moaning that the current speeds for transferring signals from brains are “ridiculously slow”.

 

More top execs flee Uber

Uber is in a bit of trouble as its top executives flee the organisation.

Company president Jeff Jones, a marketing expert hired to help soften its often abrasive image, has decided that there is nothing he can do for the outfit and has cleared out his desk.

Jones told the press he could not continue as president of a business with which he was incompatible.

“I joined Uber because of its mission, and the challenge to build global capabilities that would help the company mature and thrive long term. It is now clear, however, that the beliefs and approach to leadership that have guided my career are inconsistent with what I saw and experienced at Uber, and I can no longer continue as president of the ride sharing business,” he added.

Jones’ role was put into question after Uber earlier this month launched a search for a chief operating officer to help run the company alongside Chief Executive Travis Kalanick.

Jones had been performing some of those COO responsibilities. He joined Uber from Target Corp (TGT.N), where he was chief marketing officer and is credited with modernising the retailer’s brand.

Uber’s vice president of maps and business platform, Brian McClendon said he wants to leave the company at the end of the month to explore politics.

But they are the latest in a string of high-level executives to leave the company.

Engineering executive Amit Singhal was asked to resign due to a sexual harassment allegation stemming from his previous job at Alphabet Google. Earlier this month, Ed Baker, Uber’s vice president of product and growth, and Charlie Miller, Uber’s famed security researcher, departed.

Uber, while it has long had a reputation as an aggressive and unapologetic startup, has been battered like a Scottish Mars bar lately with multiple controversies over the last several weeks.

Some are even daring to question Kalanick’s leadership capabilities, although it is unlikely they do it to his face.

A former Uber employee last month published a blog post describing a workplace where sexual harassment was common and went unpunished. The blog post prompted an internal investigation that is being led by former US Attorney General Eric Holder.

Bloomberg released a video that showed Kalanick berating an Uber driver who had complained about cuts to rates paid to drivers, resulting in Kalanick making a public apology.

Uber is facing a lawsuit from Alphabet self-driving car division that accuses it of stealing designs for autonomous car technology known as Lidar. Uber has said the claims are false.

Jones expected to be Kalanick’s No. 2. Jones and was tasked with overseeing the bulk of Uber’s global operations, including leading the ride-hailing program, running local Uber services in every city, marketing, and customer service, and working with drivers.