Category: Science

Princeton boffins come up with open source super-chip

mad scientistPrinceton University researchers have emerged from their smoke filled labs with a new open source computer chip that promises to boost the performance of data centres.

Dubbed “Piton” after the metal spikes driven by rock climbers into mountainsides to aid in their ascent the chip was shown off at the Hot Chips conference.

The Princeton researchers designed their chip specifically for massive computing systems. Piton could substantially increase processing speed while slashing energy usage. The chip architecture is scalable — designs can be built that go from a dozen to several thousand cores.

The architecture enables thousands of chips to be connected into a single system containing millions of cores.

David Wentzlaff, a Princeton assistant professor of electrical engineering and associated faculty in the Department of Computer Science said that Piton was based on a new thinking about computer architecture.  It was built specifically for data centers and the cloud.

“The chip we’ve made is among the largest chips ever built in academia and it shows how servers could run far more efficiently and cheaply.”

The current version of the Piton chip measures six millimetres by six millimetres and has 460 million transistors, each of which are as small as 32 nanometres.

The bulk of these transistors are contained in 25 cores. Most personal computer chips have four or eight cores.

In recent years companies and academic institutions have produced chips with many dozens of cores — but the readily scalable architecture of Piton can enable thousands of cores on a single chip with half a billion cores in the data centre, Wentzlaff said.

“What we have with Piton is really a prototype for future commercial server systems that could take advantage of a tremendous number of cores to speed up processing,” Wentzlaff said.

At a data centre, multiple users often run programs that rely on similar operations at the processor level. The Piton chip’s cores can recognise these instances and execute identical instructions consecutively, so that they flow one after another. Doing so can increase energy efficiency by about 20 percent compared to a standard core, the researchers said.

Piton chip parcels out when competing programs access computer memory that exists off of the chip so they do not clog the system. This approach can yield an 18 percent increase in performance compared to conventional means of allocation.

The Piton chip also gains efficiency by its cache memory management. In most designs, cache memory is shared across all of the chip’s cores. But when multiple cores access and modify the cache memory it is less efficient. Piton assigns areas of the cache and specific cores to dedicated applications. The researchers say the system can increase efficiency by 29 percent per chip.

Wentzlaff said. “We’re also happy to give out our design to the world as open source, which has long been commonplace for software, but is almost never done for hardware.”

Data based law investment is with us

stupid-lawyer1Two Harvard undergraduates have come up with an evil service which uses data to work out if a civil litigation is worthwhile fighting.

The process allows investors to cover the cost of a lawsuit in exchange for a share of the financial settlement which was what billionaire Peter Thiel did when he secretly funded a lawsuit from Hulk Hogan against Gawker Media.

The new start-up is called Legalist and uses an algorithm  to look at civil lawsuits to predict case outcomes and determine which civil lawsuits are worth investing in.

Legalist cofounder Eva Shang has received a $100,000 investment from Thiel’s foundation to build the startup. She told Business Insider that the Gawker lawsuit is something that the company would be staying away from. Instead, the company will be focusing on commercial and small-business lawsuits.

Legalist says it uses an algorithm of 58 different variables including, the presiding judge is and the number of cases the judge is currently working on. The algorithm has been fed cases dating back to 1989 and helps people figure out how long a case will last and the risks associated with it.

In a presentation at Y Combinator’s Demo Day on Tuesday, the founders claimed that the startup funded one lawsuit for $75,000 and expects a return of more than $1 million. Shang says the $1.40 is earned for every $1 spent in litigation financing, which can prove to be a profitable enterprise when you’re spending hundreds of thousands of dollars.

So it looks like there will be a world where investors can invest in lawsuits and clean up.  Has the world gone stark raving mad? [Yes.ed]

Boffins come up with octobot

2016_rt_mw_octobot_001A team of Harvard boffins has invented the world’s first soft bodied robot which is modelled on an octopus.

Apparently designers have a lot to learn from cephalopods. They can squeeze themselves into and around nearly any obstacle.

The team built a robot with an exterior made of silicone. It uses a small reservoir of hydrogen peroxide as fuel and when it washes over flecks of platinum embedded within the octobot, the resulting chemical reaction produces gas that inflates and flexes the robot’s arms.

According to Nature magazine, the gas flows through a series of 3D-printed pneumatic chambers that link the octobot’s eight arms and by flexing it is propelled through water.

At the moment the weak point is the fuel which lasts between four and eight minutes. It also has no sense of direction. The researchers are now working to add sensors to the robot, which would allow it to detect objects in its environment and navigate toward or away from them.

The scientists envision these robots being used for marine search and rescue, oceanic temperature sensing, and military surveillance.

Cern boffins stage human sacrifice to Kali

MURDER_AT_CERN_-_DISTURBING_HUMAN_SACRIFICE_VIDEO_SURFACES_-_YouTube_Bosses at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (Cern) are not amused as a video has tipped up showing staff conducting a mock ritual human sacrifice to the goddess Kali.

The video includes the staged “stabbing” of a woman. It is filmed from the perspective of a secret viewer watching from a window above who, as the ceremony reaches its climax, lets out a string of expletives and flees with the camera still running.

The video, which circulated online, shows several individuals in black cloaks gathering in a main square at Europe’s top physics lab.

The statue of the Hindu deity Shiva is on permanent display at the complex, home of the Large Hadron Collider.

A Cern spokeswoman told Agence France-Presse that the scenes were filmed on its premises but without official permission or knowledge.

“Cern does not condone this type of spoof, which can give rise to misunderstandings about the scientific nature of our work.”

The “investigation” under way was an “internal matter”,  she said.

Those responsible for the prank had access badges.  But at the end of the day, boffins have a weird sense of humour.

Geneva police told AFP they had been in contact with Cern about the video but were not involved in an official investigation.

Cern hosts machinery carrying out some of the world’s most elaborate particle research, including an enormously powerful proton smasher trying to find previously undiscovered particles.

Kali was not available for comment, but everyone knows she does not want her sacrifices stabbed and the ritual needs to be conducted in a grave yard. Plus it is men who are sacrificed to her – never women.

Technology might be making humans stupid

The digital revolution might be making us stupid according to boffins who have been worried about the long term effects of using gadgets rather than thinking.

Studies on sat-nav use have found that while they helped motorists on their journey, they affected memory.  While sat-nav users have found that while they helped motorists on their journey, they affected memory and drivers remembered less about what they have seen along the way – and could not retrace the route when asked to drive it again.

Another study found that museum-goers given digital cameras remembered objects they had photographed less well than other exhibits.

Evan Risko, a professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Waterloo, warned: ‘If you are allowed to store some to-be-remembered information on a computer, chances are you won’t devote cognitive real estate to remembering it. ‘As a result, your ability to remember that information without the computer will likely be reduced.

‘There’s little doubt that these new technologies are affecting what we remember.’

In a paper co-authored by University College London neuroscientist Sam Gilbert, Dr Risko reviewed studies into cognitive offloading – or using the outside world to save on brainpower.

Professor Risko and Dr Gilbert said: ‘It was argued that the act of taking a photograph led individuals to offload the memory for the object onto the camera.’

One study found that people who searched for information on the internet had an over-inflated sense of their own intelligence afterwards. Asked questions on completely unrelated topics, they maintained they knew more than others.

Technology could be causing ‘digital dementia’ in children wcan’t memorise basic maths.

Writing in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences, the academics said cognitive offloading is not new.

Something as simple as twisting the head to view an upside down picture or writing dates in a diary takes strain away from the brain.

In some cases, it is helpful, with technology allowing us to ‘subvert our cognitive limits’.

However, the long-term consequence of living in a modern, hi-tech environment in which we ‘constantly offload our cognition’ are unknown.

Professor Risko said: ‘Cognitive offloading undoubtedly brings huge benefits but also potential costs.

One study found that people who searched for information on the internet had an over-inflated sense of their own intelligence afterwards
‘We are just beginning to understand these effects.

All this explains Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump and why music today is such rubbish.

Boffins find a new type of light

dsotmResearchers have decided that we don’t have enough types of light and have come up with another one which they say will be better for quantum computers.

The new light is produced by binding photons to individual electrons and is not the sort of thing that will help you find your way to the loo in the middle of the night.

Vincenzo Giannini  from the Imperial College London in the UK said that the results of this research will have a huge impact on the way we conceive light.  In case we want to do it in ways which do not just involve turning on a light switch.

In 2007 boffins  discovered class of materials called topological insulators, they modelled the behaviour of light as it flashed across the surface. They found that not only could the photons interact with a single electron in this material, but the result would actually combine the properties of both.

These topological insulators are a unique type of material that won’t conduct an electric current through the bulk of their structure, but will carry one along the surface. The UK physicists modelled a single nanoparticle – a tiny sphere less than 0.00001 millimetres in diameter – made from a topological insulator. This allowed them to simulate what would happen if a flash of light beamed across the nanoparticle and collided with its single electron.

Basically they could control what the light was doing and this is the key to creating a the world’s first viable quantum computer. Quantum processors are made of qubits, which can be a ‘1’, ‘0’, or both at the same time – a state known as ‘superposition’. The problem with observing superposition is that physicists have to work with supercooled molecules chilled to a fraction of a degree above absolute zero, and this is expensive and difficult to set up.

But combined photon-electron could allow researchers see the behaviour at room temperature. All they have to do is actually build it in the lab.

 

Christians block US DNA work

godThe US is falling behind the rest of the world when it comes to DNA research because fundementalist Christians believe that Jesus would not want them doing that sort of thing.

The problem is that Congress has been listening to Christian lobby groups and banned human germline modification mostly on the basis that God saw his creation was good and therefore humans should not tinker.

However a paper published today in Science by Harvard law and bioethics professor I. Glenn Cohen and leading biologist Eli Adashi of Brown University say that without a course correction, “the United States is ceding its leadership in this arena to other nations”.

True, they might be godless heathens who believe in things like evolution and global warming but there is a possibily that they will sort out the world’s health crisis while the US is having to deal with biblical plagues.

Germline gene modification is the act of making heritable changes to early stage human embryos or sex cells that can be passed down to the next generation, and it will be banned in the US. This is different from somatic gene editing, which is editing cells of humans that have already been born.

The ban, added by the House of Representatives as a rider to the fiscal year 2016 budget, could have far-reaching implications if it continues to be annually renewed, according to the authors.

What will be “amusing” is when Congressmen start telling American parents that their precious little snowflakes will not be allowed treatments for life threatening conditions which are available overseas. It is unlikely that such parents will see it as a wonderful thing that their child is going to get to see Jesus before his classmates.

James Hughes, executive director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies added that boffins were on the cusp of being able to do [gene editing] safely, and the prospect of a telling a parent that they won’t have access to these therapies is morally untenable. Up to 4,000 children a year are diagnosed with some form of mitochondrial disorder

In the UK, which some in the field see as being more liberal than the US in gene editing legislation, MRT was approved by both houses of Parliament last year, following a robust period of investigation, public debate, and multiple rounds of parliamentary review.

Congress began looking into gene editing last year with hearings led by House Science, Space and Technology committee Chair Lamar Smith (R-TX), who believes that the US should proceed with severe caution when it comes to genetically altering embryos with heritable changes, even if it means putting off curing diseases.

 

 

Peter Thiel interested in injecting himself with the blood of children

5d5e63607192984853351188e3f8852eMedia friendly, Trump supporting, Paypal founder Peter Thiel is spending a fortune to cheat death and is focusing on a treatment which uses injections of the blood of kids to stay young.

While the technique does sound a bit vampiric, it was actually something the Martians did in the HG Well’s War of the Worlds, which might have led to their early deaths.

According to Inc Thiel has  channelled millions of dollars into startups working on anti-aging medicine, and spends considerable time and money researching therapies for his personal use.

One of these treatments is called parabiosis, and, according to Thiel, it’s a potential biological Fountain of Youth–the closest thing science has discovered to an anti-aging panacea. It is getting attention from mainstream researchers, with multiple clinical trials underway in humans in the U.S. and even more advanced studies in China and Korea.

He is involved in a company called Ambrosia which recently commenced one of the trials. Titled “Young Donor Plasma Transfusion and Age-Related Biomarkers.” Basically it involves giving healthy participants aged 35 and older a transfusion of blood plasma from donors under 25. The researchers then monitor their blood over the next two years for molecular indicators of health and aging. The patients pay $8,000 to take part.

The idea is that the young blood reverses aging symptoms across every major organ system. It is not clear why, but the younger organisms’ blood not only contains all sorts of proteins that improve cell function; somehow it also prompts the recipients’ body to increase its production of those proteins.

Ambrosia was contacted by Jason Camm, chief medical officer at Thiel Capital, who expressed interest in what the company was doing. Camm is Theil’s personal health director and lists his job as looking for methods to increase prospects for optimal health and significant lifespan extension.

Thiel has said in interviews that people were a little too biased against anti-aging science. He added that he was looking into “parabiosis stuff”, which he thinks is really interesting.

The question is where can you get enough blood of young people as it is not something you can get at Tescos, even a Tesco in Transylvania.

One also has to wonder if this story would have been written if Thiel had not bankrupted Gawker by funding the Hulk Hogan case.

 

MIT boffins create 3D without need for glasses

Tigre-3DMIT boffins, fed up with having to watch movies with glasses over the top of their glasses have invented a 3-D experience that does not need them.

MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) and Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science have demonstrated a display that lets audiences watch 3-D films in a movie theatre without extra eyewear.

Dubbed “Cinema 3D,” the prototype uses a special array of lenses and mirrors to enable viewers to watch a 3-D movie from any seat in a theater.

While the researchers warn that the system isn’t market-ready, they are optimistic that future versions could push the technology to a place where theatres would be able to offer glasses-free alternatives for 3-D movies.

Glasses-free 3-D already exists, but not in a way that scales to movie theatres. Traditional methods for TV sets use a series of slits in front of the screen (a “parallax barrier”) that allows each eye to see a different set of pixels, creating a simulated sense of depth.

But parallax barriers have to be at a consistent distance from the viewer and this does not work for big theatres.

Cinema 3D encodes multiple parallax barriers into one display, such that each viewer sees a parallax barrier tailored to their position. That range of views is then replicated across the theater by a series of mirrors and lenses within Cinema 3D’s special optics system.

Cinema 3D’s prototype requires 50 sets of mirrors and lenses, and yet is just barely larger than a pad of paper. But, in theory, the technology could work in any context in which 3-D visuals would be shown to multiple people at the same time, such as billboards or storefront advertisements.

 

Britannia’s cool science image sunk by Brexit

imagesubmarine2sinkingBritish scientists are losing grant money and will have to scale down operations and lay off staff thanks to the Brexit vote.

Seven national academies have called on the government to ensure that research is protected in Brexit negotiations and the President of the Royal Society has told the BBC that the future prosperity of the UK is at stake.

Annually, British universities receive £850 million in research grants each year from the European Union, but now British applicants for grants have been told to sling their electronic hooks.

Boffins are now being told that there are concerns from Euro partners that if UK scientists are involved in a project it could harm their chances in raising cash.

They are getting frozen out of big projects and European researchers in Europe are looking elsewhere to collaborate which means the British will not be around when big discoveries are made.

But the research problem is also extending to small high tech companies. The BBC found Archer Technicoat in High Wycombe, which develops bespoke coatings to toughen components for rocket thrusters for the European Space Agency.

Its managing director John Yeatman said that European funding has stopped after 30 years and interest from European partners for involving us in their projects has basically dried up.

Other researchers are packing their bags and setting up companies in Europe. Christopher Bovey was planning to set up a testing company, Herba Invest, in Totnes in Devon to help manufacturers of herbal products gain European Union regulatory approval.  Now he is setting it up in Spain.

Dr Pietro Cicuta, a physicist at the University of Cambridge, said the UK’s image was already tarnished in Europe, but it has now gone from “being cool to uncool in a day.”

Still at least we no longer have unelected officials from Europe telling us what to do, we just have Teresa May and Boris Johnson – what could possibly go wrong?