News & Updates

If you’re a fan of DRM-free gaming service GOG, but have a large library of games locked away on Steam, you’re in luck. GOG has launched GOG Connect, a program that allows users to add DRM-free versions of some previously purchased Steam games to their GOG libraries at no extra cost.

To transfer games, you have to install GOG Connect, connect your Steam account, and let the app do the rest. You’ll even be given the choice of using standalone installer for your games, or downloading them via the GOG Galaxy Client.

If the service sounds too good to be true, there is one slight catch: not all games will work. Currently, just over 20 games are part of GOG Connect—including The Witness, FTL: Faster Than Light, and The Witcher: Enhanced Edition. The company promises more games will be added to the service at a later date.

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Source: http://feeds.arstechnica.com/arstechnica/index/

(credit: Mashable)

On Wednesday night Elon Musk grandly told audiences at the Code 2016 conference that we might be living in a simulated universe. That comment has certainly sparked attention, but he said something else that’s still got us scratching our collective head: when asked about self-driving cars, Musk said that he considers it a “solved problem,” and that “we are probably less than two years away” from safe autonomous driving.

This timeline is consistent with one that he gave Ars in 2015, but the head-scratchy bit is that every other expert we’ve spoken to thinks true self-driving cars (Level 4 autonomy according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) are at least a decade out. NHTSA defines a level 4 autonomous car as one that “is designed to perform all safety-critical driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for an entire trip. Such a design anticipates that the driver will provide destination or navigation input, but is not expected to be available for control at any time during the trip. This includes both occupied and unoccupied vehicles.” Even Google’s experimental self-driving cars are classed as Level 3 by the agency.

Autonomous driving experts we’ve consulted at Audi, BMW, Ford, Mercedes, and Volvo (all of which have extremely active self-driving research programs) have consistently told us the same thing: it’s comparatively easy to make a car drive itself on a highway where every car is going the same direction and there’s no pedestrian traffic. But a car that can drive itself through a busy urban interchange—think Manhattan or Mumbai at rush hour—is closer to 2030 than 2020. Even sensor OEM Mobileye, which supplies Tesla with some of its autopilot hardware, won’t have its Level 3-ready EyeQ5 system on a chip ready until 2020.

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Source: http://feeds.arstechnica.com/arstechnica/index/

Some of the strange features in Sputnik Planum. (credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI)

The stunning images returned from New Horizons’ flyby of Pluto revealed a tremendous amount of information about the dwarf planet’s features. That’s been followed with the long, hard slog of trying to figure out how these features got there. One of the most striking things that needs an explanation is the apparent youth of Pluto’s surface, as some areas appear to be crater-free, including the huge area called Sputnik Planum.

Now, researchers are offering an explanation for Sputnik Planum’s apparent youth. Two papers in this week’s edition of Nature indicate that radioactivity from Pluto’s core would be sufficient to power convection of nitrogen ice. But the huge volume of ice involved creates another mystery, as it appears that almost all of Pluto’s inventory of this element somehow ended up in Sputnik Planum.

Here on Earth, nitrogen is a gas making up the majority of our atmosphere. Those who have spent some time in a lab may be familiar with its liquid form, used for things that have to be cooled well below environmental temperatures. But on Pluto, it’s typically cold enough—about 35K—that the majority of the dwarf planet’s nitrogen is in solid form. This nitrogen ice has a couple of unusual properties. One is that it’s much denser than water ice, which would allow the equivalent of icebergs to float on its surface. The other is that, since it’s not held together by strong interactions among nitrogen molecules, it’s relatively easy to deform.

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Watch out! Once you drink Amazon Prime’s Kool-aid, you may find yourself renewing the service… forever. (Or, at least, for a third year.) (credit: Rachel Murray / Getty Images)

Amazon isn’t likely to release granular data about its Prime subscribers any time soon, which means a privately run survey has a little more weight than we might otherwise give it—especially with a conclusion as resounding as the one drawn by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners on Tuesday. The firm’s latest report estimated an Amazon Prime retention rate that may only be rivaled by alcohol, cigarettes, and other drugs: 96 percent.

That’s how many Prime members elect to renew the service after two full years of use, according to CIRP’s estimate (which involved a survey of 2,108 people in the US). CIRP’s numbers also found that 91 percent of one-year subscribers elect to renew for a second Prime year, while 73 percent of the service’s free-trial users decide to pay for Prime.

The survey tracked renewal rates in all three of those cases, dating back as far as the second fiscal quarter of 2014, and it found that 30-day trial upgraders slowed down from June of 2014 until September of last year—which CIRP’s study authors attributed to the March 2014 bump in Prime fees from $79 to $99. The price of Prime in the UK also increased from £49 to £79 around the same time. The rates slowly climbed from that point on, and they’ve had an upward trend in the other categories, as well—one-year renewals are up from 81 percent in early 2014, and two-year renewals have climbed from 81 percent that year, as well.

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Source: http://feeds.arstechnica.com/arstechnica/index/

On Wednesday afternoon, Uber said that it had received a $3.5 billion investment from the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund. This is the biggest investment ever raised in a single round by a venture-backed company. In exchange, a managing director at the Saudi fund, Yasir Al Rumayyan, will take a seat on Uber’s board, according to The New York Times.

Uber has been a presence in Saudi Arabia since 2014, and it has grown rapidly from there. In the country, women aren’t allowed to drive, and their travel is often restricted without the permission of a male guardian. To get around, women either hire private drivers or go through licensed taxi or limo companies to travel throughout the country’s major cities. Speaking to male strangers is also verboten, and according to Fast Company, Uber only works through those licensed limo companies that had been operating with the monarchy’s permission for years before Uber’s arrival. The company has said that approximately 80 percent of riders in Saudi Arabia are women.

Uber’s value proposition is that it consolidates taxi and limo information, making it easier to order a car and reducing wait times for rides. The company also helps with residency and work permit paperwork for foreign drivers in the country.

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Source: http://feeds.arstechnica.com/arstechnica/index/

Enlarge / The current (chunky, old) Thunderbolt Displays. (credit: Apple)

Remember the Thunderbolt Display? Because sometimes it seems like Apple doesn’t; it’s been nearly five years since the last time the monitor-plus-laptop-dock was updated, and it’s increasingly an anachronism as high-resolution Retina displays take over the lineup. For some time now, the Thunderbolt Display has actually been larger and heavier than the 27-inch iMac, which has a whole computer inside of it.

One of the roadblocks to releasing a new 5K Retina-capable version of the Thunderbolt Display is the DisplayPort graphics interface, which in its current iteration (1.2) is only capable of driving a 4K display at 60Hz over a single cable. Even if Macs picked up Thunderbolt 3 ports, they still wouldn’t support DisplayPort 1.3. Apple had to develop its own timing controller to make the built-in display work on the 5K iMac, but it can’t drive an external display of the same resolution, nor can any current Apple laptop.

One potential solution, according to a report from 9to5Mac, is to put a dedicated GPU in the display itself—this would allow Apple to use the same timing controller from the 5K iMac to drive a 5K Thunderbolt display. This might have seemed like a strange solution a year or two ago, but Thunderbolt 3’s adoption in the wider PC industry is already making it possible to use external graphics enclosures like the Razer Core to add dedicated graphics to thin-and-light Ultrabooks and mini PCs. Changes coming to OS X will allegedly allow hot plugging of one of these displays, switching seamlessly from the integrated GPU in the laptop to the dedicated GPU inside the monitor. Whether that dedicated GPU could simultaneously drive the Thunderbolt Display and the laptop’s built-in panel isn’t clear, but it should at least be technically possible since none of Apple’s current laptops have 4K-or-greater displays.

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Source: http://feeds.arstechnica.com/arstechnica/index/

Theranos CEO and founder Elizabeth Holmes. (credit: Max Morse for TechCrunch)

With bunk blood tests and medical equipment, possible federal sanctions, a criminal probe, voided patient reports, and possible class action lawsuits, Theranos has taken quite the hit.

On Wednesday, Forbes put dollar values to that hit. The business magazine reported that the company’s valuation—based on “a dozen venture capitalists, analysts and industry experts”—has been downgraded from its $9 billion estimate 2014 to just $800 million now. And because Forbes’ valuation of Theranos CEO and founder, Elizabeth Holmes, was based solely on her 50 percent stake in the company, their estimate of her net worth dropped from $4.5 billion to “nothing.”

In 2015, Forbes ranked Holmes the number one self-made woman in America.

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An artist’s rendering of a brain tumor that can be killed off with the help of a virus. (credit: C. Bickel / Science Translational Medicine (2016))

To defeat the deadliest of cancers, it’s time to unleash the viruses.

In a small clinical trial with brain cancer patients, a tumor-seeking virus successfully invaded cancer cells and smuggled in molecular detonators, allowing doctors to selectively blast the deadly growths with a toxic drug. In the trial’s 45 participants, who were fighting the most aggressive forms of brain cancer known, the virus-drug combo nearly doubled their average survival time while showing no dangerous side effects. The finding, published Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine, demonstrates the utility of such viruses and also provides a green light for the treatment strategy to move on to more trials.

These brain cancers usually have few treatment options and lead to “dismal clinical outcomes,” the authors wrote. However, this new viral therapy has “the potential to fill this medical need,” they concluded.

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Don’t expect to see cars like this on Parisian streets after this summer (unless it’s a weekend). (credit: Don O’Brien @ Flickr)

Parisians with cars built before 1997 are going to need to head to the nearest car dealership if they want to keep driving in the city after July 1.

The French capital has experienced quite horrific air pollution in the last few years, and there was a massive spike in March 2015 that saw the city’s air quality drop lower than that of Beijing, China. After trying out temporary restrictions to vehicle traffic, Les Echos reports that the city has decided to implement new rules that will ban older and more polluting vehicles from its streets on weekdays. Those restrictions will also tighten over time; in 2020, only cars built since 2011 will be allowed.

The vehicle classification scheme means you get one of these window stickers based on which Euro emissions standard your vehicle complies with.

This announcement follows a decision by the French government to finalize a nation-wide scheme of ranking vehicle emissions (the system is based on the European emissions standards). Any vehicle made on or before December 31, 1996 was built to conform with Euro 1, the weakest of these standards, and it’s these cars that are no longer allowed in the capital. Pre-2000 motorbikes and other two-wheeled vehicles are also on the hit list.

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