News & Updates

(credit: Spencer E Holtaway)

Longtime Facebook users know better than to get comfy with how the site looks or works, as the service’s decade of longevity has come in part due to constant refreshes—for better and for worse. The same might not be said for major news outlets who’ve grown to rely on Facebook as a source of traffic, and they may very well not care for the social network’s latest site-tweak announcement.

In a Wednesday announcement, Facebook VP of Product Management Adam Mosseri declared that the site’s algorithm would now shift towards “friends and family” content—a pledge that seems to appear every time Facebook talks about its algorithms. In today’s case, however, Mosseri tucked the announcement’s real meaning into a linked clarification: that all “pages” content would be pushed down in the general rankings. Meaning, if content is posted by a news outlet, a restaurant, or another establishment with its own “page” presence on Facebook, those posts will officially see “less of an impact.”

Neither announcement touched upon “instant article” publication, a May 2015 initiative that saw multiple major news outlets—which all range from middle- to left-leaning—ally with Facebook to have stories directly publish on the social network as opposed to being hotlinked from their original sources. However, the announcement hinted at these kinds of stories possibly being deprioritized in the future. And the reasoning isn’t hard to suss out: that whole conservative news-suppression mess from this May.

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Here’s your latest masked mystery character.

The Nonary Game is back for the third (and supposedly final) time, bringing the familiar structure and tropes of previous games 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward. If you’re not familiar with the Nonary Game — or the odd-sounding titles I just mentioned—prepare for some spoilers for Zero Time Dilemma’s predecessors in the Zero Escape franchise.

In fact, “spoilers” are integral to Zero Time Dilemma. As in the previous two games, the mystery is structured as a series of interlocking timelines: branching decision paths that can be accessed and then escaped through the convenient metaphysical explanation of psychological time travel. The plot of Zero Time Dilemma’s visual-novel-meets-adventure-game sees our nine heroes jumping from one untimely end to another—searching for out-of-order clues about why they are where they are.

This time, the “where” is a seemingly abandoned nuclear bunker. A cast of new and returning 20-somethings who are very good at puzzles have been locked inside by Zero, the Jigsaw-like tormentor whose identity changes between games.

Drowning in a sea of exposition

True to the Zero Escape games of yore, circumstance and Zero’s rules split the nine characters into three teams, each of which seems to vaguely represent a different point in the franchise.

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Retired United States Air Force Colonel Gene Lee, in a flight simulator, takes on the ALPHA AI. It doesn’t go well for him. (credit: Lisa Ventre, University of Cincinnati)

In the future, the US Air Force hopes to have armed drones flying in formation with human pilots, responding to their verbal and digital commands to fight the enemy and strike targets. That would require an artificial intelligence capable of interpreting commands and applying knowledge of combat tactics—something that is already being proven in a project funded by the Air Force Research Lab.

ALPHA, an artificial intelligence trained by a retired Air Force expert in air combat, was originally developed as what amounts to ultimate video game AI—an autonomous simulated enemy for use in training fighter pilots. The AI is so good that it has consistently beaten human pilots in simulated air combat—even when heavily handicapped by simulated physics. And now AFRL is investigating using ALPHA as the AI for Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs) in the physical world, potentially flying missions alongside human pilots.

Described in a paper recently published in the Journal of Defense Management, ALPHA was created using a “genetic fuzzy tree” (GFT) system. There’s a lot to unpack in that term, but in short, the methodology uses genetic algorithms—code intended to mimic evolution and natural selection—to train a collection of independent but interconnected “fuzzy inference systems” (FISs). Instead of training each bit of fuzzy logic independently for a given task, as is normally done in fuzzy systems, the genetic algorithm “is utilized to train each system in the Fuzzy Tree simultaneously,” lead researcher Nick Ernest, CEO of Psibernetix Inc. (the company that developed ALPHA) and his co-authors wrote in the paper. “Each FIS has membership functions that classify the inputs and outputs into linguistic classifications, such as ‘far away’ and ‘very threatening’, as well as if-then rules for every combination of inputs, such as ‘If missile launch computer confidence is moderate and mission kill shot accuracy is very high, fire missile’. By breaking up the problem into many sub-decisions, the solution space is significantly reduced.”

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Some of the startlingly bright terrain on Ceres’ heavily cratered surface.

NASA’s Dawn mission has achieved a number of firsts, including being the first spacecraft to go into orbit around two different bodies. The second of those destinations is Ceres, a dwarf planet that is by far the largest body in the asteroid belt. That visit has now shown us that a lot of our expectations for what we would find at Ceres were wrong: it’s not an icy body, but liquid water has helped shape the dwarf planet’s most dramatic features.

A couple of papers that analyze Dawn data have appeared in Nature journals this week. In one case, they suggest that the dwarf planet’s composition is much rockier than we expected. But the other suggests that the mysterious bright spots found in some of Ceres’ craters are the result of salty brines making their way to the surface.

Our thoughts about Ceres prior to Dawn’s visit were dominated by the dwarf planet’s relatively low density. This suggested to many people that it must be composed largely of water, although the surface was darker than you would expect from water ice that was expected to be a thin veneer over an icy world. Craters were also expected to be relatively scarce, as water ice is semi-viscous at the temperatures (120K and up) expected to be found on Ceres.

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A massive database of terrorists and “heightened-risk individuals and entities” containing more than 2.2 Million records has reportedly leaked online.

Researcher Chris Vickery claimed on Reddit that he had managed to obtain a copy of 2014 version of the World-Check confidential database, which is being used by banks, governments, and intelligence agencies worldwide to scope out risks


Airbags in cars have been responsible for saving many a life, but recent news might be tarnishing that reputation. More than 100 million cars worldwide are subject to the most complex automotive recall ever thanks to defective airbags from supplier Takata.

The problem rests with whether or not the airbag uses a chemical drying agent to prevent the ammonium-nitrate propellant charge from taking on moisture. Takata airbags without the drying agent may not work properly in an accident, filling the cabin with shards of metal shrapnel as well as the airbag. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (which ordered the recall here in the US) says that 10 people have been killed and more than 100 injured as a result.

If you drive one of the affected models, you may have to wait some time before getting it replaced. Takata has until 2019 to replace all the defective airbags and may well need the time; in the process of trying to have one of our cars fixed in June under the recall notice, we were told the supply chain was empty and that 2017 was more likely. But Takata isn’t the only company having problems with prematurely exploding airbags.

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(credit: Aurich Lawson)

The Wi-Fi Alliance industry group is now certifying products that can deliver multi-gigabit speeds and improve coverage in dense networks by delivering data to multiple devices simultaneously.

The new certification program, announced today, focuses on the so-called “Wave 2” features of the 802.11ac specification. 802.11ac is a few years old, but it includes several important features that were not available at launch. One such feature is MU-MIMO (multi-user, multiple-input, and multiple-output), which we wrote a feature on in May 2014. MU-MIMO is powered by multi-user beamforming technology that lets wireless access points send data streams to at least three users simultaneously. Without MU-MIMO, routers stream to just one device at a time but switch between them very fast so that users don’t notice a slowdown except when lots of devices are on the network.

With the 80MHz channels supported in 802.11ac Wave 1, each data stream could provide up to 433Mbps and, when coupled with MU-MIMO routers, can send up to 433Mbps to at least three users simultaneously for a total of 1.3Gbps. But in addition to supporting MU-MIMO, Wave 2 also doubles the maximum channel bandwidth from 80MHz to 160MHz, boosting the potential throughput of each stream to 866Mbps. Wave 2 also supports four spatial streams instead of three, further boosting the theoretical maximum capacity. Technically, 802.11ac supports up to eight streams, but the certification program is still at four. Delivering eight streams with these data rates would use a lot of electricity.

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Specs at a glance: AMD RX 480
Outputs 3x DisplayPort 1.3, 1x HDMI 2.0b with support for 4K60 HDR
Release date June 29
PRICE 8GB (as reviewed): £215, $230. 4GB: £180, $200

Brave? Foolhardy? Desperate? Whatever you might think about AMD’s decision to cede the top end of the graphics card market (at least for now) to Nvidia and launch the mainstream-focused RX 480 instead, the fact remains that for £180/$200 it’s the best graphics card you can buy. It’s faster than Nvidia’s GTX 970, and (mostly) faster than an R9 390, making it more than powerful enough to meet the minimum spec for virtual reality—and it’ll blitz through demanding 1080p games at a smooth 60FPS too. It even does a decent job at 1440p, so long as you’re fine with dialling down a few settings.

As a consumer product, then, the RX 480 is a success, even if one of AMD’s core pitches—that it’ll help drive VR adoption—is a little suspect. VR headsets still cost well over £500, after all.

But—and sadly, there always seems to be but with AMD—the RX 480 is not a great debut for Polaris 10, its first GPU based on an all-new, theoretically-more-efficient 14nm FinFET manufacturing process. At 150W, the RX 480 sits in the same power envelope as the GTX 1070, yet offers less performance. It runs hotter too, hitting 80 degrees Celsius, even struggling to hit its advertised boost clock at times—and that’s in a big, well ventilated case. Compared to AMD’s previous cards, it’s an improvement, but those were always power-hungry beasts, and the bar has since been raised.

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Evernote has been one of the leading note-taking services for some time, with clients for the Web and every major OS. The company recently announced sweeping changes to its “freemium” pricing strategy, which puts a big limit on the “free” tier and raises prices across the board for new and existing users.

The free tier, “Evernote Basic,” is now limited to two devices. If you want to access your notes on more than two devices, you’ll need to fork over some cash. “Devices” means any device with an official client installed (Evernote apps are available on Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, Chrome OS, BlackBerry OS, and Windows Phone). Using Evernote on the Web does not count as an actual “device,” nor do third-party apps that use the Evernote API. Managing device access now works a lot like some music services, where every installed client counts as “a device,” and you can log in to a settings page and “revoke access” from each instance.

Both paid tiers are getting 40 percent price increases, too. “Evernote Plus,” which is now needed by anyone with more than two devices, has seen the price jump from $24.99 per year to $34.99 per year (or $3.99 per month). Evernote Plus limits you to 1GB of uploads per month (the free tier is limited to 60MB). The “Premium” tier moved from $49.99 to $69.99. Premium raises uploaded data per month to 10GB and adds a ton of other features. New users will see the price increase right away, while existing users renewing a subscription will see the new pricing in August.

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