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How much higher could proposed tariffs against China push laptop prices?



A new report has attempted to quantify just how much proposed tariffs against Chinese imported goods could raise prices on electronic devices, with the results concluding that you could wind up paying an additional $100 or more on your next laptop.

The report was commissioned by the Consumer Technology Association, which obviously has a vested interest in how the Trump administration’s proposal (tariffs up to 25 percent that would affect many tech items) would impact its members’ bottom lines. Nonetheless, its central premise — that phones, laptops, drones, and video game consoles would face price increases due to the proposed tariffs — doesn’t require much of a stretch of the imagination to envision, given how many of these products either come from China or are built with Chinese-sourced components.

One notable finding from the report is that prices for laptops would likely increase across the board, not just for systems directly imported from China. While those notebooks would see the biggest increase — an estimated 21-percent jump in the price for Chinese imported laptops and tablets — the report believes that prices for all models would rise 19 percent. This is a bit more extreme than the report’s estimates for cell phones, where it thinks Chinese import prices would increase 22 percent, but overall price would “only” rise 14 percent.

The report calculates that the price of an average laptop would rise roughly $120 if the proposed tariffs were enacted, pushing the average laptop cost to over $600 for U.S. consumers. As a result of the tariffs, laptop and tablet purchases would decline by 35 percent, according to the report. Manufacturing in Vietnam, Taiwan, and Mexico would be the biggest beneficiary of what would be a major salvo in the U.S.-China trade war, and in fact the Taiwanese tech industry is apparently already feeling the effects of the proposed tariffs.  

The accuracy of the report’s findings could be put to the test when and if the administration goes through with the tariffs, but one of its conclusions would still seem indisputable: Despite the tariffs, China would remain the largest importer of laptops and tablets into the U.S., commanding 80 percent of the market. The Chinese economy would definitely be hurt by the proposed tariffs, but it seems like the wallets of American consumers looking to buy a new laptop could be hurt just as much.

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Fully vaccinated Americans can safely visit unvaccinated family, CDC says



People who are fully vaccinated can safely have private visits with unvaccinated people who have a low risk for severe COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced today in highly anticipated guidance for vaccinated people.

In the guidance, the CDC considers people fully vaccinated once they have waited two weeks after their second dose of either the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine or the Moderna vaccine, or two weeks after a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Though it may still be possible for fully vaccinated people to contract the pandemic coronavirus, have an asymptomatic or mild infection, and possibly spread the virus, the risk is considered low.

As such, once people are fully vaccinated, they can meet in private indoor settings—such as a home—with other fully vaccinated people without masks and without physical distancing.

Fully vaccinated people can also meet in private indoor settings with unvaccinated people without masks and without physical distancing—if those unvaccinated people are from a single household and they do NOT have an increased risk of severe COVID-19. That means unvaccinated people who are under age 65 and do not have any underlying medical conditions that put them at higher risk, such as cancer, heart disease, or diabetes.

“Here’s an example,” CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky said in a White House press briefing Monday. “If grandparents have been vaccinated, they can visit their daughter and her family even if they have not been vaccinated, so long as the daughter and her family are not at risk for severe disease.”

If an unvaccinated person with high risk of severe disease enters the mix at any point (if they are present for the visit or absent during the visit, but living in an involved household) then everyone—including the fully vaccinated people—needs to keep wearing masks, stay physically distanced, and meet in a well-ventilated outdoor space.

Similarly, when fully vaccinated people are meeting with unvaccinated people from multiple households—regardless of risk status—everyone should be masked, distanced, and meet outdoors in a well-ventilated space to prevent spread among the unvaccinated.

Lastly, fully vaccinated people do not need to quarantine or be tested for COVID-19 if they have a known exposure to an infected person but do not have any symptoms of COVID-19.

While the new guidance loosens the restrictions in these specific private settings, the CDC held onto restrictions on travel and in public settings. That means fully vaccinated people should still avoid gatherings, non-essential travel, and still wear masks and stay physically distanced in public places.

“COVID-19 continues to exact a tremendous toll on our nation,” Walensky said. “Like you, I want to be able to return to everyday activities and engage with our friends, families, and communities.”

Though many families will rejoice in today’s guidance, “it is not our final destination,” she added. “As more people get vaccinated, levels of COVID-19 infection decline in communities, and as our understanding of COVID immunity improves, we look forward to updating these recommendations to the public.”

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SpaceX reveals the grand extent of its starport plans in South Texas



Enlarge / An orbital view of SpaceX’s South Texas launch site, with SN10 on the pad, in early March.

Maxar Technologies

As part of a federal review process for its plans in South Texas, details of SpaceX’s proposed spaceport have been made public. They were posted late last week in a public notice from the US Army Corps of engineers, which is soliciting public comments on the changes.

Most notably, the new documents include a detailed architectural drawing of the multi-acre site at the southern tip of Texas, along the Gulf of Mexico. Among the major hardware that exists, or will be built, includes:

  • Two orbital launch pads, one of which is already under constriction
  • Two suborbital launch pads, one of which already exists
  • Two landing pads, one of which already exists
  • Two structural test stands for Starship and the Super Heavy booster
  • A large “tank farm” to provide ground support equipment for orbital flights
  • A permanent position for the totemic “Starhopper” vehicle at the site’s entrance

What is striking about this architectural drawing is its compact nature, largely because SpaceX has limited land to work with at the facility, and must include stormwater ponds to mitigate against flooding. All of these facilities will be concentrated within a couple of dozen acres, which is in stark contrast to more expansive launch sites in Florida, at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

However, SpaceX appears confident that it can control the launch and landing of its vehicles such that any mishaps will not severely damage nearby equipment. This is a non-traditional, and possibly risky bet, but SpaceX has always been willing to take risks during development programs in order to move more quickly.

All in on Texas

These detailed plans also provide more evidence that company founder Elon Musk is all in on Texas for the future of SpaceX. These four launch pads, in conjunction with the acquisition of two oil rigs named Phobos and Deimos, provide some sense of the company’s operational capabilities.

The plan is likely to conduct launches from South Texas, and land vehicles on these modified platforms, as well as to fly Starships on suborbital hops from South Texas to these platforms for orbital launches. This, effectively provides the Starship Launch System with four orbital launch pads—and possibly a fifth one should SpaceX continue work on site modifications at Kennedy Space Center.

The US Army Corps review is not the only regulatory process underway in South Texas. In addition to satisfying the Army Corps of Engineers, SpaceX is also undergoing an environmental assessment by the Federal Aviation Administration. Since first acquiring the south Texas launch site in 2014, the company’s planned scope of activities has grown dramatically, from about 10 Falcon 9 launches a year to launches of the massive Starship vehicle. SpaceX is working to provide the FAA with an updated environmental assessment that the federal agency will then evaluate.

Musk has also proposed the incorporation of nearby Boca Chica Village into a new city, called Starbase, Texas. Such a city would need to have at least 201 residents and follow state rules for incorporation. Prior to SpaceX’s arrival, the small Boca Chica community consisted of several dozen homes. Somewhat controversially, in recent years, the company has sought to buy out or otherwise remove residents so that it has more control over its nearby launch activities.

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Facebook’s new AI teaches itself to see with less human help



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Most artificial intelligence is still built on a foundation of human toil. Peer inside an AI algorithm and you’ll find something constructed using data that was curated and labeled by an army of human workers.

Now, Facebook has shown how some AI algorithms can learn to do useful work with far less human help. The company built an algorithm that learned to recognize objects in images with little help from labels.

The Facebook algorithm, called Seer (for SElf-supERvised), fed on more than a billion images scraped from Instagram, deciding for itself which objects look alike. Images with whiskers, fur, and pointy ears, for example, were collected into one pile. Then the algorithm was given a small number of labeled images, including some labeled “cats.” It was then able to recognize images as well as an algorithm trained using thousands of labeled examples of each object.

“The results are impressive,” says Olga Russakovsky, an assistant professor at Princeton University who specializes in AI and computer vision. “Getting self-supervised learning to work is very challenging, and breakthroughs in this space have important downstream consequences for improved visual recognition.”

Russakovsky says it is notable that the Instagram images were not hand-picked to make independent learning easier.

The Facebook research is a landmark for an AI approach known as “self-supervised learning,” says Facebook’s chief scientist, Yann LeCun.

LeCun pioneered the machine learning approach known as deep learning that involves feeding data to large artificial neural networks. Roughly a decade ago, deep learning emerged as a better way to program machines to do all sorts of useful things, such as image classification and speech recognition.

But LeCun says the conventional approach, which requires “training” an algorithm by feeding it lots of labeled data, simply won’t scale. “I’ve been advocating for this whole idea of self-supervised learning for quite a while,” he says. “Long term, progress in AI will come from programs that just watch videos all day and learn like a baby.”

LeCun says self-supervised learning could have many useful applications, for instance learning to read medical images without the need for labeling so many scans and x-rays. He says a similar approach is already being used to auto-generate hashtags for Instagram images. And he says the Seer technology could be used at Facebook to match ads to posts or to help filter out undesirable content.

The Facebook research builds upon steady progress in tweaking deep learning algorithms to make them more efficient and effective. Self-supervised learning previously has been used to translate text from one language to another, but it has been more difficult to apply to images than words. LeCun says the research team developed a new way for algorithms to learn to recognize images even when one part of the image has been altered.

Facebook will release some of the technology behind Seer but not the algorithm itself because it was trained using Instagram users’ data.

Aude Oliva, who leads MIT’s Computational Perception and Cognition lab, says the approach “will allow us to take on more ambitious visual recognition tasks.” But Oliva says the sheer size and complexity of cutting-edge AI algorithms like Seer, which can have billions or trillions of neural connections or parameters—many more than a conventional image-recognition algorithm with comparable performance—also poses problems. Such algorithms require enormous amounts of computational power, straining the available supply of chips.

Alexei Efros, a professor at UC Berkeley, says the Facebook paper is a good demonstration of an approach that he believes will be important to advancing AI—having machines learn for themselves by using “gargantuan amounts of data.” And as with most progress in AI today, he says, it builds upon a series of other advances that emerged from the same team at Facebook as well as other research groups in academia and industry.

This story originally appeared on

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