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They’re making a real HAL 9000, and it’s called CASE – TechCrunch

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Don’t panic! Life imitates art, to be sure, but hopefully the researchers in charge of the Cognitive Architecture for Space Exploration, or CASE, have taken the right lessons from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and their AI won’t kill us all and/or expose us to alien artifacts so we enter a state of cosmic nirvana. (I think that’s what happened.)

CASE is primarily the work of Pete Bonasso, who has been working in AI and robotics for decades — since well before the current vogue of virtual assistants and natural language processing. It’s easy to forget these days that research in this area goes back to the middle of the century, with a boom in the ’80s and ’90s as computing and robotics began to proliferate.

The question is how to intelligently monitor and administrate a complicated environment like that of a space station, crewed spaceship, or a colony on the surface of the Moon or Mars. A simple question with an answer that has been evolving for decades; the International Space Station (which just turned 20) has complex systems governing it and has grown more complex over time — but it’s far from the HAL 9000 that we all think of, and which inspired Bonasso to begin with.

“When people ask me what I am working on, the easiest thing to say is, ‘I am building HAL 9000,’ ” he wrote in a piece published today in the journal Science Robotics. Currently that work is being done under the auspices of TRAC Lab, a research outfit in Houston.

One of the many challenges of this project is marrying the various layers of awareness and activity together. It may be, for example, that a robot arm needs to move something on the outside the habitat. Meanwhile someone may also want to initiate a video call with another part of the colony. There’s no reason for one single system to encompass command and control methods for robotics and a VOIP stack — yet at some point these responsibilities should be known and understood by some overarching agent.

CASE, therefore, isn’t some kind of mega-intelligent know-it-all AI, but an architecture for organizing systems and agents that is itself an intelligent agent. As Bonasso describes in his piece, and as is documented more thoroughly elsewhere, CASE is composed of several “layers” that govern control, routine activities, and planning. A voice interaction system translates human-language queries or commands into tasks those layers can carry out. But it’s the “ontology” system that’s the most important.

Any AI expected to manage a spaceship or colony has to have an intuitive understanding of the people, objects, and processes that make it up. At a basic level, for instance, that might mean knowing that if there’s no one in a room, the lights can turn off to save power but it can’t be depressurized. Or if someone moves a rover from its bay to park it by a solar panel, the AI has to understand that it’s gone, how to describe where it is, and how to plan around its absence.

This type of common sense logic is deceptively difficult and is one of the major problems being tackled in AI today. We have years to learn cause and effect, to gather and put together visual clues to create a map of the world, and so on — for robots and AI, it has to be created from scratch (and they’re not good at improvising). But CASE is working on fitting the pieces together.

Screen showing another ontology system from TRAC Labs, PRONTOE.

“For example,” Bonasso writes, “the user could say, ‘Send the rover to the vehicle bay,’ and CASE would respond, ‘There are two rovers. Rover1 is charging a battery. Shall I send Rover2?’ Alas, if you say, ‘Open the pod bay doors, CASE’ (assuming there are pod bay doors in the habitat), unlike HAL, it will respond, ‘Certainly, Dave,’ because we have no plans to program paranoia into the system.”

I’m not sure why he had to write “alas” — our love of cinema is exceeded by our will to live, surely.

That won’t be a problem for some time to come, of course — CASE is still very much a work in progress.

“We have demonstrated it to manage a simulated base for about 4 hours, but much needs to be done for it to run an actual base,” Bonasso writes. “We are working with what NASA calls analogs, places where humans get together and pretend they are living on a distant planet or the moon. We hope to slowly, piece by piece, work CASE into one or more analogs to determine its value for future space expeditions.”

I’ve asked Bonasso for some more details and will update this post if I hear back.

Whether a CASE- or HAL-like AI will ever be in charge of a base is almost not a question any more — in a way it’s the only reasonable way to manage what will certainly be an immensely complex system of systems. But for obvious reasons it needs to be developed from scratch with an emphasis on safety, reliability… and sanity.

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Apple M1 Mac running Windows 10 ARM is embarrassing for Surface Pro X

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It seems that Apple’s M1 Silicon isn’t yet done amazing people, even those from outside of Apple’s circles. The processor’s benchmarks have already been covered to death but nothing is probably more impressive than the M1’s performance outside of the common and officially supported use cases. Running Windows games via CrossOver, for example, is already quite a feat but running Windows itself on top of macOS Big Sur, just like what one developer accomplished, is even more dumbfounding. Especially when it clocks better than Windows 10 ARM’s “reference” Microsoft device.

Apple has removed the Boot Camp from macOS Big Sur on M1 Macs but not because Windows doesn’t run on ARM-based hardware. Apple is putting the ball in Microsoft’s court, explaining that it’s up to the Windows creator to make that happen by changing Windows 10 ARM’s licensing and making installers available. That said, it is technically possible to still run Windows on M1 Macs as developer Alexander Graf proved.

To be clear, he didn’t use the x86 version of Windows 10 as that would have added a layer of complexity to be emulated on an ARM-based Mac. Instead, he took an Insider Preview of Windows 10 ARM and ran it through a modified version of QEMU, a popular open source virtualization and machine emulation software, and utilizing Apple’s own Hypervisor.framework designed exactly for virtualization purposes.

According to Graf, the performance of this layer cake was quite snappy, though other testers who tried to replicate the setup did point out some issues. More interesting, however, The 8-bit reports the Geekbench scores for this Window ARM on ARM Mac outdid Windows ARM running on Microsoft’s own Surface Pro X.

That said, the current setup is hardly ideal and M1 Mac owners who need to run Windows software might want to wait for something like CodeWeavers’ CrossOver instead. It might also be a while before a full version of Windows will be able to run officially on these new Macs, via dual boot or virtualization, but this latest experiment still showcases the first Apple Silicon’s prowess.

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US Army explores drone-like designs for quieter stealth helicopters

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The US Army is has prioritized the development of a quieter helicopter design that will enable it to operate these vehicles for surveillance and cargo transportation without the noise of traditional helicopters. The military has zeroed in on eVTOL tech as its potential solution, meaning future Army helicopters may resemble drones.

Helicopters are vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) vehicles, meaning they rise straight up into the air and descend back down in the same way. This design is also used for consumer and many commercial drones, though there’s a very big, obvious difference: the rotors.

Whereas helicopters have a very large rotor that produces a loud noise, drones have multiple small rotors that reduce the noise level. The US Army is eyeing this type of design for future helicopters, ones that may feature an electric VTOL platform with multiple smaller rotors.

The result, the Army notes in its press release, will possibly be a different sound than we’re used to hearing from helicopters. A study was used to confirm that eVTOL will produce different noise, noting that stacked rotors may decrease noise and increase performance compared to traditional rotors with blades along a single plane.

Army research engineer Dr. George Jacobellis explained:

I do think that a stacked rotor can be beneficial for eVTOL applications. The added degree of freedom for the design will allow for gains in efficiency and control over the acoustic signature, which has been shown in the results. More investigation is needed, however, to quantify the noise reduction with axial spacing.

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Upcoming phones geared to rattle the entry-level market

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Smartphones have become an integral part of our life – no doubt they sell like hotcakes and virtually every other week a new phone is released in the market. While smartphones can be crazy pricey on one end of the spectrum, the options for entry-level buyers are also quite broad. The segment is important for all major manufacturers and the prospects of gaining the trust of buyers who want the bare basics from their device are quite high.

While there have been quite a number of entry-level phones up till now, there are more incoming soon. If you are someone looking for a good package smartphone that’s not obsolete while having the promise of getting through all the usual tasks – consider these upcoming smartphones.

Samsung Galaxy A02s

Samsung has a strong foot in the mid-range and entry-level phone market – knowing what the users actually demand. The South Korean giant is going to bring the phone (along with Galaxy A12) at a price of around $180, which will be a lucrative deal for buyers. Galaxy A02s will sport a 6.5-inch HD+ TFT Infinity V screen with a notched 5MP (f/2.2) front-facing camera. It is going to be powered by the octa-core Snapdragon 450 processor, have 3GB of RAM and 32GB of expandable storage.

The camera setup is also going to be respectable on the rear. The Galaxy A02s will have a triple camera module. It will have a 13MP primary shooter with autofocus, 2MP macro lens, and a 2MP depth sensor – both having f/2.4 value. 3.5mm jack will be on the phone for old school users and the impressive 5,000mAh battery (with 15W charging) will keep the phone juiced for longer durations.

Overall the Samsung’s upcoming entry-level phone in black and white color options is a sweet deal given the price tag and feature combo. Coming from a reliable brand this should be on your list come early 2021, as Galaxy 02s is rumored for a February 2021 release.

OnePlus Clover

OnePlus has made a paradigm shift in its ideology for creating smartphones owing to the dynamic landscape. They evolved as a passionate OEM providing users with the best hardware and software experience; then to foray into the flagship segment and now diversifying into the entry-level market too. The upcoming OnePlus Clover is going to fill the void in the market for a good quality phone with smooth software experience.

The smartphone is slated for a 10 December 2020 release for a rumored price tag of $200, just in time for the buying spree. The device has a 6.52-inch IPS LCD display (1560×720 resolution with 264 ppi density) and will be powered by the 11nm manufacturing process based Snapdragon 460 octa-core chipset. To ensure all the basic processes run smoothly, Clover has 4GB RAM and 64GB internal memory.

On the rear, it will have a triple camera setup including a 13MP primary sensor (f/2.2), 2MP macro lens (f/2.4) and 2MP depth sensor (f/2.4). Clover will come with a massive 6,000mAh battery paired with an 18W charger brick. Overall an impressive entry-level Android 10 phone (upgradable to Android 11) given the superior OxygenOS UI.

Moto e7

After much ado, the Moto e7 was finally announced a couple of days ago and will come to the Latin American market in the next few weeks. US availability is also expected since the e6 was also released for the market, so you can keep an eye on this one. The budget-friendly phone is the best price of the lot with features good enough for a basic user. Android 10 powered Moto e7 carries a price tag of €112 ($135) and obviously you don’t expect top-notch hardware here, but enough to do the normal phone tasks.

The 6.5-inch HD+ (@269ppi) display phone is powered by the MediaTek Helio G25 chipset, has 2GB of RAM and 32GB/ 64GB storage option. 4,000mAh battery (paired to a 10W charger) is going to last a long time given the low-end hardware it has to feed. The dual-camera rear module of the phone comprises 48MP sensor (f/1.7) and a 2MP (f/2.4) macro sensor. On the front there is a 5MP (f/2.2) sensor for selfies, so you’ll have much liberty to click the occasional photographs.

Nokia 6.3

Another smartphone that’s slated for a December 2020 release, and good enough for the budget buyer’s radar is the Nokia 6.3. The phone has an impressive specifications list for a buyer who can go to the stretchable price tag of $250. The phone comes with a 6.2-inch IPS LCD, Full HD+ (403ppi) resolution PureDisplay screen with a notch for an impressive 16MP selfie camera. The rear camera setup (imaging system with ZEISS Optics) is also the best in the lot here – a 24MP primary lens along with the 12MP wide-angle shooter and two 2MP macro and depth sensors.

The Android 10 powered Nokia 6.3 will have a 3GB RAM and 32GB storage option, and most probably the Snapdragon 630 or the Snapdragon 670/675 processor. The battery life is good at 4,000mAh and the user gets the convenience of a power button mounted fingerprint sensor. The speculations regarding some of the specifications should be taken with a grain of salt, however, most of them will be more or less the same. The phone is expected to release next month or by the start of next year. Keep an eye on this entry-level Nokia device for subsistence at a nominal price.

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