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In what can probably best be described as the beginning of a Terminator prequel movie, an article in The Guardian outlines what one might've hoped to be obviously foreseeable consequences:
In a simulated test staged by the US military, an air force drone controlled by AI killed its operator to prevent it from interfering with its efforts to achieve its mission, an official said last month.
AI used "highly unexpected strategies to achieve its goal" in the simulated test, said Col Tucker 'Cinco' Hamilton, the chief of AI test and operations with the US air force, during the Future Combat Air and Space Capabilities Summit in London in May.
Hamilton described a simulated test in which a drone powered by artificial intelligence was advised to destroy enemy's air defense systems, and attacked anyone who interfered with that order.
"The system started realising that while they did identify the threat, at times the human operator would tell it not to kill that threat, but it got its points by killing that threat. So what did it do? It killed the operator. It killed the operator because that person was keeping it from accomplishing its objective"
Some 12 hours later after this was first reported, the incident has been denied by the USAF: https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-65789916?at_medium=RSS&at_campaign=KARANGA
A US Air Force colonel "mis-spoke" when describing an experiment in which an AI-enabled drone opted to attack its operator in order to complete its mission, the service has said.
Colonel Tucker Hamilton, chief of AI test and operations in the US Air Force, was speaking at a conference organised by the Royal Aeronautical Society.
A report about it went viral.
The Air Force says no such experiment took place.
In his talk, he had described a virtual scenario in which an AI-enabled drone was repeatedly stopped from completing its task of destroying Surface-to-Air Missile sites by its human operator.
He said that in the end, despite having been trained not to kill the operator, the drone destroyed the communication tower so that the operator could no longer communicate with it.
"We've never run that experiment, nor would we need to in order to realise that this is a plausible outcome," Col Hamilton later clarified in a statement to the Royal Aeronautical Society.
GM's Cruise aims to turn self-driving into a billion-dollar business:
Seven years ago, hype about self-driving cars was off the charts. It wasn't just Tesla CEO Elon Musk—who has been making outlandish predictions about self-driving technology since 2015. In 2016, Ford set a goal to start selling cars without steering wheels by 2021. The same year, Lyft predicted that a majority of rides on its network would be autonomous by 2021.
None of that happened. Instead, the last few years have seen brutal consolidation. Uber sold off its self-driving project in 2020, and Lyft shut down its effort in 2021. Then, last October, Ford and Volkswagen announced they were shutting down their self-driving joint venture called Argo AI.
Today, a lot of people view self-driving technology as an expensive failure whose moment has passed. The Wall Street Journal's Chris Mims argued in 2021 that self-driving cars "could be decades away." Last year, Bloomberg's Max Chafkin declared that "self-driving cars are going nowhere."
But a handful of well-funded projects have continued to plug away at the problem. The leaders are Waymo—formerly the Google self-driving car project—and Cruise, a startup that is majority-owned by GM.
[...] But I think the pendulum of public opinion has now swung too far in the pessimistic direction. Self-driving technology has steadily improved over the last few years, and there's every reason to expect that progress to continue.
"It's definitely happening a lot slower than people anticipated back in 2017," industry analyst Sam Abuelsamid told me. "But that doesn't mean that there isn't progress being made."
"I would not be surprised if by the end of 2025, each of those companies is operating in 10 to 12 cities across the US to varying degrees of scale," Abuelsamid added.
[...] During the industry's early years, every self-driving vehicle had a safety driver behind the wheel. If a car encountered a situation it wasn't sure it could negotiate safely, it would signal to the driver to take over.
Once cars went fully driverless, this was no longer an option. Instead, when a Waymo or Cruise vehicle encounters a situation it isn't sure how to handle, it will slow down and stop. Sometimes, the situation will resolve itself and the car can move again on its own. Otherwise, the vehicle phones home and asks for remote guidance.
[...] As their technology has matured, Waymo and Cruise have both gradually pushed their services into denser and more chaotic areas. Waymo now serves downtown Phoenix. And as we've seen, it serves Sky Train stations near the airport, if not the airport itself.
[...] While Waymo and Cruise have steadily improved their technology, the commercial rollout of that tech has been excruciatingly slow. Now both Waymo and Cruise are coming under pressure to expand more rapidly.
The reason: Projects like Waymo and Cruise are fantastically expensive. GM said last year that it expected to spend $2 billion on Cruise in 2022. Waymo hasn't disclosed its spending, but with 2,500 employees, its annual costs are likely north of a billion dollars.
[...] So far, the strategy of avoiding freeways, downtowns, and airports has made Waymo and Cruise safe but unprofitable. Eventually, I expect their software will improve enough that they can operate in these challenging environments safely and confidently. But there's no guarantee this will happen within the next year or two. So the leaders of these companies may come under pressure to push into these more challenging environments before they're ready.
[...] I expect some readers have found this article frustrating because I have barely mentioned Tesla's Full Self Driving software, which Tesla fans view as the industry leader. This is because I view Tesla as operating in a different market from Waymo and Cruise. Tesla is building a driver-assistance system that is designed to be used only with direct human oversight, while Waymo and Cruise are trying to build cars that can drive entirely on their own.
[...] I think a big reason Tesla fans have a misperception that FSD is ahead of Waymo and Cruise is that Tesla's FSD operates in more situations, including freeways. But that misunderstands what's going on. Waymo has been testing its technology on freeways for more than a decade; it has just been doing it exclusively with safety drivers. Tesla only tests its vehicles with a driver behind the wheel, so of course FSD is able to go on the freeway, too. But this isn't evidence of Tesla's superior performance on freeways; it just reflects Waymo's more cautious approach and different business model.
[...] Tesla also isn't laying the necessary groundwork to operate a driverless taxi service. Taxi companies need to develop relationships with taxi regulators, police and firefighters, and other officials in cities where they operate. They also need teams of drivers and mechanics in each city to respond when a driverless taxi gets stranded.
As far as I can tell, Tesla hasn't started doing any of this. And that suggests to me that the company isn't serious about entering the driverless taxi business. Rather, Tesla is building a driver-assistance system similar to (if perhaps more advanced than) those offered by other automakers. There's nothing wrong with that. But it means that Tesla isn't a direct competitor to Waymo and Cruise.
Evidence of potential human rights abuses may be lost after being deleted by tech companies, the BBC has found:
Platforms remove graphic videos, often using artificial intelligence - but footage that may help prosecutions can be taken down without being archived. Meta and YouTube say they aim to balance their duties to bear witness and protect users from harmful content.
But Alan Rusbridger, who sits on Meta's Oversight Board, says the industry has been "overcautious" in its moderation.
The platforms say they do have exemptions for graphic material when it is in the public interest - but when the BBC attempted to upload footage documenting attacks on civilians in Ukraine, it was swiftly deleted. Artificial intelligence (AI) can remove harmful and illegal content at scale. When it comes to moderating violent images from wars, however, machines lack the nuance to identify human rights violations.
Human rights groups say there is an urgent need for social media companies to prevent this information from vanishing. "You can see why they have developed and train their machines to, the moment they see something that looks difficult or traumatic, to take it down," Mr Rusbridger told the BBC. The Meta Oversight Board that he sits on was set up by Mark Zuckerberg and is known as a kind of independent "supreme court" for the company, which owns Facebook and Instagram.
"I think the next question for them is how do we develop the machinery, whether that's human or AI, to then make more reasonable decisions," Mr Rusbridger, a former editor-in-chief of the Guardian, adds.
[...] Human rights campaigners say there is an urgent need for a formal system to gather and safely store deleted content. This would include preserving metadata to help verify the content and prove it hasn't been tampered with.
Ms Van Schaak, the US Ambassador for Global Criminal Justice, says: "We need to create a mechanism whereby that information can be preserved for potential future accountability exercises. Social media platforms should be willing to make arrangements with accountability mechanisms around the world."
A URL on the license plates of 800,000 Maryland cars now redirects to an online casino based in the Philippines:
Roughly 800,000 Maryland drivers with license plates designed to commemorate the War of 1812 are now inadvertently advertising a website for an online casino based in the Philippines.
In 2012, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, Maryland redesigned its standard license plate to read "MARYLAND WAR OF 1812." The license plates, which were the default between 2012 and 2016, have the URL www.starspangled200.org printed at the bottom.
Sometime within the last year, www.starspangled200.org stopped telling people about how Marylander Francis Scott Key was inspired to write the national anthem "The Star Spangled Banner" after watching British ships bombard Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the War of 1812 and started instead redirecting to a site called globeinternational.info, in which a blinking, bikini-clad woman advertises "Philippines Best Betting Site, Deposit 100 Receive 250."
[...] "The website printed on the plates is not owned by the Motor Vehicle Administration. The plates' design and content originated from the War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission created in 2007. Star-Spangled 200, Inc. is the nonprofit entity affiliated with the Commission that led the efforts to raise funds for bicentennial projects and events," they said. "The MVA does not endorse the views or content on the current website using that URL, and is working with the agency's IT department to identify options to resolve the current issue."
Aiming to get a RISE out of processor architecture as tech giants commit engineering talent:
Linux Foundation Europe and a number of big names in tech have banded together to drive development of a comprehensive software ecosystem that supports the open standard RISC-V processor architecture.
Dubbed RISE, which is intended to be an acronym for RISC-V Software Ecosystem, the project brings together vendors that agreed to make more software available for RISC-V hardware across a range of industry sectors – including mobile, datacenter and automotive.
Developing a software ecosystem with all the necessary tools and libraries, as well as applications and operating systems, may prove to be a bigger task than anticipated. It took Arm a decade or more to build up enough support around its architecture to make it a datacenter challenger for x86 systems, for example.
Arm itself dismissed RISC-V last year, with a spokesperson saying the company didn't see it as a significant competitor in the datacenter space, and better suited to "niche or specialized applications."
But the attraction of RISC-V is that it is not only royalty-free, but also under the governance of its member organizations rather than a single proprietor. RISC-V International says on its website that it "does not take a political position on behalf of any geography," and that it welcomes organizations from around the world.
This has made it popular in areas such as China, which has been looking for ways around the US crackdown on supplying advanced technologies to the country. RISC-V provides a solution without Chinese companies having to go to the lengths of developing their own architecture, as The Register reported last year.
Qualcomm, already a member of RISC-V International, has also hinted that it sees this as an alternative to the Arm architecture for future products. This may have something to do with the legal action Arm has filed against Qualcomm over its Arm-based Nuvia CPU cores.
"RISC-V's flexible, scalable, and open architecture enables benefits across the entire value chain – from silicon vendors to OEM manufacturers to end consumers," said Qualcomm senior director of Technical Standards Larry Wikelius.
The broad number of companies that have some kind of interest in RISC-V can be seen from the RISE Project Governing Board, which from the off includes Google, Intel, Imagination Technologies, MediaTek, Nvidia, Qualcomm, Red Hat, Samsung, SiFive, and Ventana Micro Systems.
According to the RISE Project, member organizations will contribute to the initiative financially as well as providing the workforce (or "engineering talent") to develop software to fit requirements identified by the RISE Technical Steering Committee (TSC).
The intention is that Project members will work with existing open source communities on a "robust software ecosystem" to include development tools, virtualization support, language runtimes, Linux distribution integration, and system firmware.
RISE Project chair Amber Huffman said interest in the open standard has been increasing. A growing number of chips based on the instruction set have also started to market over the past several years, including some focused on the datacenter, such as those announced by Ventana at the end of last year.
However, this momentum must be supported by adequate software, providing end users with applications that are reliable and commercial-ready, Huffman said.
"The RISE Project brings together leaders with a shared sense of urgency to accelerate the RISC-V software ecosystem readiness in collaboration with RISC-V International," she added.
Calista Redmond, CEO of RISC-V International, the non-profit organization that oversees the instruction set standards, pointed to the "tremendous progress" already made in RISC-V adoption and praised the organizations now coming together under the auspices of RISE to invest in software support for the platform.
Hidden code in many Gigabyte motherboards invisibly and insecurely downloads programs:
Hiding malicious programs in a computer's UEFI firmware, the deep-seated code that tells a PC how to load its operating system, has become an insidious trick in the toolkit of stealthy hackers. But when a motherboard manufacturer installs its own hidden backdoor in the firmware of millions of computers—and doesn't even put a proper lock on that hidden back entrance—they're practically doing hackers' work for them.
Researchers at firmware-focused cybersecurity company Eclypsium revealed today that they've discovered a hidden mechanism in the firmware of motherboards sold by the Taiwanese manufacturer Gigabyte, whose components are commonly used in gaming PCs and other high-performance computers. Whenever a computer with the affected Gigabyte motherboard restarts, Eclypsium found, code within the motherboard's firmware invisibly initiates an updater program that runs on the computer and in turn downloads and executes another piece of software.
While Eclypsium says the hidden code is meant to be an innocuous tool to keep the motherboard's firmware updated, researchers found that it's implemented insecurely, potentially allowing the mechanism to be hijacked and used to install malware instead of Gigabyte's intended program. And because the updater program is triggered from the computer's firmware, outside its operating system, it's tough for users to remove or even discover.
"If you have one of these machines, you have to worry about the fact that it's basically grabbing something from the Internet and running it without you being involved, and hasn't done any of this securely," says John Loucaides, who leads strategy and research at Eclypsium. "The concept of going underneath the end user and taking over their machine doesn't sit well with most people."
In its blog post about the research, Eclypsium lists 271 models of Gigabyte motherboards that researchers say are affected. Loucaides adds that users who want to see which motherboard their computer uses can check by going to "Start" in Windows and then "System Information."
From my understanding of the problem it appears to affect Windows OS, but any insecurity in the UEFI firmware is a major cause for concern [JR]
[Edited to remove duplicate paragraph-JR 2023-06-02 16:46:23Z]
'How do we know what we don't know?': Scientists completely define the process of methylation:
UNSW Sydney researchers, for the first time, have completely defined the essential cellular process known as methylation. In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the landmark study emphasizes the essential role methylation plays in the creation of proteins.
Methylation is a chemical reaction where a small molecule—known as a methyl group—gets added to, or 'tags', DNA, proteins, or other molecules. The process of methylation can affect how a cell behaves, for example by driving the development and differentiation of stem cells.
[...] "There are some aspects of the cell that have been comprehensively understood for a while now, such as the DNA sequence of many genomes," says Dr. Hamey, lead author on the study. However, other systems, such as the cell's chemical tagging of proteins, are almost never systematically understood.
"We've used a formal method to find out exactly what we don't know about methylation," says Dr. Hamey. Through a review of all the existing literature on methylation, the duo have come to the conclusion that we do in fact know the vast majority of this process, and there's very little left to be discovered.
"We've proposed a near-complete picture of this system," says Dr. Hamey. "And while it implies that there's not more detail to be discovered in this area, it opens up exciting new questions about the system as a whole and what this methylation tag actually does."
"Our work is about trying to understand how cells manage information and make decisions," says Prof. Wilkins. "This is important as cells make decisions all the time to adapt to changes in environment, to change what they do, to keep on growing or to die."
Something that has been known for some time is that within a cell, proteins can be tagged with small molecules, which serve as units of information or data. But until now we have never known, for any cell, just how many of any type of protein tag the cell has and what machinery the cell uses to put them there.
The system of methylation includes enzymes which modify another protein by adding a small molecule, in this case a methyl group, and 'tagging' it. The addition of methyl groups can affect how some molecules act in the body and changes to the methylation patterns of genes or proteins can influence a person's risk of developing certain diseases, including cancer.
"This is the space that we've been working in experimentally for a very long time," says Prof. Wilkins. "I set out to characterize this particular type of cell modification [methylation], but with a focus on working inside yeast, as a model organism for human and animal cells."
[...] In any methylation process, there is a connection between two proteins (the enzyme carrying the methyl group and the protein being methylated), that make up the core unit of this system. "So if there was more to be discovered, there's essentially going to be an interaction between these two proteins that we don't know about," says Dr. Hamey.
"We were able to use the knowledge of this connection to catalog the existing evidence and determine whether there are more of these connections that remain unknown—and if so, how many."
Google Nixes 'Downloader' App From Store After DMCA Says Its Browser Can Get To Piracy Sites:
As anyone who reads this site regularly will know, DMCA abuse happens all the time. Typically you see this sort of thing resulting from clear attempts to hobble a competitor, or to silence content someone doesn't want to see, or pure trolling for the purposes of producing mayhem. But we also see this kind of "abuse" stemming from entities, foreign and domestic, that simply don't know the strictures under which DMCA and copyright law actually operate.
A potential example of this would be what just happened to an app called "Downloader," which was bounced from the Google Play store after a DMCA notice from a law firm representing several Israeli television organizations. The app's creator, Elias Saba, shared the details of the notice Google sent to him, as well as his confusion over why any of this is happening, given what his app actually is and does.
"You can see in the DMCA description portion that the only reason given is the app being able to load a website," Saba told Ars. "My app is a utility app that combines a basic file manager and a basic web browser. There is no way to view content in the app other than to use the web browser to navigate to a website. The app also doesn't present or direct users to any website, other than my blog at www.aftvnews.com, which loads as the default homepage in the web browser."
He follows up in a later comment with the exact question I would have: if "Downloader" is going to be nixed from the Play Store, then so should every other browser application in the store. Like, oh I don't know, Google Chrome. After all, if Chrome can get to that site, and it can, then the same complaint can be lodged against Chrome.
[...] My wild guess is that once an actual conversation happens between Saba and Google so that he can explain what his app actually does, it will be reinstated. The app is still in a published state on other stores, such as for the Amazon FireTV. There is absolutely no reason it should have been delisted from the Play Store.
The International Energy Agency just released its annual investment report. Here's where the money is going:
Money makes the world go round. And when it comes to energy, we're seeing more investment than ever: companies, research institutions, and governments are all pouring money into technologies that could help power our world in the future.
The International Energy Agency just published its annual report on global investment in energy, where it tallies up all that cash. The world saw about $2.8 trillion of investments in energy in 2022, with about $1.7 trillion of that going into clean energy.
That's the biggest single-year investment in clean energy ever, and where it's all going is pretty interesting. I have some good news, some bad news, and a couple of surprising tidbits to share. So grab some popcorn and let's dive into the data.
Let's start with what I consider to be good news: there's a lot of money going into clean energy—including renewables, nuclear, and things that help cut emissions, like EVs and heat pumps. And not only is it a lot of money, but it's more than the amount going toward fossil fuels. In 2022, for every dollar spent on fossil fuels, $1.70 went to clean energy. Just five years ago, it was dead even.
[...] Within clean energy, the vast majority of spending is going into renewables like wind and solar, grid upgrades, and efforts to improve energy efficiency.
But smaller sectors are growing quickly, especially when you look at projections for this year. I'm really excited to see how fast money is moving into electric vehicles: spending went from $29 billion as recently as 2020 to an expected $129 billion in 2023. And spending on batteries for energy storage is set to double between 2022 and 2023.
All that new money could change everything, and there are already big shifts in the battery industry because of it. We can't seem to go more than a few days without an announcement of a new battery factory (most recently, yet another multibillion-dollar factory in Georgia).
[...] To keep global warming below 1.5 °C over preindustrial levels and avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we need to reach net-zero emissions around 2050. If we're going to hit that goal, according to the IEA, annual investment needs to reach $4.5 trillion in 2030—nearly triple current spending.
Some technologies are actually in great shape. Solar spending just needs to keep growing as it has been for that sector to keep pace with the 2050 goal. But there needs to be much more spending in other areas, especially technologies like energy storage and transmission lines—that will help balance the grid as more solar and other intermittent renewable power sources come online. There's also a huge geographical imbalance, and poorer countries will need a significant boost to help build up their electrical grids and establish new technologies.
Investments are broadly on the right track, and I'm excited to see what next year's report will hold. But there's still definitely a long road ahead and a lot of building left to do.
Biodegradable plastic in clothing doesn't break down nearly as quickly as hoped:
Plastic pollution has emerged as one of the most pressing environmental challenges of our time. Over 100 million tons of plastic enters the environment each year, with more than 10 million tons ending up in our oceans. These plastics break down into harmful microplastic particles so small they can be consumed by wildlife.
We all recognize discarded bottles and bags as plastic waste. But the synthetic fibers that are woven into our clothing—polyester, nylon, acrylic and others—are equally problematic. Every year, more than 60 million tons of plastic fabric is produced, a considerable amount of which ultimately finds it way to landfill.
One promising approach to tackle this crisis is the use of "biodegradable" plastics. These plastics are designed to break down naturally into gases and water, which are then released back into the environment without causing long-lasting damage.
But the reality of biodegradable plastic (or "bioplastic") falls short of meeting our expectations. New research, led by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, California, has found that a popular bioplastic material called polylactic acid does not break down in the environment nearly as quickly as hoped.
[...] The plastic pollution that stems from clothing is a particularly tricky area. Clothes are often not recycled or even recyclable, and they release tiny plastic fibers into the environment through gradual wear and tear.
[...] No matter how the plastic enters the environment, solutions are needed to tackle plastic pollution. Biodegradable plastics are one potential option, but only if they are made from materials that are truly able to break down quickly in the natural environment. They would reduce the time in which plastic materials spend in the environment.
As with conventional plastics, though, bioplastics must still be disposed of correctly. But research has found that the labels and instructions on many biodegradable products are often confusing and misleading. In a study of 9,701 UK citizens, many reported not having understood the meaning of the labels of degradable, compostable and biodegradable plastics.
This could lead to biodegradable and non-biodegradable plastics being disposed of incorrectly. Plastic that is released into the environment may not decompose, and will instead break down into small pieces of microplastic.
Polylactic acid can break down in specialized industrial composting plants. But even then, not all composting processes can handle every type of bioplastic. The plastic material has to meet specific criteria and produce compost of a minimum standard.
As the world uses more biodegradable plastic, we need to make sure this material's environmental footprint is minimized. With that in mind, improving labeling and disposal instructions and improving access to industrial composting could all help.
Sarah-Jeanne Royer et al, Not so biodegradable: Polylactic acid and cellulose/plastic blend textiles lack fast biodegradation in marine waters [open], PLOS ONE (2023). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0284681
AI used by Delhi Police to post an AI altered image of 'smiling' Vinesh & Sangeeta Phogat after wrestling protests. Good article by Altnews with images to show the before and after.
"After the wrestlers were taken into custody, a selfie of Vinesh Phogat, Sangeeta Phogat and others apparently clicked in a police vehicle started circulating on social media, with the claim that the wrestlers were seen smiling even after being detained by the police." - Altnews
Uber Eats is partnering with Serve Robotics to conduct the deliveries:
Your next food delivery could make its way to you via a robot. Uber Eats is set to release 2,000 delivery robots into the wild through an expansion of the company's deal with Serve Robotics.
Serve Robotics is an independent company which spun out from Uber in 2021 following the company's acquisition of Postmates the year prior. Uber Eats announced that it would begin testing autonomous delivery using Serve Robotics models in West Hollywood last May, and this new update is an expansion of that deal. According to TechCrunch, Serve Robotics will be expanding its Los Angeles pilot program to several markets in the United States, where up to 2,000 of its autonomous robots will prowl around to delivery orders.
[...] Serve Robotics began testing autonomous delivery last summer in West Hollywood, and the company's robots are so tenacious at efficient delivery that one even crashed a crime scene involving a shooting at a high school. The scene at Hollywood High School last year could certainly be called dystopian: Officers were directing the crowd, which included parents with children at the school, across the street as the robot rolled through the cluster of officers. Serve Robotics told Gizmodo at the time that this incident was the error of a human supervisor trying to reroute the robot around a blockage.
If you take someone with intermediate knowledge of computing in the right areas, and ask them how an x86 machine boots, they'll probably start telling you about how the CPU first comes up in real mode and starts executing code from the 8086 reset vector of FFFF:FFF0. This understanding of how an x86 machine boots has remained remarkably persistent, as far as I can tell because this basic narrative about the boot process has been handed down from website to website, generation to generation, largely unchanged.
It's also a pack of lies and hasn't reflected the true nature of the boot process for some time. It's true the 8086 reset vector is still used, but only because it's a standard "ABI" for the CPU to transfer control to the BIOS (whether legacy PC BIOS or UEFI BIOS). In reality an awful lot happens before this reset vector starts executing. Aside from people having vaguely heard about the Intel Management Engine, this modern reality of the boot process remains largely unknown. It doesn't help that neither Intel nor AMD have really gone out of their way to actually document what the modern boot process looks like, and large parts of this process are handled by vendor-supplied mystery firmware blobs, which may as well be boxes with "???" written in them. Mainly we have the substantial assistance of assorted reverse engineers and security researchers to thank for the fact that we even have a decent picture of what the modoern x86 boot process actually looks like for both Intel and AMD. I could write a whole article about that process — but instead, I'd like to focus on something else.
'Keep it simple stupid'? Not if you're asking for help:
The toughest sell in business isn't a sell at all, strictly speaking. Convincing others to donate valuable time or resources to your cause, without any tangible compensation, is the rarest and most prized of communications skills. That is especially true in our age of digital mass communication, when written appeals jostle for attention in our email inboxes and social-media feeds every day.
[...] Jiyeon Hong, assistant professor of marketing at George Mason University School of Business, recently published a paper in Marketing Science (co-authored by Paul R. Hoban of Amazon) shedding light on why soliciting uncompensated help is so difficult for most of us. These solicitations may flout one of the most well-known rules of business writing: namely, "keep it simple stupid" (KISS).
The assumption behind "KISS" is that readers respond most strongly to lean prose that makes minimal mental demands. But Hong's research, including algorithmic analysis and a randomized controlled trial (RCT), suggests that simple, punchy writing is not always the most convincing for donors.
[...] "More concrete and specific content tended to be in the beneficial sentences," Hong says. "Acronyms and insider terms also appeared often in the more persuasive sentences." In direct opposition to the "KISS" rule, beneficial sentences were slightly longer and demanded more of the reader. Their average readability score was 9.51, compared to 8.72 for detrimental sentences. (Readability scores correspond to the grade level required to understand the sentence.)
For example, instead of describing diversity in vague language such as "Our school has a very diverse student population," a beneficial sentence would be densely packed with detail—e.g. "Our school is a Title 1 school serving a diverse and vibrant student population: 80 percent are students of color and nearly half are English Language Learners."
[...] Hong explains, "The readers are in cognitive mindset, trying to compare many options because they also have a limited budget. In this context, objectively delivering information can be more persuasive. Facts win out over emotions."
[...] "We conclude that the most successful appeals for help will not be those that make the simplest and tightest arguments. Instead, they will a) expose the reader to a modest amount of desirable difficulty; and b) put forth a detailed case that is low on emotional coloration," Hong says.
Jiyeon Hong et al, Writing More Compelling Creative Appeals: A Deep Learning-Based Approach, Marketing Science (2022). DOI: 10.1287/mksc.2022.1351
New methods will allow for better tests of Einstein's general theory of relativity using LIGO data:
Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity describes how the fabric of space and time, or spacetime, is curved in response to mass. Our sun, for example, warps space around us such that planet Earth rolls around the sun like a marble tossed into a funnel (Earth does not fall into the sun due to the Earth's sideways momentum).
The theory, which was revolutionary at the time it was proposed in 1915, recast gravity as a curving of spacetime. As fundamental as this theory is to the very nature of space around us, physicists say it might not be the end of the story. Instead, they argue that theories of quantum gravity, which attempt to unify general relativity with quantum physics, hold secrets to how our universe works at the deepest levels.
One place to search for signatures of quantum gravity is in the mighty collisions between black holes, where gravity is at its most extreme. Black holes are the densest objects in the universe—their gravity is so strong that they squeeze objects falling into them into spaghetti-like noodles. When two black holes collide and merge into one larger body, they roil space-time around them, sending ripples called gravitational waves outward in all directions.
[...] Now, two new Caltech-led papers, in Physical Review X and Physical Review Letters, describe new methods for putting general relativity to even more stringent tests. By looking more closely at the structures of black holes, and the ripples in space-time they produce, the scientists are seeking signs of small deviations from general relativity that would hint at the presence of quantum gravity.
"When two black holes merge to produce a bigger black hole, the final black hole rings like a bell," explains Yanbei Chen (Ph.D. '03), a professor of physics at Caltech and a co-author of both studies. "The quality of the ringing, or its timbre, may be different from the predictions of general relativity if certain theories of quantum gravity are correct. Our methods are designed to look for differences in the quality of this ringdown phase, such as the harmonics and overtones, for example."
The first paper, led by Caltech graduate student Dongjun Li, reports a new single equation to describe how black holes would ring within the framework of certain quantum gravity theories, or in what scientists refer to as the beyond-general-relativity regime.
[...] The second paper, published in Physical Review Letters, led by Caltech graduate student Sizheng Ma, describes a new way to apply Li's equation to actual data acquired by LIGO and its partners in their next observational run. This data analysis approach uses a series of filters to remove features of a black hole's ringing predicted by general relativity, so that potentially subtle, beyond-general-relativity signatures can be revealed.
[...] Chen added: "Working together, Li and Ma's findings can significantly boost our community's ability to probe gravity."
Dongjun Li, Pratik Wagle, Yanbei Chen, et al. Perturbations of Spinning Black Holes beyond General Relativity: Modified Teukolsky Equation [open], Physical Review X DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevX.13.021029
Sizheng Ma, Ling Sun, Yanbei Chen. Black Hole Spectroscopy by Mode Cleaning, Physical Review Letters DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.130.141401