A Silicon Valley startup known as Soft Machines has just exited its “stealth” phase and is presenting at the Linley Microprocessor Conference today. The firm is introducing a new CPU architecture that it calls VISC.
In its press release, Soft Machines claims that the “VISC architecture achieves 3-4 times more instructions per cycle (IPC), resulting in 2-4 times higher performance per watt on single- and multi-threaded applications” than today’s CISC- and RISC-inspired CPU designs. Those claims are attention-grabbing, since Intel’s high-end CPUs have been limited to per-clock performance gains on the order of 5-15% for a number of generations.
The press release doesn’t go into any great detail about how VISC works, but it does offer some sense of what’s involved:
The VISC architecture is based on the concept of “virtual cores” and “virtual hardware threads.” This new approach enables dynamic allocation and sharing of resources across cores. Microprocessors based on CISC and RISC architectures make use of “physical cores” and “software threads,” an approach that has been technologically and economically hamstrung by transistor utilization, frequency and power-scaling limitations.
Robert Nelson has essentially taken an NFC chip and implanted it within his hand. Apparently such kits are readily available online, although for safety reasons we won’t link to them lest you end up hurting yourself if not properly applied.
- A CGI model of a black hole for the upcoming movie Interstellar has revealed they have warped halos of light and matter around them
- The model is thought to be the most accurate depiction of a black hole ever
- It was created using calculations by astrophysicist Dr Kip Thorne from the California Institute of technology
- Previously black holes were thought to have a flat disk – like Saturn
- Two scientific papers are being written based on the discovery
- Interstellar hits cinemas worldwide on 7 November
- In the film Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, who leaves a dying Earth to go on a journey across the cosmos in a bid to save humanity
Google has further demonstrated just how serious it is about making computers think like humans.
The California tech giant has teamed up with two of Oxford University’s artificial intelligence (AI) teams to help machines better understand users, and improve visual recognition systems using deep learning.
This partnership follows reports Google is also developing superfast ‘quantum’ chips modelled on the human brain, to make searches and software more intuitive.
Call them the neuron whisperers. Researchers are eavesdropping on conversations going on between brain cells in a dish.
Rather than hearing the chatter, they watch neurons that have been genetically modified so that the electrical impulses moving along their branched tendrils cause sparkles of red light (see video). Filming these cells at up to 100,000 frames a second is allowing researchers to analyse their firing in unprecedented detail.
Until recently, a neuron’s electrical activity could only be measured with tiny electrodes. As well as being technically difficult, such “patch clamping” only reveals the voltage at those specific points. The new approach makes the neuron’s entire surface fluoresce as the impulse passes by. “Now we see the whole thing sweep through,” says Adam Cohen of Harvard University. “We get much more information – like how fast and where does it start and what happens at a branch.”
The idea is a reverse form of optogenetics – where neurons are given a gene from bacteria that make a light-sensitive protein, so the cells fire when illuminated. The new approach uses genes that make the neurons do the opposite – glow when they fire. “It’s pretty cool,” says Dimitri Kullmann of University College London. “It’s amazing that you can dispense with electrodes.”
Brain in a dish
Cohen’s team is using the technique to compare cells from typical brains with those from people with disorders such as motor neuron disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Rather than taking a brain sample, they remove some of the person’s skin cells and grow them alongside chemicals that rewind the cells into an embryonic-like state. Another set of chemicals is used to turn these stem cells into neurons. “You can recreate something reminiscent of the person’s brain in the dish,” says Cohen.
Next, the team will turn their attention to epilepsy. The plan is to test drugs on a personalised “brain in a dish” to see which one is most likely to benefit someone.
And it’s not just neurons that researchers can get up close and personal with. Heart muscle cells also fire electrically as they contract. Cohen’s biotech venture, Q-State Biosciences, is taking advantage of this to look at how heart cells beat and gauge how different drugs affect their excitability.
In work presented at the Safety Pharmacology Society meeting in Washington DC this week, his team showed that several drugs that have been linked to heart problems change the firing of heart cells in a dish. “This may open up drug screening capabilities,” says one of Cohen’s collaborators, Ed Boyden of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who helped found optogenetics.
- Google leads $542m investment in Magic Leap
- Florida-based firm claims to have made a realistic version of virtual and augmented reality, which it calls ‘cinematic reality’
- It’s revealed very few details about the technology, aside from saying it’s more realistic than Oculus Rift, which was brought by Facebook this year
- Device may show wearers hi-resolution images close to their face, by projecting pictures onto the eye, but this is not certain
- Unlike Oculus Rift, the wearable could mix virtual reality with the real world
Scientists in Germany are closer to dating an ancient wooden statue which they say contains secret encrypted codes written around 9,500 years ago – possibly the oldest on the planet.
The haunting Shigir Idol is twice as old as the Egyptian pyramids and was preserved ‘as if in a time capsule’ in a peat bog on the western fringes of Siberia.
Now Russian experts say the remarkable relic contains encoded information on the ‘creation of the world’ – a message to modern man from the Mesolithic era of the Stone Age.
The Nexus 9′s retail debut is still a few weeks out, but that doesn’t mean you have to wait that long to watch the first hands-on video of Google’s latest Nexus tablet. S Channel managed to spend some quality time with the Nexus 9 and put together a three and a half minute video that shows off the tablets design and what Android 5.0 Lollipop looks like on an 8.9-inch device.
- Darek Fidyka is the first person in the world to recover from chronic injuries
- Fireman was paralysed from the waist down after severing spinal chord
- The Bulgarian received treatment pioneered by University College London
- Cells taken from his nose injected to spine and regrew to repair broken link
“But when we used to have booms in the tech sector, it would lift all boats. That’s not how it works anymore. And suddenly you’re seeing a backlash and people are upset.” Indeed, people are stoning buses transporting Google employees to work from their homes in San Francisco.
- Group said it to plans test a compact fusion reactor in less than a year
- It then hopes to build a prototype of its device in around five years
- Nuclear fusion is regarded by many as solution to world’s energy crisis
- For instance, a small reactor could power an entire U.S. Navy warship
- However, there was some skepticism over the viability of the design
- Joel Gilmore an energy consultant said: ‘This announcement is a long way from a working prototype, let alone a commercially viable power generator’
Lose the pounds too fast, gain them all back? Crash diets are supposed to be a big no-no. According to received wisdom, losing weight too fast just makes you put it all back on again afterwards. But the first randomised trial to put this to the test has found that crash dieters are no more likely than those who shed weight slowly to regain it.
They were also better at sticking to their diet than those who followed a more gradual programme. “Programmes that induce very slow weight loss tend to have high attrition rates because people get fed up,” says Nick Finer of University College Hospital, London, who wasn’t involved in the work. “To lose a lot of weight is very, very motivating”.
Most guidelines, such as those from the UK’s National Health Service, advise people trying to lose weight to avoid shedding pounds too rapidly. The thinking was that this doesn’t work for long-term weight loss and could cause muscle loss. It was also assumed that the diets would be hard to stick to because they are so drastic. But those beliefs were based on very little evidence, says Finer.
You take the fast road
To find out, a team led by Joseph Proietto at the University of Melbourne in Australia randomly assigned 204 men and women with obesity, who were looking to lose weight, to either a rapid or gradual diet, aiming for a weight loss of 15 per cent.
The first group had 12 weeks to lose the weight, and were given a drastic meal-replacement programme, substituting meal-replacement drinks for every meal. This provided them with only 450 to 800 calories a day. The others were given nine months to lose the same amount of weight. They consumed meal-replacement drinks once or twice a day and ate healthy meals in between, aiming for a daily intake of between about 1500 and 2000 calories.
In the crash dieting group, 81 per cent achieved their target weight loss, compared with 50 per cent of the gradual dieters.
Back to reality
Neither group of dieters was very successful at keeping the weight off, but the crash dieters were no worse off than the gradual dieters. Two and a half years after finishing the diets, both groups had regained about 70 per cent of their lost weight.
Finer points out that the trial was done in people who were severely overweight or obese, and very low-calorie diets – such as those based on meal-replacement drinks – might be inappropriate for people who are only moderately overweight. “You would be using a technique that might produce excessive weight loss,” he says.
This is echoed by recent guidelines from the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, which recommend that drastic diets should only be used by people who have an urgent medical need to lose weight, such as before joint replacement surgery.
It is not yet known whether the results of Proietto’s study apply to other drastic diets not involving meal-replacement drinks.
Well-Lit claims it has solved the shortcomings of LED lightbulbs, which have so far been unable to match the brightness of old-style incandescent bulbs.
The new bulbs use 85 per cent less energy and will last up to nine years, according to the firm which is based in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire.
It has done this using a new type of chip that improves phosphor conversion, which is the process by which light particles from an LED chip are converted to a different colour.
Well-Lit’s founder and managing director Chris Stimson, 36, said: ‘We’re excited to get our revolutionary bulbs out the public.
‘When someone says “they are as bright as a normal bulb”, that’s what I want to hear. It’s like the holy grail of the LED world.’
Not so dark after all! Dark matter particles may FINALLY have been found – and they are coming from the core of the SUN
- University of Leicester scientists may have directly observed dark matter
- They saw a signal in space that can only be explained by the exotic particles
- The scientists spotted the mysterious X-ray signal at Earth’s magnetic field
- Other sources such as galaxies and stars for the signal were ruled out
- But the best theory is that dark matter particles called axions are being converted into photons by Earth’s magnetic field
- It’s thought these axions are being produced in the sun’s core
- They then radiate out into space – but have not been spotted until now
- If confirmed it would indicate that stars are a source of dark matter
- President of the Royal Astronomical Society Professor Martin Barstow tells MailOnline it is a ‘really exciting result’
- Dark matter is thought to make up 85 per cent of matter in the universe
- But until now no direct evidence for its existence has been found
Could coconuts be the key to cleaner CARS? Fruit could store hydrogen to power next-generation vehicles
- Researchers have used coconut kernels to store hydrogen, taking a step closer to making clean fuel cell cars affordable
- Experts, from India’s Benaras Hindu University turn the kernels into carbon
- Kernels contain fatty acids, as well as potassium, magnesium and sodium
- They are plentiful, cheap and easily be converted into carbon, experts say
- Researchers found the carbon produced from the kernels could store a ‘considerable’ amount of hydrogen
The roll-out of cheap energy-saving street lights with a bluish glare has little regard for people or wildlife. There is a better way, says Jeff Hecht
This month three men shared the Nobel prize in physics for their invention of blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs). In its citation, the Nobel committee declared: “Incandescent light bulbs lit the 20th century; the 21st century will be lit by LED lamps.”
It’s already happening. Not just in our houses, but increasingly outside too. LED street lights, which are being fitted in cities in many countries, seem like a good idea, because of their energy efficiency.
But then I came home to Newton, Massachusetts, from a holiday to find the ugly reality glaring at me. Scattered light washed out all but two stars in the night sky, and harsh white light cast stark shadows on my porch. I was stunned and dismayed. Why should energy-efficient lighting make the world look garishly bluish-white and bright?
I saw no indication of this when I installed LED bulbs indoors. Manufacturers sought to please the customer’s eye, adding phosphors that converted most of the blue light into yellow and red to give a glow similar to the warm white of an incandescent bulb.
But outdoors, the US Department of Energy is pushing LEDs only as cost-effective lower energy lighting. Its municipal street-lighting consortium web page focuses on savings in dollars and lighting intensity in foot-candles (visible light per unit area) not colour ambience. The bluer the output, the greater the intensity perceived by the eye, so that’s what we get. LEDs can also spread light more evenly than older bulbs, because they can contain many small light emitters pointing in different directions.
But those benefits have costs. One is a blue-rich colour mix like moonlight or bright daylight, which many people find unpleasant at night. Glare is another, because “each little LED [in a street light] is one-sixth as bright as the sun”, says James Benya, a lighting designer in Davis, California, where LEDs have provoked protest. The tiny LEDs on the edges of a lamp point outward to spread light across the street, creating glare for pedestrians and drivers.
That glare also shines into homes and gardens. Light trespass is a key factor behind protests in cities from Davis to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and in UK towns and cities. Studies of the impact of LED street lights are under way in many other countries, including Germany and the Netherlands. Pilots have also warned that LEDs being tested for runways produce dangerous glare.
A further concern is that LEDs will worsen excess artificial light at night. Air scatters blue light more than other colours, making the night sky so bright it washes out the stars. Blue light can also suppress melatonin production in humans and animals, affecting sleep and behaviour. The International Dark-Sky Association recommends that outdoor lights should use the same reduced-blue LEDs as indoors.
Of course LEDs have advantages. Unlike high-pressure sodium lamps, they can be instantly turned on and off or dimmed. Moreover, our night vision is more sensitive to blue light than to red, so bluish LEDs allow the same visibility with lower illumination levels than redder lights. But most cities use LEDs at the brighter illumination recommended for the bulbs they replace, wasting energy and increasing the negative impacts.
The challenge is to balance the trade-offs between energy efficiency and environmental impact before the roll-out of LEDs outdoors gets any bigger. In my city, officials have offered to adjust the ones near my house to reduce light shining in the windows, but if they had waited for better bulbs it would have saved time, money and aggravation.
Seeing is definitely believing when it comes to stem cell therapy. A blind man has recovered enough sight to ride his horse. A woman who could see no letters at all on a standard eye test chart can now read the letters on the top four lines. Others have recovered the ability to see colour. All have had injections of specialised retinal cells in their eyes to replace ones lost through age or disease.
A trial in 18 people with degenerative eye conditions is being hailed as the most promising yet for a treatment based on human embryonic stem cells.
“We’ve been hearing about their potential for more than a decade, but the results have always been in mice and rats, and no one has shown they’re safe or effective in humans long term,” says Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technology in Marlborough, Massachusetts, the company that carried out the stem cell intervention. “Now, we’ve shown both that they’re safe and that there’s a real chance these cells can help people.”
Ten years ago, the team at Advanced Cell Technology announced that it had successfully converted human embryonic stem cells into retinal pigment epithelial cells. These cells help keep the eyes’ light-detecting rods and cones healthy. But when retinal pigment epithelial cells deteriorate, blindness can occur. This happens in age-related macular degeneration and Stargardt’s macular dystrophy.
In a bid to reverse this, Lanza’s team injected retinal cells into one of each of the 18 participants’ eyes, half of whom had age-related macular degeneration and half had Stargardt’s. A year later, 10 people’s eyes had improved, and the eyes of the others had stabilised. Untreated eyes had continued to deteriorate.
“On average, we’re seeing three lines [on an eye test chart] of visual improvement in our patients,” says Lanza.
There were no serious side effects – and no sign of tumours, which can be a potential risk in stem cell therapies.
Lanza says the aim of the study was to halt further deterioration, so the improvements in sight were an unexpected bonus. He speculates that the improvements might be the result of rods and cones that had become dormant when the native retinal pigment epithelial cells died, resuming their function when the fresh cells were added.
“The results are highly encouraging,” says Pete Coffey of University College London, who heads a project to treat people with age-related macular degeneration using tiny patches of retinal pigment epithelial cells made from human embryonic stem cells.
Advanced Cell Technology is now planning a larger trial, first in 100 people with Stargardt’s, then in people with macular degeneration.
Trials of cells made from human embryonic stem cells are also poised to begin in people with type 1 diabetes and heart failure, the first time embryonic stem cells have been used in the treatment of major lethal diseases. They have also been injected into the spines of four people with paralysis, although that trial is now on hold because the company running it, Geron, went bust.
- Males patient of Glass for 18 hours a day
- Complained of feeling irritable and argumentative without the device
- Said his dreams occurred with Glass in them
- Engineers have designed a concept for a fusion reactor
- When scaled up to the size of a large electrical power plant, it would rival costs for a new coal-fired plant with similar electrical output, they claim
- Design builds on existing technology and creates a magnetic field within a closed space to hold plasma in place long enough for fusion to occur
- Engineers at the University of Washington claim the design is cheaper than building a coal power station – but warn a full-sized version is years away
IT COULD be the biggest killer you’ve never heard of: the weakening and loss of muscle that happens as we get older.
Muscle loss is no longer seen as just a side effect of disease and frailty – it’s also a prime cause. As well as contributing to falls, muscle loss has serious knock-on effects on metabolism (see “Life-saving muscle“). In future, muscle-boosting drugs could aid those unable to maintain muscle mass through exercise such as weight training. Although researchers stress this isn’t about bodybuilding, but keeping muscles in your limbs at a healthy level.
Muscle loss, also known as sarcopenia, is increasingly being seen as an important facet of ageing, according to several speakers at a conference on longevity drugs held in Basel, Switzerland, last month. “Treatments will eventually get into the market,” said Dan Perry of the patient lobby group Alliance for Aging Research.
However, the mechanisms behind muscle ageing are still poorly understood – although new research suggests it involves damage from free radicals.
Mice that have been genetically modified to produce fewer free radicals in their mitochondria are known to live about 20 per cent longer than normal mice. So a team led by Andrew Marks at Columbia University in New York investigated how this affected the ageing of their muscle tissue.
They found that a key player is calcium, the release of which triggers our muscles to contract. The molecule responsible for this release – ryanodine receptor 1 – is damaged by free radicals, and as the rodents age, calcium begins to leak out when it shouldn’t, weakening muscle fibres.
The modified mice experienced less free radical damage to the ryanodine receptor 1. They also had stronger muscles, and, in old age, chose to run on their exercise wheels more than unmodified mice – by about an extra kilometre a day (PNAS, doi.org/v64).
“It helps point to the role that mitochondria play in the muscle ageing process,” says Daniel Moore of the University of Toronto, Canada.
Marks has founded a firm called Armgo to develop several compounds aimed at preventing calcium leakage, which are in early-stage clinical trials.
Other drugs are in development that combat sarcopenia in different ways. Muscle fibres are in a constant state of turnover, being simultaneously broken down and regrown, so any compound that tips the balance towards growth could help build muscle mass.
One class of drug includes the compound bimagrumab, which works by blocking a signalling pathway targeted by an inhibitor of muscle growth called myostatin. Others work by mimicking the effects of testosterone in a safer way than existing steroid drugs.
“There’s a lot of interest in trying to come up with something for sarcopenia because at the moment there’s no treatment,” says Marks.
Indeed, it’s only within the last six months that US researchers have even agreed on how to define the condition – essential before a drug treatment can be approved. The US National Institutes of Health published its results in May.
“We have come a long way in how to approach this,” says Jack Guralnik of the University of Maryland, who was involved in the defining process.
In the meantime, there is already a natural way to boost muscle: exercise. “The mitochondrial function of lifelong exercisers is like that of someone half their age,” says Moore. “One of the best anti-ageing pills is to stay active.”
- CPU startup claims to achieve 3x IPC gains with VISC architecture
- Man Implants NFC Chip Into His Hand
- Interstellar’s black hole special effects may result in important scientific discovery
- Google teams up with Oxford academics to bring human-like robots closer to reality
- This is what brain cell conversations look like
- Magic Leap raises $542m from Google and others for its ‘cinematic reality’ system
- Etchings on seven-faced Shigir Idol could ‘could hold a message to modern man’
- First HTC Nexus 9 hands-on video hits the web
- Paralysed fireman Darek Fidyka recovers thanks to UK research
- What Role Does Technology Play in Record Levels of Income Inequality?
- Lockheed Martin fusion reactor breakthrough announced
- Diet fast or diet slow, the same weight piles back on
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