Monthly Archives: April 2009

Virgin eyes 150Mb broadband speed

Virgin Media will offer 100 to 150Mbps broadband speeds up to two years before BT completes its rival fibre network.

“We have an opportunity with our network to provide significantly higher speeds,” Virgin Media’s chief executive Neil Berkett told BBC News.

BT has said its fibre network will hit the first crop of UK cities by early 2010 and will be complete by 2012.

Virgin currently offers a top speed of 50Mbps while BT is pledging 40 to 60Mb.

Mr Berkett said its fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) network was capable of supporting up to 200Mbps but roll out of higher speeds was a “function of timing”.

He said: “When we look at the market I don’t see us getting the returns right now for 100 or 150Mbps.

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The Future of Machine Intelligence

In early March 2009, 100 intellectual adventurers journeyed from various corners of Europe, Asia, America and Australasia to the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Arlington Virginia, to take part in the Second Conference on Artificial General Intelligence, AGI-09: a conference aimed explicitly at the grand goal of the AI field, the creation of thinking machines with general intelligence at the human level and ultimately beyond.

While the majority of the crowd hailed from academic institutions, major firms like Google, GE, AT&T and Autodesk were also represented, along with a substantial contingent of entrepreneurs involved with AI startups, and independent researchers. The conference benefited from sponsorship by several organizations, including KurzweilAI.net, Japanese entrepreneur and investor Joi Ito’s Joi Labs, Itamar Arel’s Machine Intelligence Lab at the University of Tennessee, the University of Memphis, Novamente LLC, Rick Schwall, and the Enhanced Education Foundation.

Since I was the chair of the conference and played a large role in its organization – along with a number of extremely competent and passionate colleagues – my opinion must be considered rather subjective … but, be that as it may, my strong feeling is that the conference was an unqualified success! Admittedly, none of the research papers were written and presented by an AI program, which is evidence that the field still has a long way to go to meet its goals. Still, a great number of fascinating ideas and mathematical and experimental results were reported, building confidence in the research community that real progress toward advanced AGI is occurring.

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Personal Supercomputer Is Coming

Within the next three to four years, most PC users will see their machines morph into personal supercomputers. This change will be enabled by the emergence of multicore CPUs and, perhaps more importantly, the arrival of massively parallel cores in the graphical processing units.

In fact, ATI (a division of Advanced Micro Devices) and Nvidia are already offering multiple programmable cores in their high-end discreet graphics processing platforms. These cores can be programmed to do many parallel processing tasks, resulting in dramatically better display features and functions for video, especially for gaming. But these platforms currently come at a hefty price and often require significant amounts of power, making them impractical in many laptop designs.

But preliminary steps are being taken to make these high-end multicore and programmable components available to virtually any machine. Vendors are moving to create integrated multicore platforms, with 64 or more specialty cores that can be used in conjunction with the various multicore CPUs now taking hold in the market. Using the most advanced semiconductor processes and geometries (32nm and soon 22nm and beyond), these new classes of devices will achieve incredible processing capability. They will also morph from the primarily graphics-oriented tasks they currently perform to include many more tasks associated with business and personal productivity.

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Scientists make quantum leap in developing faster computers

The researchers have created components that could one day be used to develop quantum computers – devices based on molecular scale technology instead of and which would be much faster than conventional computers.

The study, by scientists at the Universities of Manchester and Edinburgh and published in the journal Nature, was funded by the European Commission.

Scientists have achieved the breakthrough by combining with molecular machines that can shuttle between two locations without the use of external force. These manoeuvrable magnets could one day be used as the basic component in quantum computers.

Conventional computers work by storing information in the form of bits, which can represent information in binary code – either as zero or one.

Quantum computers will use quantum , or , which are far more sophisticated – they are capable of representing not only zero and one, but a range of values simultaneously. Their complexity will enable quantum computers to perform intricate calculations much more quickly than conventional computers.

Professor David Leigh, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Chemistry, said: “This development brings super-fast, non-silicon based computing a step closer.

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Nanocapacitors with Big-Energy Storage

The ultimate electronic energy-storage device would store plenty of energy but also charge up rapidly and provide powerful bursts when needed. Sadly, today’s devices can only do one or the other: capacitors provide high power, while batteries offer high storage.

Now researchers at the University of Maryland have developed a kind of capacitor that brings these qualities together. The research is in its early stages, and the device will have to be scaled up to be practical, but initial results show that it can store 100 times more energy than previous devices of its kind. Ultimately, such devices could store surges of energy from renewable sources, like wind, and feed that energy to the electrical grid when needed. They could also power electric cars that recharge in the amount of time that it takes to fill a gas tank, instead of the six to eight hours that it takes them to recharge today.

There are many different kinds of batteries and capacitors, but in general, batteries can store large amounts of energy yet tend to charge up slowly and wear out quickly. Capacitors, meanwhile, have longer lifetimes and can rapidly discharge, but they store far less total energy. Electrochemists and engineers have been working to solve this energy-storage problem by boosting batteries’ power and increasing capacitors’ storage capacity.

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An artificial heart for Rs 1 lakh

It’ll be to coronary care what Nano is to cars, say scientists at Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, who have devised an artificial heart that could save lives for just Rs 1 lakh.

The research team says trials of the prototype lab—constructed heart have been successful on small animals and the gadget is being perfected on goats. The institute has applied for permission to conduct human trials.

The Total Artificial Heart (TAH) — said to be the first such in the country — has been developed by a team of scientists at IIT-Kgp’s school of medical science and technology.

After four years of painstaking research, the scientists say their creation is better and far more affordable than the first artificial heart developed in the US, which showed a “high rate failure” and at Rs 30 lakh, beyond the reach of the common man.

The inventors hope to fit the heart into an ailing patient

within a few months, once permissions from the Indian Council of Medical Research come through. The unique 13—chamber heart is working fine in small animals, said a member of the team. Human tests are to be conducted at Medical College and Hospital (MCH), Kolkata.
Senior cardiac surgeons — Madhusudan Pal, Bhaskar Ukil, Tarun Saha and Kalishankar Das from MCH and Rajiv Narang of AIIMS, Delhi — will conduct the human trials.

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Researchers Find That Genes Determine Brain’s Processing Speed

In a study published recently in the Journal of Neuroscience, UCLA neurology professor Paul Thompson and colleagues used a new type of brain-imaging scanner to show that intelligence is strongly influenced by the quality of the brain’s axons, or wiring that sends signals throughout the brain. The faster the signaling, the faster the brain processes information. And since the integrity of the brain’s wiring is influenced by genes, the genes we inherit play a far greater role in intelligence than was previously thought.

Genes appear to influence intelligence by determining how well nerve axons are encased in myelin — the fatty sheath of “insulation” that coats our axons and allows for fast signaling bursts in our brains. The thicker the myelin, the faster the nerve impulses.

Thompson and his colleagues scanned the brains of 23 sets of identical twins and 23 sets of fraternal twins. Since identical twins share the same genes while fraternal twins share about half their genes, the researchers were able to compare each group to show that myelin integrity was determined genetically in many parts of the brain that are key for intelligence. These include the parietal lobes, which are responsible for spatial reasoning, visual processing and logic, and the corpus callosum, which pulls together information from both sides of the body.

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Future shock: The PC of 2019

For those of you who want the world at your fingertips, the wait is almost over.

The future PC promises to put nearly everything you could need or want right in your palm.

Think of a souped-up version of today’s smartphone, with a monitor that unrolls into a larger screen and a biometric security system that lets you access everything in your professional and personal life from anywhere, with all the data residing in the cloud. Wave it at your car to unlock the door. Order and pay for your morning coffee with a touch of a button. Plug it into a docking station and project that big presentation to your clients. Book a weekend getaway with just a few clicks.

“PCs are going from engines or tools to portals and enablers. The vision of what they’ll be in the future is a partner. They’ll be participating in the higher cognitive tasks of what people do to get their jobs done,” says Andrew Chien, director of research at Intel Corp.

The personal computer has been a corporate workhorse for decades. And while it has evolved, becoming slimmer and more mobile, in many ways it still resembles those old terminals tethered to the mainframe. But the next decade will bring dramatic changes, as the PC evolves past the standard desktop and laptop units to amalgamations of computing devices and their peripherals.

This future PC will be smarter, too. It could discreetly remind you of the name of an acquaintance and alert you when it’s time to take your medicine. It will be your colleague, your butler — and possibly your friend.

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Stem-Cell Repair Kit for Stroke

A novel matrix of neural stem cells and a biodegradable polymer can quickly repair brain damage from stroke in rats. Within just seven days of injecting the concoction directly into the damaged part of the brain, new nerve tissue grew to fill stroke-induced cavities.

Scientists say that the key to the advance, published today in the journal Biomaterials, is the use of a biodegradable polymer called PLGA, which ensures that the stem cells remain in the area of stroke damage and establish connections with surrounding brain tissue. By reducing the number of stray stem cells, the system is likely to be safer as well as more effective than other methods, the researchers add.

Strokes, which occur due to bleeds or blocked blood vessels in the brain, cause some brain tissue to die. This dead tissue is then removed by the immune system, leaving a hole. “We would expect to see a much better improvement in the outcome after a stroke if we can fully replace the lost brain tissue, and that is what we have been able to do with our technique,” says Mike Modo, a neurobiologist at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, who oversaw the research.

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Sahara Solar Panels Can Power the Entire Europe

Constructing a large array of solar panels in the Sahara desert can provide enough electricity to supply all the power needs of the entire Europe, a research expert said this week.

“It [North Africa] could supply Europe with all the energy it needs,” Dr. Anthony Patt, a research scholar at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, in Austria, told scientists at this week’s climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. “The Sun is very strong there and it is very reliable.

He said that falling costs combined with recent technological advances has made it realistic to consider North Africa as Europe’s main source of imported energy.

“There is starting to be a growing number of cost estimates of both wind and concentrated solar power for north Africa… that start to compare favorably with alternative technologies. The cost of moving [electricity] long distances has really come down.”

Dr. Patt estimated that only a fraction of the Sahara, probably the size of a small country, needed to be covered with panels in order to extract enough energy to supply the whole of Europe.

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