WIRED Awake: 10 must-read articles for May 18
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Your WIRED daily briefing. Today, 1,730 new plants were documented by scientists in 2016; Google has revealed AI chips, Android O beta and standalone VR at Google I/O conference; Wikileaks military whistleblower Chelsea Manning has left prison in the USA and more.
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A new report by scientists at The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew finds that 1,730 plants were catalogued by scientists for the first time in 2016 (BBC News). The new-to-science botanical specimens noted in the State of the World’s Planets Report include new relatives in the families of the rooibos plant, cassava root and aloe vera. Kew director of science, Prof Kathy Willis, told BBC News: “It’s really important to find these new species because they may well hold the genetic code – or the key – to more resilient food crops from pests and pathogens and climate change into the future”.
The first day of the Google I/O event has revealed the company’s dedication to AI and promises new virtual reality hardware in the future (WIRED). The news includes the beta release of Android O, confirmation that the company is working on wireless, self-contained VR headsets to be launched in ‘late 2017’, and a look at the upgraded version of the company’s Tensor Processing Unit CPUs, optimised for machine learning. Google has also introduced a new automatic Smart Reply feature for all Gmail users, new voice calling and media streaming features for Google Home, and Google Lens, an AI camera mode that will be able to both edit and identify objects in your photos.
US military whistleblower Chelsea Manning left Fort Leavenworth military prison a free woman yesterday (BBC). Manning, who leaked evidence of US war crimes to WikiLeaks while stationed in Iraq as an intelligence analyst, had her 35-year sentence commuted by former US president Barack Obama just before he left office. She posted her “first steps of freedom” on Instagram.
Amazon is adding its digital assistant Alexa to Fire Tablets in the UK alongside some improved hardware (WIRED). As well as an updated Fire 7, Fire HD 8 and Fire Kids Edition tablets coming on June 7, Amazon says it will enable its digital assistant Alexa on existing Fire Tablets via a software update. However, the company does not have a planned release date for this feature as yet. As with previous improvements to service or apps, Alexa on Fire tablets has been available in the US since the tail end of 2016, leaving UK consumers waiting for updates already available in America.
A study published in The BMJ has revealed a correlative link between older doctors and higher patient mortality rates (Ars Technica). The researchers from Harvard analysed data on over 700,000 hospital admissions under the care of almost 19,000 doctors, and found that patients whose doctors were under 40 had a 30-day mortality rate of 10.8 per cent, compared to 11.1 per cent for those with doctors aged between 40 and 49, 11.3 per cent for doctors 50 to 59, and 12.1 per cent with doctors aged 60 or above. While the data can’t provide a causative link, it is suggestive of a number of potential factors, such as how up-to-date older physicians’ training and skills are.
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A new study has found that AIs designed to occasionally make entirely random choices can help humans do better at group problem-solving tasks (Science). Groups of 20 – sometimes including three software bots – were asked to collaborate on a networked colour coordination game, and the bots were programmed to exhibit varying levels of randomness in the moves they made. The researchers found that teams with bots performed the same as all-human groups, except for those in which bots were set to make random colour choices 10 per cent of the time, which significantly out-performed all other groups. These teams solved the game much faster than their rivals, with a median time of 103 seconds, compared to 232 seconds, and completed games within the time lime 85 per cent of the time, compared to 67 per cent. Study co-author Nicholas Christakis said “the bots are helping humans to help themselves”, getting the team out of ruts and prompting human team members to try new strategies.
Our Universe could be one of an infinite number of Universes, and, in the early stages of its existence, might have collided with one of these other cosmoses, according to a recent discovery (WIRED). The work, by a team of researchers led by Professor Tom Shanks from Durham University, finds that a mysterious ‘cold spot’ in the Universe is not caused by a massive void, as previously thought. Instead, the authors say, the most likely explanation for the spot is that our Universe collided with another ‘bubble’ Universe – so-called because it grows like a bubble out of a vacuum. For this to have been the case, there must be an infinite number of other Universes, known as the multiverse theory, although Shanks says there are still other possible explanations for the Cold Spot: “It could be evidence for a topological defect like a texture created by symmetry breaking in early Universe, like when water crystallises to ice – but inflation is liked because it inflates away, i.e. erases the evidence for, such defects”.
British tech start-up Improbable has announced that it’s going to partner with Jagex, the company behind seminal MMORPG RuneScape to build huge online game worlds (VentureBeat). The project will be built using Improbable’s SpacialOS, an operating system expressly made for complex world creation, first seen in previews of open MMO Worlds Adrift by Bossa. Improbable cofounder and CEO Herman Narula said: “We’re excited to see what such an experienced team with this established and well-loved IP will be able to do with our platform, which enables greater player density, larger and more detailed worlds and new forms of emergent gameplay”.
Netflix and author Andrzej Sapkowski are producing a TV adaptation of the Witcher Saga books (EuroGamer). The English-language series, which is being made by Polish film studio Platige, has Sapkowski on board as a creative consultant, and Sean Daniel (The Mummy, The Expanse) and Jason Brown (The Expanse) attached as producers, but there’s currently no information on the show’s cast or air date. For those who’d rather not wait indefinitely to return to Sapkowski’s Polish legend inspired world, CD Projekt Red’s digital card game spin-off from its Witcher RPGs, Gwent, is going into open beta next Wednesday.
CBS Paramount has revealed a new trailer and stills for forthcoming CBS All Access series, Star Trek: Discovery. Although the company’s own version is region-locked to the USA, (ScreenRant) has helpfully made the promo available internationally. It does a great job of characterising the show’s Vulcan-raised Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), as well as revealing the pre-Original Series show’s lavish sci-fi settings, glossy effects and inevitable run-in with the Klingon Empire. The series is tentatively scheduled for an autumn release on All Access in the USA – international viewers should be able to watch it on Netflix.
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