DeepMind’s ‘Starcraft II’ AI will play public matches

Players will soon get a chance to battle it out with DeepMind’s Starcraft II AI. Alphabet and Blizzard will test AlphaStar in a small number of public matches. It’ll be a Herculean task for the human players, to put it lightly. The AI has the accumulated knowledge of 200 years of playing Starcraft II, and earlier this year beat a team of professional players 10-1. So, for the average gamer, the odds of beating AlphaStar are laughably impossible — but it’ll be fun to watch.

For now, only a small number of players in Europe will be able to participate, and it’ll be a completely blind trial. In other words, players will have no idea they’ve been matched with AlphaStar. This will help ensure that all games played against the super-powered AI are being played under the same conditions. Winning or losing against AlphaStar will affect a player’s MMR, as normal.

In order to opt-in to play against AlphaStar, you can click the "opt-in" button on the in-game pop-up window. If you ever change your mind, you can select the "DeepMind opt-in" button on the 1v1 menu. AlphaStar will play in the latest version of StarCraft II, and will play either as or versus Terran, Zerg or Protoss. Players will be paired according to normal matchmaking rules.

The experiment is a part of DeepMind’s "ongoing scientific research into artificial intelligence," and the results will eventually be released in a peer-reviewed scientific paper. The replays of the matches will also be released. For a demonstration of how AlphaStar works, check out the video by DeepMind below.

Source: Blizzard

via Engadget

July 11, 2019 at 11:49AM

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Air France will test biometric boarding at JFK and Houston

Air France-KLM plans to swap boarding passes for facial recognition on Air France flights departing from John F Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in New York City and George Bush International Airport (IAH) in Houston. The trial run is expected to impact more than 2,200 passengers daily, and it will help Air France-KLM advance its goal to bring facial recognition to all US gateways by 2020.

The company already uses biometric boarding in a handful of US cities — Atlanta, Los Angeles, Dallas, Detroit, Dulles, Va.; San Francisco and Seattle. "We are excited to embrace an innovation that has the potential to make the travel experience less stressful and more secure for our passengers," said Stephane Ormand, Air France-KLM USA vice president and general manager. "Our aim is to implement biometric boarding at 93 percent of all US airports by the year’s end, and 100 percent by 2020."

Air France-KLM isn’t the first company to test biometric boarding. JetBlue began trials in 2017. British Airways is conducting its own trial. Qantas passengers use facial recognition tech to board in Australia. Delta has experimented with using fingerprints instead of boarding passes, and Dubai International Airport scans passengers’ faces as they pass through a tunnel equipped with 80 facial recognition and iris scanning cameras.

But as the airlines push forward with facial recognition technology, there are still plenty of ethical concerns. Some lawmakers are calling for more regulation, and reports have found that some facial recognition systems have high error rates. Even Microsoft has admitted that there could be "broad societal ramifications and potential for abuse." Still, it’s likely we’ll see biometric boarding at more airports throughout the US.

via Engadget

July 11, 2019 at 12:24PM

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Virgin Orbit’s first rocket drop test was a success

Virgin Orbit’s first rocket drop test has gone off without a hitch. The company’s Boeing 747 launch aircraft (Cosmic Girl) successfully dropped a dummy LauncherOne rocket from its wing above the Mojave Desert, bringing it one step closer to launching real payloads into space. The focus after this is on launching a real rocket, according to Virgin — and it might come soon.

Company chief Dan Hart told CNBC in an interview that he hoped the first full-fledged launch would take place "before the end of the summer." A first commercial launch, meanwhile, could come roughly eight to 10 weeks after that. Virgin already has six rockets in progress in its factory, and thinks it can produce "beyond 20" per year, Hart added.

The relatively quick schedule isn’t completely outlandish. Unlike Virgin Galactic, the Orbit team isn’t carrying crewed vessels into space — there’s still a lot to consider, but there are clearly fewer variables. As it is, the team has plenty of incentive to hurry. Virgin expects to charge between $10 million to $15 million per flight, which is a bargain compared to other aircraft-based launches and many conventional rockets. If successful, it could become a go-to option for satellite operators that want to trim their costs.

Source: Virgin Orbit (Twitter 1), (2), (3)

via Engadget

July 10, 2019 at 06:39PM

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Virgin Orbit Just Dropped a Rocket From a Boeing 747

On Wednesday morning, a rather unusual plane could be seen flying high over Edwards Air Force Base in southern California. Unlike the military aircraft endemic to the area, this was a modified Boeing 747 jumbo jet, its bright red tail emblazoned with a single word: VIRGIN. A 70-foot rocket was strapped beneath its left wing and about 30 minutes after takeoff, jet pilot Kelly Latimer released the rocket and sent it careening to the desert floor 35,000 feet below.

Although the rocket was “fully loaded,” as the company put it, its engines never fired—nor were they meant to. Instead, the rocket fell freely to Earth so the company could see how it performed during its first few seconds of freefall. This was the last major test for Virgin Orbit’s air-launch system, which will launch rockets from a gutted jumbo jet, known as Cosmic Girl, to boost small satellites into orbit. It’s a complicated maneuver, but it could significantly reduce the costs of getting to space.

A large fraction of a vertically launched rocket’s mass is fuel, most of which is needed to fight atmospheric drag and Earth’s gravity near the surface. Having a plane carry a rocket to high altitudes can conserve much of that fuel. Unlike rockets, planes don’t require an oxidizer to fly to high altitudes, which also helps cut down on the rocket’s mass and reduces the cost of an orbital launch. Indeed, Virgin estimates that a ride to orbit on its LauncherOne rocket will only cost about $12 million, which is almost pocket change in the space industry.

The advantages of an air-launch system have been known for decades, but only recently has the space industry started to show interest in the concept. The exception is Orbital ATK, which became the first company to use an air-launched rocket to deliver a satellite to orbit in 1990 and continues to use that system to this day. The last decade has seen a resurgence of interest in the concept, attracting new space companies like Stratolaunch, XCOR, and Generation Orbit, as well as old guard contractors like Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Even SpaceX briefly flirted with the idea of an air-launch system for a modified Falcon 9 rocket before abandoning the project in 2012. But among the new guard, only Virgin has brought its air-launch system to fruition.

Virgin Orbit

Now that Virgin Orbit has successfully completed its drop test, the next step will be a test launch to orbit, which could occur as early as this fall. If that is successful, Virgin Orbit will officially open for business as the newest entrant in the increasingly crowded small launch market. It looks like Virgin Orbit will have no problem attracting customers. It has already inked launch deals worth $400 million with organizations like OneWeb, NASA, and the US Air Force. Unlike SpaceX, whose Falcon 9 rockets can boost up to 50,000 pounds to low Earth orbit, Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket is limited to payloads weighing 660 pounds or less. This is slightly more payload mass than the current leader in the small launch market, Rocket Lab, whose Electron rocket is suited to carry satellites weighing up to 500 pounds.

Virgin Orbit is one of three space companies owned by billionaire Richard Branson. In 2017, Virgin Orbit was spun off from Virgin Galactic, which focuses on space tourism. The company made history last December when it became the first company to fly a private passenger to space onboard a rocket plane manufactured by Branson’s other space venture, the Spaceship Company.

Branson’s journey to space has been a long one. He founded Virgin Galactic in 2004 and had initially expected commercial flights to begin in 2009, but technical problems and manufacturing issues kept pushing the schedule back. In 2014, its rocket-powered space plane exploded during flight, killing one of the two test pilots on board. Powered flight tests only resumed in April 2018, but by the end of the year two Virgin pilots had earned their astronaut wings when they flew the plane to an altitude of 51.4 miles—just beyond the boundary of space. Since then, three other Virgin crew members have also made it to space.

Branson’s perseverance looks like it may finally pay off. Earlier this week, he announced that Virgin Galactic was merging with Social Capital Hedosophia, a partnership between two venture capital firms. The motivation for the merger, Branson tweeted, is to become the “first ever publicly listed human spaceflight company.” Initial estimates valued the combined company at around $1.5 billion. Taken together with the burgeoning market for small launch vehicles, Branson may soon be rolling in cosmic cash.

More Great WIRED Stories

via Wired Top Stories

July 10, 2019 at 11:57AM

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How to Get Windows 1.0 From 1985 Without the ‘Stranger Things’ Tie-Ins

Microsoft “re-released” Windows 1.0 this week as part of a partnership with that Stranger Things show I have yet to binge on Netflix. While it’s free for you to download and play with—on Windows, of course—it’s not really Windows 1.0, because it’s full of puzzles and all sorts of other promotional tie-ins that didn’t exist back in 1985 when Windows 1.0 first debuted.

While the app is certainly worth checking out for its geek appeal, there’s no reason why you can’t spend a few moments revisiting Windows 1.0 proper. Depending on your age, this might be the very first time you’ve ever seen this early version of the OS—the very building blocks for the modern-day Windows you’re probably using right now. (And if you’re on a Mac, it’s a lot easier to play around in Windows 1.0 than to virtualize a new copy of Windows and install the Stranger Things version of Windows 1.0 on that.)

Playing with Windows 1.0 in your web browser

Obviously, Windows 1.0 is a little ancient. In fact, your old-and-busted dumb phone could probably handle its system requirements: 256Kb of memory, a thing called a “hard drive” (or two double-sided disk drives), and some crazy “graphics card” contraption. Wild, isn’t it?

It should come as little surprise that you can easily run Windows 1.0 right out of your Web browser. And there are plenty of sites that offer emulators of Microsoft’s classic OS. I’m a big fan of this one over at PCjs Machines, because the “enhanced color display” version of Windows 1.0 looks a bit prettier than gray-on-black:

I mean, just look at how that Reversi game pops:

Not only does this emulator allow you to save your virtual hard drive so you can continue whatever you were working on later—I’ll be amazed if you have work to finish later on Windows 1.0—but you can also pop in an emulated floppy disk of a number of different apps and games. I tried playing Commander Keen, but this iteration of Windows 1.0 didn’t have enough memory to run it. And, no, Wolfenstein 3D wouldn’t work either.

If you want to customize your own virtual PC for emulating forgotten operating systems, I recommend checking out the emulator over at You can pick from a variety of preconfigured operating systems, or you can load your own (via a CD, floppy disk, or hard drive disk image). Go the latter route, and you’ll also be able to customize how much memory and video memory your virtual system should have, all in your browser.

You’ll undoubtedly get bored with Windows 1.0 after a few minutes—I mean, it’s no Windows 3.1, that’s for sure—but this exercise is a fun little trip down nostalgia lane. If anything, it’s a great reminder that you can still run plenty of classic operating systems in your browser, if you ever want to relive your youth, practice your Linux skills, or if you have a serious need for Windows 95 out of the blue. The same goes true for Commander Keen and Wolfenstein 3D, which I know you were sad about.

via Lifehacker

July 10, 2019 at 10:29AM

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Bentley’s centennial concept car comes with an AI butler

Bentley decided to look forward with its EXP 100 GT concept car. The vehicle is meant to help celebrate the automaker’s 100 years by looking at the future of grand touring.

While the EXP 100 GT is future looking, Bentley’s eye towards refined luxury is still apparent both inside and out. The carbon fiber and aluminum built low-slung GT resembles a car out of Batman: The Animated Series. Which is actually a compliment. The headlights are particularly interesting as they blend with the front grill.

The interior fuses a spaceship with natural materials including 5,000-year-old copper-infused Riverwood. The automaker says that all the car’s ingredients are to help create a sustainable luxury future. It even has its own "ethically-aware" fragrance.

Of course, it’s an EV with an insane range of 435 miles between charges. The automaker says the car can recharge from zero to 80 percent in about 15 minutes. Impressive.

But the best thing about the Bentley EXP 100 GT is its AI companion the Bentley Personal Assistant that takes care of tasks like charging the vehicle, adjusting the seating and curating the experience for the passengers via biometric information and environmental conditions. It even has different modes for passengers: Enhance, Cocoon, Capture, Re-Live, and Customize.

Bentley EXP 100 GT concept car

Enhance is meant to resemble open-air driving with the glass roof. Cocoon creates a protective space by blocking folks from seeing inside. While Capture records the trip itself while Re-Live plays highlights of a trip.

To take part in all this fun, the vehicle is equipped with an autonomous mode. So when you’ve enabled Cocoon you can take a nap or do whatever people do when they are in a vehicle and they don’t want the outside world to see them.

As with all concept cars, these are all pie-in-the-sky ideas brought to life for the sake of showing the world what an automaker is predicting for its future. But even if the EXP 100 GT does eventually end up in showrooms with less than a 450-mile range and isn’t completely autonomous, it’s still a hell of a design and that in itself should keep potential Bentley owners happy for the next 100 years.

via Engadget

July 10, 2019 at 10:03AM

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Wow: ‘Pokemon Grandpa’ Continues His Pokemon GO Dominance With A 30 Smartphone Rig On Bike

The last time we checked in with 70-year old fengshui master and ‘Pokemon Grandpa’ Chen San-yuan he had a nine smartphone rig attached to his bike for catching pocket monsters. Now, after spending the last year expanding his setup to 11, 15, 21 and then 24 phones, he’s currently at 30. That bike is definitely worth more than my car now. "Do you even own a car?" No, which is why I could so confidently say definitely. Still, I have to admire Pokemon Grandpa’s dedication, and I have no doubt at this rate he will eventually catch ’em all. I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever been so dedicated to anything in my entire life. *girlfriend loudly clears throat* You’ll have to excuse her, apparently she swallows a lot of bugs when I’m talking.
Keep going for a short video of the master in action.

Thanks to Closet Nerd, who agrees there’s no way this man isn’t close to opening the first Pokemon zoo.

via Geekologie – Gadgets, Gizmos, and Awesome

July 10, 2019 at 08:56AM

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