Our Best Look Yet at Jupiter’s Great Red Spot Is Finally Here

Image Courtesy of NASA/SwRI/MSSS/Jason Major

Praise Cthulu! NASA’s Juno spacecraft has just delivered the most incredible images of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot—and that’s a really high bar to clear. The spacecraft has spent the last year beaming back some of the most mind-blowing images of the gas giant. But today’s batch marks a historic moment for the orbiter, which got closer to the Great Red Spot than ever before on Monday, July 10th. Although all Juno pics are ethereally beautiful, these Great Red Spot snaps just absurd. Seriously, how dare you go and be this beautiful, Jupiter.

Even the unprocessed images of the storm, the first of which you can check out on the JunoCam website, are spectacular. Here’s a shot with the Great Red Spot looking so placid you might forget it rages with winds up to 400 miles an hour. Or that it’s 10,000 miles (16,000 kilometers) wide.

The JunoCam community, a group of citizen scientists who process these images to create art, has already pounced upon the new pics and taken them to another level. Seriously, folks, this is where the magic happens:

Some are even taking their art a step further, animating the images:

More magnificent pics are sure to crop up in the coming days. If you’d like to take a stab at colorizing this beast for yourself, head over to JunoCam’s site. Remember to share your creations with us in the comments!

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Insanely Accurate Lip Synching Tech Could Turn Fake News Videos Into a Real Problem

GIF: University of Washington / Gizmodo

Imagine the worst case scenario. Dubious filmmakers use artificially intelligent computers to feed raw audio into a simulated version of Barack Obama. The audio is actually Obama’s voice, and the face really is his face. But the lip movements? Totally fake. The filmmakers publish the video on the internet, and it’s virtually impossible to see that it’s a fake, because the technology is so good. This is not a hypothetical situation any more.

Researchers at the University of Washington have developed a method that uses machine learning to study the facial movements of Obama and then render real-looking lip movement for any piece of audio. That means they can make videos of Obama saying pretty much anything they want, in whatever setting they want. The effect works especially well when they use random audio of Obama’s voice—say, an old recording of Obama as a law student—and make it look like Obama said these things yesterday.

This new development builds on a growing body of research into creating realistic videos of people speaking without actually recording them with a video camera. In the past, a similar lip-synching effect was achieved by recording several people saying the same sentences over and over to capture the specific mouth movements needed to make each sound. The University of Washington team streamlined this process, however, by feeding large quantities of footage showing one person (Obama) speaking into a neural network, and then used algorithms to determine the differences in mouth movements. They chose Obama because there are so many hours of Obama speaking on video in the public domain.

The lip-synching problem is an especially challenging one, the researchers say, because humans are incredibly good at spotting tiny visual inaccuracies in speech. “If you don’t render teeth right or the chin moves at the wrong time, people can spot it right away and it’s going to look fake,” lead author Supasorn Suwajanakorn said in a statement. “So you have to render the mouth region perfectly to get beyond the uncanny valley.”

For the ultimate demo, the researchers use years-old audio of Obama speaking on a talk show and to a news crew at Harvard and then create new-looking video of Obama in the Oval Office reciting the lines. It’s not perfect, but it’s damn close.

The new breakthrough builds on the same University of Washington research team’s previous work involving training computers to recognize certain personas, like Tom Hanks. By identifying what traits make a particular face and its expressions unique, the team developed a method that would allow them to create moving, 3D renderings of a specific face using a photo or short video clip. From there, they could effectively turn the simulations into puppets. They even made a simulated Barack Obama give a George W. Bush speech.

Of course, there are other teams working on similar problems around the world. And you know what? They’re all getting really good at creating incredibly realistic fake videos, even with low-budget equipment. Last year, for instance, one Stanford team created a method of facial reenactment that could be performed with any cheap consumer webcam. It’s incredibly creepy.

While you can imagine the conspiratorial implications of technology like this, the practical applications are much more mundane. For instance, the researchers think that this sort of technology would make video chat better, since a computer could generate an image of you speaking if the always awful video feed cuts out. Alternatively, museums and theme parks could use old recordings of historic figures to create videos or holograms showing them giving famous speeches, using the actual audio from the events.

But still, the capacity to use easy-to-access technology to create fake images and video is growing by the day. Just last week, security researcher Greg Allen published a cautionary tale of sorts in Wired: “AI Will Make Forging Anything Entirely Too Easy.” Allen writes:

Combined, the trajectory of cheap, high-quality media forgeries is worrying. At the current pace of progress, it may be as little as two or three years before realistic audio forgeries are good enough to fool the untrained ear, and only five or 10 years before forgeries can fool at least some types of forensic analysis. When tools for producing fake video perform at higher quality than today’s CGI and are simultaneously available to untrained amateurs, these forgeries might comprise a large part of the information ecosystem. The growth in this technology will transform the meaning of evidence and truth in domains across journalism, government communications, testimony in criminal justice, and, of course, national security.

As this week’s research shows, that pace of progress is picking up, fast. The good news is that technology like that being developed at the University of Washington might also be used to spot media forgeries. The bad news, well, Allen sums up the bad news pretty well when he says this technology will “transform the meaning of evidence and truth.” If you thought fake-looking news websites were a problem, just imagine what a completely fake police bodycam video could do.

[University of Washington, Wired]

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China Dispatches Troops To Djibouti To Set Up Its First Overseas Base

In this photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, ships carrying Chinese military personnel depart a port in Zhanjiang. The country dispatched members of its military to Djibouti on Tuesday to man its first overseas military base.

Wu Dengfeng/AP

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Wu Dengfeng/AP

In this photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, ships carrying Chinese military personnel depart a port in Zhanjiang. The country dispatched members of its military to Djibouti on Tuesday to man its first overseas military base.

Wu Dengfeng/AP

China dispatched troops to set up its first military base overseas on Tuesday. After a ceremony in the southern port city of Zhanjiang, military personnel embarked on a voyage to the East African country of Djibouti to establish an outpost “conducive to China’s performance of international obligations,” state-run media report.

The base is generally intended to “assist China’s contribution to peace and stability both in Africa and worldwide,” according to the Xinhua News Agency.

Specifically, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said that means supporting anti-piracy efforts in the region, performing “humanitarian rescue” and helping to “drive Djibouti’s economic and social development.”

Reuters reports the small country, which is on the Horn of Africa, perched at the mouth of the Red Sea, already boasts U.S., French and Japanese military bases. In fact, as NPR’s Renee Montagne noted when China broke ground on the base last year, the U.S. has its own major base in the same port city where China is establishing its military presence.

“Djibouti has two major advantages from a foreign military point of view,” NPR’s Gregory Warner told Renee. “They have a very friendly, peaceful government, and they have this location on a busy shipping route next-door to conflicts in Somalia and Yemen — a short flight to the Middle East without having to be based there.”

While Beijing has been careful to downplay the base’s significance, casting it as a focal point more for logistics than military maneuvers, an opinion piece in the state-run Global Times emphasizes its unprecedented nature.

“Firstly, it is indeed the People’s Liberation Army’s first overseas base; China will station troops there, and it is not a commercial resupply point,” the paper writes. “Foreign public opinion focuses on the base for good reason; this base will support China’s navy to go farther afield, and it is of great significance.”

And, as Gregory noted last year, the expansion fits a recent pattern of Chinese investment on the continent — not only militarily, but also in terms of soft power:

“Africa, as a whole, I think has been demanding that China become more of a long-term partner. And China’s been responding to that, showing that it’s not just here to build roads and airports, but it’s building jobs, building security.

“So we see a number of uncharacteristic moves by China in the last few years — first, dispatching a battalion of peacekeepers to a conflict in South Sudan. We see a tremendous investment in media on continent to tell that China story to Africans and more exchange programs for African students and engineers to go to China, something that the West used to offer but has decreased since Sept. 11.

“So China’s naval base, while serving China’s purposes first, is also part of that message to Africa, saying, ‘We’re here for the long-term.’ “

China has not been shy with its money elsewhere either, promising tens of billions of dollars for an initiative Beijing calls One Belt, One Road — an attempt to create “a new Silk Road.” One of the early fruits of that effort, a transcontinental train system linking China with Europe, rolled into London earlier this year.

from NPR Topics: News http://ift.tt/2t4qfwy

Google Play Movies & TV Gets HDR Playback

google play movies & tv

Your Google Play Movies & TV viewing experience is ready to be cranked up a notch in the contrast, brightness, and color departments, thanks to High Dynamic Range (HDR) support launching today in the US and Canada. Of course, you’ll need an HDR-equipped TV and a movie that can play in both 4K and HDR.

Google says that when you purchase 4K Ultra HD (UHD) movies, many will be compatible with HDR playback. If available, and your internet connection is solid, HDR and 4K should stream automatically.

This also means that your Chromecast Ultra can now stream HDR content from Google Play Movies & TV as well.

You can find out more about HDR in Google Play Movies & TV at Google’s support site.

Google Play Movies & TV Gets HDR Playback is a post from: Droid Life

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Google Photo Books Review: Reasonable Price, Excellent Quality

Last fall, in an unlikely attempt at thoughtfulness, I created a photo book as a birthday present for my wife. It damn near killed me.

The final result turned out beautifully, and I’d do it again. But in the process of creating it, I discovered what anyone who’s done so already knows: Piecing together a collection of photographs using today’s stalwarts—the Shutterflys and Mpixes and Minteds of the world—involves a healthy dose of crazy-making. Uploading all those photos takes time. Sorting them though clunky interfaces takes even more. And by the time you’re finished, you’ve stared so long at your precious memories that you’re already a little bit sick of them.

Google Photo Books, announced this spring, seeks to remedy that fatigue. Just sort through your sky-high digital photo pile using Google’s AI search chops, pick 20 photos you want to feature (or add more for additional cost), order them however you like, slap a name on the front, and it’ll be on your doorstep in two weeks. A 20-page softcover costs you $10 with 35-cents per extra page, while hardcover runs $20, with extras comping in at 65-cents a shot.

Like so few things in life, it works exactly as advertised. I hopped into my Google Photos collection search page, clicked on a photo of my daughter and added a few favorites to my photo book, repeated with my son, then my wife, and within a few minutes I had a 50 or so page collection of highlights from the first half of the year.

I wanted to group my book chronologically, rather than by family member, but switching around the order was simply a matter of dragging and dropping. Call it five more minutes of fiddling. Google only allows one photo per page, so you can’t tweak layouts even if you want to, beyond choosing how much white border to put around each pic (your options are: none, a little, a little more). Add a title to the front. Add another to the spine, if you’ve packed 48 pages in. Click on Cart, go to Checkout, cough up four bucks or so for standard shipping, and you’re done.


The whole process really did take a fraction of the time that my previous efforts with other services had. And the result doesn’t feel cheap; the photo book that arrived on my doorstep a week and a half later had better-than-decent paper quality, the images looked like faithful reproductions, and it felt substantial. Google also says that eventually, it will automatically recommend photo books for you, based around specific trips, people, or subjects.

I like Google’s photo book approach for a keepsake—but less so as a gift. The stripping down of features that help the process fly also bleed the end result of personal touches, and higher-end finishes. Squeezing in more photos per page feels tedious at the time, but also helps tell a story. A mostly white hardcover book looks stark next to the warmer materials and colors offered by the entrenched photo services. Too much embellishment makes a photo book look garish, but too little can feel sterile. Besides, some people like garish.

That’s not so much a knock against Google as a caution to people who expect more than it offers here. A Google photo book is fast, affordable, and tidy—all qualities its competitors have struggled to provide. Just know that those benefits double as limitations.


You can create and order a photo book in less time than it takes to start a charcoal grill. The Google Photos AI sits at the head of the class; you can search for anything—grass, giraffes, beer—and get back an instant catalog of subject-specific photos you forgot taking. The price beats pretty much everyone, but the print quality doesn’t suffer for it. Works on desktop, iOS, and Android. You really can’t beat it for a quick memento of a specific moment or event.


You get a little more than you pay for, but remember that you’re not paying much. If you start building your photo book before you’ve selected your photos, the search function doesn’t show up, which is… weird. Start in Search first, and add shots to your photo book by clicking the ‘+’ in the upper-right corner. Beyond the photos you pick, there’s virtually no personalization.


8/10 Great for what it is. Just make sure that lines up with what you want.

from Wired Top Stories http://ift.tt/2vc6GiL

Facebook will test Messenger ads worldwide

You might be cringing at the thought of seeing ads in Facebook Messenger, but Facebook doesn’t appear to have those reservations. The social network has revealed that it’s expanding its beta test of home screen Messenger ads worldwide in the weeks ahead. It’ll be a slow rollout, but the targeted promos should be widely visible by the end of 2017. At least the company isn’t shy about why it’s pushing forward.

Messenger product lead Stan Chudnovsky tells VentureBeat that it’s a simple matter of income: advertising is "how we’re going to be making money right now." There are "other business models" under consideration, he says, but they all tie into ads. In short: don’t expect Facebook to have second thoughts as long as it’s making billions of dollars in profit from ads.

Facebook does care about the kinds of ads you see. While it’s fine with ads kicking you to a website, it would prefer that ads lead to chats with businesses. You’re more likely to respond to an ad if it takes you to another conversation inside the chat app, Chudnovsky says. The question is whether or not people will simply roll with the changes or balk at them. It’s entirely likely that people will just shrug and move on, but there is a chance this could steer some users toward ad-free alternatives.

Source: VentureBeat

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Logitech to snap up console headset-maker Astro for $85 million

Logitech has been releasing accessories for both hardcore and laid back gamers these past few years, but now it’s gotten serious about conquering the space. The company is in the process of snapping up Astro Gaming and has agreed to pay $85 million in cold hard cash for the purchase by early August. Unlike Logitech, which focuses on making accessories for PC, Astro focuses on making headsets for gaming consoles. It’s primarily known for professional-grade premium headphones that cost $250 or more designed for eSports players and the most dedicated enthusiasts. Logitech’s products are typically cheaper than that, though Astro recently released a pair of $60 cans for PCs, consoles and mobile.

Logitech says that purchasing Astro will accelerate its long-term goal of growing its gaming business, and it expects to start feeling the acquisition’s effects in fiscal year 2018. Astro will be part of Logitech G, the company’s gaming division, once the purchase is complete. Ujesh Desai, the division’s VP and General Manager, explained why the purchase is a perfect fit for Logitech in a statement:

"ASTRO is the leading player for premium console headsets and is the preferred headset for console esports athletes. It’s a perfect complement to Logitech G’s focus on PC gaming and we couldn’t be more excited; we love the team, the brand and the products. Together, we want to make game play even more fun for gamers everywhere."

Source: Logitech

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