Alien life unlike anything found on Earth could exist on Pluto

BIZARRE life-forms unlike anything found on Earth may be lurking beneath the surface of Pluto, astronomers believe.

Odd aliens may live beneath the surface of Pluto
Earlier this year it was revealed that beneath Pluto’s massive-heart shaped region in the southern hemisphere of the dwarf planet, there is potentially an ocean.

This has led scientists to believe that the small planet which hangs around at the edge of our solar system may contain some form of life.

This has now been backed up by research carried out on Pluto’s moons, specifically its biggest, Charon, and found that they contain an ammonia compound which could lead to “novel” forms of alien life.

William McKinnon, a professor of earth and planetary sciences in Arts & Sciences at Washington University who led the studies which analysed data from Nasa’s New Horizons craft, told “New Horizons has detected ammonia as a compound on Pluto’s big moon, Charon, and on one of Pluto’s small moons. So it’s almost certainly inside Pluto.

pluto heartGETTY

There is likely an ocean beneath the ‘heart’ of Pluto

“What I think is down there in the ocean is rather noxious, very cold, salty and very ammonia-rich — almost a syrup.

“It’s no place for germs, much less fish or squid, or any life as we know it.

“But as with the methane seas on Titan — Saturn’s main moon — it raises the question of whether some truly novel life forms could exist in these exotic, cold liquids.”

Smartphones: The next generation’s alarm clock

Kelowna Now quoted Paul Gabias, a psychology professor at UBC’s Okanagan campus, for an article about the increasing use of smartphones in the minutes before we go to sleep.

“Sleep is important for many reasons but mostly because it’s when your body and mind heal,” Gabias said. “Indicator muscles will test weak anytime the body is exposed to what it considers a stressor and these indicator muscles always test weaker anytime cell phones are near the body versus when the area is clear, which indicates that cell phones could be considered a stressor.”

Intel Steps on the Gas, Launches New Self-Driving Car Group

Silicon Valley company to join the race to corner the self-driving car market, launching a new initiative this week focused on the technology behind autonomous vehicle systems.

The iconic semiconductor giant on Tuesday announced the formation of its Automated Driving Group, which “will be solely dedicated to innovating the future of driving and designing the next generation of advanced driver-assist systems and autonomous driving solutions,” wrote Murthy Renduchintala, president of Intel’s internet of things business.

Intel has been competing in the self-driving and connected-car industry for some time — it expects to rake in $1 billion by 2020 in deals providing chips and software to dozens of car brands — but by carving out a separate self-driving car group, Intel is signaling a greater commitment to the industry.

“I would think it’s a smart move for them,” said Michael Pack, director of the University of Maryland’s Center for Advanced Transportation Technology Laboratory. “They need to get out and brand themselves and let the rest of the industry know that they are a player.”

The move follows what many considered to be Intel’s failure in smartphone and tablet chips. After struggling in that market, Intel reportedly canceled the upcoming launch of its new mobile chip last spring, ceding the mobile space to competitors such as Apple and Samsung.

As self-driving cars move closer to mass production, more mainstream tech companies are seeing the value in associating their names with the market. Chipmakers such as Qualcomm and Nvidia have jumped on the bandwagon — hoping their products will be the ones to power the brains of the world’s future smart cars — and Microsoft reportedly is partnering with carmakers to get its operating systems into their autonomous vehicles.

Intel has been building up to Tuesday’s launch for months. In July the company announced a partnership with BMW Group and crash-prevention tech company Mobileye, aiming to bring autonomous driving to the streets by 2021. And earlier this month at the Los Angeles AutoMobility conference, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich announced that Intel Capital, the company’s investment arm, will pour more than $250 million into the self-driving car industry over the next two years. Intel also has acquired companies in the market, including Yogitech, Arynga and Itseez.

Intel, best known for making the processors that power computers around the world, wants to use its technology to help self-driving cars process information. If a vehicle senses a child in the road, for example, it could be an Intel product that analyzes that data and tells the car to brake. There’s also the potential to process crowd-sourced data about traffic congestion, and to use personal data to tailor music and other preferences inside the car to individual drivers.

“It’s not enough just to capture the data,” Krzanich wrote in a piece posted on Intel’s website earlier this month. “We have to turn the data into an actionable set of insights to get the full value out of it. To do that requires an end-to-end computing solution from the car through the network and to the cloud — and strong connectivity.”

The market for processing that data is growing as the self-driving car industry picks up speed. Trucking startup Otto completed its first autonomous delivery in October. Uber, which owns Otto, rolled out a fleet of self-driving cars in Pittsburgh in September, the same month that the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released new guidelines for self-driving cars.

“Autonomous vehicles are coming, whether we like it or not,” Pack said. “If you don’t position yourself as a player today, people will forget about you.”

Elon Musk and Google Want You to Make Their Artificial Intelligence Smarter
Musk’s OpenAI and Google’s DeepMind are opening their platforms to the public.

Two of the biggest names in artificial intelligence are opening their doors to everyone.

Google’s DeepMind, the AI system that famously defeated the world champion of the board game Go earlier this year, and OpenAI, an AI collaboration from Elon Musk and others, are making their software platforms available to researchers, developers, and anyone else who wants to use them. The two companies made their announcements in separate blog posts Monday.

The two platforms both use deep learning, a form of machine learning that allows AI systems to grow smarter. In its post, DeepMind, which was acquired by Google in 2014, wrote that its goal is to create “systems that can learn to solve any complex problem without needing to be taught how.” Training a system to be masterful at a board game, like DeepMind did with AlphaGo, is one thing. The goal, however, is to be able to feed the system a new set of instructions and enable it to adapt and learn on its own.

To train artificial intelligence, DeepMind uses a program called DeepMind Lab, a digital three-dimensional environment. DeepMind Lab will now be available for public use, so any researcher or developer can train bots to explore the video game-like world and complete tasks like navigating mazes and forgoing short-term rewards for longer-term ones. In the process of learning those human-like skills, the bots are supposed to become smarter over time.

OpenAI, meanwhile, was created from a $1 billion investment from Musk, Peter Thiel, Sam Altman, and other high-profile tech magnates with the intention of ensuring that artificial intelligence is used for good. The company is releasing a platform called Universe, which lets people train AI systems to perform essentially any task that a human can complete with a computer. The current release of Universe includes over a thousand environments, including games and web browser-based setups. Developers could conceivably use these platforms to make the AI in their own games and apps smarter.

The two announcements don’t seem to be directly related. In fact, in its blog post, OpenAI called out DeepMind’s AlphaGo as an example of AI being too narrow in its scope. “AlphaGo can easily defeat you at Go,” OpenAI wrote, “but you can’t explain the rules of a different board game to it and expect it to play with you.” Google and DeepMind did not immediately respond to Inc.’s request for comment.

While OpenAI and DeepMind have in the past spoken about ensuring that AI is used safely, their intentions here aren’t completely altruistic. Open sourcing an AI system allows it to access troves of new learning data, so the more people who use it, the stronger it becomes.

DeepMind Lab is now available on GitHub, and Universe is available on OpenAI’s website.

‘Augmented Intelligence’ for Higher Ed

IBM picks Blackboard and Pearson to bring the technology behind the Watson computer to colleges and universities.

The company is partnering with a small number of hardware and software providers to bring the same technology that won a special edition of the game show back in 2011 to K-12 institutions, colleges and continuing education providers. The partnerships and the products that might emerge from them are still in the planning stage, but the company is investing in the idea that cognitive computing — natural language processing, informational retrieval and other functions similar to the ones performed by the human brain — can help students succeed in and outside the classroom.

Chalapathy Neti, vice president of education innovation at IBM Watson, said education is undergoing the same “digital transformation” seen in the finance and health care sectors, in which more and more content is being delivered digitally.

“By virtue of conducting a process [digitally], you can capture data about that process in ways we were not able to capture before,” Neti said in an interview. The data, he added, can benefit advisers and faculty members when they’re helping students make decisions about their education, or students themselves as they progress through their course work.

IBM has been out of the personal computer market for more than a decade, and just as you no longer see any laptops branded with the “Big Blue” logo, the company won’t be releasing its own adaptive learning platform or learning management system. Instead, IBM is working with major companies to bring its technology to market.

In higher education, IBM is at the moment working with Blackboard and Pearson on student retention and tutoring, respectively. Both education companies are this fall beginning to test a handful of early prototypes, exploring potential use cases and working with clients to learn what sort of software they are interested in.

Pearson is testing what Angie McAllister, senior vice president of personalized learning and analytics, described as an “intelligent tutoring system.” As one of the major course material publishers in the market, Pearson controls a wealth of content, and it is testing IBM’s technology as a way to offer one-on-one tutoring using artificial intelligence.

IBM is steering clear of referring to its technology as “artificial intelligence,” however, as some may interpret it as replacing what humans already do.

“This is about augmenting human intelligence,” Neti said. “We never want to see these data-based systems as primary decision makers, but we want to provide them as decision assistance for a human decision maker that is an expert in conducting that process.”

Speaking to Inside Higher Ed during last month’s Educause Annual Conference, McAllister outlined three use cases Pearson is exploring. For example, Watson technology could power a virtual assistant similar to Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa, which students could chat with if they need help while studying. Watson could also help students if they are taking a quiz online, detecting if they are stumped by a particular question and suggesting course content that might help them progress. Additionally, Pearson may look at integrating Watson technology in study guides.

McAllister said Pearson isn’t prepared to say when those prototypes might reach the market, but added that the company will spend the next six months to determine what use cases, if any, to develop further.

“Digital learning opens up exciting new possibilities to improve access and outcomes in education,” Tim Bozik, president of global product at Pearson, added in a statement. “Our partnership will use the power of Watson to help students stay engaged and deepen their learning, complete their degree and be better equipped for their careers. Teachers are the most important factor in delivering a great education. The partnership will support teachers by providing better digital tools and enabling personalized learning for their students.”

While Pearson is mainly focusing on students, Blackboard is working on tools for advisers and faculty members, said Katie Blot, the company’s chief strategy officer.

“We’re very focused on student pathways, support and persistence,” Blot said in an interview. She highlighted Planner, a student planning tool, as one potential Blackboard product that could benefit from Watson technology.

“We have tools that … help students make decisions about where to go next with their academic journey,” Blot said. “Then we can give that data to advisers to help them optimize their time. That’s an area we’re really excited about.”

According to Blackboard’s tentative timeline, the company plans to settle on use cases within the next month and a half and make beta versions available to a small group of early adopters next fall. Whatever products come out of the development could see a wider launch in 2018, Blot said.

Neti said Blackboard and Pearson are the first of IBM’s partners in higher education, and that the company intends to build an “ecosystem of partners” in the future. IBM is also partnering with companies such as Apple, Office Depot, Sesame Workshop (the nonprofit behind Sesame Street) and Udacity at other levels of education.

“We are now out of the gate with the biggest players,” Neti said. “With our platform, we can accelerate the digital transformation.”