Author: The Conversation

Google and Facebook have open sourced the designs for the computing hardware that powers the artificial intelligence logic used in their products. These intelligent algorithms power Google’s search and recommendation functions, Facebook’s Messenger digital assistant, M – and of course both firms’ use of targeted advertising. Facebook’s bespoke computer servers, codenamed Big Sur, are packed with graphics processing units (GPU) – the graphics cards used in PCs to play the latest videogames with 3D graphics. So too is the hardware that powers Google’s TensorFlow AI. So why is artificial intelligence computing built from graphics processors instead of mainstream computer processors?…

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Until a few years ago solar panels were a rare sight in South Africa, largely limited to the roofs of a few affluent households. This is changing rapidly, driven by three factors: the worldwide drive towards renewable energy, a highly strained local electricity supply, and a steady drop in solar panel prices. Taking the lead from other countries, South Africa committed to an energy generation infrastructure development plan for 2010 to 2030, known as the Integrated Resource Plan. Under the plan the country aims to achieve 9600 MW of solar power capacity by 2030. When the plan was drawn up…

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The holiday season can be a traumatising time for many people, but spare a thought (or retweet) for those who strive to be a part of the cultural zeitgeist at the expense of all sanity and reason. For these individuals, fear can be an incapacitating emotion caused not by spiders (arachnophobia), the colour white (leukophobia), or a fear of the numbers 666 (hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia), but rather a fear of missing out (FoMO). Scholars consider FoMO a pervasive apprehension that one is absent for the rewarding experiences of others, and is characterised by a desire for continual connection with what others are…

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Launching satellites, spacecraft and people into space is expensive because we only use our launch vehicles once. After delivering their payloads into orbit, our rockets either burn up in the atmosphere or crash into the ocean. Imagine how expensive a transatlantic flight would be if aircraft made only a single flight before being scrapped – this is the situation with the commercial space industry. Rocket fuel accounts for only 1,000th of the total launch cost, with the rest largely accounted for by the one-shot, disposable launch vehicle. Engineers have spent decades on this problem, and finally two different solutions have…

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Email phishing attacks are especially popular over the festive season, partly because there’s an increase in email marketing and special offers linked to the holidays. During the fourth quarter of 2014, for instance, the number of unique phishing attacks globally went up by 18% compared with the third quarter that year, according to the Anti-Phishing Working Group. A total of 437 brands were targeted and 46,824 unique phishing websites were reported, the majority of them hosted in the US. The most-targeted industries for phishing attacks are retail/service, financial services and payment services. It seems that during the Christmas period people…

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As even casual Star Wars fans will know, lightsabers are probably the coolest weapon ever to make an appearance on the big screen. Lightsaber fights are so elegant that they are almost hypnotic and, even though not all of us might have a strong enough flow of Force running through our veins, a lightsaber in the right hand is by far the deadliest weapon to be found in the universe. The idea behind a lightsaber is simple genius: a light-weight and immensely powerful tool that uses a blade of energy to not only slice up disciples of the Dark Side…

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Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg believes personalised learning is the answer to many of education’s current woes, and is one of the four key areas that he and his wife Prescilla Chan’s $45 billion Chan Zuckerberg Initiative will fund. While some argue whether this is a philanthropic act or a shrewd business strategy, others will ask: what is personalised learning anyway? Because despite some politicians’ enthusiastic endorsements of personalised education, there’s still no clear definition. Many in education would argue that personalised learning is what all good teachers do as a matter of course – modifying learning materials and teaching styles…

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Why invest in purchasing, housing and maintaining a set of computers when you can outsource all that worry to someone else? This has been the oft-used marketing slogan of cloud computing. And it works. It is much easier to offload the data hassle and focus your resources (especially if they’re limited) on your core operations. During their astounding growth in the middle of the last decade, technology companies such as Amazon and Google built huge infrastructures to power their ever-growing needs. It is estimated that Amazon, for example, has more than 2m servers around the world, while Google is estimated…

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How can a person see around a blind corner? One answer is to develop X-ray vision. A more mundane approach is to use a mirror. But if neither are an option, a group of scientists led by Genevieve Gariepy have developed a state-of-the-art detector which, with some clever data processing techniques, can turn walls and floors into a “virtual mirror”, giving the power to locate and track moving objects out of direct line of sight. The shiny surface of a mirror works by reflecting scattered light from an object at a well-defined angle towards your eye. Because light scattered from…

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Most people who have heard the term think that the “blockchain” is only something to do with cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, litecoin, dogecoin and others. It’s the technology that underpins digital currencies and ensures that all transactions are properly conducted and recorded. But what is stored on the blockchain need not be just a currency unit – it can be put to all manner of other interesting uses. The blockchain is defined as “a system that’s secure without a higher authority, distributed across many strangers’ computers, yet tamper-proof, and promises a mechanism for trust mediated directly between individuals”. Essentially, by…

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