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Computing

The redemption of Arc begins — Intel beats Nvidia by 17%

Intel has just released a new video, showing off the gaming performance of the upcoming limited edition A750 desktop graphics card. The GPU is said to arrive later this summer.

The graphics card has been tested in five different games, and in each one, it managed to beat the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060. Is this where the long-awaited redemption arc for Intel’s discrete graphics line begins?

The video, posted by Intel to its Intel Graphics YouTube channel, serves as a teaser for the upcoming Arc A750 GPU, which is being referred to as “limited edition” with no further explanation. The GPU is being presented by Intel’s Ryan Shrout, who talked about what else is in store in the weeks that lead up to the launch. It seems that Intel has planned a series of videos and other content based around Intel Arc, made to give the public a better understanding of the performance it can provide. For now, let’s take a look at the GPU itself and see how it fared in the gaming test.

Intel Arc A750 is based on the ACM-G10 processor, but the company hasn’t shared much else in the way of the exact specs for the GPU. From other sources, such as TechPowerUp, we can assume that the Arc A750 should come with 24 Xe-cores, 3,072 FP32 cores, and 12GB of GDDR6 memory across a 192-bit memory bus.

The graphics card was paired with an Intel Core i9-12900K processor. Intel compared it to the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060, tested in a virtually identical system. While not overly extensive, the tests did something that most other early benchmarks haven’t been able to provide — gave us a quick glimpse into the actual gameplay provided by the A750.

A short look at Cyberpunk 2077 on Intel Arc certainly feels smooth. The game, alongside the other four titles, was tested at a 2560 x 1440 resolution on high settings. In Cyberpunk 2077, Intel Arc was able to maintain an average of 60 frames per second (fps), which is 1.15 times the performance of the RTX 3060, according to Intel’s graph. The other four titles: F1 2021, Control, Borderlands, and Fortnite, have no fps figures attached to them, but all have shown an improvement for the Intel Arc over Nvidia.

Even though it’s good to take all vendor benchmarks with a grain of salt, the numbers so far speak for themselves — based on these tests, the upcoming Intel Arc A750 proves to be up to 17% faster than Nvidia’s RTX 3060. This is not even the flagship of the lineup, either, so we may be able to see better figures as Intel presents the A770.

Intel Arc Alchemist has had a rocky start, with multiple delays, a staggered release, and various benchmarks that did not go in its favor. It’s good to see Intel hasn’t given up on the product and it continues to try to drive up the hype. Intel Arc will make an appearance at LANfest in Colorado in September inside a gaming bus. Intel promises to share more about the cards soon, including the pricing and various technical details, so stay tuned.

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Game

Claims process begins in $18 million Activision Blizzard harassment settlement

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has begun accepting claims related to Activision Blizzard’s $18 million settlement with the agency. Starting today, current and former US employees of the publisher who believe they experienced sexual harassment or gender discrimination while working at its offices from September 1st, 2016 to March 29th, 2022 can file for an award. Those who decide to take part in the claims process can also make specific non-monetary requests of Activision Blizzard and the EEOC. For instance, they can ask that the publisher remove harmful documents such as disciplinary notices from their personnel file.

It will be interesting to see how many workers apply for an award. When the settlement was first approved by a federal judge in late March, many current and former Activision Blizzard employees criticized the EEOC for not going nearly far enough to hold the company accountable. The fact claimants won’t be able to take part in future litigation against Activision Blizzard, including the ongoing lawsuit from California’s fair employment agency, may also make some workers reluctant to file. Then there’s the amount itself. Former employee Jessica Gonzalez is appealing the settlement on the basis that $18 million is insufficient redress for everyone who may come forward with a claim against Activision Blizzard.

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AI

Is your AI project doomed to fail before it begins? 

Hear from CIOs, CTOs, and other C-level and senior execs on data and AI strategies at the Future of Work Summit this January 12, 2022. Learn more


Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and other emerging technologies have potential to solve complex problems for organizations. Yet despite increased adoption over the past two years, only a small percentage of companies feel they are gaining significant value from their AI initiatives. Where are their efforts going wrong? Simple missteps can derail any AI initiative, but there are ways to avoid these missteps and achieve success.

Following are four mistakes that can lead to a failed AI implementation and what you should do to avoid or resolve these issues for a successful AI rollout.

Don’t solve the wrong problem

When determining where to apply AI to solve problems, look at the situation through the right lens and engage both sides of your organization in design thinking sessions, as neither business nor IT have all the answers. Business leaders know which levers can be pulled to achieve a competitive advantage, while technology leaders know how to use technology to achieve those objectives. Design thinking can help create a complete picture of the problem, requirements and desired outcome, and can prioritize which changes will have the biggest operational and financial impact.

One consumer product retail company with a 36-hour invoice processing schedule recently experienced this issue when it requested help speeding up its process. A proof of concept revealed that applying an AI/ML solution could decrease processing time to 30 minutes, a 720% speed increase. On paper the improvement looked great. But the company’s weekly settlement process meant the improved processing time didn’t matter. The solution never moved into production.

When looking at the problem to be solved, it’s important to relate it back to one of three critical bottom-line business drivers: increasing revenue, increasing profitability, or reducing risk. Saving time doesn’t necessarily translate to increased revenue or reduced cost. What business impact will the change bring?

Data quality is critical to success

Data can have a make-or-break impact on AI programs. Clean, dependable, accessible data is critical to achieving accurate results. The algorithm may be good and the model effective, but if the data is poor quality or not easy and feasible to collect, there will be no clear answer. Organizations must determine what data they need to collect, whether they can actually collect it, how difficult or costly it will be to collect, and if it will provide the information needed.

A financial institution wanted to use AI/ML to automate loan processing, but missing data elements in source records were creating a high error rate, causing the solution to fail. A second ML model was created to review each record. Those that met the required confidence interval were moved forward in the automated process; those that did not were pulled for human intervention to solve data-quality problems. This multistage process greatly reduced the human interaction required and enabled the institution to achieve an 85% increase in efficiency. Without the additional ML model to address data quality, the automation solution never would have enabled the organization to achieve meaningful results.

In-house or third-party? Each has its own challenges

Each type of AI solution brings its own challenges. Solutions built in-house provide more control because you are developing the algorithm, cleaning the data, and testing and validating the model. But building your own AI solution is complicated, and unless you’re using open source, you’ll face costs around licensing the tools being used and costs associated with upfront solution development and maintenance.

Third-party solutions bring their own challenges, including:

  • No access to the model or how it works
  • Inability to know if the model is doing what it’s supposed to do
  • No access to the data if the solution is SaaS based
  • Inability to do regression testing or know false acceptance or error rates.

In highly regulated industries, these issues become more challenging since regulators will be asking questions on these topics.

A financial services company was looking to validate a SaaS solution that used AI to identify suspicious activity. The company had no access to the underlying model or the data and no details on how the model determined what activity was suspicious. How could the company perform due diligence and verify the tool was effective?

In this instance, the company found its only option was to perform simulations of suspicious or nefarious activity it was trying to detect. Even this method of validation had challenges, such as ensuring the testing would not have a negative impact, create denial-of-service conditions, or impact service availability. The company decided to run simulations in a test environment to minimize risk of production impact. If companies choose to leverage this validation method, they should review service agreements to verify they have authority to conduct this type of testing and should consider the need to obtain permission from other potentially impacted third parties.

Invite all of the right people to the party

When considering developing an AI solution, it’s important to include all relevant decision makers upfront, including business stakeholders, IT, compliance, and internal audit. This ensures all critical information on requirements is gathered before planning and work begins.

A hospitality company wanted to automate its process for responding to data subject access requests (DSARs) as required by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Europe’s strict data-protection law. A DSAR requires organizations to provide, on request, a copy of any personal data the company is holding for the requestor and the purpose for which it is being used. The company engaged an outside provider to develop an AI solution to automate DSAR process elements but did not involve IT in the process. The resulting requirements definition failed to align with the company’s supported technology solutions. While the proof of concept verified the solution would result in more than a 200% increase in speed and efficiency, the solution did not move to production because IT was concerned that the long-term cost of maintaining this new solution would exceed the savings.

In a similar example, a financial services organization didn’t involve its compliance team in developing requirements definitions. The AI solution being developed did not meet the organization’s compliance standards, the provability process hadn’t been documented, and the solution wasn’t using the same identity and access management (IAM) standards the company required. Compliance blocked the solution when it was only partially through the proof-of-concept stage.

It’s important that all relevant voices are at the table early when developing or implementing an AI/ML solution. This will ensure the requirements definition is correct and complete and that the solution meets required standards as well as achieves the desired business objectives.

When considering AI or other emerging technologies, organizations need to take the right actions early in the process to ensure success. Above all, they must make sure that 1) the solution they are pursuing meets one of the three key objectives — increasing revenue, improving profitability, or reducing risk, 2) they have processes in place to get the necessary data, 3) their build vs. buy decision is well-founded, and 4) they have all of the right stakeholders involved early on.

Scott Laliberte is Managing Director of the Emerging Technology Group at Protiviti.

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Game

‘Diablo II: Resurrected’ open beta begins on August 20th

In the midst of a that has engulfed the company in turmoil, Blizzard will give Diablo II fans the chance to play the game’s during two separate early access weekends. The first of those will begin on August 13th at 1PM ET. It will be open to those who pre-ordered Diablo II: Resurrected or the Diablo Prime Evil Collection, which includes both the remaster and Diablo 3, on PC, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PlayStation 5 and PS4.

Diablo II Resurrected beta timing

Blizzard Entertainment

If you fall into that camp, you’ll have until August 17th at 1PM ET to play through Act I and II of the story as the Amazon, Barbarian, Druid, Paladin or Sorceress. What’s more, this time around, Blizzard will allow you to play with up to seven other players, with support for cross-progression enabled. Just note that during the early access weekend, that feature will only work on platforms where you’ve pre-ordered the game.

One week later, starting on August 20th at 1PM ET, Blizzard will open the beta to anyone who wants to take part. At that point, you’ll have until the 23rd to see the work the studio has done to update its beloved action RPG. Unfortunately, neither beta will be available to check out on the Nintendo Switch. And if you want to see how the Assassin and Necromancer play in the remaster, you will also have to wait until the game’s date.

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Game

Xbox Cloud Gaming’s next-gen upgrade begins rolling out

Microsoft leadership said earlier this month that it was transitioning Xbox Cloud Gaming to more powerful Xbox Series X hardware, and now it appears that some games are getting the upgrade. As spotted by The Verge, players now have the option of 120fps and updated graphics for titles like Yakuza: Like a Dragon and Rainbow Six Siege, while others like Dirt 5 are simply loading faster. For now, Microsoft isn’t ready to confirm the change, telling the publication to expect news on datacenter upgrades soon. 

The company launched the xCloud mobile game streaming service on Android in September using Xbox One S-based blade servers, but in the lead up to E3 said that it would move to Xbox Series hardware. Alongside improvements in load times, framerates and optimized games, the change was intended to support streaming on larger screen devices.

The company has big plans for cloud gaming in general. Just days ago, Microsoft hired Portal co-creator Kim Swift to lead its efforts to build games for the cloud. As part of its early E3 reveal, Microsoft also confirmed that it’s building a game streaming stick. Like Google Stadia and Amazon Luna before it, the company is working to get Game Pass on to smart TVs, too.

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Game

Bungie begins selling its official Destiny toaster

You can now buy a Destiny toaster to go with your future purchase of an Xbox Mini Fridge. Yes, we’re getting another gaming-themed appliance and this one cranks up the zany dial to the max. As Bungie points out, the toaster actually toasts a Tricorn emblem onto your bread. Plus, it comes with a free container to house all your Destiny-themed sandwiches.

You can pre-order the toaster right now for $85 from the Bungie store and it will ship between this December and January, 2022. Fittingly, you’ll also receive a free Destiny 2 in-game Burnt Edges emblem. As the toaster is a by-product of a charity event, 10 percent of your purchase proceeds will go to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. 

Back in June, the Destiny community raised more than $800,000 for the pediatric treatment center, which specializes in cancer treatment and other life-threatening diseases. To help galvanize fans, Bungie offered to make a toaster if they hit a target of $777,777.77 (the developer has a thing for the number seven). Because nothing fuels a hungry bunch of gamers like the promise of toasted bread.

While the basic two-slice toaster is no match for premium smart and steam-based toasters, it’s clearly meant as a bit of fan service. Destiny players often say “let’s get this bread” when venturing for loot and even refer to the Jötunn rifle as a Toaster.

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Game

Destiny 2 cross-play beta begins next week: What you need to know

Earlier this month, some lucky Destiny 2 players got a brief glimpse that the cross-play functionality that’s heading to the game, but as cross-play was sent live as part of a bug, it was quickly clawed away from them by Bungie. If that makes you, as a Destiny 2 player with friends spread across platforms, sad, then here’s some good news: Cross-play will soon be coming back to Destiny 2 for a limited-time beta test, and this time it’ll be arriving intentionally.

Yes, while cross-play’s brief stint of availability earlier this month was indeed due to a bug, it seems Bungie is ready to now start testing the feature. The Destiny 2 cross-play beta will go live on May 25th and run through May 27th, giving players a few days to test it out. Cross-play will be available in the PlayStation, Xbox, Steam, and Stadia versions of Destiny 2.

One important thing to note is that the cross-play beta will be limited to a special Vanguard Strikes Cross-Play Beta playlist. The good news is that this playlist will be available to every single Destiny 2 player, so you don’t have to do anything to get accepted into the beta – if you play Destiny 2, then your admittance into the beta will be automatic.

Unfortunately, this beta is limited in more ways than just being restricted to a single playlist. For this test, you won’t be able to form a fireteam and you won’t be able to send invites to your friends. The goal, it seems, is to just test matchmaking with this beta, though we imagine we’ll see tests that allow you to form fireteams with friends in the future.

Every one who completes three strikes in the playlist will get the Stars Crossed emblem, which is depicted in the image above. This beta was announced in Bungie’s weekly Destiny 2 update, so be sure to give that a look for more information on what’s ahead.

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Tech News

After Xiaomi, Motorola begins exploring over-the-air charging tech

Earlier this year, Xiaomi showed off a concept video for charging a phone over the air in a room. Now, Motorola has also announced that exploring long-distance wireless charging solutions for its future generations of devices.

The phone maker is partnering with GuRu wireless, a company that’s working on over-the-air charging solutions for multiple devices. The US-based firm claims to have a proprietary charging tech that uses millimeter-wave (mmWave) integrated circuits. Plus, its RF Lensing solutions can charge devices even at a 30 feet (9.14 meter) distance through a single transmitter.

GuRu said that first-gen chargers with this tech will be able to charge your phone between 5W to 10W. That’s not too fast, but if my phone’s charging while I’m lying on my bed and doomscrolling, why not?

At the moment, Motorola hasn’t detailed out its plan to include such charging tech in its devices. But we can expect these two companies to show off a concept at upcoming trade shows.

[Read: This dude drove an EV from the Netherlands to New Zealand — here are his 3 top road trip tips]

Apart from GuRu, other companies such as Ossia and Energous have also been trying different methods to achieve a charging future without wires.

It might be a while before we see any of these solutions in our smartphones as there are many moving parts to achieve consumer-grade long-distance charging.

The charger has to deliver enough power and it also has to track the device as you move across the room, and that could bring challenges with many obstacles in the environment. And you might not be able to get over-the-air charging through another company’s charger at the beginning. Plus, there are regulatory hurdles to safely transferring power over the air.

So don’t get excited just yet.

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Game

Xbox begins testing unlocked multiplayer in free-to-play games

If you’ve always thought it was strange that you still need an Xbox Live Gold membership to play free-to-play multiplayer games on Xbox consoles, then we’ve got some good news for you: it looks like that requirement will soon be gone. As promised earlier in the year, Microsoft has started testing functionality that will allow Xbox users play multiplayer in free-to-play games without requiring an Xbox Live Gold subscription.

Unfortunately, this testing is limited to Xbox Insiders in the Alpha Skip Ahead and Alpha rings today, so it’s still in pretty early testing and might not be available on a wide scale for a hile yet. Still, it’s exciting to see this go into testing not only because it unlocks multiplayer in free-to-play games, but also because it unlocks Looking 4 Groups and Party Chat – features that were similarly put behind the Xbox Live Gold paywall.

Xbox’s Larry Hyrb and Brad Rossetti shared the news today on Twitter. Microsoft originally promised that it would unlock multiplayer gaming in free-to-play titles back in January, following a reversal of the decision to raise Xbox Live Gold prices.

The proposed price hike lasted less than a day, with Microsoft originally planning to increase the cost of monthly Xbox Live Gold subscriptions by $1 (thereby bringing the total monthly cost to $10.99) and 3-month Gold subscriptions $5 (to bring them up to $29.99 per three months). Microsoft was met with a lot of backlash over that announcement, and later that same day announced that it would keep pricing where it was while also unlocking free-to-play multiplayer in the future.

Now, it seems, the time for that is finally upon us. Since these are just hitting Alpha testers in the Xbox Insider program, it’s probably going to be a matter of weeks (if not longer) before it’s live for everyone. We’ll let you know when Microsoft starts rolling this feature out on a wider scale, so stay tuned.

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AI

Waymo begins robo-taxi tests in San Francisco

Waymo today announced that it has begun limited rider testing with employee volunteers in San Francisco to gather feedback and improve its robo-taxi technology. It’s the first expansion of the Alphabet subsidiary’s ride-hailing service beyond the Phoenix Metropolitan Area, where Waymo launched its first commercial driverless taxi service, Waymo One, in December 2018.

Some experts predict that the pandemic will hasten the adoption of autonomous vehicles for transportation and delivery. Self-driving cars, vans, and trucks promise to minimize the risk of spreading disease by limiting driver contact, which is perhaps why people across the globe trust the safety of autonomous vehicles more than they did three years ago, according to several surveys by Deloitte.

Waymo says its self-driving Chrysler Pacificas and Jaguar I-Pace electric SUVs have driven over 20 billion autonomous miles through computer simulations and 20 million autonomous miles on public roads in 25 cities. In 2020, Waymo ramped up testing in the San Francisco Bay Area in anticipation of future ride-hailing pilots. Waymo says it has optimized the Waymo Driver, its autonomous planning, perception, and navigation system, to handle the complexities of the Golden Gate City, aided by cameras that can spot jaywalkers. If the Driver pulls up to a bus by a crosswalk, it can reason that passengers may be getting off to cross the street.  And if it’s driving on a street with road work, the Driver understands that traffic cones and signs are meant to guide it out of the usual lane.

Waymo employees in San Francisco will use the Waymo One app to hail rides, a spokesperson told VentureBeat via email. They’ll be prompted to specify pickup and drop-off points before being given an estimated time to arrival. As with a typical ride-hailing app, they’ll be able to rate the quality of rides using a five-star scale.

As of 2019, Waymo had 153 cars and 268 safety drivers in California. The company declined to disclose the size of its current fleet in San Francisco, but Waymo said last summer that it deployed autonomous minivans to service in the Bay Area, initially to deliver packages for nonprofits following a pandemic-related halt in testing.

“We’re beginning with a limited number of cars and riders and will scale over time. These rides are being offered with a single-vehicle operator,” the spokesperson said. “The initial program starts this week and will last for several, but we plan to grow it over time. We don’t have any specific timelines to share about when (or where) we’ll be offering a public service. It’s worth bearing in mind this is for early product testing and continuous improvement, and there are many further steps we’d need to go through … before we could deploy a service to the public.”

Waymo

Waymo is one of the few companies with a permit from the California Public Utilities Commission, a procedural step that’s part of the state’s Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service pilot, which allows operators like Waymo to provide passenger service. This is separate from the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) self-driving vehicles program, under which 66 companies — including Waymo — are permitted to test autonomous vehicles with safety drivers behind the wheel.

In Waymo’s most recent disengagement report, which it’s required to submit annually to the California DMV, the company’s driverless vehicles reported 21 disengagements over 629,000 miles of autonomous driving in California, for a rate of 0.033 per 1,000 miles. (The DMV defines disengagements as “deactivation of the autonomous mode when a failure of the autonomous technology is detected or when the safe operation of the vehicle requires that the autonomous vehicle test driver disengage the autonomous mode and take immediate manual control of the vehicle.”) That’s compared with 1.45 million miles in California in 2019, with a disengagement rate of 0.076 reportable disengagements per 1,000 miles.

Waymo’s ride-hailing services haven’t grown beyond Phoenix until now, but they’re moving incrementally toward a broader launch. Waymo One delivers rides with a network of over 600 autonomous cars from Phoenix-area locations 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Shortly after announcing a partnership with Lyft to deploy 10 cars on the Waymo One platform, Waymo revealed that a portion of its driverless taxis no longer have a safety driver behind the wheel. Moreover, the company is on track to add up to 62,000 Chrysler Pacifica minivans to its fleet, and it signed a deal with Jaguar Land Rover to equip 20,000 I-Pace electric SUVs with its system.

Waymo Via

Separately, Waymo is actively mapping Los Angeles to study congestion and expanding testing to highways in Florida between Orlando, Tampa, Fort Myers, and Miami as it conducts pilots in Death Valley, California; El Paso, Dallas, and Houston in Texas; and various cities in Michigan, Arizona, Georgia, and Ohio and along Interstates 10, 20, and 45. In the Metro Pheonix area, the company is piloting autonomous vehicle package transportation with AutoNation and between UPS Store locations and a local UPS sorting facility through its subsidiary, Waymo Via. Waymo began testing dedicated goods delivery with class A trucks in 2017 and last October signed an agreement with Daimler Trucks to develop self-driving semis.

The expanded testing in San Francisco and freight transportation pilots come as Waymo looks to make a return on its multibillion-dollar investment. The company’s annual cost is estimated at around $1 billion, while Waymo One reportedly yields just hundreds of thousand dollars a year in revenue, according to The Information. Waymo hasn’t shared the number of customers that have ridden in its Phoenix fleet to date, but it said in December 2019 that more than 1,500 people are using its ride-hailing service monthly and that it has served over 100,000 total rides since launching its rider programs in 2017.

Waymo raised $3 billion in its first external funding round, valuing the company at tens of billions of dollars. It’s by far the most valuable autonomous vehicle startup, ahead of Cruise, Argo AI, Aurora, Pony.ai, and TuSimple, among others.

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