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AI

DeepMind says its new AI coding engine is as good as an average human programmer

DeepMind has created an AI system named AlphaCode that it says “writes computer programs at a competitive level.” The Alphabet subsidiary tested its system against coding challenges used in human competitions and found that its program achieved an “estimated rank” placing it within the top 54 percent of human coders. The result is a significant step forward for autonomous coding, says DeepMind, though AlphaCode’s skills are not necessarily representative of the sort of programming tasks faced by the average coder.

Oriol Vinyals, principal research scientist at DeepMind, told The Verge over email that the research was still in the early stages but that the results brought the company closer to creating a flexible problem-solving AI — a program that can autonomously tackle coding challenges that are currently the domain of humans only. “In the longer-term, we’re excited by [AlphaCode’s] potential for helping programmers and non-programmers write code, improving productivity or creating new ways of making software,” said Vinyals.

AlphaCode was tested against challenges curated by Codeforces, a competitive coding platform that shares weekly problems and issues rankings for coders similar to the Elo rating system used in chess. These challenges are different from the sort of tasks a coder might face while making, say, a commercial app. They’re more self-contained and require a wider knowledge of both algorithms and theoretical concepts in computer science. Think of them as very specialized puzzles that combine logic, maths, and coding expertise.

In one example challenge that AlphaCode was tested on, competitors are asked to find a way to convert one string of random, repeated s and t letters into another string of the same letters using a limited set of inputs. Competitors cannot, for example, just type new letters but instead have to use a “backspace” command that deletes several letters in the original string. You can read a full description of the challenge below:

An example challenge titled “Backspace” that was used to evaluate DeepMind’s program. The problem is of medium difficulty, with the left side showing the problem description, and the right side showing example test cases.
Image: DeepMind / Codeforces

Ten of these challenges were fed into AlphaCode in exactly the same format they’re given to humans. AlphaCode then generated a larger number of possible answers and winnowed these down by running the code and checking the output just as a human competitor might. “The whole process is automatic, without human selection of the best samples,” Yujia Li and David Choi, co-leads of the AlphaCode paper, told The Verge over email.

AlphaCode was tested on 10 of challenges that had been tackled by 5,000 users on the Codeforces site. On average, it ranked within the top 54.3 percent of responses, and DeepMind estimates that this gives the system a Codeforces Elo of 1238, which places it within the top 28 percent of users who have competed on the site in the last six months.

“I can safely say the results of AlphaCode exceeded my expectations,” Codeforces founder Mike Mirzayanov said in a statement shared by DeepMind. “I was sceptical [sic] because even in simple competitive problems it is often required not only to implement the algorithm, but also (and this is the most difficult part) to invent it. AlphaCode managed to perform at the level of a promising new competitor.”

An example interface of AlphaCode tackling a coding challenge. The input is given as it is to humans on the left and the output generated on the right.
Image: DeepMind

DeepMind notes that AlphaCode’s current skill set is only currently applicable within the domain of competitive programming but that its abilities open the door to creating future tools that make programming more accessible and one day fully automated.

Many other companies are working on similar applications. For example, Microsoft and the AI lab OpenAI have adapted the latter’s language-generating program GPT-3 to function as an autocomplete program that finishes strings of code. (Like GPT-3, AlphaCode is also based on an AI architecture known as a transformer, which is particularly adept at parsing sequential text, both natural language and code). For the end user, these systems work just like Gmails’ Smart Compose feature — suggesting ways to finish whatever you’re writing.

A lot of progress has been made developing AI coding systems in recent years, but these systems are far from ready to just take over the work of human programmers. The code they produce is often buggy, and because the systems are usually trained on libraries of public code, they sometimes reproduce material that is copyrighted.

In one study of an AI programming tool named Copilot developed by code repository GitHub, researchers found that around 40 percent of its output contained security vulnerabilities. Security analysts have even suggested that bad actors could intentionally write and share code with hidden backdoors online, which then might be used to train AI programs that would insert these errors into future programs.

Challenges like these mean that AI coding systems will likely be integrated slowly into the work of programmers — starting as assistants whose suggestions are treated with suspicion before they are trusted to carry out work on their own. In other words: they have an apprenticeship to carry out. But so far, these programs are learning fast.

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Game

‘The Matrix Awakens’ is an Unreal Engine 5 demo you can preload today

On December 9th, Epic Games will release The Matrix Awakens, an interactive tie-in to The Matrix Resurrections. You can preload the demo to your PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X/S console ahead of its debut at The Game Awards. Epic built the experience using Unreal Engine 5, and you can see what the next-generation engine is capable of in a teaser the company shared today. “How do we know what is real?” asks a life-like Keanu Reeves partway through the clip.

It’s a rare movie experience that’s any good, but that might not matter with The Matrix Awakens. For most people, this will be their first chance to see UE5 in action. Epic previewed the latest iteration of its popular game engine part way through last year with a stunning PS5 demo that showed off what it could do. In May, the company released an early access version of UE5 to PC, but the system requirements meant most people couldn’t experience the Valley of the Ancient demo with the hardware they had.

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AI

Kyligence adds ClickHouse OLAP engine to its analytics platform

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Kyligence today announced it has updated its analytics platform to include support for the open source ClickHouse online analytics process (OLAP) engine based on a columnar architecture commonly used in a wide range of applications.

Version 4.5 of Kyligence Cloud extends the existing analytics capability of the platform beyond the OLAP capabilities provided by Apache Kylin, an open source OLAP database designed specifically for Hadoop and the in-memory Spark framework. eBay contributed the Apache Kyline OLAP engine to the Apache Software Foundation after initially developing it at eBay’s China Center of Excellence (CCOE) in Shanghai.

In addition to adding support for ClickHouse, Kyligence is also adding support for its low latency, real-time query engine that eliminates the need for separate analytics platforms to launch ad-hoc and historical queries. At the same time, it extends its semantic layer via application programming interfaces to enable users of Microsoft Power BI to launch queries from within the business intelligence (BI) application. That approach makes it simpler for enterprise IT organizations to process analytics more flexibly regardless of how data is stored.

Finally, Kyligence is adding support for tiered storage spanning both object-based and Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS) to reduce costs by taking advantage of cloud storage platforms to store data. Kyligence Cloud 4.5, currently in beta, is scheduled to become generally available on public cloud platforms from Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft this month, with support for Google Cloud Platform coming soon and Google Cloud Platform (GCP) scheduled to be provided soon after.

Automating platform management

Kyligence makes extensive use of machine learning algorithms and other forms of AI to automate the management of the platform, said Li Kang, head of North America operations for Kyligence. “It’s AI augmented,” he said.

That approach reduces the amount of IT expertise required to deploy and maintain a Big Data analytics platform. One of the primary hurdles organizations face today is that maintaining such a platform requires too much specialized IT expertise to deploy, Kang said. The AI capabilities embedded with Kyligence Cloud make Big Data analytics accessible at a much lower total cost, he added.

That platform can then be simultaneously accessed using a familiar OLAP construct or alternatively via the REST APIs the company has exposed. The goal is to create an integrated analytics platform that can flexibly pull data from multiple sources that can be queried using SQL or MDX, a query language specifically optimized to run complex queries across multiple OLAP engines.

Kyligence counts among its customers UBS, AppZen, Xactly, SPD Bank, Pingan Bank, Bank of Ningbo, China Pacific Insurance (Group) Co Ltd, China Continent Insurance, China UnionPay, VIVO, SAIC Motor, China FAW Group Corporation, and ANTA. The company earlier this year raised an additional $70 million in series D funding from SPDB International, Alpha Square Group, CICC, Gopher Asset Management, Shanghai Growth Capital, PUXIN Capital, and Jumbo Sheen Group. Previous investors include Redpoint, Eight Roads Ventures, and Shunwei Capital.

Growing demand

As the amount of data organizations need to analyze continues to exponentially increase, a battle among providers of analytics platforms has erupted that is attracting massive amounts of investment capital. Investors are betting that platform providers such as Kyligence will usurp a wide range of legacy platforms spanning everything from data warehouses to OLAP tools that were historically deployed in on-premises IT environments.

In general, analytics platforms are being shifted to the cloud to take advantage of lower storage costs as organizations start collecting terabytes of data that will in most cases eventually become petabytes of data. The challenge is that all this data comes in different forms that lend themselves to being analyzed and stored in different formats. To avoid having to acquire an analytics platform for each type of data, platforms that aggregate multiple engines to optimally analyze data are now starting to emerge.

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AI

Device42 launches AI recommendation engine for cloud usage

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Device42, a cloud discovery platform, this month launched a multicloud migration and recommendation engine the company claims is the first to support all major cloud providers. Using machine learning to drive its suggestions, Device42 says the service can perform real-time discovery of IT resources to create an inventory, leveraging dependency mapping to show the relationship and impact of resources on business units.

Organizations often face risks of business outages and disruptions when attempting to migrate to the cloud. And according to IDG research, only 25% achieve their initial goals. Additional reporting by Unisys has found that more than one-third of businesses fail to capture “notable benefits” from their cloud computing projects.

Device42’s new recommendation engine aims to help with cloud migration via AI-driven analysis. It works by first performing a discovery of all resources and apps, creating a directory. Once the inventory finishes, the engine delivers a cost analysis to recommend which apps to move to the cloud and which cloud — Amazon Web Services (AWS) or VMWare on AWS, Microsoft Azure, GCP, or Oracle — might be best for each app.

“We know migration is a big challenge for many organizations, and we’ve heard it loud and clear from our customers. We built this engine to help our customers automate the processes and help them reduce risk,” Device42 founder and CEO Raj Jalan said in a statement.

‘Right-sizing’ cloud deployments

According to RightScale, in 2017 26% of enterprises with more than 1,000 employees spent over $6 million a year in the public cloud. But it’s estimated that a fair amount of that enterprise cloud spend is going to waste. The same report found that the average waste in cloud costs was 35%, netting out to $10 billion each year across AWS, Azure, and GCP.

Device42’s engine can provide data about the cost of resources and their performance impact, as well guidelines to support best practices. It helps determine the most efficient course of action, including whether to re-architect apps, and works to identify the right sizes for cloud instances.

According to Jalan, the engine matches operating systems from on-premises solutions to the cloud so apps function after migration. Savings come from reservation purchase options and algorithms that factor in networking and storage costs, along with CPU and memory.

“The [engine] provides the visibility and information users need to make key decisions across cloud instances,” Jalan continued.

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  • up-to-date information on the subjects of interest to you
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Game

Amazon open-sources its in-house game engine

Amazon made its Lumberyard game engine free to use from the outset, but it’s now opening development of the technology to everyone, too. GamesBeat reports that Amazon has made Lumberyard an open source project, rebranding it as the Open 3D Engine. The Linux Foundation will manage the project and form an Open 3D Foundation to foster development. Amazon is a founding member alongside tech heavyweights like Adobe, Huawei, Niantic and Red Hat.

While the original Lumberyard was based on the Crytek engine, the version you’ll get as Open 3D Engine was rewritten and is free of possible patent headaches, according to Amazon. It also boasts a new, more photorealistic renderer as well as many of the other tools you’d need to build a game or simulation, including an animation system, a content editor and visual scripting.

This is relatively untouched ground for developers. They don’t always have to pay for engines, but they rarely have full freedom to modify the code for their own ends — and those that do often keep the modifications for themselves. Open 3D Engine not only allows extensive customization, but will encourage creators to contribute to the wider community. That theoretically strengthens the technology and helps it move faster than commercial tech like Unreal Engine and Unity.

There is a financial incentive for Amazon, though — open source may be its best chance at fostering growth. Amazon hasn’t had much success with in-house games built on Lumberyard, having cancelled Crucible and delayed New World. The shift to Open 3D Engine could spur adoption and encourage studios to use AWS, Twitch and other services that hook into the platform. Amazon could reap the rewards of Open 3D Engine even if its dreams of becoming a AAA game creator never come to pass.

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Game

Ubisoft Details Snowdrop Engine Upgrades For Avatar Game

Even though it came out all the way back in 2009, Avatar’s world is still technically impressive, and that fidelity is going to be reflected in the game Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora. Announced at Ubisoft’s Forward E3 press conference with a technically impressive trailer, much of the game is still a mystery. However, Ubisoft has put out a new trailer, and while it doesn’t talk about gameplay or the game’s story, it does detail the changes that had to be made to Ubisoft’s Snowdrop engine to make the game visually stunning.

According to Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora‘s technical art director Sebastian Lindoff, some “major upgrades and big improvements” had to be made to the Snowdrop Engine, which has previously powered both of Tom Clancy’s The Division games, plus Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle and South Park: The Fractured But Whole, among others. The result of these upgrades is a vast and varied Pandora, with “deep, dense jungles on the ground” and “grand vistas high up in the skies.”

The Snowdrop engine’s microdetail system has also been put to work, fleshing out every scene with thousands of different assets. According to senior technical artist Kunal Luthra, that means there will be more “highly detailed environments for Pandora.”

Ray tracing will also play a big part in the visuals of Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora. With ray tracing on, the light from bioluminescent plants and animals will reflect around areas realistically, and lighting overall will give the game a more photorealistic look.

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is set to launch sometime in 2022 for the PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, PC, Stadia, and Amzaon Luna.

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Tech News

CFM RISE open fan architecture jet engine could reduce fuel consumption by 20 percent

GE Aviation and Safran announced a new technology development program that aims to reduce fuel consumption for jet aircraft by 20 percent while reducing CO2 emissions at the same time. The program is called CFM RISE (Revolutionary Innovation for Sustainable Engines) and will demonstrate a mature range of new, disruptive technologies for future commercial aircraft engines that have the potential to enter service by the mid-2030.

Both GE Aviation and Safran also agreed as part of the announcement to extend the CFM International 50/50 partnership through the year 2050. The company has a goal of reducing CO2 emissions by 50 percent by 2050. The two companies say that their relationship is the strongest it has ever been. They will work together with the RISE technology demonstration program to reinvent flight for the future.

The companies want to take next-generation single-aisle aircraft to a new level of fuel efficiency and reduced emissions. Executives working on the project say that the current LEAP engine has already reduced emissions by 15 percent compared to past generation of engines. The new RISE technology will reduce that number even further.

New engine technologies also ensure 100 percent compatibility with alternative energy sources, including Sustainable Aviation Fuels and hydrogen. Both companies say the RISE Program is the foundation for the next-generation CFM engine expected to be available by the middle of the 2030s. One of the key features of the new engine is an open fan architecture, which is the key to improved fuel efficiency while delivering the same travel speed and cabin experience offered by current generation aircraft.

The program will leverage hybrid electric capability to optimize the efficiency of the engines while enabling electrification for many aircraft systems. So far, the RISE program has more than 300 separate components, modules, and full engine builds. A demonstrator engine is scheduled to begin testing around the middle of the decade, with a flight test soon after.

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Tech News

GE Aviation scores key Air Force approval for 3D-printed metal engine part

The United States Air Force has granted GE Aviation an airworthiness qualification for its F110 metal sump cover created using additive manufacturing. This milestone achievement takes place as part of the company’s pathfinder Pacer Edge program, an initiative intended to highlight the use of industrial 3D printing in the aerospace industry.

Additive manufacturing, which is an industry term for what consumers popularly know as 3D printing, is a promising technology that may change the way certain things are built. We’ve seen this technology used for things like ‘printing’ housing structures and NASA has previously explored the technology as a possible way to create necessary components on-demand in future space missions.

NASA’s Perseverance rover, which landed on Mars back in February, is an example of how additive manufacturing can be used for spacecraft and other vehicles: it contains 11 metal components that were all 3D-printed. The distinct advantage offered by additive manufacturing is that just about anything you can imagine and design as a 3D model can be created using a machine that precisely forms the object one layer at a time.

This removes the need to create molds, cut materials, and other aspects of traditional manufacturing, offering unique design opportunities and potential uses that seem entirely sci-fi in nature — like printing components for structures on Mars, for example. GE Additive specializes in printing metal components via Power Bed Fusion machines.

The tech works by applying layers of metal powder that are melted and fused together using either an electron beam or laser. As with consumer-level plastic-based 3D printers, each layer is printed and attached to the previous layer until the final fully manufactured component is finished.

GE Aviation used this technology to create the metal sump cover engine component, which the USAF has given airworthiness qualification. With the approval, GE says that Phase 1a of the Pacer Edge initiative is finished, paving the way for future phases that’ll bring metal additive manufacturing to Tinker Air Force Base. This supply chain will enable military customers to acquire airworthy metal components created using 3D printing tech.

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Tech News

GE and Safran’s hybrid engine plans could ground the guilt over air travel

A new aircraft engine design that could potentially cut fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20-percent is being developed, with GE Aviation and Safran suggesting the CFM RISE program could result in more frugal transportation by the mid-2030s. The new “Revolutionary Innovation for Sustainable Engines” program is also aiming to develop powertrain options for aircraft that support alternative fuels, as well as hybrid-electric operation.

The two companies are no strangers. The CFM collaboration began back in 1974, a 50/50 joint venture between GE Aviation and Safran. It’s now been extended to 2050, and credited with already cutting emissions by 15-percent in the existing LEAP engine compared to previous-generation aircraft engines.

RISE, though, will take things even further. It’ll form the basis of a new CFM engine design which the two companies hope to have ready for commercial deployment by the mid-2030s. As well as cutting fuel consumption and trimming CO2 emissions, it’ll have to be completely compatible with hydrogen and Sustainable Aviation Fuels.

“Central to the program is state-of-the-art propulsive efficiency for the engine, including developing an open fan architecture,” GE said today of the agreement. “This is a key enabler to achieving significantly improved fuel efficiency while delivering the same speed and cabin experience as current single-aisle aircraft. The program will also use hybrid electric capability to optimize engine efficiency while enabling electrification of many aircraft systems.”

There won’t be any one, individual component responsible for that sort of overall improvement and flexibility, of course. Instead, the joint GE/Safran engineering team is looking to everything from composite fan blades, heat resistant metal alloys, ceramic matrix composites (CMCs), hybrid electric capability, and additive manufacturing. In total, there’ll be more than 300 different component, module, and full engine builds.

It won’t be until the middle of the decade, or thereabouts, before a demonstrator engine is ready for testing. Flight testing, though, should come soon after that.

The aviation industry is targeting a 50-percent reduction in net carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, relative to the levels in 2005. It’s not just about the engines’ inherent fuel consumption, mind, with GE also focusing on things like easier ways to clean engines and thus make them more efficient, as well as 3D printing key components. The GE9X engine in the Boeing 777X, for example, already includes more than 300 3D printed components using additive manufacturing.

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Game

Hackers steal source code to ‘FIFA 2021’ and Frostbite engine from EA

Electronic Arts, the publisher of the Battlefield series and many other popular video game franchises, has been hacked. On multiple underground hacking forums, Motherboard found hackers claiming they had taken more than 780GB of data from the company. According to screenshots seen by the outlet, the trove includes the source code for FIFA 2021 and both the source code and tools for EA’s proprietary Frostbite game engine. Some of the other assets the hackers claim they took from the company include several software development kits. Those responsible are trying to sell the assets.

EA confirmed to Motherboard it was the victim of a data breach and that the data the publication saw online was what was stolen from it. “We are investigating a recent incident of intrusion into our network where a limited amount of game source code and related tools were stolen,” a spokesperson for the company told the outlet. “No player data was accessed, and we have no reason to believe there is any risk to player privacy. Following the incident, we’ve already made security improvements and do not expect an impact on our games or our business. We are actively working with law enforcement officials and other experts as part of this ongoing criminal investigation.”

We’ve reached out to EA for additional information.

EA isn’t the only video game publisher to get hacked this year. Following the buggy launch of Cyberpunk 2077, CD Projekt Red was hit by a ransomware attack. In that case, the hackers obtained and eventually sold the source code to the studio’s latest game. CD Projekt Red also blamed the hack for the delay in getting Cyberpunk’s 1.2 patch out. For now it appears EA is confident it won’t be affected in the same way. 

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