With post-pandemic AI, we’ve now stepped into the Age of Acceleration

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As the IBM Watson experience shows, the path to AI success is fraught with challenges. Yet overall, it has been a very good year for AI and the companies developing it. So much so that Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, in a recent podcast recorded by BBC, says: “I view [AI] as a very profound enabling technology. If you think about fire or electricity or the internet, it is like that, but I think even more profound.”

That profound impact is becoming more pronounced as AI is showing up in more industries, ranging from semiconductor design to software development to voiceovers, farming, distribution, music creation, and even classical sculpting. In all instances, AI is augmenting and possibly replacing human activities while dramatically speeding up development of the final product. In biology, determining the structure of just one protein can take years of laboratory work, but new AI released to the public by the University of Washington can reduce this time to as little as 10 minutes. In the sculpture example, a replica of “Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss,” produced by ABB2, an industrial robot developed by ABB Robotics, required just over 11 days to produce, while the original by 18th-century sculptor Canova required roughly five years. And due to the pandemic, demand for industrial robots has surged in the last year across many industries.

AI is accelerating output

In a recent paper in the journal Nature, Google described how it developed a reinforcement learning deep neural network that designs computer chips faster than humans. Much faster. The paper discusses a chip design that would take engineers months and instead took less than six hours with new AI software at the helm. As noted by CNBC, Google is using AI to design chips that can be used to create even more sophisticated AI systems, further speeding-up the already exponential performance gains through a virtuous cycle of innovation.

It is not only Google that is accelerating semiconductor chip development using AI. Chip design company Synopsys recently demonstrated how a problem that had previously taken months of work by an entire design team could be accomplished with superior results in just a few weeks by a single engineer. These are just a few examples highlighted in several recent headline stories. All of the major chipmakers and semiconductor tool companies have their hand in some aspect of AI.

On the other side of computing, software to run the applications is also undergoing a similar revolution. GPT-3 — officially the Generative Pre-Trained Transformer 3 — a language model developed by OpenAI has proven capable of generating coherent prose from a text prompt. This is what it was designed to do, but it turns out that it can generate other forms of text as well, including computer code.

According to an Economist story, new software development tools based on AI can suggest context sensitive code in-line, much as Gmail and Outlook now suggests how to complete a sentence in an email, or Word does for text processing. In the case of commercial systems using GPT-3, suggestions can include full code modules to complete tasks such as creating a purchase order. This advance not only reduces the time to develop software but — according to one user — also reduces “cognitive overhead,” since selecting from options presented is easier than developing original code. This is like old school programming where code is imported from a library, though now the programmer does not need to know anything about the library, and the process is almost entirely automated.

One of these new generation software development tools is Copilot, an AI-powered programming tool jointly built by OpenAI and GitHub that is positioned as an augmentation for human programmers. The tool uses Codex, which is based on GPT-3 but fine-tuned for programming tasks. The new system suggests blocks of code from the GitHub repository based on what other programmers have previously written to solve a similar problem.

While there are concerns that this (and similar tools) will evolve to replace engineers and programmers, it is widely believed that such a development is still some time in the future. Even so, these tools will speed the development process — in some instances, dramatically.

Prepare for the productivity boom

This AI-enabled automation is beginning to have an impact. In a panel discussion, Sanjeev Vohra, Accenture global lead for applied intelligence, explained that he had observed a “massive shift” in companies toward using technologies like AI, analytics, and machine learning, which is boosting revenue and efficiencies. This shift will lead to a productivity boom, according to Stanford University professor Erik Brynjolfsson. He said AI is already as good as or better than humans at certain applications and encouraged businesses to focus on incorporating the technology into work processes. Those that do, he says, will likely soon see an acceleration in productivity.

These examples and trends suggest that AI is entering take-off mode just as we exit an economic downturn caused by the pandemic. And incorporating labor saving technology coming out of a downturn is standard operating procedure for many companies. However, this time the demand for automation is particularly acute, given the combination of labor shortages and wage growth. Thanks to the availability of mature labor-saving technologies, we’ve already seen companies do more with fewer people over the last year and a half.

Until now, AI has not had a large impact on employment. But if Vohra and Brynjolfsson are correct, this is starting to change. The timing fits with a study by PwC that describes three overlapping cycles of automation that will stretch into the 2030s, each with their own degree of job impact. These cycles the algorithm wave, the augmentation wave, and the autonomy wave. According to PwC’s report, only around 3% of jobs are at high risk for automation from the algorithm wave in the early 2020s, but this rises to almost 20% by the late 2020s from the augmentation wave, and around 30% by the mid-2030s.

It could be that the dreaded robot apocalypse has been jump-started due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Understandably, it is worrying that AI-powered automation will eliminate jobs. Nevertheless, inclinations to resist technology advances are unlikely to succeed, especially as competitive pressures will inexorably lead to further automation. According to Laureen Knudsen at Broadcom, “we will continue to see the automation of as many jobs and parts of organizations as possible.” And it is possible that attitudes towards AI could change, as suggested by a recent survey showing that 68% of office workers actually want more AI to assist them in their daily work.

As Noah Smith, assistant professor of finance at Stony Brook University argues in an op-ed, the best way to offset AI concerns and enable further technology advances is in the realm of public policy. He specifically cites the need for national health insurance, job-finding assistance, and greater income equality. Clearly, the accelerating pace of AI adoption and concomitant automation will apply more pressure on public policy decision makers. We will all need to learn to adapt to the times. As President Kennedy said in his 1963 address in the Assembly Hall at the Paulskirche in Frankfurt, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”

Gary Grossman is the Senior VP of Technology Practice at Edelman and Global Lead of the Edelman AI Center of Excellence.


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The Best Dell XPS 13 Laptop Deal We’ve Seen in a Long Time

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It’s hard to find a PC laptop with better features than the Dell XPS series — just check out the amazing laptops on sale in these Dell XPS deals. And right now at Dell, you can get $200 off a 13-inch Dell XPS 13 laptop. This laptop comes loaded, and it’s only $700, a huge drop from its regular price of $900. That’s an amazing deal on one of the best laptops in its class!

The Dell XPS 13 is so dominant that when we reviewed this computer, we called it “the laptop endgame.” It’s really got everything you need in a small-sized, portable computer. The frame is nearly without bezels, and the performance is unmatched for a laptop in this class. Also, the connectivity is massively improved, as are the larger keyboard and touchpad. We can’t say enough good things about this computer, which, on top of everything else, is handsomely designed and will look perfect on any desk (and fits well in any bag).

Let’s start with the screen, which is really unbeatable for a PC laptop. The great-looking, four-sided InfinityEdge 13.3-inch display provides an 80.7% screen-to-body ratio. Add to this a color spectrum with 100% sRGB color and a 1500:1 contrast ratio, and you’ve got unbelievably tight visuals and unmatched clarity. And then there’s the smaller, improved HD webcam – a four-element lens brings you the sharpest video despite the webcam’s tiny size at only 2.25mm.

Under the hood, things continue to look fantastic, with an 11th-generation Intel Core i5-1135G7 Processor, backed up by 8GB of memory for effortlessly handling multiple complex apps. And then there’s the huge 256GB M.2 PCIe NVMe solid-state drive for secure storage that can be accessed in a jiffy. There’s smooth streaming with Killer Wi-Fi 6 technology, Windows 10 (which can soon be upgraded to 11), Intel Iris Xe Graphics, and a battery that lasts up to 12 hours. On top of this all, XPS 13 is Energy Star certified to give you peace of mind. Simply put, there is no more powerful laptop in this class than the Dell XPS 13.

Made with safe materials, this XPS 13 is more durable than your average laptop because it’s cut from a single block of aluminum. It’s impact- and scratch-resistant, and its carbon fiber palm rest doubles down on that support. And yet, it’s light and portable, boasting a build of 0.62 inches by 11.9 inches by 7.8 inches and weighing only 2.6 pounds. You can bring it anywhere and connect it to anything, especially with a USB-C port (which is great for charging, too) and two Thunderbolt 4 ports. Is there anything this laptop can’t do?

Finding a decent laptop for under $1,000 can be tricky, but it’s super rare that we see a laptop at the level of the Dell XPS 13 for as little as $700. This is an incredible opportunity to get $200 off one of the best compact laptops on the market, down from its regular price of $900. What are you waiting for?

More laptop deals

Want to see what else is out there in the world of portable computers? We’ve rounded up some of the best laptop deals just for you below.

We strive to help our readers find the best deals on quality products and services, and we choose what we cover carefully and independently. The prices, details, and availability of the products and deals in this post may be subject to change at anytime. Be sure to check that they are still in effect before making a purchase.

Digital Trends may earn commission on products purchased through our links, which supports the work we do for our readers.

Editors’ Choice

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Tech News

We’ve got the data to prove it

If you’ve ever felt your noisy open-plan office makes you cranky and sends your heart racing, our new research shows you aren’t imagining it.

Prior to the pandemic 70% of office-based employees worked in open-plan offices. Employee complaints about this design are rife.

Yet there is little experimental research investigating the effects of office noise on things like cognitive performance, physiological stress , and mood.

The results of our study, in experimentally controlled conditions using heart rate, skin conductivity, and AI facial emotion recognition, shows the effects of that noise are very real.

We’ve found a significant causal relationship between open-plan office noise and physiological stress.

Our results show such noise heightens negative mood by 25% — and these results come from testing participants in a simulated open-plan office for just eight minutes at a time. In a real office, where workers are exposed to noise continuously during the day, we would expect the effects on stress and mood to be even greater.

How we simulated open-plan office noise

We used a simulated office setting with volunteers to compare the effects of typical open-plan office noise to a quieter private office on a range of objective and subjective measures of well-being and performance. Our carefully manipulated soundscapes included people speaking, walking, printing papers, ringing telephones, and keyboard typing noises.

Our study involved observing the same individuals “working” — participants were asked to complete a proof-reading task — under the two noise conditions. We varied the order of the sound tests to avoid bias due to fatigue and training effects.

This “repeated measures experimental design” allowed us to make causal conclusions about the effects of the noise on well-being indicators.

We used sensors to track changes in heart rate and sweat response — both reliable indicators of physiological stress. We used facial emotion recognition software to assess emotional responses. We also had participants self-report their own feeling using a mood scale.

Even after a short exposure, we found a causal relationship between open-plan office noise and both stress and negative mood. Negative mood increased by 25% and sweat response by 34%.

While there was no immediate effect on reduced work performance, it is reasonable to assume such hidden stress over the longer term is detrimental to well-being and productivity.

Credit: The Conversation

This is The Craziest Dell XPS Deal We’ve Seen in a Long Time

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The laptop deals offered by retailers cater to different budgets and requirements, including basic machines that you can buy for very cheap. However, if you need a reliable laptop for work, school, or entertainment purposes, you should be looking at Dell XPS deals. The Dell XPS laptops are top-of-the-line devices that carry premium prices, but the Dell XPS 13 is currently available for just $950, as Dell is offering a $750 discount from its original price of $1,700.

The Dell XPS 13 is capable of multitasking between several apps at once without any slowdowns because of its 10th-generation Intel Core i7 processor and 8GB of RAM. If your frustration is at the limit with your old laptop because of frequent crashes, you should upgrade to the Dell XPS 13 right away. It also comes with a 256GB SSD for storage, which should be more than enough space for your essential software and important files.

The 13.4-inch Ultra HD+ touchscreen of the Dell XPS 13, with its 16:10 aspect ratio for a larger display without increasing the size of the laptop itself, is one of the primary reasons why it’s the top choice in Digital Trends’ best laptops. The laptop started the trend of thinner bezels back in 2015, and it continues to raise the bar with updates that include a larger keyboard and touchpad.

If you need a laptop with a long battery life, Dell promises more than 12 hours of usage if you’re working with productivity apps, so it will be a while before you need to plug in the Dell XPS 13 for charging. The laptop’s advanced thermal redesign, which includes dual fans in addition to a heat pipe with a single evaporator and dual condenser, ensures that you can work long hours without having to break off because of an overheating machine.

Whether you’re planning to use it for work, school, or entertainment, the specifications and features of the Dell XPS 13 won’t disappoint you. The laptop is powerful and reliable, but its price may be too much to pay for some shoppers. Fortunately, Dell is currently offering a $750 discount on the machine, bringing its price down to a more affordable $950 from its original price of $1,700. Stocks of the Dell XPS 13 are limited though, so if you want to be able to buy this high-quality laptop for below $1,000, you shouldn’t waste time. Click that Buy Now button as soon as you can.

We strive to help our readers find the best deals on quality products and services, and we choose what we cover carefully and independently. The prices, details, and availability of the products and deals in this post may be subject to change at anytime. Be sure to check that they are still in effect before making a purchase.

Digital Trends may earn commission on products purchased through our links, which supports the work we do for our readers.

Editors’ Choice

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New Pokemon Snap review round-up: The sequel we’ve been waiting decades for?

New Pokemon Snap is still a couple of days away from release, but today, some of the reviews have started landing. New Pokemon Snap is in an interesting place, because it’s a sequel to a game that came out more than 20 years ago, when the gaming landscape looked vastly different and Pokemon was still coming into its own as a franchise. Can New Pokemon Snap tap into the nostalgia people have for the first game while at the same time giving those gamers something new?

It turns out that maybe it can. A quick look at Metacritic right now shows the game sitting at an 80 rating based on 42 reviews, which is probably higher than some might have expected for a title that, by most accounts, is a fairly simple spin-off. Still, the original Pokemon Snap was a simple and straightforward game that is beloved by many, so perhaps simplicity isn’t a bad thing.

Looking through a number of the reviews contributing to Metacritic’s score, it seems that many critics believe that New Pokemon Snap successfully keeps what made the original such a winner among Pokemon fans while building upon it to offer more. While the original game was a fairly short affair, even if you made a point of looking for secret paths and hidden Pokemon, it seems that New Pokemon Snap has the potential to be quite a bit longer, particularly for the completionists among us who might want to see everything the game has to offer.

Of course, one man’s replayability is another man’s repetition, and if there’s one major complaint these reviews have, its that New Pokemon Snap can be a repetitive experience in its later stages. Snap veterans are already primed for that as there are certainly people who ran the original’s levels over and over again just to get the perfect shot.

Still, it is important to keep in mind that a number of these reviews mention that the game does get grindy at points, and without that grind, it feels a little on the short side. That much is true of the original as well, but one thing to consider is that New Pokemon Snap costs a full $60 up front, and if you’re not willing to go through the grind to see everything there is to see, you may not feel like you got your money’s worth by the time you put it down.

For those who have been waiting for a Pokemon Snap follow-up for more than two decades at this point (like me), it sounds like New Pokemon Snap won’t really disappoint. It also sounds like it’s a good jumping off point for anyone who may be new to Pokemon Snap. and we’re assuming there are quite a few people in that boat since it’s been 22 years since the last game.

Pokemon fans have proven in the past that they can be a tough crowd to please, so it’ll be interesting to see how they react to the game when it releases later this week. New Pokemon Snap is out for Nintendo Switch on April 30th.

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Tech News

NASA figures we’ve got about a billion years before the sun kills us all

A team of researchers working with NASA have finally figured out when the sun’s going to burn off all the oxygen on our planet, thus destroying all life on Earth. By their calculation it’ll happen somewhere around the year 1,000,002,021. If you’re still on the waiting list for Hamilton tickets, you may need to plan accordingly.

In a research paper published on Monday, the team describes the final moments before Earth loses its ability to support life as we know it:

We find that future deoxygenation is an inevitable consequence of increasing solar fluxes, whereas its precise timing is modulated by the exchange flux of reducing power between the mantle and the ocean–atmosphere–crust system.

In other words, approximately one billion years from now (we’re not sure if that counts leap days or government holidays) the sun’s slowly-increasing radiation will have reached a point of no return for our atmosphere.

The team came to this conclusion after modeling and running an algorithm-based simulation hundreds of thousands of times. Per a press release from Tohoku University, one of NASA’s project partners:

Because modelling future Earth evolution intrinsically has uncertainties in geological and biological evolutions, a stochastic approach was adopted, enabling the researchers to obtain a probabilistic assessment of the lifespan of an oxygenated atmosphere.

[Kazumi Ozaki, Assistant Professor at Tohoku University] ran the model more than 400 thousand times, varying model parameter, and found that Earth’s oxygen-rich atmosphere will probably persist for another one billion years (1.08±0.14 (1σ) billion years) before rapid deoxygenation renders the atmosphere reminiscent of early Earth before the Great Oxidation Event around 2.5 billion years ago.

This, of course, is the opposite of human-induced climate change. It’s relatively easy to predict when the sun will destroy our planet because the sun’s on a fairly steady arc. The current climate crisis, as the overwhelming majority of climate scientists agree, is unnatural and stands as an aberration when you compared against data representing the 2.5 billion years our planet had an atmosphere before humans showed up.

The bad news is that our planet’s likely to become uninhabitable long before the sun suffocates all of Earth’s plant life and then burns off its atmosphere. But the good news is that, if we’re smart enough to solve our current problems, we’ve got another billion years to figure out how to stabilize the star that gave us life.

You can read the entire paper here.

H/t: Hannah Kronast, News Hub

Published March 4, 2021 — 22:01 UTC

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Tech News

What we’ve learned about the red planet from 260+ Martian meteorites

NASA’s Perseverance rover successfully touched down on Mars this morning, and has already begun beaming back images.

But people might be surprised to learn there have been another 48 missions to the red planet so far. Of these, more than half failed at stages from take-off to deployment — including the 1999 Mars Climate Orbiter, destroyed on Mars entry after someone failed to convert imperial measurements to metric.

Successful missions include Mars Insight, which is studying the interior via measurement of “marsquakes”, and the Curiosity rover, which touched down in 2012 and has been examining the geology of Mt Sharp.