Science X Newsletter Wednesday, Jan 8

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Here is your customized Science X Newsletter for January 8, 2020:

Spotlight Stories Headlines

Intrinsic quantized anomalous Hall effect in a moiré heterostructure

The Milky Way's impending galactic collision is already birthing new stars

Double-checking the science: Ocean acidification does not impair the behavior of coral reef fishes

Sea-ice-free Arctic makes permafrost vulnerable to thawing

3-D movies reveal how cuttlefish determine distance when striking at prey

Black hole transient GRS 1716−249 investigated in hard and intermediate states

Planet WASP-12b is on a death spiral, say scientists

Experiments into amorphous carbon monolayer lend new evidence to physics debate

People view rationality and reasonableness as distinct principles of judgment

Discoveries detail role of stem cell in deadly gastric cancer

Bacterial link in celiac disease

Intel, Lenovo spread foldable computer fever at CES

Early humans revealed to have engineered optimized stone tools at Olduvai Gorge

Urban health scare: E-scooters show alarming spike in injuries

Findings on education, malnutrition 'deeply disturbing'

Physics news

Intrinsic quantized anomalous Hall effect in a moiré heterostructure

The quantum anomalous Hall (QAH) effect can combine topology and magnetism to produce precisely quantized Hall resistance at zero magnetic field (an environment carefully screened from magnetic fields). In a recent report on Science, M. Serlin and an interdisciplinary research team in the Department of Physics, National Institute of Materials Science and the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics in the U.S. and Japan detailed the observation of a QAH effect in twisted bilayer graphene aligned to hexagonal boron nitride. They drove the effect via intrinsic strong interactions, which polarized the electrons into a single spin and valley resolved moiré miniband (interference pattern).

Soft materials allow scientists to study earthquakes in the lab

Under constant stress, certain soft materials reorganize themselves in a manner very similar to how the Earth's crust is restructured during earthquakes, a new study by researchers at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Raman Research Institute (RRI) and ETH Zurich has found.

A mathematical model to describe spaghetti noodle curling when cooked

Two mechanical engineers at the University of California, Berkeley have developed a model to describe the curling action of a spaghetti noodle when it is boiled. In their paper published in the journal Physical Review Letters, Nathaniel Goldberg and Oliver O'Reilly describe their study of the popular pasta and what they learned about its behavior when it is cooked.

A neural network as an anchor point

Quantum mechanics is a well-established theory, but at a macroscopic level it leads to intractable contradictions. Now ETH physicists are proposing to resolve the problem with the aid of neural networks.

Neutrons 'break the ice' for exploring fundamental physics in frozen water

The ice we blend into our frozen drinks is a complicated compound, riddled with strange molecular inconsistencies scientists still struggle to understand. Exploring the physics behind the odd microstructure of water-ice may help us learn more about other seemingly unrelated advanced materials and their quantum states.

Water drop antenna lens directs radio wave energy through its curved shape

This novel "water drop" antenna lens design for directing radio wave signals was developed by a pair of antenna engineers from ESA and Sweden's Royal Institute of Technology, KTH.

Researchers investigate ultrafast reaction of superfluid helium triggered by extreme ultraviolet laser pulses

A team headed by Professor Frank Stienkemeier at Freiburg's Institute of Physics and Dr. Marcel Mudrich, professor at the University of Aarhus in Denmark, has observed the ultrafast reaction of nanodroplets of helium after excitation with extreme ultraviolet radiation (XUV) using a free-electron laser in real time. The researchers have published their findings in the latest issue of Nature Communications.

Milestone in Advanced Light Source upgrade project will bring in a new ring

An upgrade of the Advanced Light Source (ALS) at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has passed an important milestone that will help to maintain the ALS' world-leading capabilities.

Astronomy & Space news

The Milky Way's impending galactic collision is already birthing new stars

The outskirts of the Milky Way are home to the galaxy's oldest stars. But astronomers have spotted something unexpected in this celestial retirement community: a flock of young stars.

Black hole transient GRS 1716−249 investigated in hard and intermediate states

Astronomers have investigated a black hole transient known as GRS 1716−249 with NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR). The new study provides crucial insights into properties of the source in its hard and intermediate spectral states. Results of the research were published December 31 on arXiv.org.

Planet WASP-12b is on a death spiral, say scientists

Earth is doomed—but not for 5 billion years. Our planet will be roasted as our sun expands and becomes a red giant, but the exoplanet WASP-12b, located 600 light-years away in the constellation Auriga, has less than a thousandth of that time left: a comparatively paltry 3 million years.

Virgin Galactic's next spaceship reaches build milestone

Virgin Galactic's next passenger spaceship has reached a major construction milestone, the company said Wednesday.

Technology news

Intel, Lenovo spread foldable computer fever at CES

Will more foldable and dual-screen PCs be more like the norm rather than the novelty? CES 2020 has shown promising signs that good things are coming down the pike.

Skin-like sensors bring a human touch to wearable tech

University of Toronto Engineering researchers have developed a super-stretchy, transparent and self-powering sensor that records the complex sensations of human skin.

Can sea star movement inspire better robots?

Have you ever seen a sea star move? To many of us, sea star seem motionless, like a rock on the ocean's floor, but in actuality, they have hundreds of tube feet attached to their underbelly. These feet stretch and contract to attach to rough terrain, hold on to prey and, of course, move.

AI for #MeToo: Training algorithms to spot online trolls

Researchers at Caltech have demonstrated that machine-learning algorithms can monitor online social media conversations as they evolve, which could one day lead to an effective and automated way to spot online trolling.

China facial-recognition case puts Big Brother on trial

Facial-recognition technology has become embedded in China, from airports to hotels, e-commerce sites and even public toilets, but a law professor had enough when asked to scan his face at a safari park.

Sex tech from women-led startups pops up at CES gadget show

Sex tech is gracing the CES gadget show in Las Vegas this week, a year after organizers took fire for revoking an innovation award to a sex device company led by a female founder.

Report: Ransomware takes down online currency exchange

A week after a malicious virus infected its network, the London-based foreign currency exchange company Travelex had yet to restore digital sales and was reported infected with ransomware by hackers threatening to release personal data unless it pays a $3 million ransom.

Samsung Electronics flags one-third drop in Q4 operating profit

Samsung Electronics' operating profits fell by more than a third in the fourth quarter, the world's biggest manufacturer of smartphones and memory chips estimated Wednesday.

Koenigsegg, a supercar challenging Swedish stereotypes

For a quarter century, Koenigsegg has been making supercars for a niche market typically reserved for Italian luxury brands, while challenging perceptions of Swedish modesty.

AI-powered avatar at tech show touted as 'artificial human'

Avatars touted as "artificial humans" created a buzz Tuesday at the Consumer Electronics Show even as debate swirled on what exactly the digital entities were.

A simplified way to turn food waste into hydrogen energy

Americans discard as much as 40 percent of their food, worth about $200 billion a year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A simple new method from Purdue University scientists could help cut down that amount of waste—and provide another renewable source of clean energy.

Batteries made with sulfur could be cheaper, greener and hold more energy

Lithium-ion batteries have changed the world. Without the ability to store meaningful amounts of energy in a rechargeable, portable format we would have no smartphones or other personal electronic devices. The pioneers of the technology were awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize for chemistry.

Why media education in schools needs to be about much more than 'fake news'

The 2019 general election is already being remembered as the one where misinformation went mainstream. It was, of course, already on the political agenda after the 2016 referendum and US election, with growing numbers of academics and parliament sounding the alarm over foreign actors using so-called "fake news" to disrupt the democratic processes.

Deepfakes: Informed digital citizens are the best defense against online manipulation

More than a decade ago, Internet analyst and new media scholar Clay Shirky said: "The only real way to end spam is to shut down e-mail communication." Will shutting down the Internet be the only way to end deepfake propaganda in 2020?

Reports: Regulatory coordination key to optimizing cross-border electricity trade in South Asia

South Asia is one of the fastest growing regions in the world, possessing substantial generation potential yet nevertheless plagued by electricity supply shortages. Open electricity trading across borders can help, but poor regulatory alignment between neighboring countries can stand in the way of success.

Top automotive tech at CES 2020

Automakers use the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to get creative. Sometimes the results can seem a little too creative—we don't expect to see connected streetlights or adaptive sidewalks, as some companies have pitched in years past, anytime soon.

AI can now read emotions—but should it?

In its annual report, the AI Now Institute, an interdisciplinary research center studying the societal implications of artificial intelligence, called for a ban on technology designed to recognize people's emotions in certain cases. Specifically, the researchers said affect recognition technology, also called emotion recognition technology, should not be used in decisions that "impact people's lives and access to opportunities," such as hiring decisions or pain assessments, because it is not sufficiently accurate and can lead to biased decisions.

Data ownership is a recipe for better living in the city

Today, both public enterprises and private companies in the major cities collect large quantities of data about the citizens living in those cities, and most people derive little benefit from this. However, if the citizens own and control their own data, life in the city can be much better.

The future of social media: What we can learn from why people leave Facebook

The number of active users of Facebook (those people who have logged onto the site in the previous month) has reached an historic high of 2.45 billion. To put this in some context, approximately 32% of the global population now use the social media platform, and the trend line of participation is still going up.

Virtual reality, real injuries: Study shows how to reduce physical risk in VR

Carpal tunnel, stiff shoulders, eye-strain headaches—these are all well-known side effects of prolonged computer use. But what happens when you step away from the desktop and into virtual reality?

A sensor to detect human body conditions in real-time

DGIST announced that Professor Hyuk-Jun Kwon in the Department of Information and Communication Engineering developed a 'patch-based health diagnosis sensor system' that is easily attached to skin in association with Professor Sunkook Kim's research team at Sungkyunkwan University. This sensor is attached to skin as if attaching a band-aid and collects various health information in real-time by monitoring biosignals and certain movements, leading to expectations for diverse applications.

Decrappifying brain images with deep learning

Textbook descriptions of brain cells make neurons look simple: a long spine-like central axon with branching dendrites. Taken individually, these might be easy to identify and map, but in an actual brain, they're more like a knotty pile of octopi, with hundreds of limbs intertwined. This makes understanding how they behave and interact a major challenge for neuroscientists.

Hollywood-backed Quibi thinks you'll pay for its video bites

A startup heavily backed by Hollywood is wagering that you're ready to set aside YouTube and TikTok to watch star-studded short videos on your phone—for a price.

New US autonomous vehicle plan lets industry regulate itself

The Trump administration on Wednesday unveiled its most recent round of guidelines for autonomous vehicle makers that still rely on the industry to police itself despite calls for specific regulations.

Ivanka Trump's appearance at CES tech show draws criticism

The nation's largest consumer electronics show hosted Ivanka Trump as a keynote speaker—a choice that drew scorn from many women in technology.

Planes, trains and bills: Britain's big projects dilemma

A high-speed train that won't start. An overcrowded airport that can't expand. A new subway line that never runs.

Algorithms help to find minimum energy paths and saddle points more effectively

Olli-Pekka Koistinen, doctoral candidate at Aalto University, developed machine-learning algorithms based on Gaussian process regression to enhance searches of minimum energy paths and saddle points, and tested how well the algorithms work.

Croydon-based robot maker Macron Dynamics needs workers

Even this deep into the national economic boom, little Macron Dynamics in scuffed-up Croydon plans to double its plant capacity and hire 20 more people. That is, if it can find the right building and workers for its $18-an-hour entry-level manufacturing jobs.

'Sex tech' aims to rise above negative image

Sex toys are for relaxation. For education. For healing after childbirth. For long-term or long-distance relationships. For women's emancipation.


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▼ Sonos said what every smaller tech company was thinking: working with big tech sucks

It's the first "official" day of CES, when glitzy keynotes are replaced with grungy, sweaty crowds shuffling from booth to booth set up on the hideous carpets of the Las Vegas show floor. I love it.

I intentionally kept my calendar as open as possible so I could go experience the full spectrum of what's on tap here this year. I saw everything from the neon-lit horde in Samsung City (what we call its massive booth) to the locker-room-smelling funk of "Eureka Park," where the tiniest of businesses rent the tiniest of kiosks, all crammed together by the thousands.

Employees from every part of that spectrum are out tonight and I feel very confident in saying that many of them are raising a toast in thanks to a company that isn't here: Sonos.

I'll explain why after the links, including an exclusive new response from Google.

- Dieter


Verge Deal of the day 

Up to $30 off on Apple AirPods

The latest AirPods are back to their Black Friday prices. You can buy the AirPods with a wired charging case for $139 from Amazon or Walmart or for $144.99 from TargetBest Buy, and B&H Photo. The list price for this model is $159.99, If you want the ones with the wireless charging case, they're available for $30 off from TargetWalmart, and on Amazon. That brings the price down to $169.99 at these retailers, but you can also get them for $174.95 from B&H Photo. The Verge's Dan Seifert said that the AirPods are one of the best wireless headphones available, and they're easy to use.


CES News

└ Listen to The Vergecast's first CES 2020 episode

We'll do a couple of Vergecast chat shows this week -- this was the first and only one we did live. Always love doing a podcast in front of a live audience. Thank you to all who came!

Also: I know I promised category roundup and they're coming, but have decided to leave them to our reporters who are best suited to each one. In the meantime, here's what happened yesterday.

└ I tasted Impossible Pork at CES 2020

Well, not me. Liz Lopatto and Becca Farsace did. Apparently it's pretty accurate but really salty. Don't miss the video.

└ Inside Intel's Ghost Canyon NUC, the incredibly small modular desktop PC

Intel is taking two different ideas it's been working on for awhile and crammed them together to make something genuinely interesting. The idea is to make your CPU and motherboard as easily replaceable as any other part. Intel has some other manufacturers on board with the idea, too.

└ Razer's first desktop gaming PC is the stunning modular Tomahawk

...like Razer, for example.

└ The best part of the OnePlus Concept One isn't the disappearing camera

Add another concept to the pile I wrote about yesterday. Really happy with how this video turned out.

└ Delta will add a 'binge button' to its inflight entertainment screens

Everyone, including me, is assuming that dozens of people trying to pair Bluetooth headphones to their seatback entertainment systems will be a disaster. But what if it just sort of turns out to not be that bad? It's not like Bluetooth pairing is a wonderful experience anyway.

Delta recently started retrofitting its planes with new wireless seatback screens, which frees up more room underneath each seat. These new screens will also allow passengers to use Bluetooth headphones during their flights. ... The screens will also be able to mirror your smartphone, and Delta says other new features will be added at a quicker pace than in the past.

└ The Google Assistant will be able to read articles out loud in 42 languages and will finally let you schedule actions for later

Phone accessories are still a thing

└ Insta360's One R shape-shifts between a 360 and an action camera

Becca Farsace has been using this completely modular and completely endearing camera system for a little while. You can swap out camera modules, adjust the screen to face the direction you want, and take it underwater to boot.

Pretty much every modular gadget in recent memory has been a bust. For whatever reason, I feel like this one makes enough sense that it could have a shot. It's really quite clever. Becca has full impressions of what it's like to use.

└ Razer made another Switch-like mobile gamepad, but this one works with Android and iOS

Gamepads you attach to your phone have until recently felt like weird curiosities. They still are in some ways, but with Apple Arcade, Microsoft xCloud, PlayStation Remote Play, and Google Stadia maybe that could change.

└ PopSockets made its own wireless charging pad so you don't have to take the PopSocket off your phone

I know know if this will get me to become a PopSocket person, but I do know that the wireless charging hassles was blocking me from becoming one before today. Really good idea and glad to see the designs aren't boring.


Ad from our sponsor

Sonos said what every smaller tech company was thinking: working with big tech sucks

As often happens at CES, the biggest news of CES didn't happen at CES and yet was nevertheless custom designed for maximum impact at CES: Sonos has sued Google for allegedly stealing smart speaker tech.

The New York Times story that broke the news contains many eye-popping details if you've followed the saga of getting the Google Assistant working on Sonos speakers. It was a process that took seemingly forever, and despite asking many, many times why it took so long, nobody could give a satisfactory answer for why.

I asked Google for comment on the Sonos suit and got the same one as before, however this time with a new line, emphasized below:

Over the years, we have had numerous ongoing conversations with Sonos about both companies' IP rights and we are disappointed that Sonos brought these lawsuits instead of continuing negotiations in good faith. Google's technology was developed independently by Google — it was not copied from Sonos. We dispute these claims and will defend them vigorously.

That new line is Google explicitly saying it didn't copy Sonos' technology, but it doesn't address Sonos' claims that it told Google it was infringing Sonos' patents four times since 2016. And not copying something on purpose doesn't mean you haven't infringed the patents, especially if the patent owner keeps telling you there's a problem.

Nilay Patel has pointed out that Sonos has already won a case against Denon with at least two of these patents. So I wouldn't expect either Google or Sonos to stand down quickly on this lawsuit. I am very far from qualified to talk about the merits of the lawsuit itself, but I think the reason the news hit so hard is that it tonally feels right.

Likely because it could affect the proceedings, Sonos executives weren't directly quoted in the NYT outside of a prepared statement from CEO Patrick Spence. They seem to have spoken bluntly with Jack Nicas and Daisuke Wakabayashi about what's been going on, however. This paragraph in particular rings true to me:

Like many companies under the thumb of Big Tech, Sonos groused privately for years. But over the past several months, Patrick Spence, Sonos's chief executive, decided he couldn't take it anymore.

This (in addition to some off-the-record comments from another company's executive from that were relayed to me) is why I am quite confident that a lot of people are thanking Sonos for forcefully saying (forcefully suing?) what they've all been thinking for a long time.

This all relates to the theme I wrote about earlier this week: that CES is seen to not matter because only smaller companies bother trying to make a splash here anymore. Over the course of years, more and more types of gadgets have become vassals of an ecosystem run by a bigger company.

This trend has only accelerated with the rise of digital assistants. Where before the gadgets that were beholden to big platforms tended to be phone accessories, everything is now supposed to work with Alexa, the Google Assistant, and Siri.

So CES is, in some ways, a convention where tens of thousands of people from thousands of companies meet to show off how they intend to survive in a world ruled by the big tech companies. No wonder it's less relevant than ever.

Will this open a floodgate of other companies coming out and saying publicly what they've felt privately, that they're increasingly spending their time thinking about Amazon and Google instead of their customers?

In some places, smaller tech companies already are. They're just speaking in places with stronger regulatory protections to curb Big Tech, places like the European Union. Spotify's lawsuit against Apple's App Store "tax" comes to mind.

Here in the US, the step before going public is likely all of those people talking to each other about it, probably over drinks in Las Vegas. Sonos perfectly timed its announcement so that it would be the talk of the show, one hour before the doors opened. Usually at CES, the awkward thing you say when you don't know what to say is "How is the show for you? Seen anything good?" Yesterday, it was "Did you see the news about Sonos? Whoa."

The other thing that rings true in the NYT story is the detail that Google told Sonos it would pull Google Assistant support if Sonos enabled simultaneous wake words. That's the feature which lets speakers listen for both "Alexa" and "Okay Google" at the same time. Google really comes off looking like a bully.

Amazon doesn't come out of this story cleanly, either. Apparently Amazon also threatened to pull support at one point, and according to the NYT, the only reason Sonos didn't also sue Amazon was that it can't afford to take both companies on at once.

It all could put a radically different spin on Amazon's motivations for forming an alliance to get companies to make their assistants to interoperate. An alliance Google hasn't joined, by the way, and neither have Apple or Samsung.

In an interview with Chris Welch of The Verge last night, Amazon hardware boss Dave Limp said that "we would never ask any company for exclusivity." But he dodged a bit when asked if Echoes hurt Sonos' chances in the market, saying:

As long as they and others continue to differentiate, customers will find them. It's not about at any given time, a price point or a set of features. It's about how do you define your brand and what your brand stands for and how it's differentiated. And I'm very optimistic that Sonos can navigate that path.

Chris' full interview with Dave Limp will be up on The Verge later this morning, keep an eye out for it.

Four years ago I wrote a piece warning that the move to digital assistants would mean that a lot more of what we see "online" (if that term even applies to talking to a smart speaker) would be determined by backroom deals. It turns out I wasn't pessimistic enough: those same deals are also determining what kind of gadgets get made and what they're allowed to do in the first place.

It's no wonder so many of the people here at CES feel like they need a drink.

You are reading Processor, a newsletter about computers by Dieter Bohn. Dieter writes about consumer tech, software, and the most important news of the day from The Verge. This newsletter delivers about four times a week, at least a couple of which include longer essays.

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