CIA Contractors Fired for Stealing Snacks from Vending Machine

The spy group axed several contractors after it discovered they had stolen $3,314.40 in eats from compromised vending machines between fall 2012 and March 2013, according to a report obtained by BuzzFeed News.

When nosh began going missing from agency vending machines, the CIA did what it does best — it put up cameras and started spying on the break room, according to the report.

“Video footage recovered from the surveillance cameras captured numerous perpetrators engaged in the … theft scheme, all of whom were readily identifiable as agency contract personnel,” the report states. Read the rest of this entry »


Japan Throws Down the Gauntlet With Plan for World’s Fastest Supercomputer

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Officials in Japan have announced a plan to build the world’s fastest supercomputer in a bid to reaffirm the country’s place as a leader in technological advancement.

If all goes according to plan, the processing monster will cost 19.5 billion yen ($173 million) and will be cable of 130 quadrillion calculations per second, Reuters reports.

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It is a rare thing to be able to use the word “quadrillion” in a manner that isn’t an exaggeration. Phrased another way, the planned supercomputer clocks in at 130 petaflops, which would decidedly surpass the current fastest in the world—China’s Sunway Taihulight which maxes out at 93 petaflops.

Satoshi Sekiguchi, a director general at Japan’s ‎National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, had an intriguingly humble way of saying that it will blow the competition out of the water: “As far as we know, there is nothing out there that is as fast.” Which leaves the imagination to wonder about secret hidden supercomputers plowing through data in hollowed-out mountains.

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The move comes at a time when Japan hopes to return to its glory days as top dog in technology. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has recently pushed for his government to work more closely with private industry to assure that Japan leads the way in robotics, batteries, artificial intelligence and other key areas of growth. Read the rest of this entry »


Charlie Rose Interviews a Robot

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Charlie Rose attempts to interview a robot named “Sophia” for his 60 Minutes report on artificial intelligence.

“I’ve been waiting for you,” Sophia tells 60 Minutes correspondent Charlie Rose. They’re mid-interview, and Rose reacts with surprise.

“Waiting for me?” he asks.

“Not really,” she responds. “But it makes a good pickup line.”

Sophia managed to get a laugh out of Charlie Rose. Not bad for a robot.

Rose interviewed the human-like machine for this week’s two-part 60 Minutes piece on artificial intelligence, or A.I. In their exchange, excerpted in the clip above, Rose seems to approach the conversation with the same seriousness and curiosity he would bring to any interview.

[Read the full story here, at CBSnews]

“You put your head where you want to test the possibility,” Rose tells 60 Minutes Overtime. “You’re not simply saying, ‘Why am I going through this exercise of talking to a machine?’ You’re saying, ‘I want to talk to this machine as if it was a human to see how it comprehends.’”

Sophia’s creator, David Hanson, believes that if A.I. technology looks and sounds human, people will be more willing to engage with it in meaningful ways.

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“I think it’s essential that at least some robots be very human-like in appearance in order to inspire humans to relate to them the way that humans relate to each other,” Hanson says. “Then the A.I. can zero in on what it means to be human.”

“Through his company Hanson Robotics in Hong Kong, Hanson has created twenty human-like robots, even developing artificial skin that simulates the physics of facial flesh. Sophia is his latest design, modeled after Audrey Hepburn and Hanson’s wife.”

He envisions robots as companions for people who would otherwise be socially isolated, such as the elderly. “If you have a robot that can communicate in a very human-like way and help somebody who otherwise doesn’t know how to use a computer, put them in touch with their relatives,” Hanson explains, “put them in touch with their healthcare provider in a way that is natural for them, then that could provide a critical difference of connectivity for that person with the world.”

Through his company Hanson Robotics in Hong Kong, Hanson has created twenty human-like robots, even developing artificial skin that simulates the physics of facial flesh. Sophia is his latest design, modeled after Audrey Hepburn and Hanson’s wife.

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CBS News

“I think it’s essential that at least some robots be very human-like in appearance in order to inspire humans to relate to them the way that humans relate to each other. Then the A.I. can zero in on what it means to be human.”

“Sophia means wisdom,” Hanson explains, “and she is intended to evolve eventually to human-level wisdom and beyond.”

She still has a long way to go. Read the rest of this entry »


The Rise of the Teeny Tiny: The Incredible Shrinking Apartments of Hong Kong

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HONG KONG— Isabella Steger writes: In showing an apartment of 180 square feet, a real-estate agent explained that all furniture essentially has to be made to order and described the window sill as a potential area for “entertainment.”

“Consumers have no bargaining power. Today if people want to buy property, like a couple who want to build a family, they don’t ask what the square footage is. They just ask about the price.”

— Barbara Leung, who teaches real-estate economics at Hong Kong Polytechnic University

The apartment, in a development called High Place, isn’t much bigger than the standard U.S. parking space. It went into contract in May for almost four million Hong Kong dollars (US$516,000.)

Even by Hong Kong’s cramped standards, apartments here are getting tinier and tinier.

So small are some of the new developments in Hong Kong that they have been given the moniker “mosquito-sized units.”

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Billy H.C. Kwok for the Wall Street Journal

“People have to sacrifice and crowd into smaller apartments.”

— Joanne Lee, of real-estate broker and consultancy Colliers International in Hong Kong

The incredible shrinking apartments in Hong Kong is part of a broader trend of rising values of residential real estate in major cities around the world, as investors see property as a better investment than low-yielding bonds.

Hong Kong, much like London and New York, also is seeing strong demand from wealthy investors from other countries looking for safe places to park their money, with much of that investment coming from mainland Chinese buyers. While these investors go after higher-end Hong Kong property, they are helping boost prices in general, making it tougher for people simply looking for a place to live.

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Hong Kong property prices have continued to rise despite repeated attempts by the government to keep them in check. The average price of private residential property, according to government data, has been on an upward trend since 2009, save for dips during three quarters in 2011 and a very mild correction during 2013 after the government stepped up measures to cool property prices.

“In a development called Mont Vert by Cheung Kong (Holdings) Ltd., controlled by the city’s richest man, Li Ka-shing, apartments even smaller than 180 square feet last year prompted a flood of YouTube videos showing people using arm spans to measure the living area.”

Such price increases have put strains on buyers in many major cities, but nowhere is the squeeze greater than in Hong Kong. Demographia, a U.S. think tank, in a recent study comparing median incomes with median housing prices, ranked Hong Kong property as the least affordable in the world, with home prices on average 17 times annual income, well above the 10.6 for second-place Vancouver. New York ranked seventh, with a 6.1 ratio.

[Read the full story here, at WSJ]

Since 2007, incomes have risen about 42%, but home prices have soared 154%, according to a calculation of data provided by the Hong Kong government. Read the rest of this entry »