Kerala has become a truly ‘digital state’: President Pranab Mukherjee

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President Pranab Mukherjee on Saturday lauded Kerala’s achievements in promoting information technology and declared the state to be the first “digital state” of India. ”With broadband connectivity in every Gram Panchayat, Kerala has emerged as a truly digital state,” Mukherjee said at a function at the Cyber Park near.

The president noted Kerala’s progress in becoming digitally enabled, right from the launching of a pilot Akshaya e-literacy project in Malappuram district in 2002 to now when the state revenue department alone is issuing about 30,000 digital certificates to the citizens daily. The Akshaya project, which has since expanded all across the state, was the first district-wide e-literacy project in India. There are currently about 2500 Akshaya centres across the length and breadth of the state, which also provide Internet access and e-service delivery to the people.

Mukherjee also praised the efforts of the IT@school project aimed at providing basic computer knowledge to every high school student. The state established its first State Data Center in 2005 to deliver governmental services through e-governance and set up the second centre in 2011, he said.

“It is heartening to note that Kerala has now over 600 e-governance applications covering almost all departments, delivering e-services to its citizens. They are also being made available on the mobile platform now. All districts of the state have been covered under the e-District project,” said Mukherjee.

The president said the growth of Internet and smartphone penetration had rapidly transformed Kerala into a knowledge-powered economy. He said the state has a mobile tele-density of 95 percent and an internet access covering over 60 percent of the population. The president also inaugurated the first IT Park in the Malabar region which is spread over of 0.5 million square feet and will provide a base to 5,000 professionals, besides creating indirect employment for over 20,000 people in the region.

“This IT Park has the distinction of being the first in its class to be developed in the country by a labour cooperative society, the Uralungal Labour Contract Co-operative Society (ULCCS),” he noted.

The society, formed in 1925 by social reformer Guru Vagbhadananda, has helped in improving the living standards of the economically-weaker sections by providing them job opportunities, Mukherjee said.

AMD’s Zen processors to feature up to 32 cores, 8-channel DDR4

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It looks like it will still be many months before we see anything official from AMD on their upcoming Zen processors, but that hasn’t stopped some information being presented at CERN’s recent IT Technical Forum.

As spotted by The Tech Report, a CERN engineer revealed during the Forum that AMD’s Zen line-up would feature processors with up to 32 cores in two 16-core modules. These chips will also reportedly use Symmetrical Multi Threading, which is basically an AMD-developed version of Hyper-Threading.

The slide from the engineer’s presentation also reveals that Zen will bring a 40 percent improvement in instructions per clock (IPC) compared to their current line-up. Along with more cores, this will make Zen a much more powerful line of CPUs, potentially with significantly improved power efficiency as well thanks to the use of 14nm FinFET technology.

And finally, Zen will allegedly support both PCIe gen 3.0, and eight-channel DDR4. This essentially brings AMD’s line of CPUs up to feature parity with Intel’s current processors, and even going beyond with support for more memory channels, potentially to deliver enough bandwidth to all the processing cores.

AMD is expected to formally announce and release Zen before the end of the year, and it could be just what the struggling company needs judging by this early information.

HP to put FreeSync in all their AMD-based laptops

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HP will be taking some of their entry-level and mid-range laptops to the next level,vowing to include FreeSync variable refresh technology in every consumer laptop with an AMD APU inside.

Considering the low-power GPUs that will be included in these laptops, FreeSync has the ability to significantly improve the gaming and video watching experience at lower frame rates. By allowing the display to vary its refresh rate with the GPU’s render rate, gaming will become a lot smoother below the 60 Hz mark that laptops typically struggle to achieve.

The only laptop that’s confirmed to get FreeSync at this stage is the HP Envy 15z, which will be updated in the first half of 2016 with new AMD 6th-generation ‘Carrizo’ APUs and support for variable refresh through the display itself as well as over HDMI. Other specifications for this laptop haven’t be announced, but the previous models have retailed for around the $500 mark.

In the second half of the year we can expect more HP laptops with Carrizo chips and FreeSync on-board, with AMD stating that HP’s entire AMD-powered line-up would feature FreeSync technology.

While most of HP’s laptops will continue to use Intel chips without FreeSync support, particularly in the high-end segment, more laptops featuring AMD APUs is a win for the struggling chipmaker. Carrizo chips have been relatively unseen in the market despite its launch over six months ago, so the more companies to use the APUs, the better for AMD.

Mercedes-Benz replaces robots with humans on its assembly lines

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There are many articles that warn of the inevitable loss of jobs as robots become increasingly advanced and replace humans in certain industries. One of the most publicized of these is the car manufacturing sector, where machines have been making humans redundant for many years. But Mercedes-Benz, it seems, is doing the opposite; the German vehicle maker is replacing assembly robots with humans.

A report from Bloomberg states that the robots cannot handle the complexity of the many customization options available on the company’s new S-Class sedan. These include carbon-fibre trims, heated and cooled cup holders, seat cover colors, various in-car technology, and even four different types of caps for the tire valves.

Mercedes-Benz said that the robots take too long to reprogram and retool when adapting them for new production runs, so the company has hired more flexible and dexterous humans to complete the tasks.

“Robots can’t deal with the degree of individualization and the many variants that we have today,” said Markus Schaefer, the firm’s head of production. “We’re saving money and safeguarding our future by employing more people.”

The robots are being replaced at the company’s biggest manufacturing plant, the 101-year old Sindelfingen factory in Germany, which produces 400,000 vehicles a year and processes 1500 tons of steel a day.

Not all the robots will find themselves looking for new jobs. Many of the smaller machines will work in tandem with employees to perform some of the core repetitive tasks, with the more complex elements of production handled by the humans. The company is calling the processes of man and machine working side-by-side “robot farming.”

While Mercedes-Benz’s decision doesn’t mean the trend of many jobs becoming automated will end, it does show that humans and robots working together can be more productive than machines working alone.

“We’re moving away from trying to maximize automation with people taking a bigger part in industrial processes again,” said Schaefer. “We need to be flexible.”

Three becomes the first mobile carrier in Europe to block ads at network level

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Mobile operator Three has announced that it will become the first major carrier in Europe to block ads at a network level. The move will no doubt upset ad companies, as well as the many digital publishers who rely on the revenue that ads generate.

Three UK and Three Italy have signed a deal with Shine, an Israeli company that specializes in blocking mobile advertising. If it is successful, the technology will expand to other Three markets across the globe.

Three says that it isn’t looking to eliminate all mobile advertising, rather it wants to give its customers more control over what they see. The company has outlined three goals it hopes to achieve by using Shine’s technology:

  • Customers should not pay data charges to receive adverts. These are costs that should come from the advertiser.
  • Customers’ privacy and security must be fully protected. Some advertisers use mobile ads to extract and exploit data about customers without their knowledge or consent.
  • Customers should receive adverts relevant to them, and not “have their data experience in mobile degraded by excessive, intrusive, unwanted or irrelevant adverts.”

It’s not clear how Three will meet all these goals, especially when it comes to asking advertisers to pay data charges, but it said it will reveal more details soon.

“Over the coming months Three will announce full details of how it will achieve these objectives and will work with Shine Technologies and the advertising community to deliver a better, more targeted and more transparent mobile ad experience to customers,” says a Three spokesperson.

Jamaica-based operator Digicel became the first to use Shine’s ad-blocking technology in September last year. Shine has said it plans to offer its services to more European carriers throughout this year, and the company has its sights set on the US market.

“Irrelevant and excessive mobile ads annoy customers and affect their overall network experience,” said Tom Malleschitz, chief marketing officer at Three UK. “We don’t believe customers should have to pay for data usage driven by mobile ads. The industry has to work together to give customers mobile ads they want and benefit from.These goals will give customers choice and significantly improve their ad experience.”

Researchers develop a robotic third arm to give drummers a helping hand

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As someone who briefly played drums in a college band, I can appreciate how helpful having a third arm would be when it comes to hammering out complicated solos. It seems that researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology also thought that drummers could use a helping hand, and have developed a robotic limb to help boost their skills.

The project, from the University’s Center for music technology, aims to push the limits of what humans can do with robotics.

The “smart arm” can be strapped to a drummer’s shoulder, and responds to human gestures and the music it hears. When the drummer moves to play the high hat cymbal, for example, the robotic arm maneuvers to play the ride cymbal. If the drummer then switches to the snare, the mechanical arm shifts to the tom, and so on.

“If you augment humans with smart, wearable robotics, they could interact with their environment in a much more sophisticated manner,” Georgia Tech Professor Gil Weinberg said in a statement. “The third arm provides a much richer and more creative experience, allowing the human to play many drums simultaneously with virtuosity and sophistication that are not otherwise possible.”

What makes the arm especially smart is that it can it listen to the music being played in a room and improvise based on the beat and rhythm. It can slow down and speed up the tempo depending on what a musician plays.

The robot limb uses built-in accelerometers to sense distance and proximity, so it won’t put a stick through a drum skin or get in the way of the drummer’s actual arm. To make the robotic arm move naturally, the researchers used motion-capture technology.

The next step for the team is to link the arm with the drummer’s brain activity. The researchers are experimenting with an electroencephalogram (EEG) headband that detects brain patterns. It’s hoped that this will eventually allow the arm to react when a musician simply thinks about changing the tempo.

The ultimate aim is, of course, to expand the technology beyond musical instruments. “Imagine if doctors could use a third arm to bring them tools, supplies or even participate in surgeries. Technicians could use an extra hand to help with repairs and experiments,” said Weinberg. “Music is based on very timely, precise movements. It’s the perfect medium to try this concept of human augmentation and a third arm.”

Your next smartphone may include 256GB of storage courtesy of Samsung

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Samsung on Thursday announced that it is now mass-producing 256GB embedded memory chips for mobile devices.

The chips, based on Samsung’s V-NAND technology, utilize the Universal Flash Storage (UFS) 2.0 standard and are physically smaller than a microSD card. Capacity, however, is only half of the story as the new memory chips are also incredibly fast.

Samsung says they take advantage of two lanes of data transfer which allows for sequential read speeds of up to 850MB/sec. That’s nearly twice as fast as the average SATA-based solid state drive. They’re a bit slower on the write side as sequential writes check in at up to 260MB/sec.

Random read IOPS (input / output operations per second) are rated at 45,000 with random write IOPS at 40,000. For comparison, Samsung says the previous generation of UFS memory was good for 19,000 and 14,000 read / write IOPS, respectively.

The South Korean technology giant says one 256GB chip can store about 47 full HD movies. For smartphones that support USB 3.0, users will be able to transfer a 5GB movie in about 12 seconds. It’ll obviously take a little longer to transfer, say, a 4K movie, but it’ll still be much faster than what’s available today.

It’s refreshing to see companies continue to push the limits of local flash storage, especially when you consider microSD card slots are becoming less common on flagship phones. Cloud storage is a solid alternative but it’s not a perfect solution as accessing it without a Wi-Fi connection will eat into your monthly data allotment (not to mention the fact that you can’t access it at all if you hit a cellular / Wi-Fi dead zone).

Samsung said it will increase its production volume in line with increases in global demand.

Intel says move to 10-nanometer chips still on track for 2017

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Intel posted a job listing on its website last month in which it mentioned that mass production of products using its 10-nanometer manufacturing technology would begin approximately two years from the date the listing was posted (January 21, 2016).

This caught the attention of The Motley Fool’s Ashraf Eassa who wrote a column on the matter. It was of particular interested because in mid-2015, Intel admitted that difficulties in the move to 10-nanometer had pushed the first round of consumer products based on the advanced manufacturing process back to the second half of 2017.

Initially, 10-nanometer products were to arrive in the marketplace this year.

If the job listing was indeed accurate, that meant Intel was pretty far behind in its move to 10-nanometer. As it turns out, however, the job listing wasn’t accurate.

Intel’s public relations team reached out to the publication and said the job listing contained “errors” and that it would soon be taken down. Sure enough, the listing in question has since been pulled. The PR team clarified that its first 10-nanometer products were still on track to arrive sometime in the second half of 2017.

Moving to a smaller manufacturing process has numerous benefits including (but not limited to) lower power consumption (which leads to better battery life) and improved performance as more transistors can fit on a single chip.

Google wants to help carriers replace SMS with a better messaging platform

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Google is partnering with mobile operators across the world to push a replacement technology for SMS called Rich Communications Services (RCS). The standard would enable more advanced features found in today’s messaging apps like the ability to send photos and videos, create group chats, and to see when another user is typing.

The long overdue upgrade would help operators catch up with “over-the-top” (OTT) internet messaging services like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger and — they hope — regain some of that lost revenue.

The GSMA has been promoting RCS since 2008 and some operators already offer a variation of the technology under various brand names. But with today’s announcement the goal is to get everyone on board towards a common, universal and Android RCS client provided by Google in collaboration with operators and OEMs.

Is it too little too late? Probably. At this point Facebook already dominates the messaging scene with 2 billion monthly active users between Messenger and WhatsApp, while Tencent’s WeChat and QQ Messenger claims 1.5 billion.

That said, a single universal standard that works across carriers out-of-the box is still a step in the right direction, and with Android’s huge market share this is the carriers’ best bet. But even if RCS succeeds it’s unclear if carriers will be able to find a way to monetize it in a world where OTT messaging apps are completely free.

At this point there’s no clear timeframe on when Google will be delivering the RCS client. Although today’s announcement is all about Android, Google says RCS can be implemented by other operating systems too.

DirectX 12 Multi-GPU Technology Tested: GeForce and Radeon Paired Together

Previewing DX12 Multi-Adapter with Ashes of the Singularity

Ashes of the Singularity gave us an early peek at how AMD and Nvidia’s current GPUs are shaping up for DirectX 12 when we checked out the upcoming real-time strategy title last November. Back then our focus was primarily on DX11 vs. DX12 performance and more to the point how Nvidia’s Maxwell and AMD’s GCN 1.2 architectures compared. We also looked at CPU performance which proved to be interesting to look at as well.

Although the final game’s release is still pending, we know Stardock has been hard at work as shown by the cool new features in its Ashes of the Singularity benchmark 2.0.

The most notable of them is ‘explicit multi-adapter’ (EMA), DirectX 12’s multi-GPU technology, which gives game developers precise control over the workloads of their engine and direct control over the resources offered by each GPU in a system.

Rather than the AFR (alternate-frame rendering) method used by DX11, each frame of a game is split into a tile and this method is called SFR (split-frame rendering). SFR can break each frame of a game into multiple smaller tiles, and assign one tile to each GPU in the system. These tiles are rendered in parallel by the GPUs and combined into a completed scene for the user.

Parallel use of GPUs reduces render latency to improve FPS and VR responsiveness.

Perhaps the coolest and most unholy feature of EMA is its ability to support both AMD and Nvidia GPUs in the same system. This means it is possible to pair a GeForce GTX 980 Ti with a Radeon R9 Fury X for example. This mind blowing feature is what we will be focusing on today.

Another advantage of this method is greater memory capacity. Previously multi-GPU configurations in DX9, DX10 and DX11 games were limited to a single GPU’s worth of VRAM. For example, dual 4GB cards would only equal 4GB. This is because each GPU contains an identical copy of a game’s data set to ensure synchronization and prevent scene corruption.

DX12’s explicit multi-adapter technology allows multiple GPUs to combine their memory into a single larger pool. This means two 4GB cards would essentially have an 8GB memory buffer and this could certainly improve the texture fidelity of future games.

The Ashes of the Singularity benchmark 2.0 also makes advanced use of multi-queue and signaling mechanisms, aka asynchronous compute. This is the feature that AMD supports at a hardware level while Nvidia has had to patch it in at the driver level.

As a result, GeForce cards were actually faster when rendering in the DX11 mode, while the opposite was true for the Radeon graphics cards. Now with even more emphasis on async compute it will be interesting to see how Nvidia’s Maxwell GPUs handle this latest version of Ashes of the Singularity.

Test System Specs

Something worth noting is that the Multi GPU mode under DX12 required 16GB of RAM to work, installing less would cause the game to hang when loading and eventually crash to the desktop. The developer says this is because Multi GPU requires additional RAM due to the way D3D12 shadows texture memory.