Programmed digital anchors are being used to cheaply generate news reports in China
From The Verge:
Xinhua, China’s state-run press agency, has unveiled new “AI anchors” — digital composites created from footage of human hosts that read the news using synthesized voices. It’s not clear exactly what technology has been used to create the anchors, but they’re in line with the most recent machine learning research.
It seems that Xinhua has used footage of human anchors as a base layer, and then animated parts of the mouth and face to turn the speaker into a virtual puppet. By combining this with a synthesized voice, Xinhua can program the digital anchors to read the news, far quicker than using traditional CGI. (We’ve reached out to AI experts in the field to see what their analysis is.)
According to reports from Xinhua and the South China Morning Post, two anchors (one for English broadcasts and one for Chinese) were created in collaboration with local search engine company Sogou. Xinhua says the anchors have “endless prospects” and can be used to cheaply generate news reports for the agency’s TV, web and mobile output.
Each anchor can “work 24 hours a day on its official website and various social media platforms, reducing news production costs and improving efficiency,” says Xinhua.
Microsoft plans underwater server farms
From ARS Technica:
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says that underwater server farms are part of the company’s plans for future data centres. Microsoft has been experimenting with underwater servers for some time. Project Natick put a server pod underwater off the coast of California in 2016. Naturally enough, the pod uses water cooling, dumping waste heat into the ocean around it. It’s designed as a sealed unit, deployed for five years before being brought back up to the surface and replaced. Since then, Microsoft has deployed a larger pod off the coast of Scotland.
Speaking at the company’s Future Decoded conference in London, Nadella said that undersea deployments are “the way [Microsoft] will think about data centre regions and expansion.” He cites proximity to humans as a particular advantage: about 50 per cent of the world’s population lives within 120 miles of a coast. Putting servers in the ocean means that they can be near population centers, which in turn ensures lower latencies.
Low latencies are particularly important for real-time services, including Microsoft’s forthcoming Xcloud game streaming service. The other big advantage Nadella cited is the speed at which servers can be deployed this way. Without the need to build an actual data centre, he said that from start to finish the Scottish pod took just 90 days to build and deploy.
Are ‘chiplets’ the future of computing?
In 2016, the chip industry’s clock ran out. For 50 years, the number of transistors that could be squeezed onto a piece of silicon had increased on a predictable schedule known as Moore’s law. The doctrine drove the digital evolution from minicomputers to PCs to smartphones and the cloud by cramming more transistors onto each generation of microchip, making them more powerful. But as the smallest features of transistors reached about 14 nanometers, smaller than the tiniest viruses, the industry fell off its self-imposed pace.
“We’re seeing Moore’s law slowing,” says Mark Papermaster, chief technology officer at chip designer AMD. “You’re still getting more density but it costs more and takes longer. It’s a fundamental change.” That slowdown is forcing chipmakers to look for alternate ways to boost computers’ performance — and convince customers to upgrade. Papermaster is part of an industry-wide effort around a new doctrine of chip design that Intel, AMD, and the Pentagon all say can help keep computers improving at the pace Moore’s law has conditioned society to expect.
The new approach comes with a snappy name: chiplets. You can think of them as something like high-tech Lego blocks. Instead of carving new processors from silicon as single chips, semiconductor companies assemble them from multiple smaller pieces of silicon — known as chiplets. “I think the whole industry is going to be moving in this direction,” Papermaster says. Ramune Nagisetty, a senior principal engineer at Intel, agrees. She calls it “an evolution of Moore’s law.”
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