Technonlogy

Thursday briefing: Google buys $1.1 billion chunk of HTC’s smartphone division

HTC’s U11 flagship phone

HTC

Your WIRED daily briefing. Today, Google has bought part of HTC’s smartphone team, UK researchers have successfully used CRISPR to examine early human embryo development, Tesla and AMD are reportedly working on a new self-driving AI chip and more.

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1. Google has bought part of HTC’s smartphone division

Google has announced that it’s acquired part of HTC’s mobile team in a deal worth $1.1 billion (The Verge). According to The New York Times, this will see an estimated 2,000 HTC research and design staff – many of whom are already working on Google’s own-brand smartphones – formally come into Google’s employ, leaving 2,000 with HTC itself. The company will continue to develop its own smartphones, with another flagship phone on the cards, and will also continue production of its market-leading Vive virtual reality headset.

2. UK researchers use CRISPR to examine early human embryo development

Scientists working at the UK’s Francis Crick Institute have for the first time used the CRISPR gene-cutting technique to understand what happens in the first few days after a sperm fertilises a human egg cell (BBC News). The study specifically looked at the role played by the protein OCT4 in the first seven days of human embryo development. When developmental biologist Kathy Niakan and her team turned off the gene that for OCT4 in single-cell embryos – donated by couples who had some left over after IVF treatment – they found that cells that normally go on to form the placenta, yolk sac and foetus failed to develop, preventing a blastocyst from forming. The findings provide new insights into the potential causes of IVF failures and miscarriages.

3. Reports: Tesla and AMD are working on a new self-driving AI chip

US news service CNBC reports that Tesla and AMD have partnered to develop a dedicated chip to handle the processing involved in the company’s Autopilot self-driving AI. Unnamed sources close to the project have indicated that the chip will be built on top of AMD’s intellectual property, while Sanjay Jha of chip fabricator GlobalFoundries – itself an AMD spin-off – has mentioned Tesla as an example of companies working directly with foundries. Tesla’s Autopilot programme is currently headed by former AMD chip architect Jim Keller, who’s brought in a number of fellow AMD veterans.

4. Human semen can carry many viruses

A new review of published studies has revealed that 27 different viruses can reside in human semen, although it’s not clear whether all of them can then be transmitted sexually (Ars Technica). The University of Oxford researchers carried out the analysis following the finding that Zika virus is often detected in semen months after infection. Viruses capable of living in semen include Ebola, HIV, Epstein Barr virus, several forms of herpes and Simian foamy virus.

5. SpaceX’s satellite broadband network gets a name

A trademark registered by SpaceX indicates that it plans to call its forthcoming satellite broadband network Starlink (Ars Technica). Spotted by an eagle-eyed Reddit user, the trademark application was filed in the USA on August 21 in the context of “wireless broadband communication services” and “high-speed wireless Internet access” – the company is also applying to extend its SpaceX trademark into the same areas. SpaceX’s communications satellite constellation is set to begin deployment in 2019 and will ultimately consist of 4,425 microsatellites in low-Earth orbit in 2024.

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6. Saudi Arabia lifts internet telephony ban

Saudi Arabia’s Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) has announced that it’s lifting the country’s ban on VoIP telephony (TechCrunch). This means that Saudi users will be able to access widely used apps including Skype, WhatsApp and Snapchat. The ban has been in place since 2013, but in a press release, the CITC said: “This decision comes in line with the recent trends in the ICT sector; the reliance on data revenues (Internet delivery) and added services is the global trend that operators in the Kingdom should take”.

7. Sea turtle numbers are rising, further proof that conservation works

A new study of the seven variants of sea turtles has concluded that their numbers are increasing, reversing the near-catastrophic impact of humans killing them for their eggs, meat, skin and shells (WIRED). “Sea turtle conservation efforts are effective because it is possible to combat many of the threats they are facing,” says Gail Schofield, a postdoctoral research fellow in the School of Life and Environment Sciences at Deakin University, Australia. A paper published by Schofield and colleagues found 95 significant increases in sea turtle numbers. The study, published in the journal Science Advances, looked at 4,417 annual estimates of sea turtle nesting. “Even small sea turtle populations have the capacity to recover,” the team explain, adding that there are “encouraging” signs for the overall population. Schofield explains it’s been possible to protect female sea turtles and their eggs from being harvested on beaches and protect nests. Devices fitted to fishing nets that allow them to escape have also helped. “Here, we demonstrate the positive effects of global efforts, with huge investment, by scientific and volunteer programs over the last 70 years, leading to legislation to protect sea turtles through the operation of national parks and regulation of fisheries,” Schofield says.

8. Watch Zack Snyder’s latest film, shot entirely on an iPhone

Zack Snyder’s new short film, Snow Steam Iron, is something the director says he needed to do once he left behind the forthcoming Justice League film in the wake of the tragic death of his 20-year-old daughter (WIRED). The film, which has just premiered on the somewhat obscure social networking app Vero, allowed him to be with family and friends, bringing in his daughter, Willow, his son, Eli, and starring his friend Samantha Jo. It also serves as a proof of concept for a class Snyder plans to teach, showing that anyone with a phone can make a movie. That’s not to say Snyder used just a phone. He also deployed a Zeiss ExoLens and mount, a couple of smartphone camera rigs, a Kessler Pocket Dolly for tracking shots, the FiLMiC Pro app to control the camera’s settings and a DJI drone for aerial shots. Those tools ensured that he could make something that looks every bit like a Zack Snyder film. And it does, right down to the dark hues and slow-motion violence. We won’t spoil it, but Snow Steam Iron is about a cop who abuses his girlfriend, leading her to seek revenge, if not justice. Yes, it’s gruesome. It’s shot on an iPhone, but the chances of Apple putting any of it on a billboard are pretty slim.

9. Hamilton and Schwarzenegger join James Cameron’s new Terminator film

James Cameron has announced that Terminator stars Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger have signed on to the latest sequel in the franchise, and the first that Cameron has been involved in since Terminator 2: Judgment Day in 1991 (Hollywood Reporter). Cameron is producing the film and overseeing its writing, while Tim Miller (Deadpool) is to direct. Cameron said: “We’re starting a search for an 18-something woman to be the new centerpiece of the new story. We still fold time. We will have characters from the future and the present. There will be mostly new characters, but we’ll have Arnold and Linda’s characters to anchor it”. There’s no release date as yet, but the film is set to be a direct sequel to Judgment Day.

10. Minecraft rolls out cross-platform play with Better Together update

Microsoft-owned Mojang studios has announced the game’s new Better Together Update, which means that Minecraft players on Xbox One, Android, iOS, Windows 10, Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR will all be able to join one another in the same game worlds (The Verge). This means that all of these platforms now run the ‘Bedrock Engine’ version of Minecraft, which is the key focus of Microsoft’s ongoing development, with a Nintendo Switch version to follow later this winter. Sony has, as usual, opted out of offering cross-platform support for the PlayStation 4 version, while the original version for macOS, Linux and earlier versions of Windows – known as the Minecraft: Java Edition these days – is on its own update road map that’s not likely to see it talking to Bedrock Engine versions. The New 3DS version is also not currently scheduled to receive the Better Together Update.

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