Soupjoe5 OP t1_j292tep wrote


SEOUL, Dec 30 (Reuters) - South Korea conducted a successful test flight of a solid-propellant space launch vehicle, the country's defence ministry said on Friday.

Earlier on Friday, South Korean media reported multiple citings of an unidentified flying object over the country's airspace.

In June, South Korea's second test launch of its domestically produced, liquid-engine Nuri rocket successfully placed several satellites in orbit, taking a major step in progressing its space programme.


Soupjoe5 OP t1_j1jbjcx wrote


Deal for Sunday games is an expensive way for parent company Alphabet to buy an audience

Streaming companies cannot stop spending their money on live sports. Amazon paid $1bn to be the exclusive provider of “Thursday Night Football”. Apple signed a 10-year deal with Major League Soccer. Now YouTube has agreed to pay about $2bn per year for exclusive rights to certain National Football League Sunday afternoon games.

Perhaps Alphabet chief executive Sundar Pichai is an American football fan? This is an expensive way for YouTube’s parent company to buy an audience. YouTubeTV costs $64.99 per month. If it charges a $25 add-on for NFL games, it will need 1.85mn subscribers to break even. That means increasing its subscriber base by around a third. It will hope to pick up subscribers from former NFL Sunday Ticket rights holder DirecTV.

There is a reason Apple and Amazon do not separate out profits and losses from their own streaming services. Alphabet reports only YouTube’s advertising revenue (which is down on last year). Subscriptions for YouTube Premium and YouTube TV are included in “other” — a huge category that also includes in-app purchases and sales of Fitbits.

Alphabet says the division’s growth is led by YouTube. Given the increase was less than 2 per cent in the nine months ending September 30, this is not particularly impressive.

Look at results published by rivals and the brutal impact of competition is clear. Disney’s “direct to consumer” media and entertainment unit — aka streaming — reported an operating loss of $4bn on revenue of just under $20bn in the 12 months to October 2. Charging low monthly rates while buying pricey programmes is expensive.

Alphabet has the funds to compete. The NFL deal is equal to about 3 per cent of free cash flow last year. Using sport to lock in long-term subscribers may mitigate the slump in US streaming audiences that Netflix reports. YouTube has a seven-year contract with the NFL.

But sports broadcasting is not an automatic money-spinner. See BT’s exit from the game. The scrummage of competitors will make it tough for YouTube to break through.


Soupjoe5 OP t1_j13ulgj wrote


  • Roscosmos said it would place publicly traded bonds on Russia’s financial markets throughout next year

  • Russia’s space agency will borrow up to 50 billion roubles (US$710 million) in 2023

Russia’s space agency will borrow up to 50 billion roubles (US$710 million) in 2023 to fund a mass satellite-building programme to catch up with the United States and China, the organisation said on Tuesday.

Roscosmos said it would place publicly traded bonds on Russia’s financial markets throughout next year to boost its capacity to produce and launch satellites both for the Russian government and private companies.

The space agency has this year launched a number of satellites into orbit, including for Russia’s GLONASS radio-based satellite navigation system – seen as a potential rival for to US global position system (GPS) – and Iran’s Khayyam imaging satellite, a launch that raised fears in the West it could boost Russia’s military capabilities in Ukraine.

Roscosmos head Yuri Borisov said in an interview with the Vedomosti business paper on Wednesday that the organisation planned to fund the building of two factories to produce satellites.

Russia currently produces around 15 satellites a year, Borisov said, far behind the United States and China.

“Elon Musk produces six spacecraft a day and plans to create as many as 42,000 satellites by 2022. China’s production capacity is over 500 satellites a year,” Vedomosti quoted Borisov as saying.

Borisov wants Russia to produce 200 to 250 satellites a year by the end of 2025.

Roscosmos is currently scrambling to find a solution to a coolant leak on its Soyuz spacecraft docked at the International Space Station that saw a planned spacewalk by Russian cosmonauts cancelled.


Soupjoe5 OP t1_j10kv00 wrote


For decades Apple counted China as its most important assembly base, but that winning formula reached a crisis point this year. In the spring, key MacBook and iPhone production sites in Shanghai faced massive disruptions due to a monthslong COVID lockdown. In November, Apple warned of delays in deliveries of its premium iPhone 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max for the holiday season, citing pandemic-related labor shortages at its most important production base in Zhengzhou, Henan province.

Chiu Shih-fang, a supply chain analyst with the Taiwan Institute of Economic Research, says the changes to the tech supply chain are irreversible.

"In the past, most people in the industry always hoped that the situation could ease and things could go back to the good old days," Chiu told Nikkei Asia. "But this time, they realize there is no way of turning back and no matter what they need to prepare alternatives beyond China."

China's strict COVID policies have accelerated the shift, and it is now happening faster than industry executives and market analysts thought a few years ago, Chiu said, adding that intensifying U.S.-China tensions were also playing a role.

"No one wants their businesses to be trapped and hit badly just because their production is too concentrated in one place. From big to small, suppliers now need to have some solutions for facing this new global reality."

Apple's diversification to Vietnam started with AirPods, which went into mass production there in 2020. The company also shifted some iPads and Apple Watch production to the Southeast Asian country this year, Nikkei Asia first reported, and in October it announced it had started producing the iPhone 14 in India, only a few weeks after the release of the latest flagship phone.

Sources have told Nikkei Asia that Apple aims to significantly increase iPhone output from India this year and next, with the aim of turning the country into another key production base for the devices. Apple also aims to move some AirPods and Beats earphone production to India, Nikkei Asia earlier reported.

Apple did not respond to Nikkei Asia's request for comment. Foxconn declined to comment.


Soupjoe5 OP t1_j10krda wrote



iPhone maker aims to have 'out of China' production alternatives for key products

TAIPEI -- Apple plans to move some MacBook production to Vietnam for the first time next year as the U.S. tech group continues diversifying its production base away from China amid escalating tech tensions between Washington and Beijing.

Apple has tapped its top supplier, Taiwan's Foxconn, to start making MacBooks in the Southeast Asian nation as early as around May, sources briefed on the matter said. Apple has been working to add production sites outside of China for all of its major product lines, but doing so for the final one, the MacBook, has taken longer due to the complex supply chain needed for making laptop computers.

"After the MacBook production shifts, all of Apple's flagship products basically will have one more production location beyond China ... iPhones in India and MacBooks, the Apple Watch and iPads in Vietnam," one person with direct knowledge of the matter told Nikkei Asia. "What Apple wants now is an 'out of China' option for at least part of production for all of its products."

The company has been working on plans to move some MacBook manufacturing to Vietnam for nearly two years, and has set up a test production line in the country, Nikkei Asia reported earlier. Apple makes between 20 million and 24 million MacBooks annually, with production spread between bases in the Chinese cities of Chengdu, in Sichuan province, and Shanghai.

The shift to Vietnam comes amid not only rising geopolitical tensions but also production disruptions caused by China's zero-COVID policies and uncertainty from their sudden loosening in recent weeks. For China, the loss of its lock on MacBook production symbolizes the broader weakening of its position as the world's factory. Top electronics makers from Apple, HP and Dell, to Google and Meta have all made at least some plans to shift production and sourcing away from China since former U.S. President Donald Trump started a tariff war against the country.

Production of most U.S.-bound data center servers made for Google, Meta, Amazon and Microsoft, for example, has moved to Taiwan, Mexico or Thailand.

"Overall, China's benefits in terms of low-cost manufacturing are fading and many U.S. clients now want some production location alternatives outside of China," said an executive at Inventec, a key supplier to HP and Dell. "This is already an accelerating trend for almost all global brands and it will not likely change going forward."


Soupjoe5 OP t1_j0lmk87 wrote


UK companies that outsource their data to cloud providers must comply with the Financial Conduct Authority’s rules, including having a plan if the cloud computing firm faces an outage.

Some are concerned that the US tech companies’ growing presence in the infrastructure underpinning global financial markets may evolve into a greater challenge, including them becoming the exchanges themselves.

For now, they are looking to make money from selling the cloud infrastructure “so won’t be looking to compete with their clients, but long term they will want to harness the knowledge” and may therefore expand, said Beattie.

In October, the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority began seeking views on the role of Big Tech in finance.

Sheldon Mills, executive director of consumers and competition at the FCA, is assessing competitive threats and said: “This is vital when we consider the role of Big Tech firms in the provision of key technological infrastructure like cloud services.”

It is an assessment that points to how Big Tech may eventually look to build on this newfound interest in exchanges and their data. “Right now they need each other but long term, the friendly supplier could become a very big threat,” Beattie said.


Soupjoe5 OP t1_j0lmghq wrote


The cloud providers also see cosying up to the exchanges as helping to secure business with thousands of related financial companies. Nasdaq, for instance, has many infrastructure customers that rely on it for trading, clearing and settlement, which means they too will be relying on AWS.

“There are going to be opportunities for us to actually form new relationships,” said Scott Mullins, managing director of worldwide financial services at AWS. “There are some markets that we don’t have infrastructure in yet and we’ll have an opportunity to expand,” he added.

Beattie of MSP said: “The cloud providers definitely want to learn more about financial markets and the quid pro quo is that they get to stipulate a minimum spend on their platforms, thus guaranteeing future income. It was probably critical for Microsoft to get this sort of deal when their competitors already had something in the bag.”

The partnerships are non-exclusive — analysts say to avoid being caught in regulators’ crosshairs. Lawmakers are expected to be closely watching the creeping interest of Big Tech in global capital markets, especially since a handful of cloud computing firms run the majority of the market. Amazon, Microsoft and Google cloud computing services had a combined market share of 66 per cent globally in the third quarter of this year, according to Synergy Research Group.

The Bank of International Settlement warned in July that a growing reliance among financial institutions on cloud computing software supplied by a handful of Big Tech companies could have “systemic implications for the financial system”.

“The cloud has changed the idea of what a strategic [supplier] is,” said Lee Sustar, analyst at advisory company Forrester Research. “When the cloud becomes the vehicle for all your IT, that’s a qualitatively different type of challenge.”


Soupjoe5 OP t1_j0lmd9p wrote


One favourite function of the Bloomberg terminal is its messaging app. Microsoft and LSEG are aiming to create a new, unified chat and data platform by combining Microsoft’s Teams messaging system with the exchange’s analytics.

“People use Bloomberg primarily because of the chat function and creating that community ecosystem . . . that’s an important part of institutional financial markets,” said Ben Quinlan, chief executive of consultancy Quinlan and Associates. But he added that Bloomberg’s customers are sticky and eating into its market share has long been difficult.

One person close to LSEG said it would be wrong to think of this as the next phase in the terminal war. “Sure Microsoft will make the Eikon user interface better but that’s not the big prize, that war will never be won,” he person said, noting that Eikon generates a relatively small proportion of Refinitiv’s revenue, about $1bn.

Instead, this person said that the view inside LSEG was that terminal sales would decline because there are fewer human traders. The future fight was “data piping” via the cloud, feeding data into the computerised programmes that are doing the trading — and feeding data into the bespoke systems that banks build for themselves.

Here, Microsoft has the advantage of another product that has been around since the early 1980s: its Excel spreadsheet application. By integrating LSEG’s financial data into Excel, the companies intend to use algorithms to help analysts create financial models, charts and presentations all in one place inside Microsoft Office.

“It’s quite an ambitious set of proposals,” said Ian White, analyst at Autonomous Research, adding it would “make a competitive, better integrated tech offering that addresses some of the clunkiness”.

So what is in it for the tech groups? There is the financial aspect. Microsoft expects to generate $5bn in revenue through the 10-year partnership, with a $2.8bn minimum spend from LSEG guaranteed. Microsoft is also buying a 4 per cent stake in LSEG and taking a board seat.


Soupjoe5 OP t1_j0lm9ki wrote



Microsoft’s deal with London Stock Exchange Group follows moves by Amazon Web Services and Google into capital markets

Big Tech is cosying up to capital markets. The announcement this week of a partnership between Microsoft and the London Stock Exchange Group is the third such alliance to be formed in a little over a year.

In November 2021, Google spent $1bn and signed a 10-year cloud computing agreement with Chicago-based CME. Amazon Web Services and New York’s Nasdaq agreed a similar deal later that same month, and last week, Nasdaq completed moving one of its US options exchanges on to AWS.

For the exchanges, the advantages are clear. “We are building products together, we are going to market together,” said David Schwimmer, chief executive of LSEG. “This is about our data and analytics capability.”

The US software group will help LSEG shift its infrastructure to Microsoft’s Cloud, which will give it greater processing power and allow the company to package its data faster and more flexibly.

“Moving on to the cloud is very important as they have to enable themselves for the next generation of computing capability,” said Niki Beattie, chief executive of consultancy Market Structure Partners. She added that without this, “it will be hard to move forward at pace”.

LSEG’s data and analytics business is the linchpin of the company, generating £2.4bn in revenue in the first half of 2022. Its customers, which span fund managers and analysts to traders and investment bankers, use its data to make their decisions. LSEG says it has data on companies accounting for 99 per cent of the world’s market capitalisation, as well as price and economic figures from 165 countries.

“Microsoft has whizzy AI and algorithms, they have unique data, and they have the infrastructure to manipulate and create products with that. It’s reasonable to assume revenue growth,” said a top-20 LSEG investor.

Could the partnership also develop a “Bloomberg killer”? More than 40 years after Michael Bloomberg founded his data business, his eponymous terminal remains ubiquitous on trading floors. The rival Eikon product, which LSEG acquired through its $27bn acquisition of Refinitiv, trails in popularity.


Soupjoe5 OP t1_j0ll8d1 wrote


Executives from SpaceX and Blue Origin LLC were among the business, academic and non-profit leaders Vice President Kamala Harris named to serve on a National Space Council advisory group.

Harris said Friday that SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell, Blue Origin Chief Executive Officer Robert Smith and Ted Colbert, president and CEO of Boeing Defense, Space and Security were selected for the council’s Users Advisory Group, pending their official appointment by National Aeronautics and Space Administration chief, Bill Nelson.

The group will provide advice and recommendations to the National Space Council, which seeks to encourage government and private-sector cooperation to boost the nation’s space industry. The advisers are intended to ensure that the interests of industry and other non-government stakeholders have a voice on the council.

CEOs Jim Taiclet of Lockheed Martin Corp., Kathy Warden of Northrop Grumman Corp. and Salvatore Bruno of United Launch Alliance LLC will also be on the advisory panel, along with Rajeev Badyal, vice president of technology at Amazon Project Kuiper, Daniel Hastings, who heads the Department of Aeronautics & Astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Women in Aerospace Chairwoman Bridget Chatman.

President Joe Biden tasked the vice president with chairing the National Space Council last year.


Soupjoe5 OP t1_iye92ah wrote


“Some of the most critical technologies for a space program involve the ability to dock and rendezvous autonomously, accomplish maneuvers and in-space assembly,” said Goswami, all of which China aims to continue testing and improving.

But perhaps more importantly, permanent occupancy implies that China will build on its strategic goal of dominating the space between Earth and the moon, while training and equipping people to live in space. This will offer strategic insights into space biology, space weather and the long-term effects of long stays on the human body.

Last but not least, a sustained presence in space will also allow Chinese officials to prepare for landing astronauts on the moon and compete with NASA’s Artemis program.

So why the security concerns?

Although Beijing insists that it plans to use space for peaceful purposes and scientific achievements, the emergence of an undemocratic and autocratic China as a space power is seen as a potential security risk to other countries, particularly given the dual-use nature of the space technologies being developed, the PLA’s prominence in the domestic space industry and Beijing’s lack of transparency.

Compounding these concerns, said CSIS’s Bingen, are national intelligence laws that compel civil and commercial enterprises to support intelligence-gathering efforts and China’s ruling Communist Party’s “civil-military” fusion strategy, which blurs any line between military and civilian space programs.

“While Beijing pursues these exploration programs it is also building out a vast array of ground- and space-based anti-satellite weapons, including missiles like the one tested in 2007 that created dangerous orbital debris that will remain in orbit and threaten both our space stations and other satellites for decades to come.”

These concerns were confirmed by the U.S. intelligence community in the latest threat assessment report.

“Counterspace operations will be integral to potential military campaigns by the PLA, and China has counterspace weapons capabilities intended to target U.S. and allied satellites,” it said, warning that the Chinese military is also integrating space services — such as satellite reconnaissance and communications — into its weapons and command-and-control systems to erode the U.S. military’s information advantage.


Soupjoe5 OP t1_iye8z7f wrote


Earlier this year, Beijing released a White Paper outlining its plans for space science, exploration, technology and propulsion over the coming five years, while stating that the country’s space industry “serves the overall national strategy.”

The paper lays out a broad array of priorities for spaceflight, including upgrading and expanding launch vehicles, building out satellite constellations, operating the Tiangong space station and planning crewed lunar landings, as well as exploring the moon, Mars and beyond.

Independent scholar and author Namrata Goswami said that the thrust of China's space program is to accomplish resource utilization, including asteroid mining, lunar resource extraction, nuclear fusion and reusable rockets, while establishing a strategic presence on the Earth Moon Lagrange points, or positions in space where gravity and centrifugal force balance each other.

“China's space program has shifted the narrative of space from Cold War, Western-led concepts like 'space is all about prestige' to demonstrating that space is about the economic benefits it brings,” said Goswami.

Beijing has announced several ambitious plans for the coming years, including collecting near-Earth asteroid samples and conducting two lunar polar exploration missions by 2025. It also plans to launch a Mars sample-return mission, send an unmanned probe to Jupiter and land astronauts on the moon by 2030.

The country also wants to develop reusable carrier rockets by 2035 before establishing an initially robotic — and later intermittently crewed — research base on the moon by 2036 and one on Mars by 2045, the latter of which could benefit from China’s plans to build a nuclear-powered space shuttle by 2040.

“China is building a ‘Silk Road to Space’ and I have no doubt that they are capable of doing this,” said Head at Brown University.

But where does the Tiangong space station fit into these plans?

Although only about 20% the mass of the ISS, experts say the Tiangong will not only be used as a platform for space science experiments but also as a tool for soft power, prestige and potentially a means of attracting partners for space cooperation.

“The completion of the station demonstrates that China is a space power with the technical advancements, operational proficiency and resource commitment to sustain a long-term human presence in space,” said Bingen, adding that the breakthrough comes amid uncertainty about the future of the ISS.

Moreover, the Tiangong will enable China to build an entire low-Earth orbit logistical system, including cargo transfers vital for life support away from Earth.


Soupjoe5 OP t1_iye8wfb wrote


“The Chinese improved in some areas but they saved a lot of time and money using Russian technology,” he said.

In recent decades, the Chinese program has developed at an incredibly fast pace, with Beijing investing heavily to turn the country into a comprehensive space power behind only the U.S. in terms of accomplishments and capabilities.

The overarching aim is to transform China into an “all-round world-leading country in space equipment and technology” by 2045, according to Chinese state media.

“China's space program has been growing by leaps and bounds,” said Brown University professor James Head, pointing to the country’s achievements in human and robotic exploration and a string of successes on the moon and Mars.

Andrew Jones, a Finland-based journalist who covers China's space program, has a similar view.

“China's long-term vision for and investment in space has paid dividends in recent years, with notable achievements, including the first-ever landing on the far side of the moon, a successful rover landing on Mars and the development of space infrastructure for communications, Earth observation and navigation and positioning.”

China, which built its own space station in less than two years, now has an independent navigation system (Beidou) and the ability to support humans in low-Earth orbit. It also launched more satellites last year than any other nation.

In the coming months Beijing plans to launch the Xuntian space telescope, which is reported to have a field of view 300 to 350 times that of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.

“The Chinese have been able to achieve what they said they would do in pretty short order,” said professor Quentin Parker, director of the Laboratory for Space Research at the University of Hong Kong.

“They plan well, they execute well. They learn carefully, and they are doing an exemplary job in demonstrating how to emerge as a major spacefaring nation,” Parker said.

An ambitious agenda

But as experts point out, this might be just the beginning.

“China’s space ambitions come directly from the very top as part of President Xi Jinping's space dream,” said Kari Bingen, director of the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).


Soupjoe5 OP t1_iye8v7q wrote



China has successfully sent a new team of astronauts to its Tiangong space station, a significant achievement that not only marks the country’s first in-orbit crew handover but possibly also the beginning of continuous occupancy at the station.

The rendezvous in space marks a milestone for China’s rapidly advancing space program as Beijing aims to catch up with and eventually surpass the United States as the dominant power in space.

The three-man crew arrived at the space station Wednesday aboard a Shenzhou-15 spacecraft to take over from three colleagues who had arrived in June and are set to return next week.

The new team will stay for six months and focus on installing equipment around the newly completed, three-module station, which will host a variety of experiments in near-zero gravity and become only the second permanently inhabited space outpost after the NASA-led International Space Station.

The Tiangong station is set to operate for about a decade in low-Earth orbit, while the ISS is expected to conclude operations by 2030.

While Wednesday’ success has given the Chinese nation reason to celebrate as it grapples with COVID-19 lockdowns and protests, there are concerns in the United States and elsewhere about the security implications of China’s ambitious space program.

“Beijing is working to match or exceed U.S. capabilities in space to gain the military, economic, and prestige benefits that Washington has accrued from space leadership,” the U.S. intelligence community said in this year’s threat assessment report.

But just how advanced is China’s space program?

The Chinese program started in the late 1950s and the country launched its first satellite in 1970 using the Long March-1 rocket. The program has long been tied to the military, with the Long March rocket series being closely linked to Beijing’s efforts to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles.

China is no exception in allowing a role for the military in space, but unlike the United States and its partners, the China National Space Administration, the country’s main civilian space agency, is heavily influenced by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

To speed up program development, China also relied on technologies made in other countries, particularly Russia, in the field of human spaceflight, said Pablo de Leon, chair of the Department of Space Studies at the University of North Dakota. De Leon pointed to similarities between Russian and Chinese space suits and re-entry vehicles, among other things.


Soupjoe5 OP t1_iy5nkqm wrote


2 minute readNovember 28, 20226:48 AM UTCLast Updated ago China set to launch Shenzhou-15 spacecraft to its space station on Tuesday Reuters

[1/2] Astronauts Fei Junlong, Deng Qingming and Zhang Lu attend a news conference before the Shenzhou-15 spaceflight mission to build China's space station, at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, near Jiuquan, Gansu province, China November 28, 2022. cnsphoto via REUTERS

BEIJING, Nov 28 (Reuters) - China will launch the Shenzhou-15 spacecraft to its space station at 11:08 p.m. (1508 GMT) on Nov. 29, the China Manned Space Agency said on Monday, the final mission in the country's plan to complete the crewed orbital outpost.

Onboard will be three male astronauts: Fei Junlong, Deng Qingming and Zhang Lu, the agency said at a news conference.

The space station will be handed over to them within a week by the three astronauts who arrived in early June.

"During the stay, the Shenzhou-15 crew will welcome the visiting Tianzhou-6 cargo ship and hand over the Shenzhou-16 manned spaceship, and are planning to return to China's Dongfeng landing site in May next year," said Ji Qiming, a spokesperson at the agency.

"Currently, the space station combination is in stable status with all equipment functioning well, and ready for the rendezvous, docking and the crew handover," Ji added.

In April 2021, China began construction of the three-module space station with the launch of the Tianhe module, the main living quarters for astronauts.

In July and November it launched the remaining two laboratory modules, Wentian and Mengtian, where scientific experiments will be performed.

The completion of the space station, designed for a lifespan of at least 10 years, will be a milestone in China's ambitions in low-earth orbit, with NASA's aging ISS potentially ceasing operations by the end of the decade.


Soupjoe5 OP t1_ixulp6k wrote


The researchers claim that their approach could be used to train AI to carry out other tasks. To begin with, it could be used to for bots that use a keyboard and mouse to navigate websites, book flights or buy groceries online. But in theory it could be used to train robots to carry out physical, real-world tasks by copying first-person video of people doing those things. “It’s plausible,” says Stone.

Matthew Gudzial at the University of Alberta, Canada, who has used videos to teach AI the rules of games like Super Mario Bros, does not think it will happen any time soon, however. Actions in games like Minecraft and Super Mario Bros. are performed by pressing buttons. Actions in the physical world are far more complicated and harder for a machine to learn. "It unlocks a whole mess of new research problems," says Gudzial.

“This work is another testament to the power of scaling up models and training on massive datasets to get good performance,” says Natasha Jaques, who works on multi-agent reinforcement learning at Google and the University of California, Berkeley.

Large internet-sized data sets will certainly unlock new capabilities for AI, says Jaques. “We've seen that over and over again, and it's a great approach.” But OpenAI places a lot of faith in the power of large data sets alone, she says: “Personally, I'm a little more skeptical that data can solve any problem.”

Still, Baker and his colleagues think that collecting more than a million hours of Minecraft videos will make their AI even better. It’s probably the best Minecraft-playing bot yet, says Baker: “But with more data and bigger models I would expect it to feel like you're watching a human playing the game, as opposed to a baby AI trying to mimic a human.”


Soupjoe5 OP t1_ixulokm wrote


“Video is a training resource with a lot of potential,” says Peter Stone, executive director of Sony AI America, who has previously worked on imitation learning.

Imitation learning is an alternative to reinforcement learning, in which a neural network learns to perform a task from scratch via trial and error. This is the technique behind many of the biggest AI breakthroughs in the last few years. It has been used to train models that can beat humans at games, control a fusion reactor, and discover a faster way to do fundamental math.

The problem is that reinforcement learning works best for tasks that have a clear goal, where random actions can lead to accidental success. Reinforcement learning algorithms reward those accidental successes to make them more likely to happen again.

But Minecraft is a game with no clear goal. Players are free to do what they like, wandering a computer-generated world, mining different materials and combining them to make different objects.

Minecraft’s open-endedness makes it a good environment for training AI. Baker was one of the researchers behind Hide & Seek, a project in which bots were let loose in a virtual playground where they used reinforcement learning to figure out how to cooperate and use tools to win simple games. But the bots soon outgrew their surroundings. “The agents kind of took over the universe, there was nothing else for them to do” says Baker. “We wanted to expand it and we thought Minecraft was a great domain to work in.”

They’re not alone. Minecraft is becoming an important testbed for new AI techniques. MineDojo, a Minecraft environment with dozens of predesigned challenges, won an award at this year’s NeurIPS, one of the biggest AI conferences.

Using VPT, OpenAI’s bot was able to carry out tasks that would have been impossible using reinforcement learning alone, such as crafting planks and turning them into a table, which involves around 970 consecutive actions. Even so, they found that the best results came from using imitation learning and reinforcement learning together. Taking a bot trained with VPT and fine-tuning it with reinforcement learning allowed it to carry out tasks involving more than 20,000 consecutive actions.


Soupjoe5 OP t1_ixulnyj wrote



Online videos are a vast and untapped source of training data—and OpenAI says it has a new way to use it.

OpenAI has built the best Minecraft-playing bot yet by making it watch 70,000 hours of video of people playing the popular computer game. It showcases a powerful new technique that could be used to train machines to carry out a wide range of tasks by binging on sites like YouTube, a vast and untapped source of training data.

The Minecraft AI learned to perform complicated sequences of keyboard and mouse clicks to complete tasks in the game, such as chopping down trees and crafting tools. It’s the first bot that can craft so-called diamond tools, a task that typically takes good human players 20 minutes of high-speed clicking—or around 24,000 actions.

The result is a breakthrough for a technique known as imitation learning, in which neural networks are trained how to perform tasks by watching humans do them. Imitation learning can be used to train AI to control robot arms, drive cars or navigate webpages.

There is a vast amount of video online showing people doing different tasks. By tapping into this resource, the researchers hope to do for imitation learning what GPT-3 did for large language models. “In the last few years we’ve seen the rise of this GPT-3 paradigm where we see amazing capabilities come from big models trained on enormous swathes of the internet,” says Bowen Baker at OpenAI, one of the team behind the new Minecraft bot. “A large part of that is because we’re modeling what humans do when they go online.”

The problem with existing approaches to imitation learning is that video demonstrations need to be labeled at each step: doing this action makes this happen, doing that action makes that happen, and so on. Annotating by hand in this way is a lot of work, and so such datasets tend to be small. Baker and his colleagues wanted to find a way to turn the millions of videos that are available online into a new dataset.

The team’s approach, called Video Pre-Training (VPT), gets around the bottleneck in imitation learning by training another neural network to label videos automatically. They first hired crowdworkers to play Minecraft, and recorded their keyboard and mouse clicks alongside the video from their screens. This gave the researchers 2000 hours of annotated Minecraft play, which they used to train a model to match actions to onscreen outcome. Clicking a mouse button in a certain situation makes the character swing its axe, for example.

The next step was to use this model to generate action labels for 70,000 hours of unlabelled video taken from the internet and then train the Minecraft bot on this larger dataset.


Soupjoe5 OP t1_ixrzgga wrote


If SEI’s project, dubbed CASSIOPeiA, goes ahead, a cost modelling analysis by consultancy Frazer-Nash shows that the LCOE (levelised cost of electricity), used to compare different methods of electricity generation on a consistent basis, falls between £37 and £74/MWh, which is competitive with terrestrial renewable technologies, the organisation said.

Where the technology benefits greatly, is its availability. Compared with solar panels on the ground which are usually able to process 15–22% of solar energy into usable energy as conditions are never perfect, a solar power satellite in GEO can see the Sun for well over 99% of the time.

The idea of solar farms in space could get another big boost as ministers at the European Space Agency are meeting this week to discuss whether to fund a three-year preparatory programme known as SOLARIS. If approved, ESA said it would work in conjunction with European industry, to assess the feasibility, benefits, implementation options, commercial opportunities and risks of SBSP as a contributor to terrestrial energy decarbonisation. A decision whether to proceed with a full-blown project could then be made in 2025.

"The idea of space-based solar power is no longer science fiction," Sanjay Vijendran, SOLARIS’ lead scientist told the BBC.

"The potential is there and we now need to really understand the technological path before a decision can be made to go ahead with trying to build something in space."


Soupjoe5 OP t1_ixrzam7 wrote



A PLAN to use satellites in Earth’s orbit to harvest the Sun’s energy from space and beam it down to Earth using microwaves could be up and running as early as 2030, with the first-of-a-kind operational system delivering power into the grid by 2040.

The concept of harvesting solar energy in space is not a new one, but until now, high launch costs and limited technology have hampered progress, said Space Energy Initiative (SEI), the organisation behind the solar farm project.

However, recent developments in reusable rockets, and more modular SPS concepts, coupled with benefits that include clean, continuous base-load energy day and night, through all seasons and weather, and with much lower land usage than conventional renewables, is helping the idea gain traction. And with the potential of each satellite to beam around 2.9 GW of net power to a receiving antenna at a fixed point on Earth, it’s a concept that has even attracted the attention of the the UK Government. In July ministers announced that £3m (US$3.6m) in funding would be allocated to space-based solar power (SBSP) projects after confirming the engineering feasibility of the concept through an independent study.

But, to harvest energy comparable in power output to a nuclear power station takes a satellite that is incredibly large. According to SEI a typical system comprises a constellation of massive, kilometre-scale satellites 38,000 km above the ground in a geostationary orbit. At this range the massive satellites should not cause any problems with light pollution, SEI said.

Each has very lightweight solar panels and a system of mirrors to concentrate sunlight onto the panels, generating around 3.4 GW of electricity on the satellite. This is converted into RF microwave radiation, with an efficiency of 85%.

To allow the microwave beam to lock onto the correct point, an encrypted pilot beam is transmitted from the ground to the satellite. The maximum beam intensity is <250 W/m2, less than a quarter of the maximum sun intensity at the equator, and the system will be designed so that it is safe in the event that humans or birds or animals strayed into the beam, said SEI.

The ground rectifying antenna or “rectenna” as it is called then converts the electromagnetic energy into direct current electricity which passes through an inverter which delivers a net 2 GW of AC power into the grid.


Soupjoe5 OP t1_ixr3v8m wrote


The Meta team’s crucial contribution was therefore to augment reinforcement learning with natural-language processing. Large language models, trained on vast amounts of data to predict deleted words, have an uncanny ability to mimic the patterns of real language and say things that humans might. For Cicero, the team started with a pre-trained model with a baseline understanding of language, and fine-tuned this on dialogues from more than 40,000 past games, to teach it Diplomacy-specific patterns of speech.

To play the game, Cicero looks at the board, remembers past moves and makes an educated guess as to what everyone else will want to do next. Then it tries to work out what makes sense for its own move, by choosing different goals, simulating what might happen, and also simulating how all the other players will react to that.

Once it has come up with a move, it must work out what words to say to the others. To that end, the language model spits out possible messages, throws away the bad ideas and anything that is actual gobbledygook, and chooses the ones, appropriate to the recipients concerned, that its experience and algorithms suggest will most persuasively further its agenda.

Cicero, then, can negotiate, convince, co-operate and compete. Seasoned Diplomacy players will, though, want to know something else: has it learned how to stab? Stabbing—saying one thing and doing another (especially, attacking a current ally) is seen by many as Diplomacy’s defining feature. But, though Cicero did, “strategically withhold information from players in gameplay”, it did not actually stab any of its opponents. Perhaps it was this final lack of Machiavellian ruthlessness which explains why it was only in the top 10%, and not victor ludorum.


Soupjoe5 OP t1_ixr3t29 wrote



This time it is one that involves negotiation and double-dealing

Backgammon was an easy win. Chess, harder. Go, harder still. But for some aficionados it is only now that artificial intelligence (ai) can truly say it has joined the game-playing club—for it has proved it can routinely beat humans at Diplomacy.

For those unfamiliar with the game, its board is a map of Europe just before the first world war (except that, for no readily apparent reason, Montenegro is missing). Participants, seven ideally, each take on the role of one of the Great Powers: Austria-Hungary, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and Turkey. Each has armies and navies, and geographically based resources to support them, and can use its forces to capture the territory of neighbours, thus gaining the means to raise more forces while depriving others of the same.

The trick is that, at least at the beginning, players will get nowhere without making agreements to collaborate—yet they are not bound by the game’s rules to keep to these agreements. Only when orders for the movement of troops and vessels, which have to be written down, are revealed, does a player discover who really is a friend, or an enemy.

Cicero, a program devised by a group of Mark Zuckerberg’s employees who dub themselves the Meta Fundamental ai Research Diplomacy Team, proved an adept pupil. As the team describe in Science, when they entered their creation into an online Diplomacy league, in which it played 40 games, it emerged as one of the top 10% of players—and no one rumbled that it was not human.

In all past ai game-playing projects the program has learned by reinforcement. Playing repeatedly against itself or another version of itself, it acts first at random, then more selectively. Eventually, it learns how to achieve the desired goal. Cicero was taught this way, too. But that was only part of its training. Besides having the reasoning to plan a winning strategy, a successful Diplomacy player must also possess the communicative ability to implement it.


Soupjoe5 OP t1_ixr3c5b wrote


In the 1990s, Dr. John Hunter led what was known as Super HARP, which was a methane-and-hydrogen powered ballistic launch system that achieved exit velocities of 6,700 mph (10,800 kph). Rival startup Green Launch asserts that laboratory-based hydrogen systems have achieved exit velocities of 25,000 mph (39,600 kph) and that a full-scale projectile speed of 9,000 mph (14,400 kph) is accessible. In fact, a December 2021 test achieved exit velocities of 4,400 mph (7,200 kph): nearly matching SpinLaunch’s desired full-scale goals. While SpinLaunch will require at least two extra stages to reach space, Green Launch aims to reach the Kármán line that defines the start of space, 100 kilometers (62 miles) up, from the projectile launch alone.

There’s no doubt that there’s a lot of truth to the old saying that “fortune favors the bold,” and SpinLaunch is certainly a bold idea. However, the laws of physics pose numerous obstacles for those who would build high-powered, rapidly moving large-scale apparatuses with moving parts. In the 1990s, the Department of Energy attempted to build enormous centrifuges for accelerating large objects, but they always began to break down at speeds of ~3,100 mph (5,000 kph): about 60% of the speeds that SpinLaunch aims to achieve. The challenges before the team aiming to reach their stated goals are enormous.

That isn’t to say that SpinLaunch is impossible or that its concepts violate the laws of physics; they do not. However, there’s a very big distinction between what’s physically possible and what’s physically practical. It’s not clear that, with three times the diameter of the current prototype, the desired launch parameters can be met. Even if they are, it remains to be seen if the later-stages required to take the launched payloads to orbit can operate after experiencing the extreme SpinLaunch spin-up and launch and drag conditions. It’s important to explore a variety of options in the quest to reach space, but scaling up a prototype is rarely as easy as one might initially think.


Soupjoe5 OP t1_ixr39vn wrote


Can the launch vehicle/payload survive this set of conditions and remain fully operational and undamaged? It’s possible, but it’s never been done before. Again, this is an unprecedented obstacle that must be overcome.

Problem #4: The atmospheric drag force experienced by the payload will be tremendous.

If you hold your hand out of a car window when you’re traveling at 100 kph (62 mph), how much of a drag force will it experience relative to traveling at half that speed: 50 kph (31 mph)? The answer isn’t twice as much force, as one might expect, but rather four times as much force. The drag force you experience is proportional to the cross-sectional area of the object (your hand, in this case) but also to the velocity you’re moving at squared.

Normally, rockets start out moving slowly near Earth’s surface — where the atmosphere is thickest — and pick up speed as they continue accelerating up through the atmosphere. The highest speeds are achieved at the highest altitudes: where the air is thinnest.

Not so with SpinLaunch; in fact, the reverse is true. The payload will be moving at its fastest where the atmosphere is the thickest, which maximizes speed and energy losses due to drag. This will also heat up the payload substantially, and in ways that no payload that’s ever made it to space before has experienced. The biggest problem with Project HARP, back when it was being run, is that there was no payload that could be launched that would be capable, at its high altitude, of taking it the rest of the way to space. Can SpinLaunch overcome that problem? It remains to be demonstrated.

Problem #5: Gun-based ballistic launchers can achieve much greater exit speeds than SpinLaunch.

Although it’s a brilliant idea to try and cut out the first stage of a rocket, which after all is where the greatest fuel expenditures come from, SpinLaunch’s goals are impressive. With a launch speed of 5,000 mph (8,100 kph), it will certainly reach high altitudes on its own.

But why pioneer a technology that requires a large amount of expense, infrastructure, and moving parts — as well as requiring your payload to endure tens of thousands of gs for tens of minutes — when you can just scale up what we’ve already learned from Project HARP?


Soupjoe5 OP t1_ixr35gw wrote


At its full-scale size and with a desired exit speed of 5,000 mph (8,100 kph), that translates into a peak centripetal acceleration, just before the payload is launched, of somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 gs, where one g is the acceleration due to gravity at Earth’s surface. The payload must ramp up to this peak acceleration over long periods of time — something like ~30 minutes — and survive it with all systems intact, including the on-board rocket system, in order to reach orbit. This represents a peak acceleration that’s eight times what the current prototype experiences.

Such conditions have never been met to date; this is a tremendous obstacle to be overcome.

Problem #2: Traditional liquid-based rocket fuel cannot be used.

It’s always preferable to build upon already-existing technologies than it is to have to invent something entirely new, and yet the latter is very much what’s in store for a SpinLaunch payload. The reason is simple: if you have a liquid-based fuel on board, you need a plumbing system to contain and control it; this is exactly the type of system that will not survive the spin-up accelerations that SpinLaunch requires.

This means that solid rocket fuel will need to be used instead: something with the hardness and durability of something like formica. In principle, this can be done, but it represents a substantial obstacle toward reaching space.

While solid-propellant rockets offer a number of advantages over liquid-propellant ones, those advantages include stability, durability, and reliability. Unfortunately, however, they have lowered efficiencies and are less controllable than liquid propellant alternatives, which is why solid-fuel rockets are primarily used in military armaments but liquid-fuel rockets are typically used for spaceflight. Even if this difficulty can be overcome, the limitations of solid-fuel applications will inherently limit the mass of the payloads that can be delivered with SpinLaunch.

Problem #3: Piercing the mylar sheet preserving SpinLaunch’s vacuum could destroy the payload.

Do you remember the unfortunate and tragic Space Shuttle Columbia disaster? When Columbia attempted atmospheric re-entry, the spacecraft catastrophically broke apart, killing all astronauts on board. The reason the shuttle disintegrated in the atmosphere, however, was simply a small, lightweight piece of foam insulation that struck a portion of the craft at very high speeds. That’s a key concept in physics: the amount of kinetic energy that something possesses — and hence, the amount of damage it can cause in a collision — is proportional to its mass, but proportional to its speed squared.

With an exit velocity of 5,000 miles-per-hour as opposed to the 1,000 miles-per-hour of the current prototype, that means:

  • the launch vehicle will strike the mylar sheet with 25 times the kinetic energy of current tests,

  • the mylar sheet will impart 25 times the amount of energy as current tests to the payload,

  • and the transition from the payload traveling through vacuum to traveling through Earth’s atmosphere means “hitting a wall” of atmosphere that the payload will strike with 25 times the amount of force that the current prototype experiences.