Science and Technology links (September 15th, 2017)

An actual robot that can write in Japanese passed university entrance tests in Japan. How well did it do? It bested 80% of all human candidates. It is not good enough to enter the very best Japanese university, but it is good enough to enter in many other universities. The robot’s artificial intelligence shows better reading comprehension, as measured by the tests, than most human beings. The lead designer stresses that the robot does not really understand what it reads, but then it seems that something like 30% of high school students, in Japan, can’t pass basic reading comprehension tests. I stress that the robot had to use the same forms that the student used. It had to write with a pen.

China uses facial scanners to monitor university dorms. To enter the dorms, students must have their card and they must be recognized by the camera.

This week, Apple released the iPhone X. You unlock the phone through facial recognition (by looking at the phone). The new phones have a new processor, the A11 Bionic. According to some reports, it matches recent high-end Intel chips in performance, for both single-threaded and multi-threaded performance. It is hard to say whether this comparison is meaningful, but the results do indicate that it is a significantly faster processor than what the older iPhone 7 uses (Apple refers to a 30% gain). The term “bionic” is a reference to the support, in silicon, for machine-learning (or AI) code. Also, Apple took to designing its own graphics processors, instead of licensing an external design. Apple also released a version of its watch that can be used to make phone calls, without relying on a nearby phone.

Another point worth stressing is that the new iPhones are dropping support for 32-bit applications, at the hardware level. It might allow Apple to optimize the silicon somewhat, though I am unclear as to how much of a benefit this move provides in terms of performance and/or power usage. In any case, this means that it is all 64-bit applications from now on. In comparison, Microsoft Windows is still available in a 32-bit edition.

The current therapies for tooth decay are rather invasive. Scientists in Belfast believes that tooth decay could be reversed using the body’s own repair mechanism, using aspirin.

The next step is to go and try to figure out how you are going to apply the aspirin to the teeth, to regenerate the dentine and to replace the need for fillings.

And before you try it: putting an actual aspirin on your tooth won’t work.

Wired reports that we have achieved a breakthrough in human-computer interface. Using an armband, you can interact with your computer which implies that you can type on a keyboard without having an actual keyboard. This product from CTRL-Labs sounds like a more powerful product than the Myo armband that you can get cheaply on Amazon. However, the CTRL-Labs armband is unreleased and the Wired article reads a bit like an ad.

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