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Gaming in colour: uncovering video games’ black pioneers | Games

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In the 1970s, in the fledgling days of the video games industry, an engineer named Gerald “Jerry” Lawson designed one of the earliest game consoles, the Channel F, and also led the team that invented the game cartridge, a defining innovation in how games were made and sold. His son, Andersen Lawson, recalls that he was often working on gaming projects in the garage of their family home in Santa Clara, California. “There have been conversations recently about the struggles he might have had that were related to his colour,” he says. “Was it difficult [for him]? Yes, I’m quite certain. But I never heard any grumblings from him. And I’m also certain that he earned his respect … My father was a person of colour and I think that would inspire young people today to jump in and help move the industry along.”

Black people, and especially black women, are still underrepresented in the video games industry. The Independent Game Developers’ Association records that only 2% of US game developers identify as black; in the UK, meanwhile, according to UKIE’s 2020 census of the entire industry, 10% of its workers are black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME). But black innovators such as Jerry Lawson have been present and influential since the earliest days of the video games industry – and there is not enough recognition for their achievements.

Jerry Lawson after retirement.
Jerry Lawson after retirement. Photograph: Courtesy the Lawson family

Lawson was featured in Netflix’s High Score documentary series on the history of video games last year. Born in New York in 1940, he developed a strong interest in electronics during his youth, when he often fixed his neighbours’ small appliances as a hobby. This influenced his decision to become an engineer, and after moving to California, he became a member of Silicon Valley’s Homebrew Computer Club, a hobbyist collective that included Apple co-founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak among its members. It was his work as an engineer at San Jose-based Fairchild Semiconductor, though, that was truly pioneering. As a side project, he created a coin-op arcade game called Demolition Derby, and as a result he was approached by his bosses to become the lead engineer in the company’s new gaming division. He died from complications of diabetes in 2011, aged 70.

After moving on from Fairchild in 1980, Lawson founded Video Soft, which created games for the Atari 2600. The games were never publicly released, however, and following the notorious North American video game crash of 1983, he shut up shop in 1984 and worked as a consulting engineer thereafter. “Another company had the idea for the console but it was Fairchild that commercialised it,” says Andersen Lawson. “My dad was the person responsible for putting the team together … and they were able to achieve something that has been long since forgotten.”

Lawson’s Demolition Derby arcade game.
Lawson’s Demolition Derby arcade game. Photograph: ArcadeImages/Alamy

New York-born Ed Smith, meanwhile, is a retired engineer who helped develop APF Electronics’ Imagination Machine, a hybrid console and home computer system. Companies such as APF expanded into gaming in the 70s and early 80s, providing opportunities for talented engineers. “As a black person, it was more about having the opportunity to be gainfully employed, no matter what area of work I was doing,” Smith tells me. “I had a child at a young age and the biggest thing for me was to get a good job. Luckily, I got into the field of technology and that was the point from which everything else just flowed.”

As well as engineering, his work on the machine included developing schematic diagrams and game testing. Smith’s innovative work at APF was deeply influential to future generations, but the company itself did not withstand the video game crash. “I thought our game would be one of many in the marketplace for years to come… my expectations were that I would be in the industry for the long term; the reality was that after the market tanked, I had to go and work in other areas,” he says.

Eventually, Smith found long-term work in tech sales and retired about two years ago to focus on writing Imagine That!, a book about his life. It recounts his struggles as a young black man in 1960s America. “We had our share of things that caused us to go out and to protest at that time. And it was pretty much the same things that we’re dealing with today – which is unfortunate,” he adds.

Muriel Tramis.
Happy creativity … Muriel Tramis. Photograph: Coktel Vision

A third black innovator from the early days of the video games industry is Muriel Tramis, who is considered to be the first black female video game designer. She lives in France but grew up on the Caribbean island of Martinique, in the Lesser Antilles, and began her career as an engineer, programming military drones. She first made her mark on video games while working at French developer Coktel Vision, which she joined in 1986.

Tramis says that this was her happiest time, professionally speaking. “I had found a way to combine IT and literary creativity,” she told the Guardian. “My editor entrusted me with the project management of his adventure games because my engineering training allowed me to understand the technical aspects of development, programming of interactions, and integration of images and sound. He was of Armenian origin and probably for this reason, was very open-minded to diversity.”

Méwilo, the 1987 Atari game that Tramis wrote and directed in collaboration with writer Patrick Chamoiseau, drew on Martinique’s rich history. She says: “When I wanted to create my first script, I wanted it to be in the style of a historical novel. It’s natural that I was inspired by the island’s history, because it was unknown, or poorly known, to the rest of the world and had all the ingredients to create intrigue, drama and mystery. The history of the Antilles is part of the history of France, but this region has known the pain of slavery and colonisation. This is the origin of many traumas which are visible in Creole society and mixed societies in general.”

Tramis left Coktel Vision in 2003, but thinks fondly of her time there. “I liked the period so much that after a detour through virtual reality applied to urban planning, I am about to create my own video game development studio,” she says. “About 30 years after my first game, I am working on a future story.” Her upcoming game features black heroes and shows how skin-colour prejudice is the origin of present-day discrimination.

Tramis’s game Méwilo, 1987, from French developer Coktel Vision.
Tramis’s game Méwilo, 1987, from French developer Coktel Vision. Photograph: Coktel Vision

She was awarded the Légion d’honneur in 2018 and says it was an honour not just for herself but for her friends, family, her country and the “sisters” across the world, whom she hopes to inspire. Tramis is keen to encourage more women into technology and science, given the skills shortage in Europe: if women represent 50% of digital users, “they must also be 50% of designers, engineers and technicians”.

Though names like Lawson, Smith and Tramis do sometimes show up in video game history books, the contributions of many other black people in the fledgling days of the industry have gone entirely uncredited. “It parallels what we know about black women’s participation in the space program,” says TreaAndrea Russworm, an associate professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, who discusses black women’s contribution to games in her article Replaying Video Game History as a Mixtape of Black Feminist Thought (co-written with fellow black female academic Samantha Blackmon). “The book and film Hidden Figures has made it very obvious to us now that black women were there, but they weren’t headliners: they weren’t the astronauts, but they were the human computers, the labour force that was essential to the program, and they worked for many years unrecognised.

“At the Strong Museum [the US National Museum of Play], where they have archives on Midway and Atari, you can flip through their company newsletters, and you’ll come across photos of black women … they sometimes have a title or a caption saying who they were. But a lot of times, they don’t.”

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Elon Musk’s Twitter lawsuit: what you need to know | Elon Musk

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Elon Musk did not become the world’s wealthiest person through a lack of confidence.

But the Tesla CEO revealed on Tuesday that he had sold $6.9bn (£5.7bn) worth of shares in the carmaker, in case he loses his attempt to walk away from a $44bn takeover of Twitter.

Twitter is suing Musk in Delaware over his abandonment of the deal and wants to make him buy the company.

In a countersuit released last week, Musk put his side of the argument. According to him: Twitter misled investors; it breached the agreement by failing to provide enough information on spam accounts; another breach occurred when Twitter failed to consult with him on business moves such as firing senior employees; and its misstatement of user numbers constitutes a material adverse effect, which substantially alters Twitter’s value and therefore invalidates the deal agreement.

Here is a breakdown of Musk’s suit.

The relationship between both sides remains poor

There is $44bn at stake and the language in Musk’s countersuit is just as punchy as Twitter’s in the original lawsuit, when the company described his behaviour as “a model of bad faith”. In the preliminary statement Twitter is accused of making financial disclosures to the US financial watchdog that were “far from true”.

“Instead, they contain numerous, material misrepresentations or omissions that distort Twitter’s value and caused the Musk parties to agree to acquire the company at an inflated price. Twitter’s complaint, filled with personal attacks against Musk and gaudy rhetoric more directed at a media audience than this court, is nothing more than an attempt to distract from these misrepresentations,” said the lawsuit.

Strong words, but Musk will need strong evidence as well to convince the judge.

Musk’s core argument is about user numbers

From the moment the deal started to go sour, the focus was on the veracity of Twitter’s numbers. It is at the centre of Musk’s countersuit as well. He argues that the number of monetisable daily average users (mDAUs) – authentic, active accounts that can see adverts (hence monetisable) – is falsely inflated by Twitter miscounting the number of false and spam accounts on the platform. As well as being a threat to the ad income on which Twitter depends, Musk said his plan to introduce a subscription service for Twitter would be affected because there would be fewer customers to target than first thought.

Twitter has consistently stated that it estimates the number of false or spam accounts on the platform to be less than 5% of its mDAUs base, which stands at just under 238 million currently.

The suit says that Musk became alarmed about how Twitter accounts for its mDAUs when, three days after signing the deal agreement, it admitted it had overstated its mDAU total for three years, by between 1.4 million and 1.9 million users per quarter. Twitter denies that the user change was a “restatement” (it describes the alteration as “updated values”) but admits it did not give the information to Musk prior to the deal being signed on 25 April.

Musk is not happy with Twitter’s verification processes

After agreeing to buy the business with minimal due diligence, the suit says Musk was “astonished” to learn about how “meagre” Twitter’s processes for identifying spam accounts were. It said 100 accounts a day were sampled by human reviewers in order to come up with the less-than-5% figure. Twitter’s CEO and chief financial officer were unable to explain how these accounts were selected to be a representative sample.

“Musk realised that, at best, Twitter’s reliance on and touting of its process was reckless; at worst, it was intentionally misleading,” says the suit.

Twitter argues that it uses a much more layered process for weeding out dodgy accounts, including using automated systems. It also pointed to the detailed explanations of how it polices spam accounts, which had been given to Musk, the press, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the public via a Twitter thread by CEO Parag Agrawal. In the most notorious episode of this takeover saga, Musk replied to the latter with a poo emoji.

But according to the countersuit at least Agrawal and Musk agreed on one thing. The document states that on 8 April Musk sent the CEO an example of a spam tweet saying: “I am so sick of stuff like this.” Agrawal replied, acknowledging “[w]e should be catching this.”

Musk’s counter-estimates

Citing “preliminary expert estimates”, the countersuit claims that in early July one-third of visible accounts may have been false or spam. This means that the true proportion of spam accounts among Twitter’s user base is at least 10%.

It says users that see zero or almost no ads account for almost all the growth in monetisable daily users. The majority of ads are served to less than 16 million users, the suit claims.

Twitter says that although not every user sees ads on a given day, in the first quarter “significantly more than” 229 million accounts contributed to Twitter’s average quarterly user number.

Regarding the 10% number, Twitter says it was based on a publicly available web tool, botometer, that has designated Musk’s own account as a likely bot.

Twitter made decisions without consulting Musk

One of the clauses in the merger agreement states Musk must be told when Twitter is deviating from its obligation to conduct its business in the “ordinary course”. In the countersuit, Musk claims that Twitter has made several “significant” changes – including firing two executives, starting a hiring freeze and initiating a legal clash with the Indian government – that occurred without his consent.

Twitter’s response is that axing employees or acting to protect users’ rights in foreign jurisdictions are part of the day-to-day business of running a company.

Information was not forthcoming

Musk is also claiming that Twitter failed to provide him with all the data and information that he requested “for any reasonable business purpose related to the consummation of the transaction”. The suit says Musk was sent reams of “stale data” that didn’t answer his questions.

It says, pointedly, that Twitter was happy to send data such as “a copy of its agreement with the Golden State Warriors for courtside basketball tickets and VIP parking”.

After more back-and-forth arguments over increasingly detailed information requests, the suit claims “the only conclusion the Musk parties could draw from Twitter’s obfuscation and delay was that Twitter knew that it had something to hide”.



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Economic uncertainty can’t stop cloud growth • The Register

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The hyperscalers and public cloud providers are barreling ahead, unfazed by a rapidly deteriorating economic outlook, according to a recent Dell’Oro Group report.

In fact, these internet behemoths stand to benefit from the current market conditions in more ways than one, analyst Baron Fung told The Register.

As chipmakers like Intel, Nvidia, Micron, and others face increased pricing pressure across their lineups due to declining demand, hyperscalers are well-positioned to take advantage of this and add more capacity on the cheap, he explained.

“Looking at the recent Q2 earnings, it was really pretty impressive from a growth standpoint,” Fung said of the cloud providers.

Amazon and Azure in particular saw robust revenue gains in their most recent quarters. AWS saw revenues climb 36 percent from the prior year, while Microsoft reported its cloud biz saw year-over-year growth of 40 percent. However, things weren’t as peachy for Google, which saw a otherwise strong quarter for cloud revenue tempered by a $858 million loss in income.

Worsening macroeconomic factors may end up helping cloud providers as enterprises look for alternatives to capex-heavy server refreshes. We saw this phenomenon once before – in the early days of the pandemic.

These factors, combined with a wave of enabling technology – next-generation CPUs, GPUs, smartNICs, and CXL-enabled components to name a handful – will further accelerate hyperscaler spending, which is expected to grow 13 percent over the next five years, Fung said.

So it’s no surprise many chipmakers are optimistic about their cloud and datacenter-related revenues over the next few quarters, despite a slump in PC and gaming demand.

The analyst firm expects next-generation CPU platforms from the likes of Intel, AMD, and Ampere will be among the strongest drivers of hyperscale spending in the near term.

Intel and AMD are expected to launch their next-generation server processors later this year. Both of these chips pack a bevy of new features, including DDR5, and PCIe 5.0, in addition to having substantially higher core counts compared to the previous generation.

These chips are also among the first to support the CXL interconnect standard, “which will enable a new kind of paradigm in the datacenter,” according to Fung.

In its first iteration, the technology will allow systems builders to pack larger quantities of memory into servers than there are DIMM slots, using CXL memory-expansion modules. And in the years to come, the technology has provisions for tiered memory, memory pooling, and disaggregated compute architectures.

The operational and resource efficiencies enabled by the tech may eventually trickle down to customers in the form of lower prices, Fung added.

But it won’t just be the x86 stalwarts leading the charge in the datacenter. Fung also expects Arm chipmakers, like Ampere, to continue gaining traction in the hyperscale arena. Here, the chipmaker’s Altra and Altra Max processors have already attracted several high-profile customers including Microsoft Azure, Google, Cloudflare, and Oracle – to name just a few.

Finally, Dell’Oro predicts hyperscalers will drive edge infrastructure deployments – a market that Intel currently dominates – to 8 percent of the total datacenter infrastructure market by 2026. ®

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Limerick researchers’ findings show potential of food to treat heart disease

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The Irish-based study lead said food scientists, medical scientists and pharma companies must work together to produce functional foods to treat chronic conditions.

A team of researchers based at the Bernal Institute in University of Limerick (UL) have developed a new guide to designing functional foods to treat various chronic conditions.

Functional foods are foods that provide nutrition and act in a way that positively affects the body, similar to medicine.

According to the research, food has the potential to help in the treatment of heart diseases such as atherosclerosis.

“The capacity for our food to do more than provide us with nutrition is huge and relatively unexplored,” said study lead Daniel Granato, professor in food science and health at UL.

“Cardiovascular diseases are a main cause of death but they can be prevented. By bringing food scientists, medical scientists and pharma companies together we can employ the same methods used in producing medicinal drugs and produce foods that might mitigate health conditions,” Granato added.

The study has been published in Trends in Food Science & Technology, an academic journal. The UL researchers were joined on the project by academics from the Federal University of Alfenas and Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais in Brazil.

Granato and his team proposed an accurate computational approach to designing functional foods by predicting their bioactivity. This allowed the researchers to map how different food components benefit the body.

The study also drew attention to the potential of functional foods to treat illnesses and lessen the burden on the world’s health services. Functional foods are not too available on the market, despite their potential to help prevent conditions such as type-2 diabetes and glucose intolerance. These are both major contributors to heart disease.

Food science, cardiovascular disease therapy and computer modelling should be linked to produce functional foods that can mitigate atherosclerosis, according to Granato. He urged food and pharma companies to take note.

“This is critical to achieve United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in good health and wellbeing, as well as ensuring healthy lives and promoting wellbeing for all at all ages, by optimising discovery of bioactive compound sources, and reducing time to market for new functional foods,” he said.

Granato’s co-author and senior lecturer in the UL Department of Biological Sciences, Dr Andreas Grabrucker, said this approach could go far beyond heart disease.

“It will be the basis of a new research project at UL that aims to identify functional foods that lower the risk for neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease,” he claimed.

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