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Graphcore’s AI chips may not be as powerful as Nvidia’s GPUs, but may provide good bang for your buck • The Register



In brief The latest results by benchmarking consortium MLPerf, tracking the best chips for training the most popular neural networks, are out and a new player has entered the game: Graphcore.

Each MLPerf release is pretty standard. A sprawling spreadsheet records the time various systems take to train or run a particular machine-learning model; these numbers are submitted by hardware vendors.

Nvidia and Google pretty much always lead the pack so the latest results aren’t particularly surprising. What is different this year is that Graphcore has joined for the first time. It’s a good sign; it signals their technology is maturing and that it’s willing to publicly compare itself to competitors.

Although Graphcore’s IPU-PODs weren’t as fast at training the computer vision model ResNet-50 and language model BERT as Nvidia’s A100 GPU or Google’s latest TPUs, the company’s hardware is much cheaper, so it may have a performance per dollar advantage. Google’s TPUs are only available via the cloud.

You can see the full results here, and more on Graphcore here from our sister site, The Next Platform.

Say bye-bye to Pepper, the robot

SoftBank has stopped producing its humanoid Pepper robot and is cutting jobs across its robotics unit. Pepper is instantly recognizable by its white body, complete with a head, two arms, torso, lower body on wheels and a screen. It’s about the size of a small child, and has two circular black eyes and a small smile on its face.

Launched in 2014, the machine was designed to do all sorts of tasks, such as greeting customers or showing useful information like menus or locations. But it hasn’t been popular, and SoftBank has struggled to shift the 27,000 units it made. Now, it has decided to stop making them altogether, according to Reuters, and hundreds of jobs across France, the US, and the UK have been cut.

Experiments to roll out the robot across supermarkets and offices haven’t always gone well. In 2018, a Scottish supermarket fired Pepper after it freaked shoppers out and often told them to look “in the alcohol section” for unrelated items, it was reported.

The World Health Organization’s AI ethics guideline

The WHO published a 165-page report outlining an ethics and governance framework for AI in health, this week.

It’s founded on six main principles that the org hopes “can ensure the governance of artificial intelligence for health maximizes the promise of the technology and holds all stakeholders – in the public and private sector – accountable and responsive to the healthcare workers who will rely on these technologies and the communities and individuals whose health will be affected by its use.”

Those six principles are:

  1. Protecting autonomy: Machines may automate tasks and generate results, but humans should always remain in charge of the systems and oversee all medical decisions.
  2. Promoting human safety and well-being and safety and the public interest: Make sure that the effects of computer algorithms are studied and regulated to make sure they don’t harm people.
  3. Ensuring transparency, explainability and intelligibility: The technology must be understandable to everyone that uses or is affected by it, whether it’s the developers, healthcare professionals, or patients.
  4. Fostering responsibility and accountability: Understand the limits of AI technology and where it may go wrong. Make sure that someone can be held responsible if that’s the case.
  5. Ensuring equity and inclusivity: AI should not be biased or perform less well against age, sex, gender, income, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and so on.
  6. Promoting tools that are responsive and sustainable: Machine learning software should be designed to as computationally efficient as possible.

Facebook upgrades its research dataset to help developers build house robots

Chores are mundane and no one in their right mind likes doing the dishes or laundry, really. Humans are going to have to keep doing them unfortunately until AI robots get nimble and smart enough to take over.

Simple tasks like picking up cups, putting them in the dishwasher, or in cupboards, might be easy for us but they’re incredibly difficult for machines. Roboticists can dream about building the perfect algorithm or neural net, but without any training data it’ll be no good.

That’s why Facebook released AI Habitat, a dataset containing multiple simulations of images modelling inside people’s houses to help developers in 2019. Now, it has upgraded that to Habitat 2.0, which contains 111 unique, 3D-rendered layouts of rooms containing 92 objects, like drawers, carpets, sofas, plants, fruit, and the like.

Future AI agents can be trained to complete a specific chore in simulation to gain enough experience before they’re tested in real-world conditions. What’s most interesting is that robots designed to tidy homes in the US will probably perform differently in other countries, where the style of homes or jobs vary.

“In the future, Habitat will seek to model living spaces in more places around the world, enabling more varied training that takes into account cultural- and region-specific layouts of furniture, types of furniture, and types of objects,” said Dhruv Batra, a Facebook research scientist.

You can read more about the dataset here. ®

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2021 iPhone photography awards – in pictures | Technology



The 14th annual iPhone photography awards offer glimpses of beauty, hope and the endurance of the human spirit. Out of thousands of submissions, photojournalist Istvan Kerekes of Hungary was named the grand prize winner for his image Transylvanian Shepherds. In it, two rugged shepherds traverse an equally rugged industrial landscape, bearing a pair of lambs in their arms.

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With Alphabet’s legendary commitment to products, we can’t wait to see what its robotics biz Intrinsic achieves • The Register



Alphabet today launched its latest tech startup, Intrinsic, which aims to build commercial software that will power industrial robots.

Intrinsic will focus on developing software control tools for industrial robots used in manufacturing, we’re told. Its pitch is that the days of humans having to manually program and adjust a robot’s every move are over, and that mechanical bots should be more autonomous and smart, thanks to advances in artificial intelligence and leaps in training techniques.

This could make robots easier to direct – give them a task, and they’ll figure out the specifics – and more efficient – the AI can work out the best way to achieve its goal.

“Over the last few years, our team has been exploring how to give industrial robots the ability to sense, learn, and automatically make adjustments as they’re completing tasks, so they work in a wider range of settings and applications,” said CEO Wendy Tan White.

“Working in collaboration with teams across Alphabet, and with our partners in real-world manufacturing settings, we’ve been testing software that uses techniques like automated perception, deep learning, reinforcement learning, motion planning, simulation, and force control.”

Tan White – a British entrepreneur and investor who was made an MBE by the Queen in 2016 for her services to the tech industry – will leave her role as vice president of X, Alphabet’s moonshot R&D lab, to concentrate on Intrinsic.

She earlier co-founded and was CEO of website-building biz Moonfruit, and helped multiple early-stage companies get up and running as a general partner at Entrepreneur First, a tech accelerator. She is also a board trustee of the UK’s Alan Turing Institute, and member of Blighty’s Digital Economic Council.

“I loved the role I played in creating platforms that inspired the imagination and entrepreneurship of people all over the world, and I’ve recently stepped into a similar opportunity: I’m delighted to share that I’m now leading Intrinsic, a new Alphabet company,” she said.

The new outfit is another venture to emerge from Google-parent Alphabet’s X labs, along with Waymo, the self-driving car startup; and Verily, a biotech biz. ®

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Charles River to create 90 new jobs at Ballina biologics site



Charles River is expanding its testing capabilities in Ballina as part of its partnership with Covid-19 vaccine manufacturer AstraZeneca.

Contract research organisation Charles River Laboratories is planning an €8m site expansion in Ballina to facilitate batch release testing for Covid-19 vaccines from AstraZeneca.

The expansion at the Mayo site will create an additional 1,500 sq m of lab space and 90 highly skilled jobs in the area over the next three years.

Click here to check out the top sci-tech employers hiring right now.

The company provides longstanding partners AstraZeneca with outsourced regulated safety and development support on a range of treatments and vaccines, including testing and facilitating the deployment of Vaxzevria for Covid-19 and Fluenz for seasonal infleunza.

The latest investment follows earlier expansions at the Ballina site and Charles River recently announced plans to establish a dedicated laboratory space to handle testing of SARS-CoV-2 and other similar pathogens that cause human disease.

“We are incredibly proud of the transformational changes we have implemented on site and the role that Charles River has played in supporting the safe and timely roll-out of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine,” said Liam McHale, site director for Charles River Ballina.

“Throughout the pandemic, our site remained fully operational while keeping our employees safe and having a positive impact on human health. Our expanded facility will provide us with the increased capacity needed to continue the essential services we provide to our clients.”

Charles River acquired the Ballina facility, which focuses on biologics testing, in 2002. The company employs 230 people at its two facilities in Ireland, including the Mayo site and a site in Dublin, established in 2017, which serves as the EMEA and APAC headquarters for the company’s microbial solutions division.

IDA Ireland is supporting the expansion. Mary Buckley, executive director of the agency, said Charles River is an “employer of long standing” in Co Mayo.

“The enhancement of its product lines and the development of additional capability at the Ballina facility is most welcome,” she added. “Today’s announcement is strongly aligned to IDA Ireland’s regional pillar and its continued commitment to winning jobs and investment in regional locations.”

Dan Wygal, country president for AstraZeneca Ireland, added: “Our Covid-19 vaccine, Vaxzevria, undergoes extremely robust safety and quality testing prior to becoming available for patients. We are committed to bringing safe, effective vaccines to Ireland and other markets as quickly as possible, and Charles River will continue to be an important partner in this regard.”

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