Saturday, November 22, 2014

8 ways Lollipop 5.0 reinvents Android

8 ways Lollipop 5.0 reinvents Android

Enhanced security, improved architecture, extensive APIs -- bold changes make Android 5.0 better for business

By Anndrew Vacca 

InfoWorld | Nov 20, 2014

Android 5.0 Lollipop heralds a new era for the operating system, one aimed at unifying the Android experience across devices and built with business use squarely in mind. While iOS may have enjoyed early darling status in the enterprise, expect business organizations to take Android much more seriously going forward, thanks to a raft of significant improvements, an extensive set of new developer APIs, and clear signals that Google intends to lead the Android ecosystem more intentionally than ever before.

Lollipop is in many ways a reimagining of what Android can be, and Google has rebuilt Android Lollipop from the ground up with the future in mind. Injecting new support for faster and more efficient hardware, Google has laid a strong foundation for developers and device makers to take the platform to new heights in powering the next generation of smartphones, tablets, and wearables.

Lollipop is currently rolling out to most Nexus-branded devices and some Motorola and LG devices, and it's in the hands of device makers like Samsung and HTC for testing and rollout in the coming weeks and months. Here is a look at the improvements to Android Lollipop that make it the most powerful and adaptable Android yet.

Simplified setup

With Lollipop, Google has streamlined device setup, a welcome improvement over previous versions of Android. Connect to a Wi-Fi or cellular network, and Android will automatically download any available updates right out of the box, rather than waiting until the setup process is complete as in versions past. With Lollipop installed, you’ll enter your email address and password, then begin setting up your Google profile on your new device. Android Lollipop’s setup process also now supports NFC transfer which will allow you to tap your previous NFC-enabled device to your new one to transfer your settings, apps, and profiles. (Note: Over-the-air updates will still require manufacturer and carrier approval.)

Android Lollipop’s most notable improvement to the setup process is the ability to restore your device from a specific backup. Rather than automatically downloading every app and setting affiliated with your Google profile, Lollipop now allows you to restore from a particular device’s profile. Simply choose your backup profile, and you can handpick the apps associated with that profile that you want to load to your updated device. This new feature is particularly handy for those who use multiple Android devices, enabling them to keep separate sets of apps on each device.

Material Design: A fresh, new unifying face

Lollipop introduces a complete and aptly named visual overhaul of the Android UI: Material Design. Google’s reimagined look and feel for Android is more vibrant, fluid, and cohesive than in previous versions. The impact of Material Design can be felt throughout the entire OS, from its new navigational buttons and reimagined menus all the way to Google’s portfolio of stock apps. Thanks to this new unified aesthetic, everything about the new Android looks and feels like it fits together seamlessly.

Tap and flick your way around Android Lollipop, and you’ll quickly see that the “surfaces and edges” with “seams and shadows” approach does in fact readily reveal what can be touched to trigger actions, as Matias Duarte, Google’s vice president of design and lead architect of Material Design, said at this year’s Google I/O. This translates into richer, more colorful apps with vibrant transitional animations and visual cues that make navigation more intuitive. It also means a shallower OS, ditching the deep, often confusing menus and rabbit holes of Android’s past and placing more of what you need at the surface.

Google’s Material Design guidelines give developers the tools to create a unified experience across device sizes. It’s true that the Android tablet experience is in some measure that of an enlarged phone, as some have suggested, but it is clear that Google aims to improve this based on Lollipop’s developer guidelines. This emphasis on uniformity is also in evidence in Google’s simultaneous rollout of the Nexus 6 smartphone and the Nexus 9 tablet, enabling developers to target the latest smartphone and tablet at the same time. Material Design should extend that unified experience to wearables and beyond.

For a tour of Lollipop’s new Material Design, check out our first look at Android’s fresh new face.

Some of Lollipop’s most notable improvements can be found among Android’s central elements: its lock screen, notifications bar, and app drawer.

Android’s new lock screen provides a quick view of unread notifications, which can be swiped down to reveal more content, double-tapped to open, or simply swiped away. You can control which notifications, if any, that you would like to be displayed on the lock screen by navigating to the Sounds and Notifications settings.

And if your device is locked with a PIN or password, you can choose to show only the top line of a notification instead of its sensitive content (defined by either the user or the app developer). As in previous versions, the lock screen also provides direct access to the notifications bar, camera, and the device’s various user profiles (more on that in a bit).

Lollipop’s notifications bar can now be swiped down once for a top-line view of your notifications and pertinent Google Now cards or swiped down twice (alternatively, with two fingers rather than one) to reveal Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and location settings, along with toggles for airplane mode, rotation lock, and a flashlight.

The notifications bar also contains a slider to control your display’s brightness and a one-touch button to “cast” (aka share) your screen with any compatible device (such as Chromecast) on the same Wi-Fi network. In addition, the bar provides access to your device’s full settings menu and user profiles.

Lollipop offers several Notifications enhancements to ease your ability to keep on top of important updates.

Notifications have undergone a significant overhaul. Android Lollipop now prioritizes notifications based on what you will likely find most important. These prioritized notifications always find their way to the top of the list, surpassing chronological order in both the notifications bar and on the lock screen.

Lollipop also introduces heads-up notifications -- visual “cards” that appear at the top of your screen for certain real-time alerts that you can chose to interact with or file away for later.

You can also now manage which and when notifications appear through your device’s volume menu: quickly toggle between displaying all notifications, priority notifications, or no notifications at all. Alternately, dive deeper to program specific times to display all information and other times to display only certain information.

The new and improved app drawer feels more connected to the overall Android experience.

Finally, Android’s app drawer has been given a fresh coat of paint for the first time since Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, so it seems more connected to your home screen, with a folderlike look and feel, rather than spun off as an entirely separate area of the OS. The app drawer is brighter, offering a white background rather than a black or transparent one, and it is now limited to apps, with access to widgets restricted to a long press on your home screen.

Recents: Reinventing multitasking

Google invented mobile multitasking as we know it. With Android Lollipop, it has pushed the concept further via Lollipop’s new Recents window, which provides access to nearly all your apps rather than a handful of recently used ones, and is now arranged in cards similar to those found within Google Now. These cards scroll through a Rolodex-like motion, providing a shrunken view of your multiple apps and windows.

Recents takes mobile multitasking to a new level.

The Recents UI goes deeper than Android’s previous multitasking solutions, giving you the ability to not only toggle between windows, but also between windows within windows. Suppose you’re composing a message within Gmail; click the Recents button and you’ll be able to access not only other apps but other aspects of Gmail, such as your inbox. It works for Chrome, too, allowing you to toggle between open tabs through the multitasking menu.

The ability to toggle both between and within apps provides an entirely new way to jump from one point to another within Android, drastically cutting back on the amount of times you’ll click the Back button throughout the UI.

Multiple-user profiles: Sharing the power of Android

Another significant feature introduced with Lollipop is Device Sharing, which enables Android Lollipop smartphones and tablets to support multiple user profiles, similar to what Google introduced in Android 4.2 Jelly Bean for tablets only. With Device Sharing, a family or a team of business colleagues can share one device without having to share their personal information.

There are three options for user profiles on a Lollipop-powered device:

An Owner account has access to the entire device and everything within it, as well as control over other profiles on the device.

A User account, on the other hand, has limited access to certain apps and content controlled by the device’s main user, as well as limited calling and SMS capabilities. A User account can, however, download his or her own apps and customize certain settings that remain limited to that profile.

Finally, there’s a Guest profile, which provides access to the core functions of your phone or tablet, including calling, messaging, and core Google apps. Guests can access their Google profiles to sync contacts and even purchased apps, but all information is limited to one session and is wiped upon exiting Guest mode. This is useful for those times that you want to lend someone your phone but don’t want them poking around your own personal messages, photos, call history, or other sensitive information.

In the same vein, you can now “pin” your screen, restricting access to a sole app, window, or piece of content you want to share, thereby preventing your guest from navigating away from the pinned element to anything else on you device.

ART: Shaking up Android to the core

Lollipop’s change log includes a plethora of under-the-hood tweaks, the most substantial of which is an overhaul of Android’s core architecture, with Android Run Time (ART) replacing the Dalvik VM. According to Google, this shift has made Android considerably faster and more powerful. (Various reviewers report that Android Lollipop doesn’t run slower on older Android devices -- a welcome indicator that ART may in fact be faster.)

Whereas Dalvik compiled and processed apps each time they were opened, ART performs ahead-of-time processing, translating an app’s source code on initial installation. The result, Google claims, is device performance of up to four times than that of previous versions with smoother, more visually rich applications that open and operate more efficiently.

This performance boost was noticeable on my Nexus 5 at the outset. As you begin to use Android Lollipop, you will certainly realize that navigating the OS, transitional animations, and app switching is far smoother than before.

Android Lollipop is also the first version with 64-bit support, which Google claims will bring desktop-class CPU performance to the OS. Android’s core applications, including Chrome, Gmail, and Play Music, are now 64-bit-native, as is the Java engine that many third-party applications are built on. The difference won’t likely be felt by users immediately, as nearly all apps are still 32-bit, but it will allow hardware makers to incorporate more powerful yet efficient processors, GPUs, and RAM into the next generation of smartphones and tablets.

Project Volta: Optimizing power use

When we first met what was then referred to as Android L in June, one of the most exciting and promising features was Project Volta, an initiative that Google claimed would yield massive improvements in mobile battery efficiency.

First, similar to a trick already used in Samsung, HTC, LG, and other Android devices, is a new native power-saver mode that helps Lollipop devices limit ravenous background data, haptic feedback, and the like to squeeze extra life out of a nearly empty battery.

Behind the scenes, Project Volta’s Job Scheduler API batches battery-intensive tasks and schedules them for optimal times. Instead of completing each background task immediately, Android can now put off certain functions until a device is connected to Wi-Fi or a charger, thus reducing the number of times the OS draws power from the battery.

Project Volta also provides developers access to a battery historian, which illustrates how and when apps use voltage, as well as how efficiently they’re doing so.

In practice, you might not notice Project Volta right out of the box -- in fact, multiple early reviews of the Nexus 6 and 9 have reported merely average battery life -- but it holds exciting promise once developers and hardware makers begin utilizing its tools.

Enhanced security and Android for Work

Lollipop heralds the first iteration of Android built with enterprise use squarely in mind. Thanks to improved security features such as default encryption on new devices, contextually aware device unlocking, and Security Enhanced Linux (SELinux) malware protection, devices running Android Lollipop are now more enterprise-friendly than ever.

Among the security enhancements is Lollipop Smart Lock, a feature that allows you to associate one or more Bluetooth devices (aka Trusted Devices) as automatic unlocks, such as your key fob in your pocket. Smart Lock also includes Trusted Faces, a previously available feature that uses facial recognition to unlock a device. Look for it now in the Smart Lock group in Settings. Also of interest is the newly available Trusted Locations, which enables you to set locations where your phone could be left open for easy access, such as at home or the office. Trust Locations is currently available through Google Play Services, as opposed to Lollipop itself, so you may need to download and install it yourself.

Most exciting, though, is Android for Work, a dual-persona system Google acquired from Divide last spring that also is said to include Samsung's Knox technology. Google’s Android for Work keeps work and other sensitive data separated from your personal information and media. When Android for Work becomes available in mobile management servers sometime next year, IT personnel will be able to deploy apps in bulk to business-user devices and maintain centralized control over sensitive functions.

Google’s Android for Work is built around three major concepts: device and data security, support for IT policies, and mobile application management. Lollipop implements its multiuser support to create a behind-the-scenes user profile that employs block-level disk encryption to keep sensitive data protected, similar to Samsung’s approach with Knox’s Workspace or BlackBerry’s Balance. With Lollipop’s new enterprise-friendly APIs, IT admins will have more tools than ever to configure system and application settings and restrictions.

Android for Work is part of Android Lollipop, and Google says it will be available as an app for devices running Android 4.0 and later as well. Several mobile management vendors promise support for it.

N.S.A. Devises Radio Pathway Into Computers

N.S.A. Devises Radio Pathway Into Computers

WASHINGTON — The National Security Agency has implanted software in nearly 100,000 computers around the world that allows the United States to conduct surveillance on those machines and can also create a digital highway for launching cyberattacks.

While most of the software is inserted by gaining access to computer networks, the N.S.A. has increasingly made use of a secret technology that enables it to enter and alter data in computers even if they are not connected to the Internet, according to N.S.A. documents, computer experts and American officials.

The technology, which the agency has used since at least 2008, relies on a covert channel of radio waves that can be transmitted from tiny circuit boards and USB cards inserted surreptitiously into the computers. In some cases, they are sent to a briefcase-size relay station that intelligence agencies can set up miles away from the target.

The radio frequency technology has helped solve one of the biggest problems facing American intelligence agencies for years: getting into computers that adversaries, and some American partners, have tried to make impervious to spying or cyberattack. In most cases, the radio frequency hardware must be physically inserted by a spy, a manufacturer or an unwitting user.

The N.S.A. calls its efforts more an act of “active defense” against foreign cyberattacks than a tool to go on the offensive. But when Chinese attackers place similar software on the computer systems of American companies or government agencies, American officials have protested, often at the presidential level.

Among the most frequent targets of the N.S.A. and its Pentagon partner, United States Cyber Command, have been units of the Chinese Army, which the United States has accused of launching regular digital probes and attacks on American industrial and military targets, usually to steal secrets or intellectual property. But the program, code-named Quantum, has also been successful in inserting software into Russian military networks and systems used by the Mexican police and drug cartels, trade institutions inside the European Union, and sometime partners against terrorism like Saudi Arabia, India and Pakistan, according to officials and an N.S.A. map that indicates sites of what the agency calls “computer network exploitation.”

“What’s new here is the scale and the sophistication of the intelligence agency’s ability to get into computers and networks to which no one has ever had access before,” said James Andrew Lewis, the cybersecurity expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “Some of these capabilities have been around for a while, but the combination of learning how to penetrate systems to insert software and learning how to do that using radio frequencies has given the U.S. a window it’s never had before.”

How the N.S.A. Uses Radio Frequencies to Penetrate Computers

The N.S.A. and the Pentagon’s Cyber Command have implanted nearly 100,000 “computer network exploits” around the world, but the hardest problem is getting inside machines isolated from outside communications.

No Domestic Use Seen

There is no evidence that the N.S.A. has implanted its software or used its radio frequency technology inside the United States. While refusing to comment on the scope of the Quantum program, the N.S.A. said its actions were not comparable to China’s.

“N.S.A.'s activities are focused and specifically deployed against — and only against — valid foreign intelligence targets in response to intelligence requirements,” Vanee Vines, an agency spokeswoman, said in a statement. “We do not use foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of — or give intelligence we collect to — U.S. companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line.”

Over the past two months, parts of the program have been disclosed in documents from the trove leaked by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor. A Dutch newspaper published the map of areas where the United States has inserted spy software, sometimes in cooperation with local authorities, often covertly. Der Spiegel, a German newsmagazine, published the N.S.A.'s catalog of hardware products that can secretly transmit and receive digital signals from computers, a program called ANT. The New York Times withheld some of those details, at the request of American intelligence officials, when it reported, in the summer of 2012, on American cyberattacks on Iran.

President Obama is scheduled to announce on Friday what recommendations he is accepting from an advisory panel on changing N.S.A. practices. The panel agreed with Silicon Valley executives that some of the techniques developed by the agency to find flaws in computer systems undermine global confidence in a range of American-made information products like laptop computers and cloud services.

Embracing Silicon Valley’s critique of the N.S.A., the panel has recommended banning, except in extreme cases, the N.S.A. practice of exploiting flaws in common software to aid in American surveillance and cyberattacks. It also called for an end to government efforts to weaken publicly available encryption systems, and said the government should never develop secret ways into computer systems to exploit them, which sometimes include software implants.

Richard A. Clarke, an official in the Clinton and Bush administrations who served as one of the five members of the advisory panel, explained the group’s reasoning in an email last week, saying that “it is more important that we defend ourselves than that we attack others.”

“Holes in encryption software would be more of a risk to us than a benefit,” he said, adding: “If we can find the vulnerability, so can others. It’s more important that we protect our power grid than that we get into China’s.”

From the earliest days of the Internet, the N.S.A. had little trouble monitoring traffic because a vast majority of messages and searches were moved through servers on American soil. As the Internet expanded, so did the N.S.A.'s efforts to understand its geography. A program named Treasure Map tried to identify nearly every node and corner of the web, so that any computer or mobile device that touched it could be located.

A 2008 map, part of the Snowden trove, notes 20 programs to gain access to big fiber-optic cables — it calls them “covert, clandestine or cooperative large accesses” — not only in the United States but also in places like Hong Kong, Indonesia and the Middle East. The same map indicates that the United States had already conducted “more than 50,000 worldwide implants,” and a more recent budget document said that by the end of last year that figure would rise to about 85,000. A senior official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the actual figure was most likely closer to 100,000.

That map suggests how the United States was able to speed ahead with implanting malicious software on the computers around the world that it most wanted to monitor — or disable before they could be used to launch a cyberattack.

A Focus on Defense

In interviews, officials and experts said that a vast majority of such implants are intended only for surveillance and serve as an early warning system for cyberattacks directed at the United States.

“How do you ensure that Cyber Command people” are able to look at “those that are attacking us?” a senior official, who compared it to submarine warfare, asked in an interview several months ago.

“That is what the submarines do all the time,” said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe policy. “They track the adversary submarines.” In cyberspace, he said, the United States tries “to silently track the adversaries while they’re trying to silently track you.”

If tracking subs was a Cold War cat-and-mouse game with the Soviets, tracking malware is a pursuit played most aggressively with the Chinese.

The United States has targeted Unit 61398, the Shanghai-based Chinese Army unit believed to be responsible for many of the biggest cyberattacks on the United States, in an effort to see attacks being prepared. With Australia’s help, one N.S.A. document suggests, the United States has also focused on another specific Chinese Army unit.

Documents obtained by Mr. Snowden indicate that the United States has set up two data centers in China — perhaps through front companies — from which it can insert malware into computers. When the Chinese place surveillance software on American computer systems — and they have, on systems like those at the Pentagon and at The Times — the United States usually regards it as a potentially hostile act, a possible prelude to an attack. Mr. Obama laid out America’s complaints about those practices to President Xi Jinping of China in a long session at a summit meeting in California last June.

At that session, Mr. Obama tried to differentiate between conducting surveillance for national security — which the United States argues is legitimate — and conducting it to steal intellectual property.

“The argument is not working,” said Peter W. Singer of the Brookings Institution, a co-author of a new book called “Cybersecurity and Cyberwar.” “To the Chinese, gaining economic advantage is part of national security. And the Snowden revelations have taken a lot of the pressure off” the Chinese. Still, the United States has banned the sale of computer servers from a major Chinese manufacturer, Huawei, for fear that they could contain technology to penetrate American networks.

An Old Technology

The N.S.A.'s efforts to reach computers unconnected to a network have relied on a century-old technology updated for modern times: radio transmissions.

In a catalog produced by the agency that was part of the Snowden documents released in Europe, there are page after page of devices using technology that would have brought a smile to Q, James Bond’s technology supplier.

One, called Cottonmouth I, looks like a normal USB plug but has a tiny transceiver buried in it. According to the catalog, it transmits information swept from the computer “through a covert channel” that allows “data infiltration and exfiltration.” Another variant of the technology involves tiny circuit boards that can be inserted in a laptop computer — either in the field or when they are shipped from manufacturers — so that the computer is broadcasting to the N.S.A. even while the computer’s user enjoys the false confidence that being walled off from the Internet constitutes real protection.

The relay station it communicates with, called Nightstand, fits in an oversize briefcase, and the system can attack a computer “from as far away as eight miles under ideal environmental conditions.” It can also insert packets of data in milliseconds, meaning that a false message or piece of programming can outrace a real one to a target computer. Similar stations create a link between the target computers and the N.S.A., even if the machines are isolated from the Internet.

Computers are not the only targets. Dropoutjeep attacks iPhones. Other hardware and software are designed to infect large network servers, including those made by the Chinese.

Most of those code names and products are now at least five years old, and they have been updated, some experts say, to make the United States less dependent on physically getting hardware into adversaries’ computer systems.

The N.S.A. refused to talk about the documents that contained these descriptions, even after they were published in Europe.

“Continuous and selective publication of specific techniques and tools used by N.S.A. to pursue legitimate foreign intelligence targets is detrimental to the security of the United States and our allies,” Ms. Vines, the N.S.A. spokeswoman, said.

But the Iranians and others discovered some of those techniques years ago. The hardware in the N.S.A.'s catalog was crucial in the cyberattacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities, code-named Olympic Games, that began around 2008 and proceeded through the summer of 2010, when a technical error revealed the attack software, later called Stuxnet. That was the first major test of the technology.

One feature of the Stuxnet attack was that the technology the United States slipped into Iran’s nuclear enrichment plant at Natanz was able to map how it operated, then “phone home” the details. Later, that equipment was used to insert malware that blew up nearly 1,000 centrifuges, and temporarily set back Iran’s program.

But the Stuxnet strike does not appear to be the last time the technology was used in Iran. In 2012, a unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps moved a rock near the country’s underground Fordo nuclear enrichment plant. The rock exploded and spewed broken circuit boards that the Iranian news media described as “the remains of a device capable of intercepting data from computers at the plant.” The origins of that device have never been determined.

On Sunday, according to the semiofficial Fars news agency, Iran’s Oil Ministry issued another warning about possible cyberattacks, describing a series of defenses it was erecting — and making no mention of what are suspected of being its own attacks on Saudi Arabia’s largest oil producer.

A version of this article appears in print on January 15, 2014, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: N.S.A. Devises Radio Pathway Into Computers.

Unnervingly human androids coming to a future very near you

The hyper-real robots that will replace receptionists, pop stars... and even sex dolls: Unnervingly human androids coming to a future very near you

  • Incredibly life-like robots are currently causing a storm in Japan where they are being prepared for mass commercialisation
  • With new androids creators have beaten 'Uncanny Valley syndrome' where humans are revulsed by robots that look real - but not real enough
  • Now being put to use as receptionists and newsreaders
  • Predicted that within a decade fully independent 'gemanoids' will be in circulation once advances in artificial intelligence are made 
  • Scientists even talking about humans taking androids as partners 
Chillingly life-like robots are causing a storm in Japan – where their creators are about to launch them as actresses, full-size mechanical copies for pop idol fans, and clones of the dearly departed.
There is even talk that the naturalistic, even engaging, she-droids may be taken up as men as partners in the not-too-distant future.
Android Asuna was a star attraction at Tokyo Designers’ Week showcase earlier this month and she is one of a series of geminoids, as their inventor dubs them, that are ripe for commercialisation say their creator robotics professor Hiroshi Ishiguro.
Eerie: Android engineers have recently been able to overcome the 'Uncanny Valley syndrome', where androids elicit a response of revulsion because they look almost, but not quite, human
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Eerie: Android engineers have recently been able to overcome the 'Uncanny Valley syndrome', where androids elicit a response of revulsion because they look almost, but not quite, human
This is the news: This robot has been deployed to read the news at a Tokyo museum
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This is the news: This robot has been deployed to read the news at a Tokyo museum
Gobsmacked men attending the show told MailOnline that she was well made, very convincing and had a nice voice. One man joked that Asuna would make 'a good date; a cheap date!'
From others, covering their mouths in astonishment at Asuna’s realistic skin and facial expressions, the frequent response from the public was 'sukoi' which translates as 'amazing' in English. 
Asuna is so convincing that many bowed respectfully before requesting politely to take her photo or join a selfie.
Unable, for now, to use some of the advanced artificial intelligence (AI), face and voice recognition systems that some Japanese robots coming on the market now use, Asuna relies on a camera rigged behind her that is relayed to a remote human controller to give her life. 
This so-called tele-presence enables Asuna to come alive, taking on the operator’s personality.
A fully independent version of the geminoid is expected in 10 years using all the above technologies to make her virtually indistinguishable from humans says Mr. Takeshi Mita, CEO of A-Lab in Tokyo, the company working with Prof. Ishiguro to make Asuna and her kind commercial.
'We already have 20 year's experience making androids in the lab. So in 10 years we will marry AI and life like geminoids in perfection,' he told MailOnline. 
'We had been focusing on perfecting her skin, facial expressions, and so on, so for now Asuna is really just a head. Now we are working on her arms and torso to give very natural, fluid body language.'
Darling: Asuna was the star attraction at Tokyo Designers’ Week recently where visitors were floored by her
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Darling: Asuna was the star attraction at Tokyo Designers’ Week recently where visitors were floored by her
Future: A fully independent version of the geminoid is expected in 10 years to make her virtually indistinguishable from humans depending on developments in artificial intelligence 
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Future: A fully independent version of the geminoid is expected in 10 years to make her virtually indistinguishable from humans depending on developments in artificial intelligence 
Meet Asuna, the 14-year-old android girl who looks human
Everything about Asuna’s appearance has been painstakingly honed to make her more life-like. 
From the superior quality of her silicon skin to the secret animatronic muscles that move her eyes and drive her facial expressions.
Previous attempts by Ishiguro's team had been dismissed as unconvincing and prone to what is known as the 'Uncanny Valley syndrome'. 
This is a term coined by another Japanese professor of robotics, Masahiro Mori. It describes the response of revulsion and creepiness when faced with something that looks almost, but somehow not quite, human. 
As robots become as dexterous as Asuna at mimicking humanity, so the theory goes, the syndrome will erase itself.
Being loved by a robot?' Levy says. 'It sounds a bit weird, but someday, for many, many people, being in love with a robot will be just as good as love with a human 
 - Author David Levy
Already Asuna and other androids from A-lab have had a taste of the limelight, appearing on stage and voicing actors lines using tele-presence. 
Asuna's next performance will be in an opera to prove her credentials as a singer. An Ishiguro geminoid is also appearing on stage in Paris now.
'One application we have is to turn her into an international pop idol,' says Mr. Mita.
Already Japan is in thrall to virtual idols such as Hatsune Miku, who is basically a hologram that 'sings' words and music created for her on a computer using 'vocaloid' technology.
Her tunes often outsell those sung by her flesh and blood musical rivals in Japan.
A-lab also hopes to tap into another big business in Japan - the popularity of fantasy figurines that appeal to Japan’s legions of nerdy men or 'otaku'. 
Most such dolls are just a few centimetres high and often represent an idol or a manga character often scantily clad.
Frenzy: Fembots such as these are causing a storm in Japan at the moment because of recent breakthroughs in technology that have made them so life-like. However some work is still to go on artificial intelligence
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Frenzy: Fembots such as these are causing a storm in Japan at the moment because of recent breakthroughs in technology that have made them so life-like. However some work is still to go on artificial intelligence
Have a nice day: An 'Otonaroid' greets guests to Tokyo’s National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, making unnerving life-like eye contact as she converses while hooked to a tele-presence system
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Have a nice day: An 'Otonaroid' greets guests to Tokyo’s National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, making unnerving life-like eye contact as she converses while hooked to a tele-presence system
Take a look at Japan's scarily lifelike robotic newsreaders
As A-lab is working with highly respected Prof. Ishiguro, Mr. Mita says the company has ruled out producing androids that might be used for sex. 
But a spokesman working with Ishiguro’s lab says it is not a great leap of imagination to think similar robots, given the advancement in robotics and silicone skin technology, will be used for sex.
'Physical relations will be possible in general with such androids,' said Takahashi Komiyama.
'Androids for the sex industry are a definite possibly. Some have even fallen in love with Ishiguro’s geminoids. So we can't rule those relationships out.'
Japan already boasts the world’s most advanced sex dolls from firms such as Kanojotoys or Orient Industries based in Tokyo. 
Around £6,000 buys the very superior Yasuragi 'dutch wife' sex doll with extras such as movable eyes and flexible fingers and a skin texture its makers say is indistinguishable from the real thing.
Lady Gaga was so impressed with their quality that she asked the Japanese firm to make dolls in her own image.
'It is not inconceivable,' said an Orient Industries spokesman, 'that we will be making android life partners in the near future.'
David Levy, author of Love and Sex With Robots predicts that as robots become more sophisticated, growing numbers of adventurous humans will enter into intimate relationships with these intelligent robots.
Speaking at the First International Conference on Human-Robot Personal Relationships, held last week, he says that AI will progress to the point where human-robot dating will be commonplace.
'Being loved by a robot?' Levy says. 'It sounds a bit weird, but someday, for many, many people, being in love with a robot will be just as good as love with a human.
'Real-life loved ones can also be reproduced faithfully by cloning them to comfort the bereaved', Mr Mita pointed out. 
These completely unnerving baby-like telenoids are designed to show the minimum required human-like expressions and are most popular at the museum because they straddle the creepy/acceptable barrier
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These completely unnerving baby-like telenoids are designed to show the minimum required human-like expressions and are most popular at the museum because they straddle the creepy/acceptable barrier
The making of Gagadoll. Creepy life size 'listening station'
Sexbot: Hyper-real sex dolls are already on sale in Japan. Experts say it won't be long before android versions of them will be manufactured
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Sexbot: Hyper-real sex dolls are already on sale in Japan. Experts say it won't be long before android versions of them will be manufactured
Androids can now also take on a variety of human jobs such as receptionist and even news readers. 
To prove the point two fem-bots from Ishiguro’s stable have been working in those posts since June this year at Tokyo’s National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation.
The more mature 'Otonaroid' greets guests to the museum, making terrifying life-like eye contact as she converses while hooked to a tele-presence system that the public can also play with.
'Kodomodroid' (child android) is viewable at the museum through an art like installation in an all white room where she sits without rest all day lip-synching the day’s news perfectly from an AI source.
They are joined by the most compelling/repelling android of them all who incidentally happens to be the most popular among the Ishiguro droids on show.
The thoroughly unnerving baby-like Telenoid, sports a simplistic mannequin head with stunted arms and legs that also speaks by proxy from a control box maned by museum visitors.
Confronted with the rather formal reception-droid, Japanese housewife Koari IIda says she couldn’t decide if Otanaroid was human or not.
'If you have talk to her getting closer is a good idea, so she seems more natural and less creepy close up,' she said. 'But it’s great fun robo-chatting.'
Asked if she would like Otanaroid at home as a baby sitter if mum was out. Rika replied: 'No, Mum is my robot!'

Machine That Can Scan Your DNA in 90 Minutes

The FBI Is Very Excited About This Machine That Can Scan Your DNA in 90 Minutes

Rapid-DNA technology makes it easier than ever to grab and store your genetic profile. G-men, cops, and Homeland Security can't wait to see it everywhere.

—By Shane Bauer Thu Nov. 20, 2014 6:30 AM EST

Robert Schueren shook my hand firmly, handed me his business card, and flipped it over, revealing a short list of letters and numbers. "Here is my DNA profile." He smiled. "I have nothing to hide." I had come to meet Schueren, the CEO of IntegenX, at his company's headquarters in Pleasanton, California, to see its signature product: a machine the size of a large desktop printer that can unravel your genetic code in the time it takes to watch a movie.

Schueren grabbed a cotton swab and dropped it into a plastic cartridge. That's what, say, a police officer would use to wipe the inside of your cheek to collect a DNA sample after an arrest, he explained. Other bits of material with traces of DNA on them, like cigarette butts or fabric, could work too. He inserted the cartridge into the machine and pressed a green button on its touch screen: "It's that simple." Ninety minutes later, the RapidHIT 200 would generate a DNA profile, check it against a database, and report on whether it found a match.

The RapidHIT represents a major technological leap—testing a DNA sample in a forensics lab normally takes at least two days. This has government agencies very excited. The Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, and the Justice Department funded the initial research for "rapid DNA" technology, and after just a year on the market, the $250,000 RapidHIT is already being used in a few states, as well as China, Russia, Australia, and countries in Africa and Europe.

"We're not always aware of how it's being used," Schueren said. "All we can say is that it's used to give an accurate identification of an individual." Civil liberties advocates worry that rapid DNA will spur new efforts by the FBI and police to collect ordinary citizens' genetic code.

The US government will soon test the machine in refugee camps in Turkey and possibly Thailand on families seeking asylum in the United States, according to Chris Miles, manager of the Department of Homeland Security's biometrics program. "We have all these families that claim they are related, but we don't have any way to verify that," he says. Miles says that rapid DNA testing will be voluntary, though refusing a test could cause an asylum application to be rejected.

"We're not always aware of how it's being used. All we can say is that it's used to give an accurate identification of an individual."

Miles also says that federal immigration officials are interested in using rapid DNA to curb trafficking by ensuring that children entering the country are related to the adults with them. Jeff Heimburger, the vice president of marketing at IntegenX, says the government has also inquired about using rapid DNA to screen green-card applicants. (An Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman said he was not aware that the agency was pursuing the technology.)

Meanwhile, police have started using rapid DNA in Arizona, Florida, and South Carolina. In August, sheriffs in Columbia, South Carolina, used a RapidHIT to nab an attempted murder suspect. The machine's speed provides a major "investigative lead," said Vince Figarelli, superintendent of the Arizona Department of Public Safety crime lab, which is using a RapidHIT to compare DNA evidence from property crimes against the state's database of 300,000 samples. Heimburger notes that the system can also prevent false arrests and wrongful convictions: "There is great value in finding out that somebody is not a suspect."

But the technology is not a silver bullet for DNA evidence. The IntegenX executives brought up rape kits so often that it sounded like their product could make a serious dent in the backlog of half a million untested kits. Yet when I pressed Schueren on this, he conceded that the RapidHIT is not actually capable of processing rape kits since it can't discern individual DNA in commingled bodily fluids.

Despite the new technology's crime-solving potential, privacy advocates are wary of its spread. If rapid-DNA machines can be used in a refugee camp, "they can certainly be used in the back of a squad car," says Jennifer Lynch, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "I could see that happening in the future as the prices of these machines go down."

Democratic members of Congress have urged the FBI to look into the "broad deployment" of rapid DNA in police stations.

Lynch is particularly concerned that law enforcement agencies will use the devices to scoop up and store ever more DNA profiles. Every state already has a forensic DNA database, and while these systems were initially set up to track convicted violent offenders, their collection thresholds have steadily broadened. Today, at least 28 include data from anyone arrested for certain felonies, even if they are not convicted; some store the DNA of people who have committed misdemeanors as well. The FBI's National DNA Index System has more than 11 million profiles of offenders plus 2 million people who have been arrested but not necessarily convicted of a crime.

For its part, Homeland Security will not hang onto refugees' DNA records, insists Miles. ("They aren't criminals," he pointed out.) However, undocumented immigrants in custody may be required to provide DNA samples, which are put in the FBI's database. DHS documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation say there may even be a legal case for "mandating collection of DNA" from anyone granted legal status under a future immigration amnesty. (The documents also state that intelligence agencies and the military are interested in using rapid DNA to identify sex, race, and other factors the machines currently do not reveal.)

The FBI is the only federal agency allowed to keep a national DNA database. Currently, police must use a lab to upload genetic profiles to it. But that could change. The FBI's website says it is eager to see rapid DNA in wide use and that it supports the "legislative changes necessary" to make that happen. IntegenX's Heimburger says the FBI is almost finished working with members of Congress on a bill that would give "tens of thousands" of police stations rapid-DNA machines that could search the FBI's system and add arrestees' profiles to it. (The RapitHIT is already designed to do this.) IntegenX has spent $70,000 lobbying the FBI, DHS, and Congress over the last two years.

The FBI declined to comment, and Heimburger wouldn't say which lawmakers might sponsor the bill. But some have already given rapid DNA their blessing. Rep. Eric Swalwell, a former prosecutor who represents the district where IntegenX is based, says he'd like to see the technology "put to use quickly to help law enforcement"—while protecting civil liberties.

In March, he and seven other Democratic members of Congress, including progressive stalwart Rep. Barbara Lee of California, urged the FBI to assess rapid DNA's "viability for broad deployment" in police departments across the country.

Exercise in a Bottle Is Next Food Frontier for Nestle

Exercise in a Bottle Is Next Food Frontier for Nestle

By Corinne Gretler  Nov 19, 2014 5:10 AM

Tucked away near Lake Geneva, a handful of Nestle SA (NESN) scientists are quietly working on realizing every couch potato’s dream: exercise that comes in a bottle.

The world’s biggest food company, known for KitKat candy bars and Nespresso capsules, says it has identified how an enzyme in charge of regulating metabolism can be stimulated by a compound called C13, a potential first step in developing a way to mimic the fat-burning effect of exercise. The findings were published in the science journal Chemistry & Biology in July.

While any slimming smoothies or snack bars are a long way off, eight scientists at the Nestle Institute of Health Sciences in Lausanne, Switzerland, are looking for natural substances that can act as triggers. Nestle’s commitment to this type of project illustrates how the company is working to address consumers’ disenchantment with packaged food by formulating products that can do more than sate hunger.

“The border between food and pharma will narrow in the coming years,” said Jean-Philippe Bertschy, an analyst at Bank Vontobel AG in Zurich. “Companies with a diversified, healthy food portfolio will emerge as the winners.”

The numbers already point that way. Consumers’ appetite for food perceived to bring a health benefit, such as gluten-free pasta and organic juice, is forecast to outpace growth in traditional packaged food through 2019 after doing so almost every year in the past decade, according to research firm Euromonitor International.

Try Cycling

On the ground floor of a box-like building located on the campus of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, the Nestle scientists are sorting through natural substances such as fruit and plant extracts to see which ones could modulate the enzyme called AMPK, which acts as a metabolic master switch to facilitate the body’s use of sugar and fat.

The goal is to develop a nutritional product that mimics or enhances the effect of exercise for people with limited mobility due to old age, diabetes or obesity, Kei Sakamoto, the scientist who oversees research on diabetes and circadian rhythms at Nestle, said in a telephone interview. Testing on animals probably won’t start for several years, he said.

“The enzyme can help people who can’t tolerate or continue rigorous exercise,” Sakamoto said. “Instead of 20 minutes of jogging or 40 minutes of cycling, it may help boost metabolism with moderate exercise like brisk walking. They’d get similar effects with less strain.”

Crossing Borders

AMPK’s role is crucial “as energy is needed for all the key physiological processes in the body, from secreting a hormone to moving a muscle and even brain function,” Nestle said in a statement today disclosing its research on the enzyme. Nestle shares gained 0.3 percent to 71.80 Swiss francs at 1:46 p.m. in Zurich trading.

The push into science nutrition means Nestle is going after targets that pharmaceutical companies have pursued for years.

Rigel Pharmaceuticals Inc. of San Francisco started testing its own experimental AMPK activator on humans earlier this year, to see if it can help with one of the consequences of a chronic form of vascular disease. The German drugmaker Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH is working with the Indian biotech Connexios Life Sciences to develop AMPK activators for diabetes.

The list of those who have tried to target AMPK and had no success so far, directly or through collaborations, includes Merck & Co. of the U.S. and Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd. of India. Merck is still at it after more than a decade of research, according to spokeswoman Pamela Eisele. Dr. Reddy’s, reached via e-mail, says it has abandoned research on the enzyme.

Holy Grail

One older diabetes medicine does work by stimulating AMPK. The drug, called metformin, inhibits sugar output from the liver and helps some patients slim down. Nestle doesn’t plan to partner with a drugmaker for its own AMPK project, according to Sakamoto. The Vevey, Switzerland-based company’s research budget of 1.5 billion francs ($1.6 billion) last year almost rivaled that of the Danish drugmaker Novo Nordisk A/S. (NOVOB)

Naveed Sattar, a professor of metabolic medicine at the University of Glasgow, points out others have tried to develop fat-burning products before, to no avail.

“A successful attempt in producing metabolic-assisting foods that mimic exercise would be marvelous -- the holy grail,” Sattar said by telephone. “But there’s no such thing as a free lunch. So far no such product has ever passed clinical trials.”

Nestle’s dabbling in health extends far back. Founder Henri Nestle was a pharmacist by training. The company made Nestrovit vitamins as early as 1936 with the Swiss drugmaker now known as Roche Holding AG. Fifty years later it disbursed $2.5 billion to buy the medical-nutrition unit of Roche’s archrival Novartis AG. Current products include Boost shakes, which help diabetics manage their blood-sugar levels, and Optifast, formulated to assist medically-at-risk patients who need to lose weight swiftly.

The commitment wasn’t always sustained: A joint venture with Baxter International Inc. to sell medical foods was disbanded almost twenty years ago. But lately, the company points to health nutrition as the way of the future, especially as it and others in the industry struggle to find the next frontier of growth, faced with consumers who increasingly shun packaged branded goods in favor of healthier or generic options.

“There’s still a lot about nutrition we don’t know and haven’t explored,” Ewa Hudson, head of health and wellness at Euromonitor in London, said in a phone interview. “You can’t be 100 percent certain of the outcome. It’s expensive. If anyone is to explore it, it would be a company like Nestle.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Corinne Gretler in Zurich at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Celeste Perri at Marthe Fourcade, Thomas Mulier