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Watson Bests Humans in Jeopardy! Practice Bout

IBM’s Watson supercomputer beat two human contestants this week in a practice round for its television debut on the popular quiz show Jeopardy! The system, which showcases IBM Research’s advances in artificial intelligence, is able to understand natural human language. As a contestant, Watson has to be able to successfully understand complex linguistic expressions and concepts, including puns and slang. The computer, which isn’t connected to the Internet, stores its accumulated knowledge  in its database. It is not connected to the Internet. Watson correctly answered questions about musical film and author Agatha Christie and reportedly stayed mute during a series of questions on children’s literature. The supercomputer isn’t simply a novelty, but its development is expected to lead to the use of natural-language technology in areas including health care, where it could be used to assist doctors with more accurately diagnosing patients, or in settings such as tourist information centers or customer hotlines, IBM says. Watson is scheduled to play against leading Jeopardy! contestants Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in February. All of Watson’s winnings will be donated to charity while Jennings and Rutter have said they intend to donate half their winnings. (Reuters)(CNNMoney)(USA Today)

Tablet Computer Sales Significant in 4Q 2010

Sales of tablet computers undermined PC sales in the fourth quarter of 2010, according to a report released by International Data Corp. (IDC). The firm’s analysts found global sales growth for PCs in the quarter was only 2.7 percent, significantly less than the 5.5 percent originally projected. Demand has softened in Asia/Pacific (except for Japan) while other regions were generally in line with expectations. Total PC shipments for 2010 reached 346.2 million, according to the (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker. PC sales aren’t predicted to improve in 2011. "This situation is likely to persist in 2011, if not get worse as a wave of media tablets could put a dent on the traditional PC market," analyst David Daoud said in a statement. The market might struggle to reach the previous projections of roughly 10 percent during 2011, although IDC expects double-digit growth in the second half of the year. (Silicon Valley / San Jose Business Journal)(The Wall Street Journal)(BusinessWire)(IDC Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker)

Google Pays First Chrome-Related Critical Bounty, Releases Update

Google awarded its first elite bounty to a researcher who found a critical security hole in its Chrome browser. Sergey Glazunov found a critical vulnerability as well as several other bugs in the browser. The award for the critical bug find, the highest award from Google under the program, was US$3,133.70. A total of 16 flaws were patched with a new Chrome release, which repaired components including the browser's support for extensions, its built-in PDF viewer, and processing cascading style sheets (CSS). Google paid Glazunov a total of $7,470 for reporting five of the 16 bugs. (CNET)(Computerworld)(Google Chrome Releases)

Sony to Shutter Large US Manufacturing Plant

Sony has announced plans to close one of its largest CD manufacturing plants in March. The company says digital downloads and other economic issues have necessitated the closure of the South New Jersey facility, which, at its capacity, reportedly made 18 million CDs per month. The plant originally made vinyl records for Columbia Records when it opened in May 1961, then shifted to making CDs in 1988. Digital music sales in the US alone represent 43 percent of the recorded music market. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Sony is consolidating its production of music CDs and video DVDs to a plant in Terre Haute, Indiana. A year ago, Sony stopped manufacturing DVDs at the New Jersey plant, eliminating roughly 160 jobs. An estimated 50 workers will retain their jobs, but will move to nearby rented office space once the facility shuts its doors 31 March.
(SlashDot)(Network World)(The Philadelphia Inquirer)(The Glouchester County Times)

Digital Eiffel Tower Helps Preserve Structure

The Technical Centre for Mechanical Industries (CETIM) in France created a digital, dynamic model of the Eiffel Tower to assist SETE (Société d'Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel) in maintaining the landmark. The model is designed to simulate the various external stresses and operating load – which include the effects of weather, visitor traffic, and maintenance operations – on the Eiffel Tower to help SETE develop a maintenance plan for the structure, which was originally designed to last only for 20 years when it was built for the 1889 Universal Exhibition. Modeling the structure, which is made of a now obsolete type of wrought iron, was a technical challenge because its materials perform differently from contemporary construction materials. This required mechanical and chemical tests to project how stresses might affect the tower. The model was initially commissioned by SETE in 2008. The Eiffel Tower is reportedly scheduled for a fresh coat of paint later this year as well as remodeling of its first floor. (redOrbit)(AFP)(CETIM)

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