Robin Williams Found Dead at Home!

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Robin Williams, who died Monday at age 63, harnessed his zany comic persona to become one of Hollywood’s most celebrated and bankable movie stars.
Mr. Williams was found dead at his home in Tiburon, Calif., just north of San Francisco, according to the Marin County Sheriff’s Office.

The apparent cause of death was suicide by asphyxiation, although an investigation is continuing.
Emergency personnel found Mr. Williams inside the house he shared with his wife, Susan Schneider, after a 911 call reported a man unconscious and not breathing. The sheriff’s office said Mr. Williams was last seen alive at 10 p.m. on Sunday.
Mr. Williams’s high energy at times masked a personal struggle with alcohol and drug addiction, and a representative for the actor said Monday that “he has been battling severe depression of late.”
After starting his career in stand-up comedy and bursting into public consciousness in 1978 with the hit television comedy “Mork & Mindy,” Mr. Williams built an acting career that included a mix of over-the-top star vehicles like “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “The Birdcage,” along with well-received roles in dramas including “Awakenings” and “Insomnia.”
He was nominated for four Oscars, winning best supporting actor for his role as a therapist to a troubled young math genius in “Good Will Hunting,” which was released in 1997. “This might be the one time I’m speechless,” he said upon accepting the award.
Since his days on “Mork & Mindy,” a fish-out-of-water tale that ran for four seasons in which he played an alien from the planet Ork, Mr. Williams demonstrated a fully formed comedic style filled with tics and habits that would become his trademarks.
Those idiosyncrasies, like monologues full of non sequiturs or unexpected accents, would help him quickly become one of the world’s biggest comedy stars and a favorite guest of late-night television talk shows. Even when not pictured on screen, Mr. Williams had a tendency to become the center of attention, including a celebrated turn as the voice of the madcap genie in the 1992 animated film “Aladdin.”
In 1986, he worked with fellow comedians Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal to start Comic Relief Inc., a charity that raises money for the homeless. Together, they hosted an annual comedy fundraiser for more than a decade, reuniting in 2006 to raise money for people displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

But Mr. Williams surprised many fans who thought of him as “Mork from Ork” by harnessing his manic energy into a string of more dramatic roles. Beginning with 1987’s “Good Morning, Vietnam,” he was nominated for a best actor Oscar three times in five years, with nominations also for “Dead Poets Society” and “The Fisher King.”
Mr. Williams’s acting career slowed in the past decade. He starred in the short-lived series “The Crazy Ones,” which was canceled in May. He recently played the role of Teddy Roosevelt in the family comedy “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb,” which will be released in December.
“As he is remembered, it is our hope the focus will not be on Robin’s death, but on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions,” said Ms. Schneider, his wife.

IBM cracks open a new era of computing with brain-like chip: 4096 cores, 1 million neurons, 5.4 billion transistors!

IBM's TrueNorth chip, and a few friends, in an SMP setup

Scientists at IBM Research have created by far the most advanced neuromorphic (brain-like) computer chip to date. The chip, called TrueNorth, consists of 1 million programmable neurons and 256 million programmable synapses across 4096 individual neurosynaptic cores. Built on Samsung’s 28nm process and with a monstrous transistor count of 5.4 billion, this is one of the largest and most advanced computer chips ever made. Perhaps most importantly, though, TrueNorth is incredibly efficient: The chip consumes just 72 milliwatts at max load, which equates to around 400 billion synaptic operations per second per watt — or about 176,000 times more efficient than a modern CPU running the same brain-like workload, or 769 times more efficient than other state-of-the-art neuromorphic approaches. Yes, IBM is now a big step closer to building a brain on a chip.

The animal brain (which includes the human brain, of course), as you may have heard before, is by far the most efficient computer in the known universe. As you can see in the graph below, the human brain has a “clock speed” (neuron firing speed) measured in tens of hertz, and a total power consumption of around 20 watts. A modern silicon chip, despite having features that are almost on the same tiny scale as biological neurons and synapses, can consume thousands or millions times more energy to perform the same task as a human brain. As we move towards more advanced areas of computing, such as artificial general intelligence and big data analysis — areas that IBM just happens to be deeply involved with — it would really help if we had a silicon chip that was capable of brain-like efficiency.

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IBM's TrueNorth (SyNAPSE) chip, in detail

Enter TrueNorth, the culmination of the six-year-old SyNAPSE project at IBM Research. The work, which has been partly funded by DARPA since 2008, resulted in a prototype chip with just 256 neurons in 2011, and the Corelet programming language in 2013. This new chip is a second-generation version of the 2011 prototype, based on a new process (Samsung 28nm vs. IBM 45nm) and is orders of magnitude more complex, functional, and efficient. TrueNorth is implemented in standard CMOS transistors, just like the CPU in your PC — but that’s where the similarities end.

Each TrueNorth chip consists of 4096 neurosynaptic cores arranged in a 64×64 grid. Each core is self-contained, with 256 inputs (axons), 256 outputs (neurons), a big bank of SRAM (which stores the data for each neuron), and a router that allows for any neuron to transmit to any axon up to 255 cores away. Information flows across TrueNorth by way of neural spikes, from axons to neurons, modulated by the programmable synapses between them. This architecture is fundamentally based on Cornell Tech’s original work on asynchronous circuit design, which IBM has been refining since 2008. You would definitely call this a non-Von Neumann chip design.

Diagram explaining the various aspects of IBM's TrueNorth chip

16 TrueNorth chips

With 256×256 (65,536) configurable synapses per core arranged in a crossbar array, and a 2D mesh network providing interconnectivity between the 4096 cores, we’re probably talking about the most massively parallel chip ever made — which is fitting, considering parallelism is one of the reasons animal brains are so effective. Oh, and did I mention that the TrueNorth chip itself can also be used in a symmetric multiprocessor (SMP) setup? IBM has already built a 16-chip system with 16 million neurons and 4 billion synapses.

If you’re looking for more details on TrueNorth, an IBM/Cornell Tech research paper is being published by Science today — but at the time of publishing we don’t have the link. We’ll update this story when we have it. If you’re looking for a less technical breakdown of TrueNorth and neuromorphic computing, IBM provided us with a rather nice infographic.
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One of the key problems with developing a new chip based on a novel architecture is that you also have to create developer tools and software that actually make efficient use of those thousands of cores and billions of synapses. Fortunately, IBM’s already got that covered: Last year it released a specialized programming language (Corelet) and simulator (Compass) that let you program and test your neuromorphic programs before running them on actual hardware.

So, why should I care about TrueNorth?

Ultimately, the main purpose of the SyNAPSE project is to take existing systems that simulate the functionality of the brain in software — such as deep neural networks — and run them on hardware that was specifically designed for the task. As you may already know, dedicated hardware tends to orders of magnitude more efficient than simulating/emulating the hardware in software on a general-purpose CPU. This is why IBM is touting some utterly incredible efficiency figures for TrueNorth. For neural networks with high spike rates and a large number of active synapses, TrueNorth can deliver 400 billion synaptic operations per second (SOPS) per watt. When running the exact same neural network, a general-purpose CPU is 176,000 times less energy efficient, while a state-of-the-art multiprocessor neuromorphic system (48 chips, each with 18 cores) is 769 times less efficient. While it’s not directly comparable, the world’s most efficient supercomputer only manages around 4.5 billion FLOPS per watt.

IBM SyNAPSE headset thing

At this point, it’s worth noting that TrueNorth is pretty much ready to go for commercial applications. On the data center/supercomputer side of things, IBM already has dozens of big data solutions — such as Watson — that could be dramatically enhanced by TrueNorth. For consumers, the fact that TrueNorth consumes much less power than conventional Von Neumann chips could be significant. While TrueNorth isn’t going to run your operating system any time soon, it would make a fantastically efficient coprocessor to handle sensor input, computer vision, AI (self-driving cars), and other emerging spheres in personal/wearable computing.

Neural networks are fantastic things, but historically they operate on hugely inefficient clusters of conventional computers. With TrueNorth’s truly novel architecture, that changes — with TrueNorth, IBM is now a big step closer to building a brain on a chip, and that could be big news for the future of computing.

Former Apple employee Sam Sung auctions his business card!

I can’t imagine being an Apple employer and keeping a straight face while hiring a man named Sam Sung. As it turns out, the Cupertino-based company did have a Sam Sung on payroll, a man who ironically shares his name with Apple’s main competitor. He worked as a specialist in a Vancouver store, which earned him the right for his very own business cards.

An image of his business card was found to be quite comic by the tech community. It went viral, but he had very little to say about the matter, as Apple’s policies wouldn’t allow him to comment much on the case. He is no longer working for Apple and has a single business card left. What to do with this one-of-a-kind piece of paper?

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Would you be willing to pay a significant amount of cash for Sam Sung’s business card? You can go place your bids on his auction! Sung has framed his business card, along with his company t-shirt and the official Apple Store lanyard. He then autographed the shirt and started the bids at just $0.99, a steal for any technology enthusiast.

Screen Shot 2014-08-06 at 5.10.59 PMThe number quickly grew to substantial amounts of cash, though. Over 70 bids later, the auction now stands at $2,550 USD. That is a very high price for merchandise that probably costed apple a few dollars, but Sam Sung is hoping a tech collector “with a good sense of humor” may appreciate it.

The framed contents do come with a very rewarding sentiment, after all. Sam has honorably decided donate all proceeds to the Children’s Wish foundation, an organization that grants wishes to sick children. Sung has pledged to post a picture of Jennifer Peterson (the foundation’s director) as soon as the auction concludes.

Unlike most of us here, Sam does state he has no hard feelings for Apple, something Samsung also wouldn’t agree with. He just found this to be a great opportunity to help a good cause.