Monday, September 13, 2010

Intel Labs: Wolfenstein Gets Ray Traced, On a Laptop!

Gamers make faster decisions than nongamers, just as accurate

There's a significant controversy over the value of games that are designed to improve people's mental faculties, as some studies have indicated that brain training only helps prepare you for similar tasks, while others indicate that general improvements are possible. But there turns out to be a type of game that is known to boost a variety of skills, from decision making to tracking multiple objects: standard action games. A study, released today by Current Biology attempts to explain how these video games can produce such wide-ranging improvements.

The authors of the study argue that the root of all these tasks involves making a probabilistic inference, where complete information is missing, so people have to make a best guess based on known odds. Video gaming, in their view, increases the efficiency at which people can process the odds and make an accurate decision—gamers simply can do more with less. As a result, any task of this sort sees benefits.

The work started with two sets of subjects, gamers and non-gamers. Both were shown a screen that had a set of randomly moving dots, and asked to determine whether there was any coherent motion, meaning that, despite the apparent randomness, the dots had a tendency to head in a single direction. The participants had to decide when they had seen enough motion to make a decision, and they also had to pick an accurate direction. The former involves a probability judgement: have you seen enough to know that you can detect a trend?

When set loose on this task, both groups performed equally well in terms of accuracy, but the gamers produced the response more quickly than their peers. The same thing happened when the test was switched to a similar task based on tonal differences, indicating the success of gamers wasn't simply the result of their focus on visual cues.

Of course, as the authors note, this doesn't demonstrate causation: "It could also be the case that [video game players] are individuals who have been born with improved abilities at performing probabilistic inferences." To rule this out, they took the non-gamers and gave them 50 hours of training and practice on action games (a control group learned to play slower-paced games). After the training, the same sort of pattern emerged, with the action gamers displaying an enhanced decision time.

The other issue they controlled for was twitchiness—gamers might get the task done more quickly simply because they could hit the key required to complete it faster. To eliminate this possibility, they showed the random motion (or played the tone) for fixed periods of time, and then let the subjects provide an answer at their leisure. When the time allowed for the test was short, gamers were more accurate than their peers. Overall, this supports the conclusion that they can do more with less information.

How might this actually work on the biological level? The authors favor a model where there's a two-part system for judging probabilities: one part registers the relevant information, then transfers it to a second that integrates the information and makes a probability judgment. They argue that gaming enhances the connection between the two, allowing more information to be transferred per unit time. With the additional info, the part of the brain that performs the evaluation can do so more quickly.

Why should gaming exercise this bit of the brain? In short, because action games place a premium on variety and novelty. "Unlike standard learning paradigms, which have a highly specific solution," they argue, "there is no such specific solution in action video games because situations are rarely, if ever, repeated."

The last question they address is why, if this sort of sped-up evaluation is so useful for a variety of tasks, aren't we all born with the abilities of gamers? Here, they claim to have information that they've not yet published, which indicates that shuffling too much information to the evaluation center actually overloads it, leading to poor performance. We'll have to see if that paper ever makes it to press before evaluating whether that's the case.

GoDaddy wants to sell itself for a billion dollars

It has been peddling internet domains  for 13 years but now is peddling itself. It's now soliciting offers for a buyout, with an asking price of $1 billion.
A privately held company, GoDaddy is the #1 provider of online domain name registration in the US. It raked in around $800 million in sales last year. Rumors about it going public have gone around numerous times but it has remained a very big, private corporation. Its owner is Bob Parsons.
As for buyers, may we suggest Nascar driver and noted provocatively-clad GoDaddy spokesperson Danica Patrick? Without her TV spots that leave a lot of questions about what she's actually peddling, the company would clearly be nothing.
The company behind the deal is Qatalyst Partners, which gained notoriety recently when it advised 3Par during that whole Dell/HP bidding war thing. And that ended up turning out very handsomely for 3Par.
Getting $1 billion is a tall order, but GoDaddy has the assets to make it worth someone's while. If a new owner were to take it public, it could spell out even more growth for the company.

22MP Mirrorless Canon EIS 60 Arriving Early Next Year?

Rumor: 22MP Mirrorless Canon EIS 60 Arriving Early Next Year?Canon's said to be working on a micro four thirds-sized mirrorless camera for early next year, for a new high-end EIS range. It'll supposedly use an Electro Image System, and have a 22MP backlit-illuminated CMOS sensor.
The rumor swept over from China on the weekend, with stories of this model shooting 1080p video at 30/24/25fps. An ISO range of 100 - 6400 native can be upped to 25 - 25600 reportedly, with two lens kits available, a 12-75 f2.8-4.0 IS Macro and 75-300 f3.5-5.6 IS, with the full lens choices including a 5mm F4 fisheye, 8-25mm F4 wide-angle zoom, 14mm F2 pancake, 25mm F1.2 pancake, 45mm F1.5 pancake, and 65mm F2.0 Macro.
According to the Chinese forum poster, it will also have an LCD touchscreen, dual SD memory card slot, and work with EF lenses via an EF - EIS adapter. No doubt this would be a big launch for Canon, representing a new way fork in the path from their Electro-Optical System (EOS) range, however at the moment this is little more than Chinese whispers. 

The US' Fastest Internet Speed Is Coming to Chattanooga, Tennessee

The US' Fastest Internet Speed Is Coming to Chattanooga, Tennessee

If you've ever heard of Chattanooga in Tennessee, chances are you're either a resident or you remember this remarkable UFO house constructed in the '70s. From today, it'll be known for offering the fastest internet connection in the US—1Gbps.

Of course, the 1Gbps speed from EPB won't be a patch on the 40Gbps that this Swedish granny was drying her laundry on two years ago, but 1Gbps is actually 200 times faster than the average speed the rest of the US receives.

Any Chattanooga citizens dreaming of lightning-fast downloads will have to fork out $350 a month, though the CEO of EPB admitted that they "don't know how to price a gig...we're experimenting. We'll learn."

In a quote reminiscent of George Mallory's infamous answer to the question of why he chose to climb Mt Everest, the EPB CEO Harold DePriest told the NY Times the reason they're launching a 1Gbps service is "because we can."

Non-Chattanoogaians after similarly-fast speeds will have to look to Google to provide the answer. Bad luck if you weren't one of the 500,000 lucky individuals chosen for their fiber network experiment.