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The Hunt for the Kill Switch

Are chip makers building electronic trapdoors in key military hardware? The Pentagon is making its biggest effort yet to find out

14 min read
The Hunt for the Kill Switch
Photo: James Archer/AnatomyBlue

Last September, Israeli jets bombed a suspected nuclear installation in northeastern Syria. Among the many mysteries still surrounding that strike was the failure of a Syrian radar—supposedly state-of-the-art—to warn the Syrian military of the incoming assault. It wasn’t long before military and technology bloggers concluded that this was an incident of electronic warfare—and not just any kind.

Post after post speculated that the commercial off-the-shelf microprocessors in the Syrian radar might have been purposely fabricated with a hidden “backdoor” inside. By sending a preprogrammed code to those chips, an unknown antagonist had disrupted the chips’ function and temporarily blocked the radar.

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Meta Aims to Build the World’s Fastest AI Supercomputer

The AI Research SuperCluster could help the company develop real-time voice translations

3 min read
A brightly lit, high-ceilinged room with rows of silvery-black cabinets and yellow pipes near the ceiling.

Meta's new AI supercomputer.

Meta

Meta, parent company of Facebook, says it has built a research supercomputer that is among the fastest on the planet. By the middle of this year, when an expansion of the system is complete, it will be the fastest, Meta researchers Kevin Lee and Shubho Sengupta write in a blog post today. The AI Research SuperCluster (RSC) will one day work with neural networks with trillions of parameters, they write. The number of parameters in neural network models have been rapidly growing. The natural language processor GPT-3, for example, has 175 billion parameters, and such sophisticated AIs are only expected to grow.

RSC is meant to address a critical limit to this growth, the time it takes to train a neural network. Generally, training involves testing a neural network against a large data set, measuring how far it is from doing its job accurately, using that error signal to tweak the network’s parameters, and repeating the cycle until the neural network reaches the needed level of accuracy. It can take weeks of computing for large networks, limiting how many new networks can be trialed in a given year. Several well-funded startups, such as Cerebras and SambaNova, were launched in part to address training times.

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Rooftop Drones for Autonomous Pigeon Harassment

Have invasive flying rats met their match?

3 min read
A pigeon on a poop covered wooden plank.
iStock photo

Feral pigeons are responsible for over a billion dollars of economic losses here in the United States every year. They’re especially annoying because the species isn’t native to this country—they were brought over from Europe (where they’re known as rock doves and are still quite annoying) because you can eat them, but enough of the birds escaped and liked it here that there are now stable populations all over the country, being gross.

In addition to carrying diseases (some of which can occasionally infect humans), pigeons are prolific and inconvenient urban poopers, deploying their acidic droppings in places that are exceptionally difficult to clean. Rooftops, as well as ledges and overhangs on building facades, are full of cozy nooks and crannies, and despite some attempts to brute-force the problem by putting metal or plastic spikes on every horizontal surface, there are usually more surfaces (and pigeons) than can be reasonably bespiked.

Researchers at EPFL in Switzerland believe that besting an aerial adversary requires an aerial approach, and so they’ve deployed an autonomous system that can identify roof-invading pigeons and then send a drone over to chase them away.

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Fix DFM hotspots in P&R with sign-off confidence
Fix DFM hotspots in P&R with sign-off confidence

This paper introduces the Aprisa low power solution and innovative low-power methodology to quickly converge on low-power-optimized power, performance, and area.