Updated May. 10, 2017 at 6:52 a.m.

Tech wrap: Faster AI translation; new CERN accelerator; Disney's Avatar bet (+ video); EPA integrity board reboot

Published: 2017-05-10 06:28:00
Updated: 2017-05-10 06:52:33

Bulldog

In today's Bulldog roundup of science and technology news:

  • Facebook says it found faster way to translate through AI
  • CERN launches new accelerator to help boost data output
  • Remember 'Avatar'? Disney sure hopes you do
  • Trump administration hollows out EPA science integrity board

The details:

  • Facebook says it found faster way to translate through AI

Facebook says its researchers have found a new way to use artificial intelligence to translate material on its social network faster and more accurately.

This could mean Facebook users eventually seeing everything translated immediately into their preferred language, not just post but videos too. Facebook already translates posts in more than 45 languages, but CEO Mark Zuckerberg says there is still "a lot more to do."

For now, Facebook has made the research and its methods publicly available so developers and others can use it to build translation and other language tools. Beyond language translation, the technology can be used for chatbots, for example, or other language-based tasks.

The method uses something called a convolutional neural network, a technology that's already used for image processing and other types of machine learning.

  • CERN launches new accelerator to help boost data output

Scientists at the world's biggest atom smasher have inaugurated their newest particle accelerator, a key step toward churning out greater amounts of data that could help explain many lingering mysteries of the universe.

The European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, announced Tuesday the completion of Linac 4, a 90-meter-long (295-foot-long) underground machine that took nearly a decade to build and will deliver proton beams for many experiments.

Linac 4 is CERN's largest accelerator developed since the 2008 startup of the Large Hadron Collider that helped confirm the Higgs boson particle five years ago.

Director-General Fabiola Gianotti said it's the first key element in a multi-year program to "increase the potential of the LHC experiments for discovering new physics and measuring the properties of the Higgs particle in more detail."

  • Remember 'Avatar'? Disney sure hopes you do

You may not have thought much about the 2009 movie "Avatar" over the past eight years, but Disney sure has. The Magic Kingdom is wagering a reported half-billion dollars that you and zillions of other people will line up for new theme park attractions based on the movie's bioluminescent world of Pandora.

[VIDEO: Watch highlights of the new Avatar exhibit at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95P71nA0If4 ]

It's a major gamble, even by Disney standards. While the movie smashed box-office records thanks to its dazzling 3-D effects and higher 3-D ticket prices, it's also left little but a fading echo in pop-culture consciousness. There are no "Avatar" sequels, at least yet, and no spinoffs; memorable characters and catchphrases are also in short supply.

"I've never seen anybody ever walking down street wearing an Avatar t-shirt," says Martin Lewison, a theme park expert and business management professor at Farmingdale State College in New York. "There's no real emotional connection with 'Avatar' among the public despite the movie being so popular."

But theme parks are big business, and Disney is counting on what its executives call "Avatar Land" — the official name is "Pandora - World of Avatar" — to help keep that engine humming. In the fiscal year that ended in October, parks and resorts accounted for 31 percent of Disney's nearly $56 billion in revenue, though only 21 percent of its nearly $16 billion in operating profit.

Disney also wants to prove it can turn its newer cultural properties, which include "Star Wars" and the Marvel superhero franchise, into popular theme-park attractions. In that, it's basically playing catch-up with rival Universal Studios, which launched a hugely successful Harry Potter theme park in 2010.

  • Trump administration hollows out EPA science integrity board

The Trump administration will not reappoint half the expert members of a board that advises the Environmental Protection Agency on the integrity of its science, the latest in a series of moves that could benefit industries whose pollution the government regulates.

Deborah L. Swackhamer, chairwoman of the Board of Scientific Counselors, confirmed Monday that nine of the 18 outside experts on her panel will not serve a second three-year term. The affected board members' terms expired April 30.

Experts are limited to serving two terms on the board, and Swackhamer said that in the past those completing their first term would typically have been reappointed. Four other board members just completed their second terms, meaning 13 of the 18 seats on the panel are now vacant.

EPA spokesman J.P. Freire said the agency's new leadership wants to consider a wider array of applicants, potentially including those who may work for chemical and fossil fuel companies. He said former board members may also be considered.

"We are going to look at all applicants that come in, because this is an open and competitive process," Freire said. "EPA received hundreds of nominations to serve on the board, and we want to ensure fair consideration of all the nominees."

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