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Earlier this year, researchers found the signal of inflation hidden in the cosmic microwave background—the radiative remnants of the Big Bang took a long time to reveal their secrets. It was a big day. Cosmologists everywhere broke out the Radler, got horrendously drunk, and rioted in front of campus administration buildings. Okay, maybe not—getting drunk while drinking Radler is difficult under the best of circumstances.

No, in reality, they went back to work. Even if those results hold up and inflation is as predicted, that still leaves cosmologists missing two pieces of their puzzle: dark matter and dark energy. While everyone else is searching the skies, a group of physicists has shown that bouncing neutrons are actually very sensitive to variations in gravity. Their research is now putting stringent limits on certain dark energy and dark matter theories.

Three forces walk into a bar

Before we crack open the door to the lab and reveal results, it is important to see how inflation, dark energy, and dark matter all fit together. When we look out into the Universe, its appearance is rather odd. It is surprisingly smooth over very large scales, containing lots of, well, bugger all. And where there is matter, it is clumped up much more than expected. So, the Universe is both smooth and lumpy. It’s also still inflating. Our observations show that the expansion of the Universe not only continues, but is getting faster.

The smoothness of the Universe can be explained by very rapid expansion—inflation. If you have the right amount of inflation to explain the size and smoothness of the Universe, however, there is not enough observable matter to get stars or galaxies. The force of gravity is simply too weak to draw matter together. This is one of a number of reasons we need dark matter. And, finally, to explain the acceleration of the expansion of the Universe, we need dark energy; ideally, that would explain both early inflation and today’s inflation. Until recently, all of these were placeholder concepts that may or may not take the form implied by their names.

Nevertheless, these names seem to have been good guesses. Observations of galactic collisions tell us that dark matter probably is some form of matter. Observations of the cosmic microwave background radiation tell us that inflation may well have taken place as predicted. Dark energy, though, is still a very open question.

Dreaming up physics

The point about placeholder concepts is that physicists can sit around dreaming up possible ways to explain the placeholder effect. Dark matter might just be a modified theory of gravity; or it could be heavy but cold particles; or light weight particles; or, well, insert your own idea here. The only requirement is that these ideas fit the available data and don’t break anything else. After coming up with an explanation, the key step is to figure out how that explanation might affect the Universe in other ways. Once you know that, the real work can begin: the search for evidence.

In amongst the many theories for dark matter, a particle family called the axion is one contender. The axion is not really a family of particles; because no one has found an axion, the particle has a range of possible properties that depend on theoretical considerations. This is much like how Higgs’ particle had a range of possible masses and could even have been a descriptor of multiple Higgs-like particles. We couldn’t tell the difference until the LHC finally found the actual Higgs particle.

In any case, the axion is a very light particle. And that is important for detecting its presence. The LHC needed protons, smashing together at very high energy, to create and detect the Higgs particle. But, when a particle has very little energy, you can use a very low energy probe to detect it. This brings particle physics back into the realm of nearly ordinary laboratory physics.

I say nearly ordinary because, although you only need a low energy probe, the changes induced by the axion will also be very small.

Hiding neutrons in a beer fridge

And this is where our intrepid group of physicists comes in. Their experiment takes the form of a very cold beam of neutrons. These neutrons float into a chamber containing two neutron mirrors. As the neutrons travel through the chamber, they bounce back and forth between the mirrors, finally exiting at the other end, where they hit a neutron detector.

If you know the angle at which the neutrons hit the first mirror, the distance between the mirrors, and the size of the mirrors, you will know exactly which direction the neutrons will be headed when they exit the chamber. By placing the detector at the right location, you will see lots of neutrons. However, if gravity is not exactly the strength that you expect, or the neutrons are slowed because they stopped to play with a passing dark matter particle, then the detector will see fewer neutrons.

This early version of the experiment saw nothing that would indicate any deviation from ordinary gravity.

This time around, however, the team has increased the sensitivity by vibrating one of the mirrors. The neutrons will keep bouncing for a long time if the mirror is stationary. By moving the mirror, we amplify the motion, speeding the neutrons up. They hit the other mirror sooner, and that changes the final trajectory of the neutrons when they exit the chamber. But the mirror must oscillate at precisely the right frequency in order to amplify the motion. That means that if dark energy is changing local gravity at all, we will see it because the vibrational frequency of the mirror will have to change to come into resonance with the bouncing neutrons.

Again, no changes to the resonance frequency were observed. This closes the window on the coupling between dark energy and ordinary matter by about five orders of magnitude. It does, however, still leave another seven orders of magnitude to be eliminated. It should also be noted that this only applies to a certain family of dark energy theories.

Along with not detecting dark energy, the researchers failed to find axions as well. In this case, the axions are expected to affect neutrons through the neutron spin. The neutron spins were all aligned by performing the experiment in the presence of a magnetic field. Axions are unaffected by the magnetic field because their spin is zero. But, should a neutron bounce off a passing axion, the interaction between the spins will cause the neutron to flip its spin (the spin can either be aligned to the magnetic field, or anti-aligned, but not in between), changing its resonance frequency relative to the mirror yet again. By looking at whether the change in resonance frequency depends on the orientation of the magnetic field, any interactions between an axion and the neutron beam should be made apparent.

But it wasn’t. In this case, the coupling strength between the axion and the spin of ordinary matter was shown to be at least 30 times lower than previous measurements. Unfortunately, there is no window to close on axions, because the coupling could be anywhere between the current upper limit and zero. Meaning that higher and higher precision experiments can only get closer to zero, but never exactly eliminate the possibility. Clearly, other experiments will be required for that.

I love these bouncing neutron experiments, though. They are conceptually simple and don’t require teams of hundreds of researchers to get great results. I eagerly await more results.


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Easyship’s platform plugin and integrations enable stores to print labels, automate international paperwork, and display real-time courier rates

Hong Kong-based Easyship raises US$4M Series A [press release]

Easyship, a shipping platform for active SMBs to simplify and automate logistics, announced today it has raised a US$4 million in Series A round of funding from a slew of investors, including Maximilian Bittner, ex-CEO & Founder of Lazada and Senior Advisor of Alibaba Group; and Richard Lepeu, ex-CEO of global luxury giant Richemont and board member of Yoox Net-A-Porter Group.

Existing investors Lamivoie Capital Partners and Richard Lepeu, as well as Rubicon Venture Capital, One Way Ventures, Kima Ventures and Picus Capital, have also co-invested.

The startup was founded in 2015 by Tommaso Tamburnotti and Augustin Ceyrac (both formerly worked at Lazada), and Paul Lugagne Delpon. Easyship’s cloud-based platform helps e-commerce merchants ship worldwide. Its platform plugin and integrations enable stores to print labels, automate international paperwork, display real-time courier rates, and offer their customers dynamic tax and duties at checkout.

The startup has offices in New York, Singapore, Netherlands, Australia, and Hong Kong.

Singapore’s GIC backs EV charging network ChargePoint’s US$240M funding [DealStreetAsia]

Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC has joined a group of investors backing the US$240 million Series H funding in ChargePoint, a California-headquartered electric vehicle charging network, according to an announcement.

ChargePoint claims to have more than 57,000 independently owned public and semi-public charging spots and thousands of customers.

Other investors in the round include American Electric Power, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Chevron Technology Ventures, Clearvision and Daimler Truck & Buses. Quantum Energy Partners was the lead investor.

Korea’s blockchain casino project MECA Casino raises investment from ICON [press release]

South Korea-based blockchain project ICON has made a strategic investment in MECA Casino, a blockchain casino project.

MECA Casino is a DApp (Decentralised Application) of ICON and it is a reverse ICO project by Crypto Meca. MECA Casino has been developing casino games for more than three years and is ready to launch blackjack and baccarat table games. MECA Casino plans to open ‘the largest decentralised casino platform’ including sports betting solution by Q4 of 2019.

‘Master System’ of MECA Casino enables users to become ‘master’ who is an operator of casinos to be profitable from casino operation. ‘Masters’ can upgrade their casinos to attract more players, gain higher profits, and trade casinos with other potential Masters. Players can exchange MECA Coin (MCA) with MECA Chip (MCC) to play games in MECA Casino or trade casinos.

Revolut is ready to launch in Singapore and Japan [TechCrunch]

Fintech startup Revolut has been teasing Asian market expansions for more than a year, but it sounds like it might finally happen. The company has secured licenses to operate in Singapore and Japan. It now expects to launch its service in Q1 2019.

In Singapore, the company was granted a Remittance License by the Monetary Authority and a Stored Value Facility approval — these two things combined let Revolut users hold money as well as send and spend money. In Japan, the company has been authorised to operate by Japan’s Finance Service Agency. __ yahoo news

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Microsoft Corp has won a US$480mil (RM2.01bil) contract to supply prototypes for augmented reality systems to the Army for use on combat missions and in training, the Army said.

The contract, which could eventually lead to the military purchasing over 100,000 headsets, is intended to “increase lethality by enhancing the ability to detect, decide and engage before the enemy”, according to a government description of the programme.

“Augmented reality technology will provide troops with more and better information to make decisions. This new work extends our longstanding, trusted relationship with the Department of Defence to this new area,” a Microsoft spokesman said in an emailed statement.

The US Army and the Israeli military have already used Microsoft’s HoloLens devices in training, but plans for live combat would be a significant step forward.

HoloLens is one of the leading consumer-grade headsets, but a large consumer market doesn’t yet exist; a video made for the European Patent Office this spring said it had sold about 50,000 devices. That’s about half the number the Army expects to buy through its augmented reality programme, which is called the Integrated Visual Augmentation System, or IVAS.

With the contract, the Army immediately becomes one of Microsoft’s most important HoloLens consumers. It expects devices to vary from their consumer-grade counterparts in a handful of key respects. In a document shared with companies bidding on the contract, the Army said it wanted to incorporate night vision and thermal sensing, measure vital signs like breathing and “readiness”, monitor for concussions and offer hearing protection. It said the winning bidder would be expected to deliver 2,500 headsets within two years, and exhibit the capacity for full-scale production.

The contract went though a bidding process designed to encourage the Army to do business with companies who aren’t traditional defence contractors. Magic Leap, which makes the main competitor to HoloLens for the consumer market, also pursued the contract. In early August, the Army held meetings with 25 companies interested in participating in some way, including Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp, Lockheed Martin Corp, and Raytheon Co. The technology industry’s cooperation with the US military and law enforcement has become increasingly tense over the last year, with employees at companies like Alphabet Inc’s Google and Inc pushing back against government contracts.

Earlier this year, hundreds of Microsoft workers signed a petition criticising a contract with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement that Microsoft had originally said included some of its AI software. In October, a blog post purportedly written by Microsoft employees urged the company not to bid on a multi-billion dollar US military cloud contract.

“Many Microsoft employees don’t believe that what we build should be used for waging war,” they wrote.

Later that month, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, Brad Smith, said the company would continue to sell software to the US military. Smith wrote that employees with ethical qualms with projects would be allowed to move to other work within the company.

“Artificial intelligence, augmented reality and other technologies are raising new and profoundly important issues, including the ability of weapons to act autonomously. As we have discussed these issues with governments, we’ve appreciated that no military in the world wants to wake up to discover that machines have started a war,” he wrote.

But we can’t expect these new developments to be addressed wisely if the people in the tech sector who know the most about technology withdraw from the conversation.” – Bloomberg


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Truata, the Dublin based data anonymisation and analytics company, has today been awarded the 2018 HPE-IAPP Privacy Innovation Award at the IAPP Europe Data Protection Conference in Brussels.

Truata was founded in early 2018 by Mastercard and IBM to deliver next-generation data protection and analytics to the marketplace. In awarding Truata with this honour, the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) has recognised the service that Truata offers to companies who want to continue to leverage their data to innovate and grow while respecting and safeguarding the privacy of their customers.

The Truata Anonymisation Solution is designed to deliver actionable insights to its customers who operate in multiple industries including financial services, telecommunications, hospitality, retail and travel. Truata independently anonymises a customer’s data, giving that customer the freedom to carry out analysis while protecting people’s personal data. Running on the IBM Cloud, the Truata solution is specifically designed to fully meet the high regulatory thresholds for anonymisation as the original source data and the anonymised data will not at any time co-exist in one organisation. This ensures that analytics can be conducted across a customer’s entire data set while only analysing the fully-anonymised versions of that data.

Based on the principle of privacy by design, and using the latest data privacy technologies developed by IBM Research, the Truata Anonymisation Solution benefits from innovative technological, structural, legal and organisational safeguards. It enables companies to both maximise their data analytics utility and minimise their risk of non-compliance with privacy regulations.

On receiving the award, Aoife Sexton, Truata Chief Privacy Officer said, “The changing regulatory environment is bringing about a real challenge for companies to understand how they can use data to foster innovation but do so in a legally compliant and ethical manner. We have developed a solution that addresses this challenge by allowing companies to continue to use their data for analytics – but in a responsible way that is compliant with the GDPR, respecting both the letter and the spirit of the regulation. We are grateful to the IAPP for recognising this new innovative solution.”

Felix Marx, CEO of Truata, added, “Post GDPR, companies still need to generate value and insights from their data through analytics if they want to innovate and provide their customers the services and products they want. The optimal way to do this, while respecting your customers’ privacy rights, is to have your data anonymised by an independent third party as part of an end-to-end service including world class analytics. Truata is the first to market with this solution.”

“In today’s global digital economy, organisations will play a critical role in furthering innovation and convenience, while handling data responsibly and ethically,” said JoAnn Stonier, chief data officer for Mastercard and Truata board member. “At Mastercard, we saw the GDPR as an opportunity to enhance our data practices and—with Truata —help other businesses do the same. This award from IAPP is a terrific honour and validation of the importance of finding a path that enables both data innovation and stringent privacy protections.”

Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and issued by the IAPP, the world’s largest information privacy community and resource with more than 32,000 members in over 100 countries, the much coveted Innovation Award recognises unique programmes and services in global privacy and data protection across both private and public sectors.

“The 2018 HPE-IAPP Privacy Innovation Award is presented to Truata, an exemplar safeguarding tool built on the principle of privacy by design. This award spotlights unique programs and services in global privacy and data protection; we are honouring Truata for practising fine innovation,” said IAPP President and CEO J. Trevor Hughes.

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