Remains of new human species found in S. African cave

Updated 10 September 2015

Remains of new human species found in S. African cave

MAROPENG, South Africa: The fossilized bones of 15 bodies from a previously unknown human species have been discovered in a cave in South Africa, it was announced Thursday, in what scientists hailed as a breakthrough in evolution research.
About 1,500 fossils were found deep in a cave system outside Johannesburg, hidden in an underground chamber only accessible via several steep climbs and rock crevasses.
The new species has been named “Homo naledi” after the “Rising Star” cave where the bones were found. Naledi means “star” in Sesotho, a local South African language.
Experts are uncertain how old the bones are, but say they were probably placed there after death — a discovery that shines fresh light on the origin of the mankind.
“We have just met a new species of human relative that deliberately disposed of its dead,” Lee Berger, research professor at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, announced as the fossils were unveiled.
“Until this moment in history we thought the idea of ritualized behaviors directed toward the dead... was actually unique to Homo sapiens.
“We saw ourselves as different. We have now seen, we believe, a species that had that same capability — and it is an extraordinary thing.”
The bones were first discovered in 2013 by Witwatersrand University scientists and volunteer cavers in the Cradle of Humankind, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, 50 kilometers northwest of Johannesburg.
Ancient human remains have been found in the area since excavations begun in the 1920s.
“The discovery of so many fossils belonging to at least 15 individuals is remarkable,” said Professor Chris Stringer, from the Natural History Museum in London, one of the lead analysts on the discovery.
The find highlighted “the complexity of the human family tree and the need for further research to understand the history and ultimate origins of our species,” Stringer added.
Scientists say the hands, wrists and feet of the bodies were similar to modern humans, but the brain size and upper body were much more like the earliest humans.
“Homo naledi had a tiny brain, about the size of an average orange, perched atop a very slender body,” said John Hawks, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a senior author on the academic paper detailing the new species.
Homo naledi stood approximately 1.5 meters tall and weighed about 45 kilos.
“The hands suggest tool-using capabilities,” said Tracy Kivell of the University of Kent, in Britain, who was part of the team that studied Homo naledi’s anatomy.
“Surprisingly, Homo naledi has extremely curved fingers, more curved than almost any other species of early hominin, which clearly demonstrates climbing capabilities,” she said.
The first expedition to the cave chamber in 2013 lasted for 21 days and involved more than 60 specialist cavers and scientists working in dangerous underground conditions.


Google enters battle for cloud gaming market

Updated 17 November 2019

Google enters battle for cloud gaming market

SAN FRANCISCO, California: Ever-expanding Google becomes a gaming company Tuesday with the launch of its Stadia cloud service that lets people play console-quality video games on a web browser or smartphone.
The Internet giant hopes to break into the global video game industry expected to top $150 billion this year, with cloud technology that could broaden audiences attracted by rich new features as well as ease of access with no more need for consoles.
But analysts say Stadia’s outlook is uncertain as its faces rivals such as PlayStation Now in an emerging and highly-competitive market.
Stadia plays into a trend in which content — ranging from blockbuster films to work projects — lives in the cloud and is accessible from any device.
“All of these new services are merely pointing out that we don’t need sophisticated hardware in the home to access entertainment,” said Wedbush Securities equity research managing director Michael Pachter.
Google last month sold out of “Founder’s Edition” kits, which are priced at $129.
Each kit contains a Stadia controller and a pendant-shaped Chromecast Ultra wireless connection device that plugs into television sets.
Stadia games are playable using Google Chrome web browser software on computers.
It also works with Google-made Pixel smartphones from the second-generation onward, and on televisions.
Stadia Pro subscriptions, priced at $10 a month in the US, will be available in 14 countries in North America and Europe.

'Underwhelming'
However, analysts say Stadia could wind up as another “bet” that Google walks away from if it fails to live up to expectations.
“Stadia will live or die by its content,” said Ovum senior analyst George Jijiashvili.
“The announced 12 launch titles are underwhelming.”
Subscribers will be able to buy games that will be hosted at Google data-centers, but some free games will be available to subscribers, starting with “Destiny 2: The Collection.”
Stadia on smartphones will work with WiFi connections rather than rely on mobile telecom services.
Being able to play without lags or interruptions is paramount to gamers, and flawed Internet connections could cause frustration. Internet speed will also determine how rich in-game graphics can be.
Some promised features such as integration with YouTube will not be in place at launch.
“Stadia appears to be rushed out the door before fully ready and, worryingly, Google is risking falling short on its promises,” Jijiashvili said.
“These shortcomings however would be easily overlooked if Google can deliver a very reliable and high-quality game streaming service.”
Google appears committed to doing just that, according to Ubisoft senior vice president of partnerships Chris Early.
The French video game giant has been working with Google and its games are among titles coming to the service.
“From what I have seen, their plans are too deep; they are too good, and they are too invested,” Early said. “They are not calling it quits any time soon.”
He expects a long launch period during which Google will beef up Stadia.
“If there is a one-day problem at launch, it isn’t the end of the world; it isn’t even close,” he said, stressing the potential for Stadia to let people play without investing in consoles.
But Pachter questioned whether subscriptions were the right approach.
“The right model is pay as you go or pay for the game and play unlimited without a subscription,” Pachter said.
“Amazon will try one of those and will win the streaming wars.”
Amazon has game studios but no online game service.

Project xCloud
US technology veteran Microsoft has been testing a Project xCloud online game platform.
“Next year, we’ll bring Project xCloud to Windows PCs, and are collaborating with a broad set of partners to make game streaming available on other devices as well,” Microsoft corporate vice president Kareem Choudhry said in an online post.
Sony Interactive Entertainment last month slashed the price of its PlayStation Now cloud video game service by about half in the US to $10 monthly.
Japan-based Sony also boosted the library of games that PlayStation Now users can access through its consoles or on personal computers powered by Windows software.
Sony and Microsoft are also poised to release new-generation video game consoles next year.
“While we expect dedicated consoles to eventually lose relevance in the face of cloud gaming services, there’s no guarantee that it will be Google’s service — rather than Sony and Microsoft’s — that catalyzes this trend,” said Ovum senior analyst Matthew Bailey.