Welcome to the September 2, 2016 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
Please note: In observance of the U.S. Labor Day holiday, TechNews will not be published on Monday, Sept. 5. Publication will resume Wednesday, Sept. 7.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
How Maggots Are Influencing the Future of Robotics
CORDIS News (09/01/16)
The European Union-funded MINIMAL project is concentrating on the learning processes of the fruit fly larva, which project coordinator Barbara Webb says "could have important applications for technology, such as the development of self-learning small robotic devices." Webb's team chose the maggot because closely monitoring and controlling its behavior and brain processes in response to stimuli, in this case exposure to odors, was possible. "We discovered that some specific single brain cells are sufficient, when activated, to make the larva learn that a particular odor is good," Webb says. "We plan to explore this further using a new method...which shows the activity of specific brain cells lighting up, which we can track even when the larva moves around freely." Webb says the research could lead to small and inexpensive machines for precision agriculture, to be deployed on an as-needed basis. She also sees applications in information, such as the development of software and computer interfaces that can predict a user's next action. "The next step is to consolidate our findings into a model of the neural learning mechanism of the larva and test this out on a robot," Webb says.
How Tech Giants Are Devising Real Ethics for Artificial Intelligence
The New York Times (09/01/16) John Markoff
Researchers from Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook, IBM, and Microsoft are forming an alliance to establish an ethical standard for artificial intelligence (AI) development. Four people involved in the alliance's foundation say the group's intent is to make sure AI research is focused on societal benefits and not harm. One of the group's executives, Microsoft researcher Eric Horvitz, recipient of the 2015 ACM AAAI Allen Newell Award, sponsors a Stanford University group that on Thursday issued a report underscoring the value of the industry effort. The report's authors warn it will be impossible to regulate AI, "since there is no clear definition of AI (it isn't any one thing), and the risks and considerations are very different in different domains." Study co-author and University of Texas at Austin researcher Peter Stone recommends boosting awareness of and expertise about AI at all levels of government. Both the AI industry group and a proposed initiative at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) seek to investigate AI's social and economic implications, with the latter discussing the design of new AI and robotic systems with "society in the loop." "What we want to do is support and reinforce the social scientists who are doing research which will play a role in setting policies," says MIT Media Lab director Joichi Ito.
Deakin Uni, Ytek Kick Off Machine Learning Algorithm Research for Simulation Training
ZDNet (09/02/16) Aimee Chanthadavong
Researchers at Australia's Deakin University and Melbourne-based software company Ytek are working to develop the skills of those training in the emergency response, defense, and aerospace sectors using machine-learning algorithms. The researchers are developing simulation solutions used to train surgeons, emergency workers, soldiers, and pilots. As part of the research, the team will study how machine-learning algorithms can help monitor and evaluate a trainee's actions in mission-critical simulations by using sensors on training tools to evaluate how trainers can assess students in practical training. The project is part of Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Organization's (CSIRO) Science and Industry Endowment Fund (SIEF) STEM+ Business Fellowship grant program, which aims to link small and mid-size enterprises with researchers to develop their products and capabilities, according to CSIRO. The new investment will increase the number of startup incubators and accelerators in Australia, support the expansion of existing high-performing incubators and accelerators, attract "experts in residence" to provide specialist advice to startups, and provide funding to new and existing incubators and accelerators. "Incubators and accelerators assist startups with new business networks and expert advice, helping them access new sources of funding and bring innovative ideas to market sooner," says Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
China's Baidu to Open Source Its Deep Learning AI Platform
SiliconANGLE (08/31/16) Robert Hof
China's Baidu on Thursday announced it will make its artificial intelligence (AI) software, PArallel Distributed Deep LEarning (PaddlePaddle), publicly available on GitHub. PaddlePaddle lead developer Xu Wei says the software is designed to be used by a wide range of coders, even those who are not expert in deep learning. "You don't need to be an expert to quickly apply this to your project," Xu notes. "You don't worry about writing math formulas or how to handle data tasks." Xu also says PaddlePaddle needs considerably less code than certain alternatives. For example, he says a machine-translation model based on PaddlePaddle requires only a fraction of the written code other AI platforms need, while existing models can be applied to new problems without demanding complex equations. Xu says the advantage of open sourcing AI algorithms is the potential to attract more deep-learning engineers. More important as a competitive differentiator than the algorithms themselves is the data they collect, with 451 Research's Peter Christy noting, "the breakthroughs are much more in how you gather and use training datasets."
Machine Learning Techniques Enable Models From Partial Image Data
King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (08/31/16)
Researchers at Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) say they have integrated machine-learning techniques to develop a method to automatically complete and generate three-dimensional (3D) building models characteristic of a given area by using partial images. "The core of our work was to come up with a meaningful set of features, parameters, and their relationships that can describe buildings generically," says Peter Wonka, a researcher at KAUST's Visual Computing Center. Wonka notes services such as Google StreetView provide enormous volumes of data on residential buildings, and the new modeling scheme takes that data and extracts key external features of each building, such as observable footprint, size of the garage, roof style, and the window-to-wall ratio. "The scheme then 'learns' a probabilistic graphical model to encode the relationships between these features," Wonka says. He notes this enables users to sample specific features or fix observed features and compute the unobserved structure. Finally, Wonka says there is an optimization step that translates building features into 3D building models. "Our probabilistic model for exteriors of residential buildings could also help architects more easily generate building prototypes or generate plausible 3D reconstructions from a limited set of photographs," he says.
Stanford-Hosted Study Examines How AI Might Affect Urban Life in 2030
Stanford News (09/01/16) Tom Abate
A year-long, Stanford University-hosted study projects how artificial intelligence (AI) will realistically impact North American urban life in eight domains by 2030. Stanford's One Hundred Year Study on AI (AI100) is the result of a standing committee of researchers enlisted to evaluate the technological, economic, and policy ramifications of potential AI applications in a societally relevant environment. Five sections of the new report focus on application areas such as transportation, home/service robots, healthcare, education, and entertainment. The three other sections concentrate on technological effects in domains such as low-resource communities, public safety and security, and employment and the workplace. The AI100 panel says the study seeks to guide ethical development of AI technologies via public discourse. "It is not too soon for social debate on how the fruits of an AI-dominated economy should be shared," the report's authors note. AI100 standing committee chair Barbara Grosz, recipient of the 2009 ACM AAAI Allen Newell Award, says AI technologies can be reliable and yield a wide spectrum of benefits. "Being transparent about their design and deployment challenges will build trust and avert unjustified fear and suspicion," she notes.
AP Computer Science Principles Course Aims to Attract More Students to the Field
U.S. News and World Report (08/31/16) Amy Golod
The College Board's new advanced placement (AP) Computer Science Principles course will introduce computer science and programming fundamentals to U.S. high school students, with a focus on collaboration and creativity. Unlike the existing AP Computer Science A course, the new course will not require previous knowledge of programming languages and technology, and it is aimed at making computing accessible to underrepresented demographics. Students will be exposed to a variety of applications and programming languages through project-based learning. In addition to algorithms and programming, the course will concentrate on the global effects of computing and the ethical usage of data. "We're focusing not just on the knowledge we want students to have, but the practices and experiences we want them to have before they leave the course," says the College Board's Richard Kick. Now that a three-year pilot program has concluded, Computer Science Principles will launch in the fall and consist of two projects and a final exam. For one project, students will use a digital medium to explain the development of a computer science application; for the second project, students will build an app using a programming language of their choice. The project-based approach is intended to engage classes filled with students who have varying levels of programming experience.
Colors From Darkness: Researchers Develop Alternative Approach to Quantum Computing
Aalto University (08/30/16)
Aalto University researchers in Finland have demonstrated the suitability of microwave signals in the coding of information for quantum computing. The researchers used a microwave resonator based on extremely sensitive measurement devices called superconductive quantum interference devices. They cooled the resonator down to near absolute zero, a state that corresponds to perfect darkness where no photon is present. However, the researchers note in this state, which is also called a quantum vacuum, there exist fluctuations that bring photons in and out of existence for a very short time. The researchers were able to convert these fluctuations into real photons of microwave radiation with different frequencies, and found these photons are correlated with each other. "The photons at different frequencies will play a similar role to the registers in classical computers, and logical gate operations can be performed between them," says Aalto researcher Sorin Paraoanu. The researchers say by utilizing the multi-frequency microwave signals, an alternative approach to quantum computing can be pursued that realizes the logical gates by sequences of quantum measurements.
Revealed: Google's Plan for Quantum Computer Supremacy
New Scientist (08/31/16) Jacob Aron
Google expects to have the world's largest working quantum computer ready soon, as researchers say the company is on the verge of a breakthrough. Hints were dropped in July when Google published a study in which it announced a plan to achieve "quantum supremacy" by building the first quantum computer that can perform a task beyond the capabilities of classic computers. Google publicly announced a 9-quantum-bit (qubit) system, but its goal is a 50-qubit computer that can model the behavior of a random arrangement of quantum circuits. "They're doing a quantum version of chaos," says Simon Devitt at Japan's RIKEN Center for Emergent Matter Science. After pushing classical computing to its limit in the simulation of quantum circuit behavior on the Edison supercomputer to set the goal it hopes to achieve, Google hired University of California, Santa Barbara professor John Martinis to design superconducting qubits. Devitt thinks quantum supremacy could be achieved by the end of 2017, although meeting the challenge even within the next five years would still be a major accomplishment. Building a 50-qubit quantum device would be the first step toward a fully scalable machine, which Devitt says will indicate the technology is "ready to move out of the labs."
U.S. State Department Tackles Gender Gap in STEM Participation
Education Week (08/30/16) Taylor Lewis
The U.S. Department of State seeks to address the gender gap in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields by sponsoring initiatives such as TechGirls, a summer program designed to bring girls from the Middle East and North Africa on visits to U.S. technology firms to support international STEM community-building. Participants take part in a coding camp at American University and community service activities. The World Economic Forum estimates a much greater percentage of women in Middle Eastern and North African nations graduate with STEM degrees than in the U.S. Nour Atrissi, president of Lebanon's Teens Who Code academy, says a key impediment to proper STEM education in her country is a lack of emphasis on those subjects in school curricula. She also says TechGirls and similar programs cannot be successful without enabling students to explore the disciplines in which they are interested. TechGirls does this by having participants complete technology projects once they return home. "By increasing opportunities for women and girls in the STEM fields, we are getting closer to realizing greater equality for women across the world and widening the pipeline for the next generation of female leaders," says Sarah Shields, the State Department's program officer for TechGirls.
How Machine Learning Can Help With Voice Disorders
MIT News (08/29/16) Adam Conner-Simons; Rachel Gordon
A new diagnostic approach using machine learning could help detect speech disorders exacerbated by vocal misuse. Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and Massachusetts General Hospital developed a system that diagnoses patients with muscle tension dysphonia. Current approaches to diagnosing physiological signals via machine learning often involve supervised learning, in which researchers must label data and provide outputs, but the CSAIL team opted to use unsupervised learning. "People with vocal disorders aren't always misusing their voices, and people without disorders also occasionally misuse their voices," says MIT student Marzyeh Ghassemi. "The difficult task here was to build a learning algorithm that can determine what sort of vocal cord movements are prominent in subjects with a disorder." To train the algorithm, patients diagnosed with voice disorders and a control group wore accelerometers that captured the motions of their vocal folds. By comparing more than 110 million glottal pulses, the team differentiated between patients and controls, and were able to measure the positive effects of voice therapy on patients with vocal disorders. The team says the data could be used by doctors and scientists to study the underlying causes of vocal disorders and help patients employ healthier vocal behaviors.
Device to Control 'Color' of Electrons in Graphene Path to Future Electronics
Penn State News (08/29/16) Walt Mills
Pennsylvania State University (PSU) researchers have developed a bilayer graphene device that can control the momentum of electrons, which they say offers a path toward new electronics that use less energy and emit less heat than silicon-based transistors. The researchers say the work marks a major step forward in the field of valleytronics. They note the new system includes a pair of gates above and below a bilayer graphene sheet, with an electric field perpendicular to the plane. "By applying a positive voltage on one side and a negative voltage on the other, a bandgap opens in bilayer graphene, which it doesn't normally have," says PSU Ph.D. student Jing Li. Li also notes a physical gap of about 70 nanometers between the two sides, which holds one-dimensional metallic states, or wires, acts as a freeway for electrons. One type of electrons travel in one direction and other electrons travel in the opposite direction. In theory, Li says they could travel unhindered along the wires for a long distance with little resistance, reducing power consumption and heat in electronic devices. "We are also trying to build valves that control the electron flow based on the color of the electrons," says PSU professor Jun Zhu. "That's a new concept of electronics called valleytronics."
Poker-Playing AI 'Bot' Carries Long-Range Impact
TribLIVE.com (08/28/16) Mark Gruetze
Florida International University professor Sam Ganzfried is one of the leading experts on computer poker research. He says although the field is only slightly more than 10 years old, the ideas it generates are starting to have applications in medicine and security. Ganzfried notes the idea is to view an issue as a zero-sum game, as in heads-up poker. For example, he says in medical treatment if the patient wins, the disease loses, or vice versa. Ganzfried says the goal of using artificial intelligence (AI) in this way is to devise a strategy that will do as well as possible in the long run. He envisions poker as a path to using science to solve a range of complex issues, such as determining the best blend of treatments for an HIV patient, or identifying the most effective methods for protecting airports. "There are a lot of [nonpoker] situations where multiple agents have private info only they know," Ganzfried says. "[AI] agents have to act strategically. It's only a matter of time before agents make an impact in other areas." While at Carnegie Mellon University, Ganzfried helped develop Claudico, a program that in 2015 used AI to play 80,000 hands of No Limit Hold 'Em against four of the world's best heads-up poker players.
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