Welcome to the April 24, 2017 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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IBM circuit Researchers Build a Microprocessor From Flexible Materials
IDG News Service
Peter Sayer
April 21, 2017


Researchers at the Vienna University of Technology in Austria have constructed a 1-bit microprocessor out of a flexible two-dimensional (2D) material they say represents "a first step towards the development of microprocessors based on 2D semiconductors." The researchers employed a transition-metal dichalcogenide (TMD), which is composed of crystals only one layer of atoms or molecules thick. TMDs form into layers similar to graphene, but they diverge from graphene by being semiconductors. The Vienna team deposited two-molecule-thick layers of molybdenum disulfide on a silicon substrate etched with their circuit design and separated by a layer of aluminum oxide. The microprocessor uses a set of only four instructions, but the team believes the device can be shrunk while boosting its complexity. "We do not see any roadblocks that could prevent the scaling of our 1-bit design to multi-bit data," the researchers say.

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Saarland University Professor Receives Top Research Award for Improved Image Compression
Saarland University
April 21, 2017


Saarland University professor Joachim Weickert and his team in Germany are working on a method to reconstruct a high-quality image while storing only a few important pixels. The researchers showed the new high-compression-rate technique has the potential to do better than established standard methods such as JPEG. The technique utilizes a phenomenon that Weickert copied from nature. Using variations of the heat equation, the researchers were able to reconstruct images with high precision. The brighter the pixel, the higher its temperature, and just as heat diffuses through space, so too does pixel information, spreading to those neighboring areas where no data was stored. Starting from just a few stored pixels, the missing pixels can be reconstructed to yield a good visual image. "In five years' time, we want to be able to use our methods to compress 4K videos and then decompress the resulting file in real time," Weickert says.

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chatbot, illustration Chatbots Have Entered the Uncanny Valley
The Atlantic
Kaveh Waddell
April 21, 2017


The tendency for people to be repelled by increasingly humanoid and human-like robots may extend to chatbots and digital assistants as well. "The more human-like a system acts, the broader the expectations that people may have for it," says Carnegie Mellon University professor Justine Cassell. Modern chatbots use banter and humor, conversational speech, and parsing free-form questions and answers to coax users into engaging with them in more a human-like manner. "This creates a perception that if you say anything to this bot, it should respond to it," says Autodesk engineer Nikhil Mane. This makes for situations in which user requests exceed the bot's limitations, and the subsequent errors serve to remind users of the assistant's artificiality. Mane says a better approach for bots is to make users aware of their constraints, such as prompting them to ask simple questions as the Slack messaging app does.

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touch interface, illustration A Better Understanding of Brain Health at Our (Bionic) Fingertips
CORDIS News
April 19, 2017


The European Union-funded NANOBIOTOUCH and NEBIAS projects examined how touch stimuli and neural processing interact for the purpose of making robotic prosthetics more intuitive. NANOBIOTOUCH created a human finger pad for detecting directional force and temperature, and its insights were applied toward combining nanoelectromechanical arrays with neural-network information processing to enable artificial exploration of surfaces for more human-like haptic behavior and affective response. Meanwhile, NEBIAS is developing an upper-limb prosthesis controlled by a neural interface, effecting a stable and selective link with the nervous system. NEBIAS also aims to better understand the "language" facilitating the central nervous system's communication with peripheral nerve signals by investigating electromagnetic brain and nerve signals and movement-related changes in the brain's blood flow and metabolism. One outcome of this research is a recent study that mimicked human touch sensations using a bionic fingertip designed for robotic upper-limb neuroprostheses.

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Not Stuck on Silicon
MIT News
Jennifer Chu
April 19, 2017


Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a new technique they say could significantly reduce the overall cost of wafer technology and enable devices made from more exotic, higher-performing semiconductor materials than conventional silicon. The new method uses graphene as a kind of "copy machine" to transfer intricate crystalline patterns from an underlying semiconductor wafer to a top layer of identical material. The researchers developed very specific procedures to place single sheets of graphene onto an expensive wafer. The team then grew semiconducting material over the graphene layer, and found graphene is thin enough to appear electrically invisible, enabling the top layer to see through the graphene to the underlying crystalline wafer, imprinting its patterns without being influenced by the graphene. They say their research will enable manufacturers to use graphene as an intermediate layer, and could lead to more exotic semiconductor materials.

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Building Machine Parts for Intelligence Analysts
Government Computer News
Patrick Marshall
April 19, 2017


The U.S. Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity's Crowdsourcing Evidence, Argumentation, Thinking, and Evaluation program funds four projects merging collaboration with tools to help intelligence analysts evaluate data and detect assumptions that may be skewing interpretations. Each project takes a unique approach to analytical decision-making enhancement. The Trackable Reasoning and Analysis for Collaboration and Evaluation initiative is developing a Web-based app to augment reasoning via methods such as debate and analogical reasoning, and it will use crowdsourcing to supplement analysts' problem-solving abilities and cultivate creative thinking. Meanwhile, the Smartly-assembled Wiki-style Argument Marshaling project involves a cloud-based platform for encouraging analysis and debate among participants without imposing a formal logical argumentation structure. The Cogent Argumentation System with Crowd Elicitation is a "cognitive assistant" for analysts that tests theories, gauges evidence, and learns based on the data it receives. The fourth project is a system to help analysts build and test arguments amid uncertainty.

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A simulation of innovative materials research Midwestern Institutions Collaborate on Materials Science Innovation
UChicago News (IL)
Robert Mitchum
April 19, 2017


A consortium of Midwestern universities will use a U.S. National Science Foundation grant to advance innovative materials science. The Midwest Big Data Spoke for Integrative Materials Design (IMaD) project seeks to extend access to data and computational tools, spur discovery and collaboration, and obtain new discoveries from materials science data shared by connecting experimental and simulation results from research groups. "The IMaD spoke will build bridges between materials science data sources so that we'll be able to link far more data than anyone has had access to before," says University of Chicago professor Ian Foster, who was part of a team that received the Gordon Bell Prize for outstanding achievement in high-performance computing for 2001. "We'll then work with various groups to apply machine learning and simulation methods to advance the goal of computationally-based design of materials." IMaD will link data from founding partners with the Materials Data Facility as a "one-stop shop" resource, and participants also will develop tools to intelligently mine data and use it to predict and model new materials.

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Rechargeable 'Spin Battery' Promising for Spintronics and Quantum Computing
Purdue University News
Emil Venere
April 19, 2017


Researchers at Purdue University have produced a rechargeable "spin battery" from topological insulators, technology they say has applications in spintronic devices and quantum computers. They employed bismuth tellurium selenide flakes with ultra-high purity and little bulk doping. "Because of the spin-momentum locking, you can make the spin of electrons line up or 'locked' in one direction if you pass a current through the topological insulator material, and this is a very interesting effect," says Purdue professor Yong P. Chen. The research team is the first to induce a two-day-long electron spin polarization even when the current is turned off. One theory as to the cause of this effect suggests the spin-polarized electrons could be transferring their polarization to the atomic nuclei in the material. Purdue's Jifa Tian says this "could enable a rechargeable spin battery and rewritable spin memory for potential applications in spintronics and quantum information systems."

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Depicting how an algorithm can turn a zebra into a horse and a summer scene into a winter scene This Artificial Intelligence Turns Horses Into Zebras--and Winter Into Summer
The Next Web
April 19, 2017


Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have developed a new model that enables users to transform images in a "cycle consistent" way, which means any changes to the original image are expected to remain fully reversible. For example, the algorithm could be used to turn a zebra into a horse, or vice versa. The researchers say the new model is especially powerful and versatile because it combines the functionalities of several artificial intelligence methods at once. They note this means the algorithm can be easily modified to perform a range of different tasks and transformations. For example, the researchers say the system can convert paintings into photos as easily as it can transform photos into paintings. However, they also note the model "does not work well when a test image looks unusual compared to training images."

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A Scientific Advance for Cool Clothing: Temperature-Wise, That Is
UCSD News (CA)
Warren Froelich
April 19, 2017


Researchers at Stanford University have engineered an inexpensive plastic material that could be used for apparel that cools the wearer. The material, nanoporous polyethylene, enables the body to release heat by letting sweat evaporate through it, while also allowing heat emitted as infrared radiation to pass through the textile. The team, which used the Comet supercomputer at the University of California, San Diego to simulate the optical properties of nanoporous polyethylene, combined computer simulations, nanotechnology, photonics, and chemistry to give polyethylene desirable characteristics for clothing material. "We were able to identify a pore size range, a nanopore, that best suited the purpose of the textile, one that is highly opaque visibly and at the same time highly transparent in the thermal wavelength range," says Stanford professor Shanhui Fan. Treating polyethylene with chemicals modified the material to support evaporation of water vapor through nanopores.

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A small amount of black phosphorous A Once Forgotten Element Holds Promise for the Future of Electronics
YaleNews
William Weir
April 19, 2017


Silicon is nearing its size limit for use as a semiconductor, but researchers at Yale University believe black phosphorus could replace it and usher in a new generation of smaller devices, flexible electronics, and faster transistors. The Yale researchers note black phosphorus is only a few atoms thick, has a higher mobility than silicon, and it has a bandgap, which gives the material the ability to function as a switch in the presence of an electric field. However, finding a way to control the bandgap of black phosphorus is critical to realizing its potential applications. The Yale researchers found the material's bandgap is most controllable at a certain thickness. By applying a vertical electric field to the material at that thickness, the researchers can "tune" the bandgap, which they say opens up many potential applications for black phosphorus.

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Teaching a Driverless Car to Turn Left  Driver's view of an intersection Teaching a Driverless Car to Turn Left
The Boston Globe
Hiawatha Bray
April 21, 2017


Getting driverless cars to make safe left turns at intersections is a key challenge for engineers, as they involve both psychology and technology. Toyota Research Institute CEO Gill Pratt predicts enabling self-driving cars to safely make left turns will take five to 10 years to perfect. The challenge lies in autonomous cars' current inability to reliably guess the future actions of other cars and pedestrians. "Some driving is really hard and the hardest of those hard cases involves predicting what other human beings are thinking," Pratt says. Left turns are expected to be easier when automobiles start communicating with each other, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2016 proposed a rule requiring all cars to have installed vehicle-to-vehicle radio systems in about five years. Avoiding left turns whenever possible is a strategy driverless vehicles may adopt, as it saves fuel and reduces accidents and waiting times at intersections.

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MIT Advances in CAD for Manufacturing
 
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