Welcome to the June 26, 2017 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Pepper robot HitchBOT Creators to Study How AI and Robots Can Help Patients
McMaster Daily News
June 22, 2017


Researchers at McMaster and Ryerson universities in Canada have launched the Smart Robots for Health Communication project to introduce social robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) into clinical healthcare. The collaborators will study health information exchange via a human-robot interaction system. The project involves developing and analyzing physical and virtual human-robot interactions, and it has the capability to improve healthcare outcomes by helping professionals better understand patients' behavior. "We are excited to have the opportunity to potentially transform patient engagement in a clinical setting, and ultimately improve healthcare outcomes by adapting to clients' communications needs," says McMaster professor Hermenio Lima. The project will integrate cognitive computing services with a social robot to offer a rich source of research potential for the McMaster and Ryerson projects. "We see this as the initiation of an ongoing collaborative university and industry research program to develop and test applications of embodied AI," says McMaster professor David Harris Smith.

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China supercomputer Global Race Toward Exascale Will Drive Supercomputing, AI to Masses
IEEE Spectrum
Mark Anderson
June 21, 2017


Industrial trends in high-performance computing (HPC) are setting a foundation for the eventual pervasiveness of artificial intelligence and big data applications within the mainstream, according to a new Hyperion report. Report co-author Steve Conway predicts exaflop computers breaking into the Top500 list by 2021 and exaflop supercomputing becoming routine by 2023. "IDC believes that countries that fail to fund development of these future leadership-class supercomputers run a high risk of falling behind other highly developed countries in scientific innovation, with later harmful consequences for their national economies," the report says. Conway also expects the problems currently holding back HPC systems will be addressed by future consumer and industry technologies. Technological breakthroughs Conway anticipates include more power-efficient supercomputers that rapidly deactivate and power up idle computer cores, as well as 100-petabyte storage density for massive datasets. The report sees U.S. supercomputing spending contracting, with Europe and especially China gaining in the global exascale race.

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USC to Lead IARPA Quantum Computing Project
USC Viterbi School of Engineering
Amy Blumenthal
June 22, 2017


The U.S. Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) has chosen the University of Southern California (USC) to lead a group of universities and private companies to build quantum computers that are at least 10,000 times faster than the best state-of-the-art classical computers. USC will lead the effort to design, build, and test 100-qubit quantum machines. If successful, the machines could help facilitate the solution of some of the most difficult optimization problems, such as machine learning for image recognition, resolving scheduling conflicts in events with many participants, and sampling for improved prediction of random events. The researchers will focus on the design and testing of algorithms and new hardware, and work to develop the computational framework and design quantum annealers, which are the specialized processors behind quantum optimization. The goal is to build quantum annealers that allow for "high coherence," so the qubits behave in a quantum fashion for long periods of time.

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Taking a Ride in MIT's Self-Driving Wheelchair
TechCrunch
Brian Heater
June 25, 2017


Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory have developed a self-driving wheelchair currently undergoing testing on the MIT campus. The chair uses LIDAR scanners also used by MIT on full-sized cars, along with a mapping solution that generates a three-dimensional plot of the fixed points surrounding it. At the front of the chair is an obstacle-reading scanner, with a joystick used to program the path. Once programmed, the pathway appears as a color line on a tablet. "The current research...is using it more as a platform, but there are people who are discussing doing research specifically on the chair," says MIT robotics software engineer Thomas Balch. "A lot of the research I've seen people doing...has been focused on helping people with disabilities deal with things more easily." Balch says the system eventually could be used in hospitals to help transport patients.

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girls in selfie Selfies: We Love How We Look and We're Here to Show You
Georgia Tech News Center
Jason Maderer
June 21, 2017


Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology say they have analyzed 2.5 million selfie posts on Instagram to determine what kinds of identity statements people make by taking and sharing selfies. The researchers found nearly 52 percent of all selfies fall into the appearance category, meaning pictures of people showing off things such as their makeup, clothes, and lips. In addition, the team found pictures about looks were twice as popular than the other 14 categories combined, which included social selfies, ethnicity pictures, travel, and health and fitness. The researchers also note the prevalence of ethnicity selfies is an indication people are proud of their backgrounds. Overall, 57 percent of selfies were posted by 18- to 35-year-olds, while the under-18 age group posted about 30 percent of selfies, and the 35-and-up group posted only 13 percent of selfies. In addition, most selfies are lone pictures, and not taken with a group.

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Carnegie Mellon's RoboTutor Advances to Global Learning XPRIZE Semifinals
Carnegie Mellon University
Shilo Rea
June 21, 2017


Carnegie Mellon University's (CMU) RoboTutor, a robot that teaches children basic math and reading skills, has been named a semifinalist in the $15-million Global Learning XPRIZE competition. XPRIZE aims to address the shortage of teachers in developing countries by funding an international competition to create open source apps enabling children to learn reading, writing, and math skills without requiring adult assistance. RoboTutor features speech and handwriting recognition technologies, facial analysis, and machine learning. It gathers data from its interactions with children to allow cognitive tutors to adapt to individual students and enable data mining tools to continuously assess and refine its design and functionality. "RoboTutor...has already proven to effectively teach English and Swahili-speaking children basic skills," says CMU professor Richard Scheines. He also notes RoboTutor's design is based on scientific learning principles in order to engage students so they learn the material and can use it in other contexts.

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Origami Anything
MIT News
Larry Hardesty
June 21, 2017


Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor Erik Demaine and Tomohiro Tachi at the University of Tokyo in Japan have developed a universal algorithm for folding origami shapes that guarantees a minimum number of seams. The researchers currently are working to implement the algorithm in a new version of Origamizer, the free software for generating origami crease patterns. The researchers say the new algorithm designs crease patterns for producing any polyhedron. "The new method keeps the boundary of the original piece of paper on the boundary of the surface you're trying to make," Demaine says. The algorithm initially maps the facets of the target polyhedron onto a flat surface, and then it uses a Voroni diagram to describe the location at which fires in a grassy field will meet, in order to define the creases in the paper.

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What Exactly Do You Mean When You Say 'Best'?
American Technion Society
Kevin Hattori
June 21, 2017


Researchers at the American Technion Society have developed the sarcasm Sentimental Interpretation GeNerator (Sarcasm SIGN), a system for interpreting sarcastic statements in social media. The team says the system is based on machine translation and turns sarcastic sentences into honest ones. The researchers taught the system to produce accurate interpretations of sarcastic online statements by creating a database of 3,000 sarcastic tweets that were tagged with #sarcasm, in which each tweet was interpreted into a non-sarcastic expression by five human experts. In addition, the team trained the system to identify words with strong sarcastic sentiments, and to replace them with strong words that reveal the true meaning of the text. The system was examined by several human judges, who gave its interpretations high scores for fluency and accuracy. The researchers say sentiment identification could be used in social, commercial, and other applications to improve communication between people and computers.

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New IST Research Leverages Big Data to Predict Severe Weather
Penn State News
Erin Cassidy Hendrick
June 21, 2017


Researchers at Pennsylvania State University (PSU) say they have found a way to better predict severe weather by harnessing the power of big data. The researchers developed a new approach for identifying bow echoes in radar images, a phenomenon associated with fierce and violent winds. "I think computer-based methods can provide a third eye to the meteorologists, helping them look at things they don't have the time or energy for," says PSU professor James Wang. In the case of bow echoes, Wang says this automatic detection would be important to earlier recognition of severe weather, saving lives and resources. The researchers drew on the vast historical data collected by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration in order to automatically detect bow echoes the instant they begin to form. Wang says the project's goal is to provide assistance to meteorologists so they can make quicker decisions and with better accuracy.

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Scientist and student Boys Say They're More Likely to Pursue STEM Careers Than Girls
THE Journal
Richard Chang
June 20, 2017


Adolescent boys say they are more likely to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields than girls, according to a survey from Junior Achievement and EY. Thirty-six percent of teenage male respondents said they would pursue STEM careers in the future, compared to 11 percent of girls. Twenty-six percent of girls and 10 percent of boys said they plan to pursue arts careers. However, 24 percent of girls reported seeking careers in the medical/dental field--which could be construed as a "science" component of STEM--versus 6 percent of boys. When asked about their dream jobs, boys mainly valued fun, proficiency, and money, while girls listed helping people, proficiency, and fun as their top occupational values. Meanwhile, 54 percent of boys said they wanted to obtain technology skills compared to 27 percent of girls, while half of girls said they wanted to improve their relationship-building and collaboration skills, versus 31 percent of boys.

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Stanford Engineer's Space Robot Technology Helps Self-Driving Cars and Drones on Earth
Stanford News
Sarah Derouin
June 16, 2017


Stanford University professor Marco Pavone is developing autonomous space robot technology, which he sees as complementary to terrestrial applications such as self-driving cars and drones. For example, Pavone's team is developing algorithms to help robots make better decisions and evaluations by themselves, within fractions of a second. One effort seeks to help robots navigate on their own to bring debris out of orbit, grasp fast spinning objects out of a vacuum, and deliver tools to astronauts. Pavone notes the closeness of other objects in space requires sophisticated decision-making capabilities, and his team's algorithms enable a robot to autonomously react to such changing conditions in real time and grab objects with gecko-grippers, updating its decisions several thousand times a second. Another project by Stanford's Ben Hockman is developing a cubic robot that traverses rugged, low-gravity terrain by hopping, so it can roam where wheeled robots cannot, with potential navigation applications for both drones and driverless cars.

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