Welcome to the November 15, 2017 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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New Technology Makes Artificial Intelligence More Private and Portable
University of Waterloo News
Matthew Grant
November 14, 2017


Researchers at the University of Waterloo in Canada say they have developed new deep-learning artificial intelligence (AI) software that could enable other AI technologies to break free of the Internet and cloud computing. The technology is compact enough to fit on computer chips that can be used in mobile devices and industrial robots, which would enable devices to operate independently of the Internet while using AI that performs almost as well as tethered neural networks. The researchers say the technology could lead to much lower data processing and transmission costs, greater privacy, and use in areas where existing technology is impractical due to cost or other factors. The researchers based the new device on evolutionary forces in nature to make the AI more efficient by placing it in a virtual environment, and then progressively and repeatedly depriving it of resources. The deep-learning AI adapts and changes itself to keep functioning each time computational power and memory are removed.

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Yale Professors Race Google and IBM to the First Quantum Computer
The New York Times
Cade Metz
November 13, 2017


Yale University professor Robert Schoelkopf pioneered a technique that IBM and others are applying in their rivalry to build the world's first quantum computer, and Schoelkopf and colleagues recently joined the race with their own startup, Quantum Circuits. Schoelkopf's method involves building quantum bits (qubits) from materials with quantum properties when they are extremely cold, and improving their coherence time about 10-fold approximately every three years. "No one expected this would be possible, but the improvement has been exponential," says Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Isaac Chuang. Although Quantum Circuits uses the same quantum method as larger innovators, Schoelkopf contends his startup has an advantage by addressing the problem in a different way; instead of building one large quantum machine, Quantum Circuits is constructing a series of small machines that can be networked together, an approach that should make it easier to correct errors in quantum calculations, which is one of the chief challenges in building a quantum computer.

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Laptop with blank screen What Life Will Be Like When the Computers Disappear
USA Today
Edward C. Baig
November 13, 2017


The expected transition to an ambient computing era driven by advances in artificial intelligence (AI), speech recognition, natural language processing, machine learning, and cloud computing should make computers all but invisible in the future. Experts envision innovations making certain devices operable without requiring manual intervention. They think such functions will be facilitated by invisible sensors that feed users' movements and routines into cloud-computing servers where AI systems interpret and refine the instructions they provide to smart devices. Examples of such advancements include efforts by Facebook to let people "hear" with their skin, while futurist Ray Kurzweil expects by the 2030s there will be health-regulating "devices that are as powerful as your cellphones today that are the size of blood cells." Experts say it is critical that developers address the technology's privacy and security issues, while also solving the requirement for always-on devices, which is impeding the rollout of mobile ambient computing.

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Supercomputing Is Becoming Super-Efficient, Top500 List Shows
IDG News Service
Peter Sayer
November 13, 2017


Super-efficiency is becoming a hallmark of supercomputers, according to the latest Top500 ranking of the world's top supercomputers. The November 2017 edition of the list indicates the highest-ranked supercomputer (China's Sunway TiahuLight) also scored high on the Green500 list of the world's most efficient systems. The fourth place-holder on the Top500, Japan's Gyoukou supercomputer, delivers a maximum sustained performance of 19.14 petaflops and a peak performance of 28.19 petaflops. Gyoukou is comprised of 1,250 Intel Xeon 16-core processors with an Infiniband EDR interconnect, and it gets the bulk of its computing power from the 19,840,000 cores in its Pezy-SC2 accelerators. Gyoukou's most notable feature is its power efficiency of 14.17 gigaflops/watt, which is twice the efficiency of its neighbors on the Top500 list. Three other Japanese systems built with Pezy-SC2 accelerators and a U.S. supercomputer built with Nvidia Tesla V100s are more efficient than Gyoukou, but Gyoukou is still by far the fastest system to demonstrate such efficiency.

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Hand holding doorknob of wooden door How to Survive a Robot Apocalypse: Just Close the Door
The Wall Street Journal
Daniela Hernandez
November 10, 2017


In a recent U.S.-government-sponsored competition, robots were unable to overcome the challenge of an unlocked door impeding their way at an outdoor obstacle course, illustrating the technology's shortcomings in terms of hand-eye coordination, balance, and common sense. OpenAI researcher Jonas Schneider says robots are cumbersome, partly because they do not fully understand where they are or what their actions mean. "We talk a lot like [robots are] smart or intelligent, but they're not really," notes Kraken Robotics' David Shea. For example, the visual sensors that enable robots to explore their surroundings do not immediately update their software. One characteristic robots have in common with many people is they have no conception of how to behave in new and unpredictable situations, which prevents them from performing tasks requiring contact with humans. Experts say this and other technical drawbacks make the danger of accidental robot mishaps far more likely than a machine takeover.

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New Tool Quantifies Power Imbalance Between Female and Male Characters in Hollywood Movie Scripts
UW News
Jennifer Langston
November 13, 2017


Researchers at the University of Washington (UW) have used machine-learning technology to analyze about 800 movie scripts to measure how much power and agency they appoint to individual characters, and they found widespread gender bias in the portrayal of male and female characters. The study revealed the consistent depiction of women in ways that reinforce gender stereotypes, such as in more submissive roles and with less agency than men. The UW researchers assessed the power and agency inherent in 2,000 commonly used verbs, and applied machine learning to the movie scripts to automatically recognize genders of 21,000 characters based on names and descriptions. Using natural-language processing tools they studied which characters appeared as a verb's subject and object, then computed how much agency and power were ascribed to these characters with crowdsourced connotation frames. Male characters' tendency to be imbued with more power and agency than females also was found to be consistent across all genres.

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Living Cell Culture Learning Process to Be Implemented for the First Time
Lobachevsky University
Nikita Avralev
November 13, 2017


Researchers at Lobachevsky University in Russia are developing an adaptive neural interface combining both a living cell culture and a memristor-based neural network. They will link memristor neural networks to a multi-electrode system for recording and stimulating the bioelectrical activity of a neuron culture that executes the function of analyzing and classifying the network dynamics of living cells. Lobachevsky's Alexey Mikhailov says the project's goal is to produce compact electronic devices based on memristors that replicate synaptic plasticity and function as part of bio-like neural networks in conjunction with living biological cultures. "It means, in fact, that one can 'grow' the human brain on a chip," Mikhailov notes. "At present, we are doing something on a simpler scale: we are trying to create hybrid electronic circuits where some functions are implemented on the basis of traditional electronics, and some new functions that are difficult to implement in hardware are realized on the basis of memristors."

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Cellphone Data Reveals Hurricane Maria's Impact on Travel in Puerto Rico
Phys.org
November 14, 2017


Researchers at Boston Children's Hospital Computational Epidemiology Group, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab, and Google have detailed when people chose to move out of a hurricane's path and how much travel has been hindered by destructive winds and flooding following Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. The researchers used an aggregate of real-time anonymous data compiled by Google location services to learn that travel off the island rose 20 percent the day before the hurricane hit. In addition, there was an influx of travel into San Juan as people sought shelter from the storm. The researchers studied people's movements by analyzing the anonymous data from mobile users who had opted-in to share their Google location data in their phone settings. The study also showed that a large percentage of those leaving Puerto Rico often went to Orlando, Miami, New York, and Atlanta. The analysis also revealed that Puerto Ricans have been about half as mobile as usual since the storm.

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The Path to an Energy-Efficient Exascale Supercomputer
Scientific Computing World
Adrian Giordani
November 10, 2017


As supercomputers advance to realize exascale efficiencies, measuring their performance consistently becomes more difficult. U.S. Exascale Computing Project (ECP) director Paul Messina earlier this year offered a wide-ranging review of ECP's strategy for delivering the first exascale supercomputer, expected in 2021. Messina said the project has avoided using High-Performance Linpack as its benchmark, since the success of such systems increasingly is gauged by their performance on useful applications and the ability to address problems beyond current petaflops machines. "We now have a well-defined exascale computing project in the U.S.," notes the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Horst Simon. "This project includes a significant number of exascale applications--in the order of 24." Although Europe is engaged in its EuroHPC project, one expert notes the initiative is weak in the development and commercialization of domestic computer or complementary metal-oxide semiconductor chips and processors. Simon contends the best measure of exascale success involves first defining a supercomputer's desired achievements.

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A circuit board New Method Developed to 3D Print Fully Functional Electronic Circuits
University of Nottingham (United Kingdom)
Shirlene Campbell Ritchie
November 9, 2017


Researchers at the University of Nottingham in the U.K. say they have developed a breakthrough method to quickly three dimensionally (3D)-print fully functional electronic circuits. The team notes the technique could enable the electronics manufacturing industry to produce fully functional devices such as 3D antennae and fully printed sensors from multiple materials including metals and plastics. The new method combines two-dimensionally-printed electronics with 3D printing techniques to expand the impact of multifunctional additive manufacturing, which involves printing multiple materials in a single additive manufacturing system to create components that have wider-ranging functionalities. The researchers note this breakthrough speeds up the solidification process of the conductive inks to less than a minute for each layer. "Being able to 3D-print conductive and dielectric materials [electrical insulators] in a single structure with the high precision that inkjet printing offers will enable the fabrication of fully customized electronic components," says Nottingham professor Chris Tuck.

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Close up of a fruit fly on leaf Fruit Fly Brains Inform Search Engines of the Future
Salk Institute for Biological Studies
November 9, 2017


Researchers at the Salk Institute and the University of California, San Diego have found the mechanism the fruit fly brain employs to identify olfactory similarities could inform the design of future search algorithms. A study review found when fruit flies initially sense an odor, 50 neurons fire in a unique configuration, but instead of hashing that data to reduce the number of hashes associated with the smell, the flies expand the dimension to 2,000 neurons with the top activity as the "hash" for that smell. In applying this process to three standard datasets used to test search algorithms, the team found the fly strategy enhanced performance. "A dream shared by neurobiologists and computer scientists is to understand how the brain computes well enough that we can adapt its methods to improve machine computation," says Salk professor Charles Stevens. "Our [research] provides a proof of principle that this dream may become reality."

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New Quantum Materials Offer Novel Route to 3D Electronic Devices
Academy of Finland
November 7, 2017


Researchers at Aalto University in Finland have demonstrated how the principles of general relativity can open a pathway to novel electronic applications such as a three-dimensional electron lens and electronic invisibility devices. The researchers have proposed a new method to go beyond special relativity and simulate Einstein's theory of general relativity in inhomogeneous Weyl semimetals, a hypothesis that combines ideas from solid-state physics, particle physics, and cosmology and leads to the fabrication of metallic designer materials in which charge carriers move in the manner of particles in curved space-time. The researchers propose Weyl metamaterials, a generalization of Weyl semimetals that enable new types of electronic devices through geometry engineering. "The systems we introduced offer a route to make the charge carriers move as if they were living in a curved geometry, providing a tabletop laboratory for simulating curved-space quantum physics and certain cosmological phenomena," says Aalto University researcher Alex Weststrom.

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Father of the Web Confronts His Creation in the Era of Fake News Father of the Web Confronts His Creation in the Era of Fake News
Bloomberg
Brad Stone
November 13, 2017


In an interview, World Wide Web Consortium founder (and 2016 A.M. Turing Award recipient) Sir Tim Berners-Lee discusses how his perspective of the Web has changed since its inception, especially with it being widely used to spread misinformation. Berners-Lee says the Web's complexity is now comparable to the human brain's, which demands the technology sector follow a multidisciplinary strategy to "look out for unintended consequences" and study how services affect the world. He also notes Google and other Web companies bear some responsibility for incentivizing fake news purveyors by developing advertising systems for commercial reasons without considering the more malevolent implications. In addition, Berners-Lee says there is "no magic recipe that the Internet will be able to solve censorship, so censorship is something we have to protest against." He also cites the importance of people being able to control their own data, contending that companies' perception of data as a business asset is dangerous. "It's becoming toxic," Berners-Lee warns.

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Here's to Dennis & Ken for Giving us Unix
 
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