ACM TechNews

Welcome to the March 22, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Workers building a truck Ford to Build Factory in Michigan for Autonomous Vehicles
Phil LeBeau
March 20, 2019

Ford Motor has announced plans to construct its first autonomous vehicles (AVs) at a $50-million production center in Michigan. Fabrication of the self-driving vehicles is expected to begin in 2021. The new plant will take new commercial-grade hybrid models and incorporate the self-driving technology needed to turn them into autonomous vehicles. Said Ford’s Joe Hinrichs, "This facility will be about more than just putting the brains into these autonomous vehicles. We will use the AV production center to upgrade the interiors and add the technology customers will want for a particular self-driving model.” Ford's development of autonomous and electric vehicles is at the core of CEO Jim Hackett's plan to remake the automaker.

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A man going through a drive-through Automated Order Takers May Reshape Future of Drive-Through Restaurants
Medill Reports
Yixuan Xie
March 21, 2019

Three artificial intelligence (AI) companies are developing AI-powered voice assistants to improve order-taking at drive-through restaurants. Valyant AI has piloted one assistant to take breakfast orders at an eatery in Colorado, which experienced a 10% to 25% reduction in average wait time. Valyant AI CEO Rod Carpenter said, "While our AI is carrying on a conversation with the customer, the employees are listening to the exchange and actually preparing the food." Meanwhile, Encounter AI's assistant is designed to improve order accuracy, so food allergies and other potential problems are not overlooked; Encounter AI's Derrick Johnson said the AI's accuracy is continuously improving via machine learning. Meanwhile, the software firm Clinc hopes to augment the voice control capabilities of drive-through windows with its own AI, which learns from the different ways people order by analyzing sentence structure.

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U.S. Students Have Achieved World Domination in Computer Science Skills—for Now
IEEE Spectrum
Tekla S. Perry
March 18, 2019

An international research team led by Stanford University found U.S. senior computer science (CS) majors are superior to their Russian, Chinese, and Indian peers in terms of CS skills. The team administered the Major Field Test in Computer Science exam to assess study samples, and found seniors in U.S. universities generally outperformed their foreign counterparts, while students from elite U.S. schools outperformed their peers at the other countries' elite institutions, as did students at non-elite universities. Approximately 65,000 students receive CS degrees from U.S. universities each year, versus an annual total of 417,000 for institutions in the other countries. In the study, men consistently outperformed women in CS skills, with the biggest gender gap seen in the U.S. student cohort. Stanford's Prashant Loyalka said, "The study is good news for programs in the U.S., but it also does not mean that they should sit on their laurels."

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Parents of Girls, Low-Income Students Less Likely to Urge Kids to Study Computers
Penn State News
Matt Swayne
March 19, 2019

Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) researchers found parents of female and lower-income students were less likely to encourage their children to major in computer science than parents of male students and those in higher-income households. Penn State's Jeffrey Stone said, "Males were significantly more likely to agree that their parents stressed that computing skills were important. Females were less likely to agree that parents were stressing the importance of computer skills." Stone suggested universities should apply wider-ranging outreach and recruitment strategies for computing majors, to focus particularly on parents. He also said the sample size of the study (161 students) was small, so he hopes to be able to extend the study “to a much larger pool.”

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Facebook Stored Millions of User Passwords in Plain, Readable Text
National Public Radio
Sasha Ingber
March 21, 2019

Facebook staffers discovered in January that millions of users have spent years unaware that their passwords were sitting in plain text within the company's data storage, open to potential employee misuse and cyberattack. An anonymous Facebook source cited on the Krebs on Security cybersecurity blog said as many as 600 million users may have been affected. Blog author Brian Krebs said, "Access logs showed some 2,000 engineers or developers made approximately 9 million internal queries for data elements that contained plain text user passwords," with the archives dating back to 2012. Center for Digital Democracy executive director Jeff Chester said this is part of a pattern with Facebook, and "the problem is that the focus has been on turning all this data into revenue to help advertisers, and not enough has been done to help data security."

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DNA molecules that can self-assemble Computer Scientists Create Programmable Self-Assembling DNA
UC Davis News & Information
Andy Fell
March 20, 2019

Scientists at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis), and the California Institute of Technology have created DNA molecules that self-assemble by executing a Boolean logic computation. The researchers designed a library of short DNA segments, or tiles, each composed of 42 bases (made up of Adenine, Cytosine, Guanine, or Thymine) configured in four domains of 10 to 11 bases; each domain represents a 1 or 0, and binds to certain domains on other tiles. Two of the four domains on each tile are input, and two output, and beginning with the original six input bits the system adds row after row of molecules, progressively running an algorithm, with rows of DNA strands adhering to perform the computation. The researchers demonstrated 21 algorithms for diverse tasks, including counting exercises, random walks, and drawing patterns. UC Davis' David Doty said, "The ultimate goal is to use computation to grow structures and enable more sophisticated molecular engineering."

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Lockheed Martin company A Decade On, Smartphone-Like Software Finally Heads to Space
The Daily Mail
March 20, 2019

U.S. aerospace company Lockheed Martin this week unveiled smartphone-like software to be installed in satellites, to provide more computing power and faster update capability. Lockheed Martin's SmartSat software will go into orbit on mini-satellites called cubesats, scheduled for launch within the next six months. The company said SmartSat will facilitate multi-core processing in space. This will allow satellites to "process more data in orbit so they can beam down just the most critical and relevant information—saving bandwidth costs and reducing the burden on ground station analysts, and ultimately opening the door for tomorrow's data centers in space," according to the company.

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Computer Program Finds 'Leakage' in Quantum Computers
University of Warwick
March 19, 2019

Researchers from the University of Warwick in the U.K. have developed a computer program to identify "leakage" on a quantum computer, in which data being processed by the system escapes to unwanted states. The results of the program are expected to inform the development of future quantum computers and error-correction methods. The researchers tested their program on IBM Q Experience quantum devices, through IBM's publicly accessible cloud service. They used a technique called dimension witnessing, repeatedly applying the same operation to acquire a dataset of results that could only be explained by a complex higher-dimensional quantum system, rather than by a single quantum bit. The researchers determined the likelihood of this conclusion arising at random was less than 0.05%. Said Warwick’s George Knee, “I see this as a win for any user who wants to investigate the advertised properties of a quantum machine without the need to refer to hardware-specific details.”

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Microsoft's TypeScript Programming Language Rising Fast
Liam Tung
March 21, 2019

Microsoft's TypeScript programming language for building JavaScript at scale reached 12th place on developer analyst RedMonk's most recent ranking of programming languages used by developers. TypeScript, which ranked in 17th place on the Redmonk list a year ago, is a superset of JavaScript, which is currently the leading language used by developers. TypeScript lags just behind Swift, which RedMonk called the fastest-growing programming language ever. Although features like optional static type-checking have likely helped boost TypeScript's popularity, RedMonk's Stephen O'Grady said its sustainability is due to its usage "by a wide base of growing projects." Kotlin, now ranked in 20th place, is the second-fastest-growing language on RedMonk's list.

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Google Awards $5M to Improve Access to CS Education for Latino Students
EdSurge (CA)
March 19, 2019, the charitable arm of Google, has pledged $25 million to support programs that help black and Latino students access computer science education this year. The first recipients of those grants include UnidosUS, a Latino advocacy group, which received $2 million to expand its introductory computer science program and incorporate Google's CS First coding curriculum for elementary and middle-school students. In addition, gave $2 million to YWCA USA to improve and expand its science, technology, engineering, and math curriculum, and $1 million to the Hispanic Heritage Foundation to work with YWCA to deliver computer science education to Latino students across the country. The goal is for these three programs to reach 1 million Latino students nationwide by 2022.

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Inside GAO's Plan to Make Congress More Tech-Savvy
Jack Corrigan
March 20, 2019

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has set up a Science and Technology Assessment and Analytics group, to help make lawmakers more knowledgeable of emerging technologies. The goal is to ensure Congress understands the ramifications of any technology-centric policies they pursue. GAO's Tim Persons said the group is both "an internal merger and a great expansion" of the agency's science and technology functions, which will recruit specialists from GAO's audit and science teams, as well as new hires, to establish a nexus where Congress can access various advisory services. Said GAO's John Neumann, "By leveraging analysts and specialists in one team, we can provide the whole spectrum of products to the Congress." Such products could include formal assessments of emerging technology applications, and suggestions of questions lawmakers should ask during committee hearings.

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A robot holding a cup up Robot Precisely Moves Objects It's Never Seen Before
Adam Conner-Simons
March 18, 2019

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have developed a system that allows robots to do many different pick-and-place tasks, without having ever seen the objects with which they are interacting. The new approach, Keypoint Affordance Manipulation (KPAM), detects a collection of coordinates on an object, which provide information the robot needs to determine what to do with that object. This method can help a robot to handle variation between objects. Said MIT researcher Russ Tedrake, "Understanding just a little bit more about the object, the location of a few key points, is enough to enable a wide range of useful manipulation tasks."

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One of Envoy Technologies' electric car-sharing vehicles is seen at a docking station Goodyear Teams With California Car-Sharing Service on Smart-Tire Pilot
Crain's Cleveland Business
March 21, 2019

Goodyear Tire & Rubber has partnered with California-based electric-vehicle-sharing service Envoy Technologies on a pilot program to minimize operational downtime for vehicle fleets. Envoy is employing Goodyear's artificial intelligence (AI)-based predictive tire-servicing program to anticipate and schedule its fleet’s tire maintenance by collecting data from Envoy's connected vehicles. Once the AI makes its predictions, the system will automatically schedule service for the Envoy fleet, using Goodyear's outlets and mobile vans. Goodyear's Chris Helsel said, "With on-demand car sharing and ride-hailing services on the rise, Goodyear is extending its fleet services business model to shared mobility providers to improve urban fleet operations."

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JPMorgan Chase Tests Neuroscience-Based Video Games to Recruit Interns
Anna Irrera
March 18, 2019

JPMorgan Chase is using neuroscience-based video games to help recruit interns, and boost the diversity of its workforce by widening its candidate pool. JPMorgan's Matt Mitro said the technology is from startup pymetrics, whose games help companies evaluate applicants' social, cognitive, and behavioral characteristics, like attention, memory, and altruism. The pymetrics platform quantifies a candidate's attributes against those of a company's successful workers, to identify which applicants might be best suited for an internship. Mitro said although employment history is a solid indicator of job fitness for experienced employees, resumes offer less predictive value for recent college graduates. Large firms have been increasingly turning to technology to make recruitment and other human resources processes more fair, such as applications that scan performance reviews for unconscious bias or that monitor job ads for phrases that might dissuade a certain demographic from applying.

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