ACM TechNews


Welcome to the October 19, 2018 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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quantum system, illustration IBM Proves a Quantum Computing Advantage Over Classical
Next Big Future
Brian Wang
October 18, 2018


IBM researchers have mathematically validated certain problems that require only a fixed circuit depth when performed on a quantum computer regardless of how the number of quantum bits used for inputs increase; these same problems require larger circuit depths on classical computers. The proof is that there will be problems that can only be executed on quantum systems, and others which can be conducted much faster on quantum computers. The research proves fault-tolerant quantum computers will do some tasks better than classical computers, and offers guidance on how to further current technology to leverage this as rapidly as possible. This marks the first demonstration of unconditional partitioning between quantum and classical algorithms. In practical terms, short-depth circuits are part of the deployments of algorithms, so this result does not specifically state how and where quantum computers might be better options for particular business problems.

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fingerprint scan 3D Printers Have Fingerprints, a Discovery That Could Help Trace 3D-Printed Guns, Counterfeit Goods
UB News Center
October 16, 2018


University at Buffalo researchers have outlined the first accurate technique for tracing a three-dimensionally (3D)-printed object to the machine that produced it, which they think could help law enforcement and intelligence agencies track the origin of 3D-printed firearms and counterfeit products. The PrinTracker method identifies the unique signatures of 3D printers by reading the tiny imperfections within the in-fill patterns they produce in printed objects. The team created a set of keys from 14 common printers, then generated digital images of each key. Each image was filtered to characterize the in-fill pattern, then an algorithm aligned and calculated each key's variations to confirm the printer signature's authenticity; PrinTracker matched each key to its originating printer with 99.8% accuracy. PrinTracker was presented this week at the ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security (ACM CCS 2018) in Toronto, Canada.

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Cities Are Using New Cloud Technology to Fight Increasingly Expensive Catastrophic Flooding
CNBC
Diana Olick; Erica Posse
October 18, 2018


New companies are turning to cloud technology to help cities better manage catastrophic flooding. Boston-based Opti, for example, installs subterranean smart water management systems that link to cloud infrastructure and monitor weather. The systems use forecasts to direct water into and out of urban lakes, retention ponds, tanks, pipes, cisterns, and constructed wetlands. Another company, Rainbank, uses cloud technology connected to remotely operate valves to control rooftop-based reservoirs so they release rainwater slowly once storms have passed. Rainbank CEO Kevin Dutt said the devices "talk to each other, and they also talk to our server in the cloud, and our server is running algorithms, evaluating a storm and deciding when is going to be the most intense period of a storm. With that information, it tells these valves when to close, when to start collecting water."

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Jeff Hawkins at whiteboard Jeff Hawkins Finally Explains His Brain Research
The New York Times
Cade Metz
October 14, 2018


Jeff Hawkins, who co-founded machine intelligence company Numenta and has spent the last decade exploring the mysteries of the human brain, unveiled his findings at a conference in the Netherlands this week. Hawkins has been following his own idea for how the brain works. His theory starts with the cortical columns of the neocortex, which Hawkins says handle every task in the same way. He likens them to a computer algorithm that is repeated over and over again, so all he has to do is figure out the algorithm. In an announcement accompanying the conference, Numenta unveiled a new scientific paper lead-authored by Hawkins, in which the Thousand Brains Theory of Intelligence is introduced, offering implications for artificial intelligence. Numenta's belief is that the Thousand Brains Theory, which incorporates the ability to represent compositional structure, learn through movement, and integrate knowledge across modalities, will prove to be the ultimate framework for artificial general intelligence and robotics.

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Amazon distribution center How Robots and Drones Will Change Retail Forever
The Wall Street Journal
Christopher Mims
October 15, 2018


The world's companies are in the initial stages of what might be called the "physical cloud," an e-commerce ecosystem that functions like the Internet. Although fully automated warehouses are still a few years away, companies such as Amazon and Walmart have patented blimp-like warehouse structures that will float 1,000 feet in the air, with drones ready to deliver consumer goods to people's homes. However, before this becomes a reality, robots need to be able to perform every warehouse task without human intervention. After warehouses, delivery vehicles will be the next stage of e-commerce automation; some companies are developing systems to get packages from a self-driving van to the consumer, either by deploying a smaller autonomous vehicle or delivering to a locker in the neighborhood. Due to regulations put in place by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, wheeled delivery systems are much more likely for the near future than drones.

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An offshore oil rig is rough ocean waters Technique Quickly Identifies Extreme Event Statistics
MIT News
Jennifer Chu
October 15, 2018


Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a machine learning algorithm to localize extreme events likely to occur in a complex system, so researchers can model the forces and stresses such extreme events as rogue waves or freak storms may induce on a seafaring vessel or offshore platform. The algorithm quickly identifies the "most important" or "most informative" wave to run through such a model, and it can be rapidly fed various types of waves, their physical properties, and their known impacts on a theoretical offshore structure. The algorithm approximates how the structure will behave in response to any unknown wave, and then infers the structure's behavior over all possible waves. Says MIT's Themistoklis Sapsis, "You can assess, from the preliminary design phase, how a structure will behave not to one wave but to the overall collection or family of waves that can hit this structure. You can better design your structure so that you don't have structural problems or stresses that surpass a certain limit."

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Young students working around computers. ISTE Releases First-Ever Multi-Disciplinary K-12 STEM Guidelines
EdScoop
Ryan Johnston
October 15, 2018


The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) for the first time has issued guidelines for K-12 teachers interested in science, technology, engineering, math, and computer science (CS) via new computational thinking standards. The standards, jointly developed by ISTE, Code.org, and the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA), set up behaviors and roles for educators, including as learners, leaders, collaborators, designers, and facilitators in the classroom. The standards encourage teachers to keep pace with developments in CS tools and resources while nurturing an inclusive curriculum, complementing the CSTA's K-12 CS standards for students. Said ISTE's Richard Culatta, "The ISTE Computational Thinking Competencies are designed to prepare students with the skills needed to solve problems of the future...[and] provide a framework to help teachers leverage computational thinking across all areas of the curriculum, not just in CS classes."

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Microsoft's GitHub: 'Kotlin for Android Now Fastest-Growing Programming Language'
ZDNet
Liam Tung
October 17, 2018


GitHub's 2018 Octoverse report found that Kotlin, a programming language for building Android applications, now has the fastest-growing population of contributors on the Microsoft-owned code-hosting repository. The report found the number of contributors using Kotlin to build projects has more than doubled in the past year, and 27% of the top 1,000 Android apps on Google Play use the language. The next-fastest growing languages in terms of the number of contributors were TypeScript, which grew 1.9 times over the past year, followed by PowerShell and Rust. In addition, the report found the cross-platform tool CMake, and the Go and Python programming languages, also are growing rapidly among contributors and developers. Filling out the ranking of the top 10 fastest-growing languages on GitHub were Groovy and SQLPL.

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Using Smartphone Cameras to Track Alertness
Cornell Chronicle (NY)
Melanie Lefkowitz
October 15, 2018


Researchers in Cornell University’s People-Aware Computing Laboratory have developed a tool that tracks alertness by measuring pupil size, captured through a burst of photos taken whenever a user unlocks their smartphone. The researchers relied on two separate studies to develop the AlertnessScanner. The first study analyzed results from users prompted to take photos of themselves every three hours with smartphones that lacked infrared filters, easing detection of the contours of the pupil and the iris. In the second study, eight participants were given smartphones with high-resolution front-facing cameras that took 30 photos in one second whenever the handsets were unlocked; both studies validated pupil scanning as a reliable means of predicting alertness. Said Cornell’s Vincent W.S. Tseng, “If you want to get something very important done, then probably you should execute this task while you’re at the peak of your alertness; when you’re in a valley of your alertness, you can do something like rote work.”

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The Atlas humanoid robot. For His Latest Trick, Atlas the Headless Humanoid Robot Does Parkour
The Washington Post
Peter Holley
October 12, 2018


The Atlas humanoid robot from Boston Dynamics has demonstrated on YouTube the ability to perform sophisticated parkour maneuvers, adjusting its limbs in midair to maintain balance. The company said, "The control software uses the whole body, including legs, arms, and torso, to marshal the energy and strength for jumping over [a] log and leaping up the steps without breaking its pace. Atlas uses computer vision to locate itself with respect to visible markers on the approach to hit the terrain accurately." The battery-driven Atlas navigates via lidar and stereoscopic vision, and Boston Dynamics said the robot can manipulate objects in its environment, traverse uneven terrain, maintain its balance when pushed, and right itself when tipped over.

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Modifying a Virtual Environment in Just a Few Clicks
École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne
Cecilia Carron
October 17, 2018


Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) have developed a software program that uses a three-dimensional (3D) rendering engine to create and modify virtual reality (VR) environments. The rendering engine, which is based on 3D pixels called voxels, can be used for other VR applications as well, such as depicting real people. With the new software, users wearing a VR headset and relying on manual controllers can utilize built-in tools to bring depth, cut, paste, paint, and zoom in and out within VR environments. The voxel-based rendering engine eliminates the need for the polygon grids often used by video game and animated film makers. EPFL's Javier Bello said the technology "lets us create smarter tools, processes, and approaches for connecting hardware and software."

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Scientists Discover Atomic Electronic Simulator
University of Alberta
Jennifer Pascoe
October 15, 2018


Researchers at the University of Alberta (UAlberta) and Quantum Silicon in Canada have discovered an atomic electronic simulator, bringing ultra-efficient, custom-patterned electronics a step closer. A team led by UAlberta's Robert Wolkow has created a proof-of-concept device that surmounts obstacles to mass production by supporting robustness and electrical utility, and the atomic structures can be patterned on silicon substrates to facilitate upscaling. Says Wolkow, "We perfected silicon-atom patterning recently; then we got machine learning to take over, relieving long-suffering scientists. Now, we have freed electrons to follow their nature—they can't leave the yard we created, but they can run around freely and play with the other electrons there." The researchers have started building a scaled-up atomic machine that simulates the workings of a neural network, spontaneously displaying the relative energetic stability of its bit patterns. Those patterns can subsequently be used to more rapidly and accurately train a neural network than currently possible, according to the researchers.

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Researchers at the University of Washington’s Allen School and doctors at UW Medicine. Researchers Unveil AI System That Predicts Problems During Surgery
GeekWire
Clare McGrane
October 10, 2018


University of Washington (UW) researchers have developed an artificial intelligence (AI) system that uses patient data to predict whether patients are at risk of abnormally low blood oxygen (hypoxia) during surgery. The Prescience system provides users with real-world explanations to support and explain its predictions. In collaboration with physicians, UW's Su-In Lee and colleagues trained Prescience on about 50,000 patient files, so the program could analyze data such as patient age and weight to calculate the likelihood of hypoxemia prior to surgery. The system also uses real-time data during surgery to predict when patients are in danger of hypoxemia, and a new AI model helps Prescience provide doctors a concise description of the prediction's underlying factors. In simulations, Prescience guided anesthesiologists through sample scenarios, boosting doctors' ability to diagnose hypoxemia before surgery by 16% and during surgery by 12%; the system’s findings helped doctors successfully differentiate between patients at risk of hypoxemia and those not at risk 80% of the time.

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