Welcome to the May 2, 2018 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, Rome AI Cracking Open the Vatican's Secret Archives
The Atlantic
Sam Kean
April 30, 2018

The In Codice Ratio project uses artificial intelligence and optical character recognition (OCR) software to mine the Vatican Secret Archives and make its documents available for the first time. Traditional OCR deconstructs words into letter-images by seeking the spaces between letters, and then compares each letter-image to the bank of letters in its memory. After deciding which letter best matches an image, the software renders the letter into a computer code to make the text searchable. Handwritten text does not translate well with this technology, but In Codice Ratio uses jigsaw segmentation to circumvent this problem by breaking words down into something closer to individual pen strokes. The OCR splits each word into a series of vertical and horizontal bands and looks for local minimums, then carves the letters at these joints and chunks them together to produce possible letters. Applying common-sense training to the OCR helped further refine the software's deciphering ability.

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Your Smartphone Could Help Speed Up Cancer Research While You Sleep
Imperial College London
Ryan O'Hare
April 30, 2018

Researchers at Imperial College London in the U.K., in collaboration with the Vodafone Foundation, are conducting the Drug Repositioning Using Grids of Smartphones (DRUGS) project, a research effort designed to speed up the delivery of personalized cancer treatments by using smartphones to analyze data while their owners sleep. The researchers designed an algorithm that breaks down enormous datasets into small chunks that can be analyzed by individual smartphones. Study participants download the DreamLab app onto their phones and run it for six hours overnight as the device charges. The app downloads a data packet containing about 5 MB and uses the phone's processors to run millions of calculations, and then uploads the results. The crowd-based approach should enable researchers to significantly speed up cancer research by identifying new combinations of drugs that may be more effective in fighting the disease in individual patients.

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To Attract and Retain Women in Tech, Bias Education Is Prerequisite
Seattle Times
May 1, 2018

The U.S. National Science Foundation recently reported an upward trend in the number of women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) for every discipline except the computer and mathematical sciences, which showed a decline from 1993 through 2010. This trend has more to do with cultural and institutional bias rather than a lack of programs or resources for women in STEM, according to Western Washington University's Regina Barber DeGraaff. "To get more women into tech, the students need programs encouraging girls to get involved early," she says. DeGraaff notes this practice also needs to be combined with faculty awareness and fellow student awareness on gender and racial discrimination and bias.

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Adam Berlier demonstrates new wearable technology system to operate remote vehicles Team of Engineering, CS Students Enhance Future of Remote Vehicles
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
Katharina Lane
May 1, 2018

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University researchers have combined a small unmanned aircraft system (sUAS), an augmented reality (AR) headset, and a neuromuscular gesture recognition armband to develop a tool that enables unmanned aircraft pilots to safely operate remote aerial vehicles while remaining mobile and carrying out other tasks. The new system is a wearable technology that mimics natural human-to-human interaction. In addition, the AR system lets users communicate with each other, and can be programmed to enable users to access only information they have clearance to see, says Embry-Riddle's Adam Berlier. He notes the system relies on a Microsoft HoloLens AR headset and an MYO gesture recognition armband (previously developed by Embry-Riddle researchers) so users can retain situational awareness while controlling the remote vehicle. "In addition to first responders, this technology would be very useful for sUAS inspections of structures such as power lines or wind turbines," says Embry-Riddle's Brandon Koury.

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Illustration of the inside of an infrared frequency comb in a quantum cascade laser Laser Frequency Combs May Be the Future of Wi-Fi
Harvard University
Leah Burrows
April 30, 2018

In a breakthrough that could lead to more efficient bandwidth use in communication systems, researchers at the Harvard University John A. Paulson School of Engineering have discovered a new phenomenon of quantum cascade laser frequency combs. The phenomenon allows these devices to act as integrated transmitters or receivers that can efficiently encode information. Frequency combs measure and detect various light frequencies, emitting multiple frequencies simultaneously. The laser at optical wavelengths operates as a microwave device, with light inside the laser's cavity causing electrons to oscillate at microwave frequencies. These oscillations can be altered to encode information onto a carrier signal. The team has proven that the laser can act as a quadrature modulator, allowing two different pieces of information to be sent simultaneously through a single frequency channel, then successively retrieved at the end of a communication link. The work greatly enhances the potential of frequency combs and could lead to a terahertz source for wireless communications.

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Editing Brain Activity With Holography
Berkeley News
Robert Sanders
April 30, 2018

University of California, Berkeley researchers are building equipment to project holographs into the human brain to trigger or suppress many neurons at once, hundreds of times each second, duplicating actual activity patterns to trick the brain into thinking it has felt, seen, or sensed something. They want their holographic brain modulator to interpret neural activity constantly and decide which sets of neurons to activate to simulate the pattern and rhythm of a true neural response, for applications such as restoring lost sensations after nerve damage or controlling a prosthetic appendage. The current modulator can trigger up to 50 neurons simultaneously in a three-dimensional brain segment with several thousand neurons, repeating it up to 300 times every second with different sets of 50 neurons. Each neuron is equipped with a protein that activates the cell when briefly struck by light, and the researchers used computer-generated holography to target each cell individually without hitting all at once.

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X-ray of permanent pacemaker Heart Is Where the Chips Are, Helping Keep the Beat
Rice University
Mike Williams
April 24, 2018

Researchers at Rice University have demonstrated a wireless pacemaker array that opens new possibilities with medical sensors. The team designed a pacemaker that would insert a network of chips the size of a grain of rice in different locations inside the heart; the chips would communicate with a base station under the patient's skin, charging via radio frequency energy harvesting. When the base station detects a heart rhythm problem, it would signal the embedded chips to release a jolt of energy to restore the normal rhythm. The new device addresses shortcomings with current pacemakers, which the researchers say are effective only in pacing a single chamber of the heart. This type of network could become common as doctors seek better ways to gather real-time information from within patients' bodies, the researchers say.

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Researchers Develop Smartphone for Quicker Infection Testing
Washington State University
Tina Hilding
April 24, 2018

Washington State University researchers have created a portable smartphone reader that is almost as effective as clinical laboratories for detecting common viral and bacterial infections. The device could enable faster, lower-cost lab results for fast-moving viral and bacterial epidemics, especially in rural or lower-resource regions. The reader worked nearly as well as standard lab testing in detecting 12 common viral and bacterial infectious diseases, such as mumps, measles, herpes, and Lyme Disease. The researchers tested the reader with 771 patient samples at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, receiving false positives about one percent of the time. The device takes a photo of 96 sample wells at once and uses a computer program to analyze color to determine positive or negative results. Next, the team would like to conduct clinical trials, which could lead to commercialization.

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Blue eel swimming in freshwater Transparent Eel-Like Soft Robot Can Swim Silently Underwater
University of California, San Diego
Ioana Patringenaru
April 24, 2018

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego and the University of California, Berkeley have created a nearly-transparent eel-like robot that can swim silently in salt water using artificial muscles. Critical to the new technology is the use of the salt water in which the robot swims, to generate the electrical forces that propel it. The robot delivers negative charges to the water just outside itself, and positive charges inside the robot to trigger its muscles to bend, creating the robot's swimming motion. The charges carry very little current, making them safe for marine life. The technology is an important step toward a future when soft robots can swim in the ocean alongside fish and invertebrates without harming them, the researchers say.

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New Material Is Key Step Toward More Powerful Computing
Oregon State University News
Steve Lundeberg
April 23, 2018

Oregon State University researchers have developed a new compound that constitutes a significant advance toward quantum computing. The inorganic compound, lithium osmium oxide, adopts a crystal structure capable of sustaining a new state of matter known as quantum spin liquid. In the new compound, osmium atoms form a honeycomb-like lattice, enforcing a "magnetic frustration" phenomenon that could lead to quantum spin liquid. In a permanent magnet like a compass needle, the electrons all rotate in the same direction, but in a frustrated magnet, the atomic arrangement is such that electron spins are constantly fluctuating, the researchers say. Lithium osmium oxide shows no evidence of magnetic order even when frozen to nearly absolute zero, which suggests an underlying quantum spin liquid state is possible for the compound, the researchers say. They plan to explore the chemistry needed to create perfectly ordered crystal structures with osmium.

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There's a New Test in Town for Ranking Supercomputers
Machine Design
Stephen Mraz
April 27, 2018

Researchers at the Sandia National Laboratories have devised a new benchmark, called the High Performance Conjugate Gradients (HPCG), for rating the world’s 500 most powerful supercomputers. For several years, experts have been saying the previous benchmark, the High-Performance LINPACK program, was not effective. LINPACK “performs compute-rich algorithms on dense data structures to identify the theoretical maximum speed of a supercomputer,” but newer applications often use sparse data structures, says Sandia researcher Mike Heroux. As a way to better assess current supercomputing application programs, Heroux developed HPCG's preconditioned iterative method for solving systems. "A preconditioner makes the iterative method converge more quickly, so a multigrid preconditioner is applied to the method at each iteration," says Heroux. On the HPCG TOP500 list, the Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratory supercomputer Trinity has risen to the third spot, behind only Japan’s K Computer and China’s Tianhe-2 (in the LINPACK ranking, Trinity ranks seventh).

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Exascale System for Earth Simulation Introduced
April 23, 2018

The Energy Exascale Earth System Model (E3SM), supported by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science in the Biological and Environmental Research Office, has been unveiled after four years of development. The E3SM release includes model code and documentation, and initial benchmark simulation results. The model simulates aspects of Earth system variability and will forecast decadal changes with a critical near-term impact on the U.S. energy sector. The project aims to create an Earth system model (ESM) previously impossible because of limitations in computing technologies. Eventually the E3SM project aims to use exascale machines, as E3SM proceeds in tandem with the DOE Exascale Computing Initiative (ECI).

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IBM Q Leader on the Potential of Quantum Computing
R & D
Laura Panjwani
May 1, 2018

In an interview, IBM Research's Robert Sutor describes the IBM Quantum (IBM Q) Experience, an online platform enabling people to investigate quantum computing hardware from home. "For the first time, the general public could go to a website ... do some programming and do real, actual quantum computing," he notes. Sutor says IBM made available a 16-quantum bit (qubit) machine last year, "and at this point we have two five-qubit machines, one 16-qubit machine, and software simulators available as part of the IBM Q Experience." He estimates more than 83,000 people have used the platform so far to run more than 4 million executions. "We are hoping that all this early work ... will lead to breakthroughs that will give us what we call quantum advantage," Sutor says. The long-term goal is achieving fault tolerance for quantum computers, initially by making individual qubits available for use for longer periods, as well as having them operate with few errors.

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Ada's Legacy
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