Welcome to the September 10, 2018 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Robat robot Bat-Inspired Robot Uses Echolocation to Navigate
R&D Magazine
Kenny Walter
September 7, 2018

Researchers at Tel Aviv University in Israel have developed Robat, a fully autonomous bat-like robot that uses echolocation to move through new environments. Robat includes a biologically plausible signal processing approach to extract information about an object's position and identity, a feature that makes the system unique among other attempts to apply sonar to robotics. The system contains an ultrasonic speaker that mimics the mouth of a real bat and produces frequency modulated chirps similar to those of bats. In addition, Robat is equipped with two ultrasonic microphones that mimic ears. The robot uses an artificial neural network to delineate the borders of objects it encounters and classify them. During testing, Robat was able to move autonomously through novel outdoor environments and map them using only sound. The researchers also found that the robot was able to classify objects with a 68% balanced accuracy, and to determine obstacles with a 70% accuracy.

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Could a 'Demon' Help to Create a Quantum Computer?
Penn State News
Sam Sholtis
September 5, 2018

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University have discovered that rearranging a randomly distributed array of atoms into neatly organized blocks could form the basis of a quantum computer that uses uncharged atoms to encode data and perform calculations. The new method performs the function of "Maxwell's demon," a thought experiment from the 1870s that challenged the second law of thermodynamics. The thought experiment involves a demon that can open and close a gate between two chambers of gas, allowing warmer atoms to pass in one direction and cooler atoms to pass in the other. This sorting, which required no energy input, would decrease entropy in the system and create a temperature difference between the two chambers that could be used as a heat pump to perform work, thus violating the second law. Penn State researcher David Weiss says, "Organizing the atoms into a packed 3D grid allows us to fit a lot of atoms into a small area and makes computation easier and more efficient."

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angry robot, illustration AI Robots Can Develop Prejudices, Just Like Us Mere Mortals
Kris Holt
September 6, 2018

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cardiff University in the U.K. found that artificial intelligence (AI) bots can develop prejudices by learning from each other. The team created a game in which AI bots must decide to either donate to a bot within their own group or to a bot in another group, factoring in donation strategies and the bots' reputations. As the game progressed, the bots became increasingly prejudiced against bots from other groups. The bots devised new strategies by copying each other, mimicking approaches that offered a better short-term reward. Cardiff's Roger Whitaker says, "Our simulations show that prejudice is a powerful force of nature and through evolution, it can easily become incentivized in virtual populations, to the detriment of wider connectivity with others." He says protection from prejudicial groups can cause individuals to create further prejudicial groups, resulting in "widespread prejudice" that is difficult to reverse. Lower levels of prejudice occurred when a greater number of subgroups were present in a population.

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Code.Org, CSTA Get Extra Computer Science Courses Through New Partnership
Ryan Johnston
September 6, 2018

Code.org and the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) have partnered with Pluralsight, an enterprise technology learning platform, to expand their course offerings. The partnerships will bring specially curated online course libraries to thousands of additional computer science students and teachers. CSTA expects the agreement to provide benefits for 60,000 of its members in more than 140 countries. Pluralsight will provide $1.5 million to Code.org to "deepen opportunities" for female and minority students via new access to computer science education resources. The grant money will be distributed over a three-year period, but Code.org and CSTA will make the course offerings available immediately to students and teachers. Students taking the AP Computer Science Principles exam will now have access to more than 150 courses totaling 500 hours of lessons in four categories: IT/OPs, software development, design/creative, and product management.

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Army, UPenn Uncover Ways to Better Predict Viral Information
U.S. Army Research Laboratory
September 4, 2018

Neuroscientists at the University of Pennsylvania and the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) analyzed the brain responses of 40 people reading real New York Times health article headlines and abstracts. They determined subjects who infrequently read the news were best at predicting the articles' popularity among actual readers. The investigators focused on the brain's ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which supports value judgments, to find that high levels of activity in that region not only mirrored how much an individual wanted to read the story, but also correlated with how popular the article was on the publication's website. UPenn's Bruce Dore says, "It was the infrequent news readers whose brains were differentiating between the heavily shared articles and the less popular ones. Their brains were able to diagnose which articles would go viral." ARL's Jean Vettel says this work could help predict what types of information will be widely shared with a population.

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Cosmoflow universe-in-a-box, illustration NERSC, Intel, Cray Harness the Power of Deep Learning to Better Understand the Universe
Berkeley Lab News Center
Kathy Kincade
September 5, 2018

A joint project of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, Intel, and Cray developed the first large-scale science application to use the TensorFlow framework on a central-processing unit-based high-performance computing (HPC) platform with synchronous training. The CosmoFlow app has been used to process 3D spatial data volumes at this scale so researchers can obtain better understanding of the cosmos. CosmoFlow's objectives included enhancing deep-learning training performance on modern HPC supercomputers. By applying the Cray PE Machine Learning Plugin, the app attains unprecedented scaling of the TensorFlow Deep Learning framework to more than 8,000 nodes. Intel's Joe Curley says "we identified framework, kernel, and communication optimization that led to more than 750x performance increase for a single node. Equally as impressive, the team solved problems that limited scaling of deep-learning techniques to 128 to 256 nodes."

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UH Team Tackles Computer Science Diversity, Retention
Big Island Now (Hawaii)
September 5, 2018

University of Hawai'i at Manoa (UH) researchers are using a $300,000 National Science Foundation grant to evaluate a new approach to improving engagement, diversity, and retention in undergraduate computer science education. Less than 40% of students who enter college with the intention of majoring in a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) field actually complete the degree, and participation among women and underrepresented minorities has been decreasing. The UH team will assess a conceptual framework known as Degree Experience Plans and its implementation in the RadGrad open source system. RadGrad offers a different perspective on the computer science and computer engineering degree experiences by valuing involvement in extracurricular computer science and engineering activities as much as coursework. Rather than measuring success on GPA alone, the system uses a three-part measure based on innovation, competency and experience (ICE). Students earn ICE points for activities inside and outside the classroom, with incentives to earn points in all three areas.

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Building Quantum Computers With Photons
IEEE Spectrum
Neil Savage
September 5, 2018

Researchers at the National University of Defense Technology in China have built a photonic quantum processor, which generates and manipulates two photonically encoded quantum bits (qubits) for universal two-qubit quantum computing. The photons are encoded via thermo-optical phase shifters controlled by electrical voltages. The National University's Xiaogang Qiang says, "Different settings of the phase shifters control the photon's transmission behaviors in the interferometers, enabling different qubit-state encoding and different quantum operations." Upscaling the system and packing sufficient phase shifters, beam splitters, and other optical components onto the chip to produce a practical solution are significant challenges. However, Xiaogang says silicon photonics has demonstrated the capacity for bundling many devices tightly and inducing them to operate with high precision, "and thus it in fact is the practical way to implement the ultimate large-scale photonic quantum processor."

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Architect working on computer software Software Tool Could Help Architects Design Efficient Buildings
MIT News
David L. Chandler
September 5, 2018

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have developed a new process that can determine a building's environmental impact during the early design phases. In the past, making such a determination was only possible at the end of the design process, at which point it would be too late to make major revisions to the structure. However, the lifecycle analysis (LCA) software created by the researchers makes environmental analysis an important part of the design process. The software considers construction, operation of a building, and final dismantling and disposal without limiting design options. The researchers were surprised to learn that the LCA system had little impact on reducing the range of design choices. The software is designed for single-family homes, but the researchers aim to expand its applications to larger commercial and residential structures.

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This New AI Can Track 200 Eye Movements to Determine Your Personality Traits
Business Insider
Katharina Mass
September 2, 2018

Researchers at Saarland University's Max Planck Institute for Computer Science and the University of Stuttgart in Germany, along with colleagues from the University of South Australia, have created software that recognizes personality traits via eye tracking. The researchers equipped 50 student volunteers with devices that recorded their eye movements. The volunteers were then asked to walk across the campus for about 10 minutes and purchase something from one of the campus shops. The subjects also completed questionnaires commonly used to evaluate personality traits. The team used more than 200 markers, such as the frequency with which subjects blinked and how long they focused on something, to determine traits that are linked to certain eye movements. With this data, the researchers created "decision trees" for various personality traits, enabling the software to recognize designated characteristics. In addition, the team says the eye-tracking software can gauge whether someone is conscientious, sociable, and tolerant, and even to what extent they might be emotionally unstable.

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Cannibalistic Materials Feed on Themselves to Grow New Nanostructures
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Dawn Levy
August 31, 2018

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) researchers have induced a 2D material to cannibalize itself for atomic "building blocks" from which stable nanostructures can be built. ORNL's Xiahan Sang says, "Under our experimental conditions, titanium and carbon atoms can spontaneously form an atomically thin layer of 2D transition-metal carbide, which was never observed before." The researchers began with an electrically conductive 2D ceramic called a MXene composed of alternating atomic layers of carbon or nitrogen sandwiched within transition metals such as titanium. The team suspended a MXene flake on a perforated heating chip, exposing the flake to heat and irradiating it with an electron beam. Sang says removal of functional atomic groups leaves a bare titanium layer "that's free to reconstruct and form new structures on top of existing structures." Scanning transmission electron microscopy visualized the atoms' migration from one part of the material to another to build structures.

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3D Model created using video cameras 3D Models From Cheap Video Cameras
Linkoping University
Monica Westman Svenselius
September 4, 2018

Hannes Ovren at Linkoping University in Sweden has created 3D models of surroundings from video films recorded by inexpensive body-mounted cameras, with potential for robots and human innovation. This bypasses the need for stationary cameras to avoid image distortion, and Ovren says "it is possible to improve the image significantly by modeling how the camera has moved and compensating for the motion." His method builds a "spline" or curve describing camera motions from fewer spline knots when the errors that occur from un-kinking the curve are modeled. Excessively large errors are prevented with an inertial measurement sensor that tracks acceleration, angular velocity, and orientation relative to the ground. Ovren says the camera and spline curve motion are not identical, but the difference in the pathway's impact on the magnitude of measurement errors can be determined to boost the reliability of the 3D model and the distances within it.

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