Welcome to the January 4, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Lawrence G. Roberts Computer Scientist Lawrence Roberts Helped Design the Internet’s Precursor
Toronto Globe & Mail (Canada)
Katie Hafner
January 1, 2019

Lawrence G. Roberts, former manager at the Pentagon's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), who oversaw the implementation of the earliest iteration of what became the Internet, has died at the age of 81. During his time at ARPA, Roberts worked with a group of colleagues who shared his interest in computer networking for help in creating the technical underpinnings of the Arpanet, integrating and refining many ideas for how data should flow. It was Roberts who decided to use packet switching as the underlying technology of the Arpanet, and to build a network that distributed control of the system across multiple computers. Said Vinton G. Cerf, Google's chief Internet evangelist and a former president of ACM, "Larry led us to uncover potential that we never would have seen had he not pushed so hard for increased functionality."

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wheeled robot tests autonomous systems Martian Robot Will Explore the Red Planet With Mind of Its Own
The Telegraph (United Kingdom)
Joseph Archer
January 2, 2019

Researchers in the U.K. at King's College London and aerospace company Airbus have completed testing on an artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled rover that will make its own decisions about where it explores on Mars. The rover's software also will make power-conserving decisions on its own, as well as decisions to probe things it deems interesting that human operators might overlook. During a month-long test in the Sahara Desert, the rover traveled more than 1.4 kilometers without human interaction. Current remote-controlled Martian rovers can only travel a few dozen meters a day, because of the lag time between the transmission of commands from Earth and their reception. Said the U.K. Space Agency's Catherine Mealing-Jones, "New autonomous robot technology like this will help to further unlock Mars' mysteries."

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Big Tech May Look Troubled, but It’s Just Getting Started
The New York Times
David Streitfeld
January 1, 2019

As 2018 came to a close, Silicon Valley faced a range of public controversies, including accusations of inflaming, radicalizing, dumbing down, and squeezing its users. The backlash has forced tech company stocks downward, and inspired legislators to explore new regulations. However, the industry is pushing forward, moving into fields such as the cloud, the design of smart cities, and the development of self-driving cars. In order to accomplish these goals, tech companies need hundreds of thousands of new employees across the country, a trend highlighted by Amazon's recent push into New York City and the Washington, D.C. suburbs. While many argue that Big Tech needs to be regulated, there are also concerns about giving that power to the government. Said Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist David Autor, "Much as people are now wary or even unhappy with the outsized power held by Facebook, Google, Amazon, etc., they are simultaneously quite dependent on the services they provide."

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open book in library Microsoft Open Sources Homomorphic Encryption Library 'SEAL'
Computer Business Review
Ed Targett
January 2, 2019

Microsoft has open sourced a homomorphic encryption library developed by its Cryptography Research group, making the source code available on GitHub. The company believes homomorphic encryption, which offers the ability to compute on data while it is encrypted, is ripe for use in real-world applications. For instance, users could process encrypted data in the cloud without downloading it for decryption on-premises or providing a decryption key to a third-party service provider. Microsoft is leading the push to develop a standard for the emerging cryptographic technique, which resulted in the creation of an industry consortium with members including IBM, Intel, SAP, the National Institutes of Health, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Intel already has adopted Microsoft's Simple Encrypted Arithmetic Library (SEAL) to implement the underlying cryptography functions in its neural network compiler nGraph. Microsoft SEAL has no external dependencies and is written in standard C++, making it easy to compile in many different environments.

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cryptocurrency coins, illustration Ethereum Plans to Cut Its Absurd Energy Consumption by 99%
IEEE Spectrum
Peter Fairley
January 2, 2019

The Ethereum Foundation, and the broader open source movement devoted to advancing the cryptocurrency bitcoin, this year plan to field-test an overhaul of Ethereum's code. The typical Ethereum transaction consumes more power than an average U.S. household uses in a day, but by the end of 2019, the goal is for the new code to complete transactions using just 1% of that amount of energy. Zaki Manian, who is advising the cryptocurrency upstart Cosmos, said Ethereum's development process means multiple coders and organizations must collaborate in the open, converge on specifications, invent all of the technology to implement them, and make them work together seamlessly. He said, "It is by far the most technically ambitious open community project that has ever been attempted."

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A complex 3D CAD model (left) can be broken down into the many individual shapes they are made of (right) Customizing Computer-Aided Design
MIT News
Rob Matheson
January 2, 2019

A new technique developed by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) "reverse-engineers" complex three-dimensional (3-D) computer-aided design (CAD) models to make it easier for users to customize them for manufacturing and 3-D printing applications. Using the "program synthesis" technique, MIT researchers were able to break down CAD models into primitive shapes, like spheres and cuboids. This method essentially disassembles the CAD models into individual shapes that can be edited. Tao Du, a Ph.D. student in the Computational Fabrication group of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, said the process could be useful in manufacturing or when combined with 3-D printing software, especially in the age of design sharing, noting, "If users want to reproduce the design at home and customize it a little, then this technique could be useful."

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Brazil's New Science and Technology Minister Takes Over
Angelica Mari
January 3, 2019

Marcos Pontes, Brazil's new minister of science, technology, innovation, and communications, intends to focus on cybersecurity and artificial intelligence, and has pledged to review key issues such the Internet of Things and broadband coverage. In addition, Pontes wants to work closer with other government departments on technologies that are considered strategic, including space and nuclear energy, cybersecurity, and artificial intelligence. One of the ministry's new priorities is to extend broadband coverage, especially in remote areas of the country. A major challenge will be to increase the budget of the ministry, which has suffered severe cuts over the last few years. Pontes plans on using "technology to transform these ideas into innovations, which will turn into new products and generate new jobs."

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Black Mirror: Bandersnatch Is an Experiment on Us
Independent (London)
David Streitfeld
December 28, 2018

The Netflix series "Black Mirror" recently released an interactive episode in which viewers can choose the course of the program's narrative. Participants start by choosing relatively innocuous actions for the episode's protagonist to follow, which become increasingly consequential as the show plays out. An enthusiastic response to the program could encourage Netflix to produce more interactive content for public consumption, potentially transforming storytelling. The company already has developed software to help organize stories that have endless permutations, has the technical ability to present these tales on multiple platforms around the world simultaneously, and is calling for producers to submit interactive proposals in different genres. Behind the idea of interactive content is the notion that viewers will care more if they have a say in the plot.

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Miners Dig AI but the Gold Rush Hasn't Come
The Wall Street Journal
Alistair MacDonald; Rhiannon Hoyle
December 26, 2018

Despite expectations by the mining industry that artificial intelligence (AI) would transform operations, some experts consider that promise overhyped and unrealistic. Companies like Barrick Gold and Rio Tinto are running AI-led projects, but widescale deployment faces obstacles including little executive engagement, more appealing alternative modernization options, and longer-than-anticipated project timeframes. AI's potential benefits to mining include sensor-based data collection to predict breakdowns or improve operational efficiency, and geological data-filtering to locate likely ore deposits. Other challenges to implementing AI-driven changes to the industry include the high cost of the technology, mining's lack of appeal as a career choice for AI experts who are sorely in demand, and dissatisfaction with making only incremental gains with AI at this point.

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The Handbook of Multimodal-Multisensor Interfaces, Volume II
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