Welcome to the June 19, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Petaflop Systems Dominate the Supercomputer Landscape
Charlie Osborne
June 17, 2019

For the first time, every entry in this year's TOP500 list delivers petaflop-level capabilities, with the lowest ranking system coming in at 1.022 petaflops. The top two supercomputers in the world, known as Summit (housed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory) and Sierra (housed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory), have reached performance levels of 148.6 petaflops and 94.6 petaflops, respectively. In terms of hardware, Summit is powered by 4,356 nodes, all of which contain two Power9 CPUs with 22 cores each and six NVIDIA Tesla V100 GPUs. Sierra is made up of 4,320 nodes with two Power9 CPUs and four NVIDIA Tesla V100 GPUs inbuilt in each node. The third and fourth places on the latest TOP500 list go to China's Sunway TaihuLight system (93.0 petaflops) and Tianhe-2A (61.4 petaflops). Of the 500 most powerful computers in the world, China is home to 219, while the U.S. has just 116.

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AI, Robots, Data Software Helping Create New Approach for Planning Cities of the Future
Purdue University News
Chris Adam
June 18, 2019

Purdue University researchers have developed a unique strategy to plan future cities, by streamlining building information modeling software through new approaches to data. Purdue's Jiansong Zhang said the methodology facilitates full software development based on data from industry foundation classes, "for any task in the life cycle of an [architecture, engineering, and construction] project." Zhang added that the researchers created a visualization program deployed via the new technique. Said Zhang, "The new method can help eliminate missing or inconsistent information during software development." The data encompasses all sectors, functions, and life-cycle stages of software development for construction projects.

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The new Domino’s vehicle Domino's Will Start Delivering Pizzas via Autonomous Robot This Fall
The Washington Post
Peter Holley
June 17, 2019

Robotics startup Nuro has announced plans to dispatch robots this fall to deliver Domino's pizzas to customers in Houston, following deployment of autonomous grocery deliveries in Houston and Phoenix. Nuro's Kevin Vasconi said the unmanned electric delivery robots "are specially designed to optimize the food delivery experience, which makes them a valuable partner in our autonomous vehicle journey." Once Domino's customers in Houston place an order, they can track the driverless robot through the Domino's app. When the vehicle reaches the site location, customers can use a PIN code provided by the pizza chain to unlock the vehicle's compartment and obtain their order.

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A shot from underwater Environmental DNA Program Makes Conservation Research Faster, More Efficient
UCLA Newsroom (CA)
David Colgan
June 18, 2019

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) researchers have launched open source software to simplify environmental DNA research by allowing scientists to quickly recognize a wide spectrum of species, in order to generate sortable, easy to comprehend results. Users employ the Anacapa Toolkit by first collecting a sample—typically soil or water—and extracting its DNA for sequencing. Anacapa filters the resulting sequences and compares them to a customizable genetic reference library. UCLA's Paul Barber said the end-product is a spreadsheet of all species in the sample, enabling reconstruction of biological communities. Said Barber, "Environmental DNA has the potential to transform how resource managers monitor the ecosystems they are in charge of."

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Computer 'Geek' Stereotype Puts Girls Off Subject
BBC News
Robbie Meredith
June 19, 2019

The U.K. Council for the Curriculum, Examinations, and Assessment (CCEA) found culturally promulgated stereotyping of computing as "a male-oriented domain consisting of anti-social 'nerds, geeks, or hackers,'" is discouraging female students from pursuing the discipline. The council identified such stereotypes as including the perception of girls as being less skilled at math and technology, and less equipped for intricate work, than boys. The CCEA study also determined some girls have "computer anxiety," with the field presented as being outside their comfort zone, even if they regularly use social media. The council suggested remedial strategies, including promotion of "relatable, realistic" female role models, more collaboration between schools and technology firms, having educators counter negative stereotypes in the classroom, and making the computing curriculum more appealing to girls.

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Automated Cryptocode Generator Helps Secure the Web
MIT News
Rob Matheson
June 17, 2019

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a system that automatically generates cryptography code that is normally written by hand. First deployed early last year, "Fiat Cryptography" is used by Google and other technology companies to automatically generate—and simultaneously verify—optimized cryptographic algorithms for all hardware platforms. During testing, the researchers found the system can generate algorithms that match the performance of the best handwritten code, but much faster. Said MIT researcher Adam Chlipala, "You can automatically explore the space of possible representations of the large numbers, compile each representation to measure the performance, and take whichever one runs fastest for a given scenario."

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A robot operating a microwave Intel Does the Hard Work so Robots Can Operate Your Microwave
Darrell Etherington
June 17, 2019

Intel artificial intelligence (AI) researchers, in partnership with the University of California, San Diego and Stanford University, have compiled a large dataset of three-dimensional objects featuring highly detailed, hierarchically structured and fully annotated information. The PartNet dataset organizes objects into segmented components, in a manner applicable to building AI learning models, for identifying and manipulating actual objects. PartNet lists more than 570,000 components across more than 26,000 objects, with parts common to objects across categories labeled as corresponding to one another. This enables AIs taught to recognize a part on one object variant, to identify it on another.

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A drone flying in the air Drones for Early Detection of Forest Fires
Universidad de Carlos III de Madrid
June 17, 2019

Researchers at Universidad de Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) in Spain are collaborating with researchers at Telefonica, Divisek, and Dronitec, on a sustainable innovation pilot project for early detection and prevention of forest fires using drone technology. The researchers developed a complete automatic flight system for a drone, as well as an interface that allows users to access what the drone is seeing in real time. The drone is equipped with a thermal camera, an optical camera, and four sensors that allow users to identify the temperature of the device in the environment. The drone's controllers tell users the internal state of the equipment, and communication towers can detect the origin of a fire within a perimeter of 15 kilometers (about nine miles). Said UC3M professor Fernando Garcia, "It's a totally novel solution, based on robotics and automation, which won't remove anyone's job, but will instead offer a new tool for emergency services, providing added value and allowing them to operate more safely and to control the situation."

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Should Use of Cannabis Be Legalized? Just Ask a Computer
The Jerusalem Post
Eytan Halon
June 14, 2019

A new IBM artificial intelligence (AI)-based technology can compile large volumes of text arguments on issues from a diverse audience, and offer persuasive arguments to aid decision-makers. The Project Debater-Speech By Crowd system analyzes arguments, derives coherent narratives from those arguments, and presents them as two speeches—one in favor of a specific point of contention and one against. Speech in the system’s first live test focused on cannabis legalization, analyzing 1,037 short arguments, including 637 supporting legalization and 388 opposing it. IBM Research AI's Aya Soffer said understanding language is at the heart of Project Debater, and its challenges include automatically identifying whether an argument is pro or con, eliminating parallel arguments using different words, identifying underlying themes, and capturing the protean concept of argument quality. Soffer said the technology is "applicable to all fields where you're summarizing masses of information in a coherent way."

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Border Patrol Hack Shows How New Technology Makes Law Enforcement a Target
Alyssa Newcomb
June 11, 2019

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported a recent data intrusion exposed up to 100,000 license plate photos and images of travelers at a point of entry. Cybersecurity experts cite the incident as reflecting the growing appeal of law enforcement to data thieves, as agencies collect an increasing amount of information. A CBP spokesperson said the attack was not a breach, but hackers apparently stole the information from a contractor that had uploaded the photos to its server without consent. Tim Mackey at cybersecurity firm Synopsys said the push to regulate technology like facial recognition "becomes a particularly challenging problem for law enforcement as technological innovations often outpace privacy legislation." Mackey added that ensuring transparency is essential, as law enforcement increasingly relies on biometric and other data to inform policing decisions.

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Artist's concept of Hera surveying Didymos ESA Developing Radiation-Hardened Computer for Hera Mission
New Atlas
David Szondy
June 12, 2019

The European Space Agency is developing a specially radiation-hardened computer to control the Hera deep-space probe, designed to monitor the effects of the agency’s Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment (AIDA) project. The probe will be controlled by an autonomous computer as it travels 490 million kilometers (304 million miles) from Earth over four years. The computer is being designed with a radiation-hardened architecture, and software that can bypass likely radiation damage, in order to survive the rigors of space. Peter Holsters of Belgian computer developer QinetiQ Space said Hera's software will feature "speedy error detection and checking in the memory management, including the ability to identify and work around 'bad blocks' in memory." Holsters added that fast, autonomous failure recovery will be a necessity in deep space, with a 10- to 20-second recovery benchmark for Hera.

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A coin with Libra on it Facebook Plans Global Financial System Based on Cryptocurrency
The New York Times
Mike Isaac; Nathaniel Popper
June 18, 2019

Facebook has unveiled a plan to create an alternative financial system that relies on a cryptocurrency, called Libra. The effort, announced with a range of partners including MasterCard and Uber, will have to overcome concern that Facebook does not effectively protect the private information of its users, and thus cannot be trusted to handle financial transactions. Facebook plans to launch the project next year in what would be the most far-reaching attempt by a mainstream company to enter the world of cryptocurrencies. The social media giant hopes Libra will become the foundation for a new financial system not controlled by modern power brokers on Wall Street or central banks. The new financial system would help Facebook and other U.S. companies compete for financial transactions in developing countries, where WeChat—developed by China's Tencent—already offers a payment system built into its messaging product.

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Conversational UX Design: A Practitioner's Guide to the Natural Conversation Framework
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