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Welcome to the July 17, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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An image of a drone in the field MIT CSAIL Makes AI that Helps Drones Land Like a Helicopter, Fly Like a Plane
Venture Beat
Kyle Wiggers
July 14, 2019

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Dartmouth University, and the University of Washington are investigating new drone designs that combine the best aspects of quadcopters and fixed-wing airplanes. The team created a novel artificial intelligence (AI) system that allows users to develop drones of different sizes and shapes that can switch between hovering and gliding using a single flight controller. The system gives non-experts the ability to design a model, wait a few hours to compute its controller, and take home a customized, ready-to-fly drone. The AI system uses reinforcement learning to train each model to see potential gaps between the simulations on which they were taught and actual experiences, so the controller can adapt its output.

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Java, Python in Demand as Skills Shortage Widens
Steve Ranger
July 16, 2019

Nearly two-thirds of U.K. chief information officers say they find it difficult to hire the right staff, particularly developers skilled in Java and Python, according to a survey by Harvey Nash and KPMG. The study identified the biggest skills shortages as being in data science and analytics. In addition, companies with the biggest IT budgets (more than £250 million) are struggling to recruit, with 74% reporting a critical shortage in new hires, while they also are finding it increasingly difficult to retain key staff. In addition, Harvey Nash director David Savage said the recruiter continues to see “big demand for DevOps skills and cloud skills like Azure and Dynamics.”

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Robot Ants Robot-Ants Can Jump, Communicate, and Work Together
Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
Laure-Anne Pessina
July 10, 2019

Researchers at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland have developed robots inspired by ants that can communicate with each other, assign roles among themselves, and complete complex tasks together. The robots can jump and crawl to explore uneven surfaces, and can quickly detect and overcome obstacles much larger and heavier than themselves. The Tribots are completely autonomous and untethered, and are equipped with infrared and proximity sensors for detection and communications purposes. Said EPFL researcher Jamie Paik, "With their unique collective intelligence, our tiny robots can demonstrate better adaptability to unknown environments; therefore, for certain missions, they would outperform larger, more powerful robots."

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Unilever Uses Virtual Factories to Tune Up Its Supply Chain
The Wall Street Journal
Jennifer Smith
July 15, 2019

Unilever is using data streaming from sensor-equipped machines to create virtual versions of its factories that can track physical conditions and allow for testing of operational changes. The "digital twin" technique uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to analyze massive amounts of information from connected devices in an effort to make production more efficient and flexible. The technology, which Unilever developed with the help of Microsoft, lets the company make real-time changes to optimize output and use materials more precisely, helping to limit waste. Unilever now has eight such digital twins of plants in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia.

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Sadegh Mazloomi holding a bat UBC Researchers Use Algorithms to Produce Affordable Cricket Bat
Rehmatullah Sheikh
July 13, 2019

Researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada developed an algorithm that designed a cricket bat just as powerful as those used by professional cricket players, but cheaper to produce. The best result for a cricket swing is for the ball to hit the bat's "sweet spot." The researchers taught the algorithm to find the best possible sweet spot when manufacturing a new bat, regardless of the type of wood used. The bat resulting from the process, the (algorithmically optimized) Algobat, minimizes vibrations and maximizes rebound energy when it makes contact with the ball. Said UBC’s Phil Evans, "What we'd like to see is all the people who can't afford a decent bat be able to afford one and to get engaged in the game."

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Two men voting Computer Scientists Make the Case Against an Expensive New Voting System
The Atlantic
Timothy Pratt
July 13, 2019

As Georgia's Secure, Accessible, and Fair Elections Commission considered how to replace its voting system in response to security vulnerabilities, computer scientists were among those who submitted letters and provided testimony on the latest research and technical concepts associated with safe, reliable elections. Commission member Wenke Lee, co-director of the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) Institute for Information Security and Privacy, recommended the state return to paper ballots filled out by hand, combined with "risk-limiting audits." The Commission ultimately recommended the purchase of an expensive touch-screen voting machine that prints a paper ballot. That choice puts Georgia’s counties among the 33% of U.S. counties using either voting machines with no paper trail, or machines that print paper ballots that are then scanned on separate machines.

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MechMorpho Lab Brings Computation, Experimentation Closer
University of Pittsburgh Swanson Engineering
Leah Russell
July 9, 2019

Researchers in the MechMorpho Lab of the University of Pittsburgh's Swanson School of Engineering have developed a methodology to help analyze the massive amount of imaging data provided by advances in imaging tools and automated microscopes, bringing computational modeling and experimentation closer together. The researchers focused on embryonic tissue spreading, a process critical during wound healing and the progression of many diseases, by showing how using approximate Bayesian computation (ABC)—a statistical inference method—can help derive useful quantitative information for experimental design. Said former MechMorpho Lab researcher Holley Lynch, "Our work provides predictive methods that can help guide more general studies of morphogenesis to better understand how tissue spreading is regulated during development and potentially control spreading during wound healing and cancer."

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Start-Ups Seek to Capitalize on 'Rising Tide' in Commercial Quantum Computing
The Washington Post
Aaron Gregg
July 12, 2019

Start-ups expecting a "quantum revolution" in computing to materialize sooner rather than later have raised hundreds of millions of dollars in private capital in hopes of being first to market. There are 117 private start-ups working on quantum technology, according to Said Chad Rigetti, founder and CEO of Rigetti Computing, one of the few companies that has its own quantum computer, "What this represents in quantum is that the customer readiness is emerging. Quantum is really an opportunity for America to kind of leap ahead on computing and chip technology after globalization has led to the migration of that expertise elsewhere." David Moehring, a physicist who oversaw quantum computing research for the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, said the increase in start-up activity is being driven by large tech companies’ public statements on the outlook and potential for quantum science.

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Intel Packs 8 Million Digital Neurons into Its Brain-Like Computer
Stephen Shankland
July 15, 2019

Intel researchers have developed a computer system packed with 64 neuromorphic Loihi chips, containing 8 million digital neurons. The chipmaker will make the Pohoiki Beach system available to researchers who can help Intel mature the technology and move it toward commercialization. The Loihi project is a step in the direction of computing the way human brains work, including digital equivalents of axons that neurons use to transmit signals to their neighbors, dendrites that receive those messages, and synapses that connect the two. Researchers have used Loihi systems to simulate the tactile sensing of skin, control a prosthetic leg, and play a game of foosball.

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Alan Turing on the new design of the Bank of England’s £50 note New Face of the Bank of England's £50 Note Revealed as Alan Turing
BBC News
Kevin Peachey
July 15, 2019

Alan Turing, a celebrated computer pioneer and codebreaker, will be featured on the new design of the Bank of England's £50 note, slated to enter circulation by the end of 2021. Turing is known as the father of computer science and artificial intelligence (AI), and his work helped accelerate Allied efforts to read German Naval messages encrypted with the Enigma machine during World War II. Turing's work helped cement the concept of the algorithm—a set of instructions used to perform computations. Said Bank of England Governor Mark Carney, "As the father of computer science and AI, as well as a war hero, Alan Turing's contributions were far-ranging and path-breaking. Turing is a giant on whose shoulders so many now stand."

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Erno Rubik, the creator of the Rubik’s Cube puzzle This AI Can Solve a Rubik's Cube Super-Fast
Jennifer Kite-Powell
July 15, 2019

University of California, Irvine (UCI) researchers programmed an artificial intelligence (AI) system to solve a Rubik's cube in one second, without any domain knowledge or in-game coaching from humans. The DeepCubeA algorithm solved 100% of all test configurations and found the shortest path to the goal—all six sides displaying a solid color—about 60% of the time. The algorithm also works on other combinatorial games. The team started with a computer simulation of the completed puzzle and then scrambled the Rubik's cube. After the code was running, DeepCubeA trained in isolation for two days, solving an increasingly difficult series of combinations, during which time it began to learn on its own. Said UCI researcher Pierre Baldi, "This work is part of a general effort to bridge machine learning AI and symbolic AI to address complex problems that humans solve through planning and reasoning."

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VR App Gives Students a New Way to See Inner Workings of Cells
Folio (University of Alberta)
Ross Neitz
July 11, 2019

Researchers at the University of Alberta in Canada have developed an educational program that shows cell biology students, through virtual reality (VR), the inner workings of cells and their interactions, allowing the users to visualize cell biology in a new way. The Cell 101 VR App allows students to view a three-dimensional image of a cell and what is happening inside it; they also can rotate a cell to examine it from all angles. In addition to VR, app co-developer Paul LaPointe said he sees also great promise in the use of Augmented Reality in combination with textbooks, by linking educational videos to specific textbook pages through a code scanned through a smartphone.

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Harvard Data Science Review
2019 Stanford University Frontier of AI-Assisted Care Scientific Symposium

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