MS in Data Science
Welcome to the December 16, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Tony Brooker, far right, with colleagues Tony Brooker, Pioneer of Computer Programming, Dies at 94
The New York Times
Cade Metz
December 14, 2019

Tony Brooker, designer of the programming language for the world's first commercial computer, has died at age 94. While a student at the University of Cambridge in the U.K., Brooker met Alan Turing, then deputy director of the University of Manchester's computer lab. Brooker joined the lab in October 1951, just after it installed the Ferranti Mark 1, the world's first commercially available general-purpose electronic computer. He was told to make the computer “usable,” which he did, calling the process “extremely neat and very clever but pretty meaningless and very unfriendly.” Brooke wrote Autocode, which was publicly released by the Manchester lab in 1954 and is believed to be the first commercially available high-level programming language based on ordinary numbers and letters. Later, while working on a new machine called Atlas, Brooker built a programming language for building other programming languages.

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Group Says Gender Gap in AI Industry Could Worsen Historic Gender Bias
Patricia Barnes
December 12, 2019

The Women's Forum for the Economy and Society has launched the Women & AI Daring Circle, an initiative that aims to develop "concrete steps" to increase the participation and visibility of women in the creation of artificial intelligence (AI) systems. The group says the biggest danger to women regarding the development of AI in the coming years is the fact that women represent only about 22% of all AI professionals worldwide. Julia Harrison of Circle "knowledge partner" FTI Consulting said that "with so few women in technology and in the front-end design of algorithms, we risk perpetuating the gender and other biases that already exist as machines learn from existing circumstance and then in self (machine to machine) learning.” She added, however, that it is “wrong just to think of danger without also acknowledging the opportunity. If we can bring more women into the design and the application stages of AI, we have the chance to change rapidly biases that have been built into our society for centuries."

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Wetlands, Crops Can Mitigate Storm Damage to Coastal Cities
University of Alabama in Huntsville
Jim Steele
December 12, 2019

Researchers at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) and Western Kentucky University have developed a computer model that shows that coastal cities can avoid some wind destruction from major weather events if they have functional wetland ecosystems and agricultural croplands in the area. The team used the model with a simulation of a flooding storm over Baton Rouge, LA, as a control and then modified the type of land the storm passed over to assess the effect. Said UAH's Udaysankar Nair, "If we do more of these kinds of studies, then we can potentially be able to say something about how the patterns of land use change and land management affect landfall in hurricanes."

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Google’s Sycamore quantum processor Google Has Performed Biggest Quantum Chemistry Simulation Ever
New Scientist
Leah Crane
December 12, 2019

Google used its quantum computer to execute the largest quantum chemistry simulation to date, modeling the behavior of a chain of 12 hydrogen atoms. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University's Linghua Zhu said, "When we use classical methods we always use approximations, but with a quantum computer it's possible to exactly know how each atom is interacting with the others." Google's Ryan Babbush said the model involved more than twice the number of quantum bits (qubits) and electrons of any previous quantum chemistry simulation, while equally accurate. He added that the researchers employed the same Sycamore quantum system used to realize quantum supremacy, without using all the qubits for the chemistry model.

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A Network Design for the 'Internet from Space'
ETH Zurich
Florian Meyer
December 10, 2019

Researchers at ETH Zurich in Switzerland are proposing a network design that could double the network capacity of low-flying satellites to create an "Internet from Space." The proposed system would use thousands of satellites linked to each other via laser light to form a network, providing coverage that could reach remote regions that currently have no or very limited access to the Internet. The design concept is based on the high temporal dynamics of low Earth orbit satellites. The researchers decided to make the connections between satellites based on specialized, repetitive patterns, with the most suitable pattern depending on the satellite constellation's geometry and the network's input traffic. Said Ankit Singla of ETH Zurich, "To implement satellite-based broadband Internet, we have to rethink virtually all aspects of the way in which the Internet is currently designed to function."

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Stacy Czyzewski checks a machine that can manufacture complex aerospace components American Factories Demand White-Collar Education for Blue-Collar Work
The Wall Street Journal
Austen Hufford
December 9, 2019

The U.S. manufacturing industry has added more than 1 million jobs since the recession, with most of the growth from workers with college degrees, according to a recent analysis of federal data by The Wall Street Journal, part of a shift toward automation that has reduced prospects for lower-skilled workers while boosting output and allowing women to make greater inroads into the industry. The analysis also found that occupations that require the most complex problem-solving skills, such as industrial engineering, grew 10% from 2012 to 2018, while jobs requiring the least problem-solving skills declined by 3%. Going forward, analysts expect investments in automation will continue to expand factory production with relatively fewer employees, while the jobs that remain are expected to be filled by workers from colleges and technical schools.

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A hippo yawning Spying on Hippos with Drones to Help Conservation
University of New South Wales
Caroline Tang
December 10, 2019

Researchers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia are using drones to help conservation efforts for hippos. The numbers of wild hippos are declining because of habitat loss and people hunting for meat and ivory, so monitoring the population is becoming increasingly important for conservation efforts. Ground-based observation is unsafe because the hippo is one of the most dangerous animals in Africa. The researchers compared hippo counts from drone footage to land counts at a lagoon in the Okavango Delta in northern Botswana over seven days, and found the drone method just as effective as land surveys in estimating hippo numbers. UNSW's Richard Kingsford said drones "provide a viable alternative to land-based counts and have low impact on hippos, offering further opportunities to survey inaccessible areas and, just as critically, collect this information safely."

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Nuro car Walmart Teams With Nuro's Robot Cars to Deliver Groceries in Houston
The Washington Post
Peter Holley
December 11, 2019

Robotics company Nuro has announced a partnership with Walmart to pilot-test grocery delivery via robot vehicles in Houston. Nuro already is delivering merchandise across the city from brands such as Kroger and Domino's. The sensor-equipped Toyota Priuses it uses have been mapping the city in the course of their deliveries, collecting data about traffic and customer shopping patterns. Nuro said the Walmart partnership will boost its insights into shopping patterns, and give the company a competitive edge by answering basic questions about autonomous delivery. Nuro's Sola Lawal said, "We want to understand how different demographics interact with and feel about the robots."

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Advanced Technology May Indicate How Brain Learns Faces
University of Texas at Dallas
Stephen Fontenot
December 9, 2019

Researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas (UT Dallas) have demonstrated that deep convolutional neural networks (DCNNs) operate similarly to the way human brains do, in terms of identifying faces. “For the last 30 years, people have presumed that computer-based visual systems get rid of all the image-specific information — angle, lighting, expression and so on,” said Alice O'Toole at UT Dallas. Previous-generation algorithms were effective in recognizing faces that had only minor changes from images they already knew. However, current technology knows an identity well enough to recognize faces despite changes in expression, viewpoint, or appearance. For example, the researchers found the DCNN excelled at connecting caricatures to their corresponding identities. Said O'Toole, "Given these distorted images with features out of proportion, the network understands that these are the same features that make an identity distinctive and correctly connects the caricature to the identity."

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How to Train Computers Faster for 'Extreme' Datasets
Mike Williams
December 12, 2019

Rice University researchers have developed a new approach for training computers to address extreme classification problems and accelerate the machine learning process. Rice's Anshumali Shrivastava and Tharun Medini applied their merged-average classifiers via hashing (MACH) technique to an Amazon search dataset of about 70 million queries and over 49 million products, which only demanded a fraction of the training resources of state-of-the-art commercial systems. Shrivastava said MACH boosts training time up to 10-fold, with a two- to four-times-smaller memory footprint than optimal baseline performances of previously disclosed large-scale, distributed deep learning systems. MACH randomly sorts data into separate classes, and a classifier only has to map a search to one of the classes, rather than the data itself. Medini said MACH needs no communication between parallel processors, a crucial advantage for extreme classification.

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A road that ruptured from an earthquake Gaining Insight Into the Energy Balance of Earthquakes
EPFL (Switzerland)
December 6, 2019

Researchers in the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne (EPFL)'s Computational Solid Mechanics Laboratory and Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science have simulated the onset of frictional slip between two bodies, which potentially could yield insights into earthquake dynamics. The researchers first analyzed the origin of the drop of frictional stress seen in the wake of a slip front when the interface of bodies begins to move. The scientists then focused on the concentration of stress at the slip front, and employed theoretical rupture dynamics tools to examine the energy balance. The researchers used high-performance computers to model seismic ruptures based on generic laws of friction, and to evaluate lab experiments and ensure predictive correctness. EPFL's Fabian Barras said, "The theoretical models we developed could in the future help us better understand why certain earthquakes in nature are fast and violent, while others propagate slowly and occur over longer periods of time."

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Concurrency:  The Works of Leslie Lamport
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