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Welcome to the December 18, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Researchers Reconstruct Spoken Words as Processed in Nonhuman Primate Brains
Brown University
Kevin Stacey
December 12, 2019

Researchers at Brown University used a brain-computer interface to reconstruct English words from neural signals recorded in the brains of rhesus macaque monkeys. The researchers recorded the activity of neurons in their brains while the primates listened to recordings of one- or two-syllable individual English words and macaque calls. The team processed the neural recordings using algorithms designed to recognize neural patterns associated with particular words; then, the neural data was translated into computer-generated speech. The research showed that recurrent neural networks produced the highest-fidelity reconstructions compared to other tested algorithms. Brown's Arto Nurmikko said, “The same microelectrodes we used to record neural activity in this study may one day be used to deliver small amounts of electrical current in patterns that give people the perception of having heard specific sounds.”

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Finland to Teach 5 Million Europeans the Basics of AI
Tarmo Virki
December 10, 2019

Finland plans to teach 1% of the European Union population (more than 5 million people) basic artificial intelligence (AI) skills via a free online course. Finnish Minister of Employment Timo Harakka said the project is intended to further Europeans' digital literacy, boost their practical understanding of AI, and advance Europe's digital leadership. Ville Valtonen of Reaktor Education, which created the course with Helsinki University, said, "It is ... vital that more and more individuals can understand how different solutions work and what they can be used for." More than 220,000 students from 110 countries have enrolled in the course, which covers topics including machine learning, neural networks, the philosophy of AI, and AI-driven problem-solving.

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Quantum Computer Sets Record for Finding Prime Number Factors
New Scientist
Leah Crane
December 13, 2019

IBM and quantum-computing startup Zapata have developed a large-number-factoring algorithm, and applied it to the largest number factored with a quantum system so far. The collaborators learned 1,099,551,473,989 is equal to 1,048,589 multiplied by 1,048,601. The algorithm could have significant ramifications for cryptography, given that many encryption methods hinge on the difficultly of dividing a number into its prime factors. Zapata CEO Christopher Savoie said, "It behooves us to start thinking about this, because on a relatively small device quantum-wise, we've been able to do a very large number."

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A family sits inside one of the two newly constructed 3D-printed homes in Mexico First 3D-Printed Neighborhood Being Built in Mexico
CNN Business
Christina Zdanowicz
December 12, 2019

Social housing nonprofit New Story is using a giant three-dimensional (3D) printer to create the world’s first 3D-printed neighborhood in a rural section of Tabasco, Mexico. The project already has completed two 3D-printed homes, and New Story hopes to print 50 new houses by the end of next year, replacing structures that residents built themselves. The 33-foot printer prints out a concrete mix that hardens when it dries, creating walls one layer at a time. It takes a total of 24 hours over several days to build two 500-sq.ft. houses at the same time, about twice as fast as it takes New Story to build homes using standard construction methods. Said ICON CEO Jason Ballard, "In the future, our bet is that this will be humanity's best hope for a housing solution that that matches our highest values and ideals."

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Santa HQ Santa Claus Visits are Going Digital, from 'Elfies' to Augmented Reality
NBC News
Leticia Miranda
December 16, 2019

Macerich, one of the largest mall operators in the U.S., is offering "Santa HQ 5.0" at 15 of its malls across the country. The holiday villages feature a "Magic Mirror" which allows visitors to try on different elf outfits virtually, and a station where children can see Santa's observatory through augmented reality. At the Bridgewater Commons mall in New Jersey, visitors can ride the "Santa Elevator Express" up a 40-foot-tall Christmas tree to Santa's workshop for selfies. Driving such installations is an effort to draw consumers to malls at a time when e-commerce is capturing an increasingly larger share of overall retail revenue. Said Kurt Ivey of Macerich, “These are the physical experiences that really make a holiday shopping season something special. ...This is the type of thing online shopping can't deliver.”

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Argonne-Led Team Wins Technology Challenge at SC19
Argonne National Laboratory
Rajkumar Kettimuthu
December 17, 2019

A multi-institutional project led by researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)'s Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) won the Inaugural SCinet Technology Challenge at the Supercomputing 19 (SC19) conference for demonstrating real-time analysis of light source data from ANL's Advanced Photon Source (APS) to the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility (ALCF). The researchers analyzed a data segment using 16,384 cores on Argonne's Theta supercomputer, with output streamed to the Cooley visualization cluster as a three-dimensional image. The final product was streamed back to the show floor in approximately 10 to 20 projections per frame. ALCF director Michael E. Papka said, "Demonstrations like this provide a glimpse into the future of how science will be done across DOE facilities, while at the same time stress-testing the infrastructure we have in place today."

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A Digital Approach to Targeting Proteins in Disease
Purdue University News
Chris Adam
December 11, 2019

Researchers at Purdue University have developed software that better targets specific sites on proteins in the human body, helping scientists to create more effective drugs to treat cancers and other diseases. The NmrLineGuru software was designed for "fast nuclear magnetic resonance lineshape simulation and analysis with multistate equilibrium binding models," according to Purdue's Chao Feng. NmrLineGuru allows researchers and scientists to learn more about proteins linked to serious diseases, in order to help in the drug discovery process. The software will permit deeper study into the interactions between the proteins involved in a disease state and the molecules that connect them. Said Feng, “Our work stems from a deep understanding of the need in the drug discovery field for better and faster solutions to understand how to affect biological functions of proteins in the body.”

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Twitter, Facebook Want to Shift Power to Users. Or Do They?
The New York Times
Nathaniel Popper
December 18, 2019

Major Internet companies have come to see bitcoin technology as a potential solution to many challenges. For example, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey hopes to underwrite development of bitcoin-inspired social media software so users and outside programmers have more freedom. Twitter, Facebook, and other online giants are speculating that bitcoin-like decentralization could address problems like vetting sites for misinformation, and regulatory pressures driven by concerns of monopolization. Dorsey directed a bitcoin-focused team at his company Square to build a basic iteration of Twitter that anyone can copy, so outside developers can more easily build atop that framework. Meanwhile, World Wide Web creator and ACM A.M. Turing Award recipient Tim Berners-Lee founded the company Solid to fix issues related to the centralized Internet by shifting ownership of personal data to users, and not to big corporations.

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A self-driving truck A Self-Driving Truck Delivered Butter from California to Pennsylvania in Three Days
The Mercury News
Levi Sumagaysay
December 11, 2019

Startup has completed what is being called the first commercial freight cross-country trip by an autonomous truck, a 2,800-mile-run from Tulare, CA, to Quakertown, PA, that took three days to deliver 40,000 pounds of butter for Land O'Lakes. A human safety driver was aboard the autonomous 18-wheeler to take over if needed, accompanied by a safety engineer. The company said the trip was a smooth one with zero "disengagements," which occur when a self-driving system has to be suspended because of a problem. Ten to 15 companies in the U.S. are working on autonomous freight delivery, said Dan Ives of Wedbush Securities, who believes the trucking industry will be the first to adopt autonomous technology on a mass scale. “When the trucks can go long distance, that's when there will be significant ROI (return on investment)."

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Software Tool Uses AI to Help Doctors Identify Cancer Cells
University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
Deborah Wormser
December 9, 2019

Researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (UT Southwestern) have developed a software tool that uses artificial intelligence to identify cancer cells in lung cancer digital pathology images. The tool, called ConvPath, converts pathology images into a "map" that displays the spatial distributions and interactions of different cells in tumor tissue, helping pathologists obtain the most accurate cancer cell analysis much faster. Said Guanghua “Andy” Xiao of UT Southwestern, “It is time-consuming and difficult for pathologists to locate very small tumor regions in tissue images, so this could greatly reduce the time that pathologists need to spend on each image."

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Reeta Chakrabarti analyzing election results on television for the BBC General Election 2019: How Computers Wrote BBC Election Result Stories
Chris Fox
December 13, 2019

BBC News published a news story for every constituency that declared election results overnight following the recent elections in the U.K, with each story written by a computer, the broadcasting corporation's biggest test of machine-generated journalism to date. Each of the nearly 700 articles (40 were written in Welsh, 649 in English) was checked by a human journalist before publication. The technology was designed to enhance the service rather than to replace humans, according to BBC News Labs editor Robert McKenzie. Said McKenzie, "None of the stories have any quotations in them, none of them have any analysis of what happened or what the significance is. It is purely a written version of what has happened based on the data."

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Simulations Reconstruct a Neutron Star Merger
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Glenn Roberts Jr.
December 12, 2019

Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab); the University of California, Berkeley; Northwestern University; the University of New Hampshire; and Canada's University of Alberta have simulated a neutron-star merger event. The simulation included the formation of a disc of matter, a giant burst of ejected matter, and the beginning of energetic jets around the remaining object in the aftermath of this merger. The team made the model more realistic than in previous efforts by creating three separate simulations that tested different geometry for the magnetic fields that encircle the merger. The simulations involved more than 6 million hours of computer processing unit time. Berkeley Lab's Daniel Kasen said the lab's computing resources “let us peer into the most extreme environments – like this turbulent whirlpool sloshing outside a newly born black hole – and watch and learn how the heavy elements were made."

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