Welcome to the December 3, 2018 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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The spacefaring robot CIMON spoke with German ESA astronaut AI Robot CIMON Debuts at International Space Station
Tereza Pultarova
November 29, 2018

The spherical CIMON artificial intelligence (AI) robot aboard the International Space Station (ISS) communicates with IBM's natural-language-processing computer, Watson, on Earth so it can engage with the ISS crew. Said IBM's Matthias Biniok, "If CIMON is asked a question or addressed, the Watson AI firstly converts this audio signal into text, which is understood, or interpreted, by the AI. IBM Watson not only understands content in context, [but] it can also understand the intention behind it." Watson delivers a customized reply to an astronaut's query, which is converted into speech and beamed back to the ISS. CIMON features a central screen displaying a cartoon-like face or required information for experiments and repairs. In one trial, CIMON identified and recognized an astronaut's face, took photos and video, positioned itself autonomously within a module via ultrasonic sensors, and issued instructions for the crewmember to perform an experiment.

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Amazon Tests Its Cashierless Technology for Bigger Stores
The Wall Street Journal
Heather Haddon; Laura Stevens
December 2, 2018

Amazon is testing its cashierless checkout technology for larger stores in Seattle, Chicago, and San Francisco, tracking what shoppers pick from shelves and charging them when they leave a store. Customers use Amazon Go by scanning an app-generated code on their phones as they enter a store equipped with the cashierless system, picking up desired items and leaving without pause to check out. Cameras and other devices track shoppers as three-dimensional objects throughout the store, automatically charging them for their selections. Sources said Amazon intends to build more Amazon Go stores, but deploying the cashierless technology in larger outlets may take longer, because the system is more difficult to operate in bigger spaces with higher ceilings and more products.

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Clouds on the left and a statue on the right Software Will Let Artists Control How Light Interacts With Objects
Ars Technica
Jennifer Ouellette
November 30, 2018

Dartmouth University, Pixar, and Disney researchers have collaborated on a method enabling precise control over microscopic particles' interaction with light in object renderings. Computer animators will have more latitude designing the appearance of objects by allowing them to tailor how light travels through them, with the most profound effect on renderings of volumetric materials (examples include clouds, fog, mist, skin, and marble statues). Using atmospheric science and models of neutron transport in physics, the team traced how a beam of light travels through a material composed of randomly arranged microparticles, then compared that pathway with how a light beam travels through a more naturally ordered material. The researchers devised an accurate model for how far photons can penetrate a given material before colliding with microparticles, based on the averages of millions of runs.

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Top U.S. Technology Universities Lose Ground in Computer Science, Engineering
Times Higher Education
Ellie Bothwell
November 29, 2018

The University of Oxford in the U.K. is currently ranked the top institution for teaching computer science, and engineering and technology, by Times Higher Education (THE), dethroning Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Oxford is the first U.K. technology university to assume the top spots on both lists. Oxford's scores rose for teaching environment and industry income in both rankings, and its scores for research environment and international outlook in the engineering and technology tables climbed as well. Stanford and Caltech's scores fell for research environment in the engineering table. Stanford and MIT also received lower scores for teaching environment, research environment, and industry income in the computer science table.

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'Chemputer' Promises App-Controlled Revolution for Drug Production
University of Glasgow (United Kingdom)
November 29, 2018

Researchers at the University of Glasgow in the U.K. developed a new technique for producing drug molecules, using downloadable blueprints to easily and reliably synthesize organic chemicals via a programmable computer. The team said the "chemputer" features a universal and interoperable standard for writing and sharing chemical recipes based on a general abstraction for chemistry. Running those recipes on a "chempiler" program instructs the system on how to generate molecules on-demand, and more affordably and safely than previously possible. The chemputer draws raw chemical materials in liquid form into and out of an array of modules—a reaction module, a jacketed filtration module capable of being heated or cooled, an automated liquid-liquid separation module, and a solvent evaporation module—to perform the operations required to complete synthesis. Said Glasgow's Lee Cronin, "This approach is a key step in the digitization of chemistry, and will allow the universal assembly of complex molecules on demand."

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An image of Force Push, a novel VR technique that allows users to move objects with unprecedented nuance. Researchers Bring Jedi Powers to Life With Force Push
Virginia Tech News
Amy Loeffler
November 29, 2018

A virtual reality (VR) method developed by researchers at Virginia Polytechnic and State University (Virginia Tech) allows users to move faraway objects and focus with an approach for remote object manipulation. The "Force Push" technique involves users employing their bare hands with natural gesture-to-action mapping for object manipulation in a VR environment. Force Push offers a more physical and subtler experience than traditional hand controllers, responding to the speed and magnitude of gestures to accelerate or decelerate objects intuitively. Virginia Tech's Doug Bowman said, "We wanted to try and do this without any device, just using your hands, and also do it with gestures in a way that's more playful." Force Push is facilitated by physics-driven algorithms and dynamically mapping the features of input gestures to properties of physics-based models made the interface controllable; the team used an Oculus Rift CV1 for display and Leap Motion for hand tracking.

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Automated Technique for Anime Colorization Using Deep Learning
Nara Institute of Science and Technology
November 28, 2018

Researchers at the Nara Institute of Science and Technology (NAIST), IMAGICA GROUP, and OLM Digital in Japan have developed a technique for automatic colorization in anime production. The team aimed to promote efficiency and automation in anime production by focusing on the possibility of automating the colorization of trace images in the finishing process of anime production. The researchers integrated anime production technology, machine learning, computer graphics, and vision technology to successfully create the world's first method for automatic colorization of anime production. The trace image was first cleaned in a pre-processing step, then automatic colorization was performed according to the color script of the character using a deep learning-based image segmentation algorithm. The technique will be presented this week at ACM SIGGRAPH ASIA 2018 in Tokyo, Japan.

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MUHC Researchers Develop Effective HIV Self-Testing App: Study
Montreal Gazette (Canada)
Aaron Derfel
November 30, 2018

An app developed by researchers at McGill University Health Center (MUHC) in Canada for people who want to test themselves at home for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) can potentially reduce HIV's spread and connect those who are infected with timely treatment. The team tested the HIVSmart! app on 451 men who engage in same-sex sexual intercourse, having them take a saliva test while scrolling through the app on a tablet. The researchers estimated that 99.3% of the study's participants were confirmed as HIV-negative after rapid self-testing, while the 0.7% confirmed as HIV-positive gained access to a Montreal physician the same day through HIVSmart!. MUHC's Nitika Pant Pai said the app's users will be able to "read everything about HIV and how to go about doing the test, and they can gauge their risk of getting HIV and they can store the result."

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A drawn image of a mob The Challenges of Predicting Mob Behavior at Political Rallies
IEEE Spectrum
Michelle Hampson
November 29, 2018

Researchers at Zhengzhou University in China have developed a model that can better predict social contagions that occur at political rallies. The team built upon an existing model, the Susceptible-Infected-Recovered (SIR) model, originally designed to study how infectious disease spreads; they adapted the model for political rallies by incorporating scales that account for individual personalities and ranges of emotional infection. The team also factored in individual personality using a standard method for classifying traits, called OCEAN, which captures a person's openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Using each individual's personality traits, the model assigns emotional values based on two different perspectives: in support of the organizer's political viewpoint or opposing it. This allows the model to simulate the flow of emotions through a crowd; it predicts which individuals will be drawn into the rally and which will walk away from the event.

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Startup Aims to Be an Airbnb of Computer Databases by Letting People Rent Out Unused Data Storage
Andrew Wong
November 30, 2018

Singapore-based startup Bluzelle uses blockchain technology to enhance the database ecosystem. Similar to home-sharing platform Airbnb, Bluzelle allows users to rent out underused data capacity in everyday objects like computers and mobile devices. This method of storing data on many different data ecosystems could bypass the scale and security issues faced by traditional databases; the decentralization technique, known as "sharding," is much more secure than traditional databases because in the unlikely event that hackers breach the database, they would only be able to take over a small portion of the whole network. Bluzelle aims to treat data as currency, giving consumers and businesses individual control over their data. Many companies store users' data insecurely, monetizing it without the user's knowledge; Bluzelle provides a system in which users can fully control and access their data, allowing them to curate data or sell excess storage space to others.

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An 8-qubit quantum processor, which powers a small quantum computer USC Scientists Find a Way to Enhance Quantum Computer Performance
USC News
Gary Polakovic
November 29, 2018

University of Southern California (USC) researchers have demonstrated a theoretical technique for augmenting quantum computer performance, a key milestone for scaling the technology. The "dynamical decoupling" (DD) method, which suppresses erroneous calculations while boosting outcome fidelity, worked on two quantum systems, is easier and more reliable than other solutions, and is cloud-accessible. DD emits short bursts of energy pulses to offset ambient disruptions; the team could sustain a quantum state up to three times longer than would otherwise occur in an uncontrolled state. The researchers facilitated DD by bathing superconducting quantum bits (qubits) with timed pulses of minute electromagnetic energy, decoupling them from surrounding ambient noise. Wrote the researchers, "This amounts to the first unequivocal demonstration of successful decoherence mitigation in cloud-based superconducting qubit platforms. We expect that the lessons drawn will have wide applicability."

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Screenshot of MR. Montezuma's Revenge, the classic Atari platform game Uber Has Cracked Two Classic '80s Video Games by Giving an AI Algorithm a New Type of Memory
Technology Review
Will Knight
November 26, 2018

Uber's artificial intelligence (AI) research team has demonstrated a fundamentally different approach to machine learning within an environment that offers few clues to show an algorithm how it is doing. A new line of reinforcement-learning algorithms, called Go-Explore, recall where they have been in the past, and will return to a specific area or task in the future to see if it will help provide better overall results. The researchers also found adding a bit of domain knowledge—by having human players highlight interesting or important areas—accelerated the algorithm's learning and progress by a significant amount. The team applied the new program to the Montezuma's Revenge and Pitfall! video games; the code scored an average of 400,000 points on the former and 21,000 points on the latter, both of which are significantly better than the average human scores.

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Is the Artificial Pancreas a Game Changer?
Cavalier Daily (University of Virginia)
Caroline Eastham
November 27, 2018

University of Virginia (UVa) researchers working with Virginia-based TypeZero Technologies developed software that automatically monitors blood glucose levels of patients with Type 1 diabetes. The team suggests the artificial pancreas system could relieve diabetics from the stress of constantly monitoring blood glucose levels and insulin intake. The system features a continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) sensor, an insulin pump, and a control algorithm; the sensor is implanted under the patient's skin and continuously collects data on blood glucose levels. This data is sent to an external processor housing the control algorithm, which performs calculations to provide dosing instructions for the insulin pump. UVa's Marc Breton said, "What we do is we make the [CGM and insulin pump] talk to each other. We put a brain in the middle, something that can analyze how much insulin has been administered, how much should be now, and do that every five minutes."

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Protein Complex Prediction from Protein Interaction Networks
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