Welcome to the December 5, 2018 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Donald Trump speaking to students White House Outlines Five-Year STEM Push
U.S. News & World Report
Lauren Camera
December 3, 2018

The Trump administration announced a five-year strategic plan for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, issuing a call to action for nationwide collaboration with students, families, educators, communities, and employers. The administration's goal has three facets: for every American to master basic STEM concepts in order to respond to technological change; to increase access to STEM among historically underserved students; and to encourage students to pursue STEM careers. Achieving these goals requires strengthening partnerships between schools, businesses, nonprofits, and others in order to leverage resources and expertise in the STEM field, according to the White House. The plan also urges educators to make STEM "more meaningful and inspiring" through strategies like project-based learning, science fairs, robotics clubs, invention challenges, and gaming workshops. One of the major challenges White House officials see in fulfilling the mission is a lack of STEM teachers in grades K-12.

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Alphabet's DeepMind AI Algorithm Wins Protein-Folding Contest
Dev Kundaliya
December 3, 2018

DeepMind's latest artificial intelligence (AI) software won the Protein Structure Prediction Center's Critical Assessment of Structure Prediction contest by accurately predicting the three-dimensional structures into which proteins can be folded. The AlphaFold algorithm predicted the configurations of 25 out of 43 proteins, making it far more accurate than any other software. AlphaFold was designed and taught to model target shapes from scratch, without using previously solved proteins as templates. The DeepMind team used two distinct neural networks to predict the proteins' structures. DeepMind's Demis Hassabis said, "We've not solved the protein folding problem, this is just a first step. It's a hugely challenging problem, but we have a good system and we have a ton of ideas we haven't implemented yet."

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The phones light reflecting on the man’s face Facial Recognition Algorithms Are Getting a Lot Better, NIST Study Finds
Tajha Chappellet-Lanier
December 3, 2018

The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) determined facial recognition software has made huge gains in accuracy over the past five years. NIST said the technology has undergone an "industrial revolution," making certain algorithms about 20 times better at searching databases and finding matches. NIST researchers tested 127 algorithms developed by 45 vendors, using a primary database of 26.6 million reasonably well-controlled portrait photos of 12.3 million individuals; when provided with good quality photos, the most accurate algorithm could identify matches with only a 0.2% error rate. The same test found at least a 4% failure rate in 2014, and a 5% failure rate in 2010. NIST said this improvement can be attributed to the widespread adoption of convolutional neural networks, which were not being used in 2014.

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ACM Report Outlines Challenges, Promising Interventions to Improve Engagement, Retention of Students
December 3, 2018

An ACM report recommended additional research to provide a more nuanced understanding of the dynamics of student attrition and retention in undergraduate computer science programs, and encouraged higher education institutions to provide proactive counsel to ensure students' exposure to career opportunities and pathways early in their undergraduate experience. The U.S. Department of Labor forecast that 250,000 computing jobs would open between 2008 and 2018, but the National Center for Education Statistics found that in 2015-2016, only 64,405 students earned computer science degrees. In addition, the challenge of retaining more women and underrepresented minorities has been an issue for the field for decades. Said the ACM Education Board Retention Committee's Chris Stephenson, "Retention in college computing programs is foundational because if we are not attracting and retaining a diverse population of students in computer science programs during the students' academic careers, we will not see a diverse workforce in computing emerge."

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Microsoft Pledges $10M to Code.org to Expand Computer Education
Erin Carson
December 3, 2018

Microsoft has committed to providing $10 million to Code.org by 2020, and has been helping the nonprofit advocate on federal and state levels to get computer science recognized as a modern academic field. Meanwhile, in a new Microsoft/YouGov survey of 540 K-12 teachers across the U.S., 88% of respondents said computer science is critical to their students' future success in the workforce, while 60% said computer science is not part of their school's curriculum. Code.org CEO Hadi Partovi said, "It's not about turning your kid into an engineer. It's about giving your kid an opportunity to even discover if they like it."

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An AI playing the piano How AI Is Changing the Music Industry
ABC News
Katharine Gammon
December 3, 2018

Artificial intelligence (AI) is working its way into audio mastering through services like LANDR, which has enabled more than 2 million musicians to master 10 million songs since its launch in 2014. Traditionally, audio mastering requires a room with specialized acoustics, which enable a person to hear flaws in the music, remove glitches and crackles, and add loudness to make the sound fuller. However, experts say some aspects of mastering, like equalizing the loudness levels of different songs on a CD or matching the spectral content in bass and high frequencies, are easy to automate. Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist Roger Dannenberg said computers could soon make an impact in music composition, but he sees a weakness in AI with regard to production, a more creative process in which the music is manipulated after it is recorded and decisions are made about mixing and arrangement. Dannenberg said, "A computer can write a pop tune, but you can't perform it and make an arrangement unless you get human performers and producers."

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A New Way to See Stress—Using Supercomputers
Texas Advanced Computing Center
Jorge Salazar
December 3, 2018

Iowa State University researchers demonstrated via supercomputer simulation that material stress (force per unit area) behaves asymmetrically at the atomic level, which could lead to enhanced material designs. The team used the Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE) via the San Diego Supercomputer Center's Comet system, and the multi-institutional Jetstream cloud environment. Iowa State's Liming Xiong said, "Jetstream is designed for small-scale calculations, not for large-scale ones. Once the code was developed and benchmarked, we ported it to the petascale Comet system to perform large-scale simulations using hundreds to thousands of processors.” Xiong said the multiscale modeling technique "is very important for the establishment of a self-consistent concurrent atomistic-continuum computational tool," which scientists can use to "predict the material performance, the qualities, and the behaviors from the bottom up."

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A patient using various facial gestures to control the Wheelie 7 installed on a wheelchair Facial Gestures Can Move This AI-Motorized Wheelchair
USA Today
Edward C. Baig
December 3, 2018

Hoobox Robotics of Brazil has partnered with Intel on a prototype kit that exploits artificial intelligence (AI) to enable a disabled person to drive a motorized wheelchair using a repertoire of 10 facial expressions. The Wheelie 7 learns these gestures automatically, and a caregiver can use an app to assign specific facial expressions to wheelchair movement or stopping commands. Wheelie employs facial-recognition software, sensors, robotics, and an Intel three-dimensional (3D) RealSense Depth Camera mounted on the wheelchair. The system captures a 3D map of the user's face, and employs AI algorithms to process data in real time and control the wheelchair. Hoobox's Paulo Pinheiro said the Wheelie 7 can operate in sunlight and dim lighting conditions, and is compatible with 95% of commercially available motorized wheelchairs.

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Searching an Artificial Bee Colony for Real-World Results
Kanazawa University
November 30, 2018

Researchers from Kanazawa University and the University of Toyama in Japan have proposed a scale-free mechanism to guide an artificial bee colony (ABC) algorithm's exploration process. In the algorithm, employed bees search for food sources and share the information with onlooker bees, who then select a food source to leverage; scout bees randomly search for new food sources, whose positions represent possible solutions to an optimization problem. To overcome the need for many iterations to reach a solution, the researchers designed the scale-free mechanism and analyzed how scale-free network properties—specifically the power law distribution and low degree-degree correlation coefficient—shape the optimization process. The mechanism allows each employed bee to learn more effective information from its neighbors. This improves the algorithm's exploitation ability by preventing the information of high-quality employed bees from rapidly overtaking the entire population.

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OK, Computer: How Much Is My House Worth?
The Wall Street Journal
Ryan Dezember; Cezary Podkul
November 29, 2018

Federal regulators' proposal to ease real-estate appraisal requirements so most U.S. homes can be bought and sold without assessment by a licensed appraiser could give computer algorithm-based valuations an opening to replace appraisers. Issues concerning opponents to using these algorithms include the lack of regulation surrounding computerized valuations, and a dearth of quality control standards despite a mandate for them under the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Jeremy Sicklick, CEO of automated property valuation company HouseCanary, said substituting computers for appraisers will accelerate home sales by weeks, lower costs for buyers, and remove human bias and error from mortgage collateral valuation. However, other appraisers believe an automated strategy is unsuitable for home purchases, because an appraisal that is off by a few percent could leave the homeowner owing more than their home is worth, or lenders with insufficient collateral to cover delinquent loans.

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A woman wearing virtual reality goggles Smartphone Camera Replicates Physical Objects for Virtual Reality
Engineering and Technology Magazine
Siobhan Doyle
November 29, 2018

A global team of researchers led by the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) in South Korea has developed a technique allowing physical objects to be replicated for the augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) space by using any digital camera, or mobile device with a built-in digital camera, with a flash. The researchers demonstrated the method using a Nikon D7000 digital camera and the built-in camera of an Android mobile phone. The team also developed a novel algorithm that does not require any input geometry from the target object in order to successfully capture the appearance of three-dimensional (3D) objects with basic flash photography. Said KAIST's Min H. Kim, "Using only 3D geometry cannot reproduce the realistic appearance of the object in the AR/VR environment. Our technique can capture high-quality 3D geometry, as well as its material appearance, so that the objects can be realistically rendered in any virtual environment."

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Virtual Training for Aircraft Carrier Flight Deck Crews
Office of Naval Research
Bobby Cummings
November 29, 2018

A collaborative effort between the U.S. Office of Naval Research Global (ONR Global) TechSolutions program and the Naval Air Warfare Center Training System Division (NAWCTSD) has produced Flight Deck Crew Refresher Training Expansion Packs (TEPs), an expandable framework of game-based immersive three-dimensional technologies allowing for individual, team, or multi-team training exercises. The first three TEPs will help an aircraft carrier's Primary Flight Control team. The training solutions can simulate normal operations and emergency conditions, exposing deck crews to a wide range of real-world scenarios. Said Mehdi Akacem of the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford, "This is really the first example I've seen of extending the value of a simulation environment to such an essential, tangible thing as a carrier flight deck."

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A robot recycling its final batch of reactor fuel. Inside Sellafield's Death Zone With the Nuclear Clean-Up Robots
BBC News
Theo Leggett
November 27, 2018

The defunct Thorp nuclear reprocessing plant at Sellafield, Cumbria in the U.K. is a toxic environment that must be cleaned up by robots. The robots will begin the first stage of decommissioning by removing machinery and debris, then the cell will be washed repeatedly using water or acids to reduce the level of radioactivity, with the ultimate goal of full decontamination. Other sections of the plant also need to be cleaned up by robots and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs). Some of these systems must be developed from scratch, while others can be adapted from ROVs already used in other industries, like oil and gas, car manufacturing, and the space sector. Said Melanie Brownridge of the U.K. Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, "We'll need to look at novel decontamination agents to help us clean out the plant more effectively. That should help us remove more of the radioactivity early on, so that we can get on with the decommissioning job sooner."

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December 2018 Issue of Communications of the ACM
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