Welcome to the December 19, 2018 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Massachusetts Tops Milken Institute's 2018 State Technology and Science Index
Milken Institute
Geoffrey Baum
December 18, 2018

The Milken Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank, has released its 2018 State Technology and Science Index, a biennial assessment of states' capabilities and competitiveness in a tech-focused economy. The top four states were unchanged from the 2016 index, with Massachusetts ranking first, followed by Colorado, Maryland, and California. Utah, Washington, Delaware, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Oregon made up the rest of the top 10 on the list. Massachusetts continues to benefit from the presence of major research universities, the availability of venture capital, entrepreneurial expertise, and a tech-oriented workforce. Massachusetts also ranked first in three of the index's five composite indexes and finished third in another. Said the Institute's Minoli Ratnatunga, "Investing in human capital and developing a [science, technology, engineering, and math] workforce is crucial for regional economies that want to attract large technology companies and the jobs they bring."

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Europe Tackles Chinese Competition With Multibillion Investment in Microelectronics
The Wall Street Journal
Valentina Pop; Laurence Norman
December 18, 2018

The European Union (EU) has approved plans from France, Germany, Italy, and the U.K. to fund up to $9.1 billion (8 billion euros) in microelectronics research, in order to vie with Chinese technology. The European Commission endorsed public-private funding to be allocated by 2024 for research centers and companies to collaboratively develop smarter and more energy-efficient microchips and sensors. Said an EU diplomat, "The decision is an important signal that the European Commission is strengthening Europe as a digital and high-tech location and that Europe will not let itself be pushed off the pitch in strategically important future industries." The move comes as the EU and its member states tighten rules on foreign investment to limit Chinese acquisitions of strategic technologies, as well as the business activities of Chinese tech companies.

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Almost Everyone Involved in Facial Recognition Sees Problems
Dina Bass
December 12, 2018

Facial recognition software is almost universally acknowledged by the scientific, technology, and legislative communities as flawed, with bias, mass surveillance, and other hazards making a strong case for regulation. In response, the Algorithmic Justice League and Georgetown University Law Center's Center of Privacy & Technology have introduced the Safe Face Pledge, urging companies not to provide facial artificial intelligence (AI) for autonomous weapons, and not to sell to facial recognition systems to law enforcement agencies unless explicit laws regulating their use are considered and approved. Facial recognition for surveillance, policing, and immigration is under scrutiny because scientists have demonstrated that the technology lacks sufficient accuracy for critical decisions, and performs worse on darker-skinned people. The Safe Face Pledge asks companies to "show value for human life, dignity, and rights, address harmful bias, facilitate transparency," by incorporating such commitments into business practices. The University of Washington's Ryan Calo said broad regulation and government oversight could complement pressure from workers and customers for companies to practice ethical AI deployment.

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Computers Determine States of Consciousness Computers Determine States of Consciousness
Scientific American
Sam Rose
December 18, 2018

Researchers at Pitie-Salpetriere Hospital in Paris, France have developed an algorithm that distinguishes unresponsive wakefulness syndrome (from which there is little hope of recovery) from a minimally conscious state (from which there is some likelihood of recovery), using electroencephalographic (EEG) brainwave recordings. The algorithm, if put into use, could take some of the guesswork out of this diagnosis and likely would perform better than most human doctors. The researchers took EEG recordings from 268 patients diagnosed with either unresponsive wakefulness or a minimally conscious state. The EEGs were recorded before and during a listening task designed to identify the conscious processing of sounds. The data was fed into a machine learning algorithm called DOC-Forest, which properly diagnosed roughly three out of four cases.

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Donald Knuth at his home The Yoda of Silicon Valley
The New York Times
Siobhan Roberts
December 17, 2018

Stanford computer scientist Donald Knuth has been known as one of the leaders in the field of computing for 50 years, having written "The Art of Computer Programming" in 1968, which has served as the bible of its field with more than 1 million copies in print. Knuth is known for introducing the notion of "literate programming," emphasizing the importance of writing code that is readable by humans as well as computers. In addition, Knuth helped develop some of computing's most important algorithms, such as the Knuth-Morris-Pratt string-search algorithm, which finds all occurrences of a given word or pattern of letters in a text. Knuth's work opened the door to algorithms so complicated they cannot be read, and even algorithms written by other algorithms. Said Knuth: “I am worried that algorithms are getting too prominent in the world. It started out that computer scientists were worried nobody was listening to us. Now I'm worried that too many people are listening."

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Israel's Tech Sector Faces Shortage of Workers
Tova Cohen
December 16, 2018

Israel is struggling to recruit enough workers to its technology sector, creating a challenge for an industry seen as the country's primary driver of economic growth over the next decade, according to a report by Start-Up Nation Central and the Israel Innovation Authority. Although the number of high-tech workers in Israel has grown over the past five years, their percentage of the labor force remains unchanged. This trend is surprising because investment in high tech in Israel has soared, with venture capital funding exceeding $5 billion in 2017, a level that could reach $6.5 billion this year. In addition, the number of multinationals operating development centers in Israel rose to nearly 350 in 2016 from around 50 in 2000. In order to find qualified workers, Israeli companies are opening development centers overseas, mainly in the Ukraine, the U.S., Russia, and India.

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The driver using their mobile phone while driving Sydney Motorists Using Mobile Phones Will Be Snapped in Camera Trial
Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)
Jacob Saulwick
December 16, 2018

Drivers who illegally use mobile phones while driving will have their pictures taken along several motorways in Sydney, Australia, in a pilot of new high-tech cameras. Roads Minister Melinda Pavey announced the system will be installed by the Acusensus company, following an earlier trial in which more than 11,000 drivers daily were detected illegally using their phones. Acusensus' system is operable in all weather conditions, and uses both high-definition cameras and artificial intelligence to identify offenders. Said Pavey, "I strongly believe this technology will change driver behavior and save lives." She also said if the system demonstrates perfect and foolproof performance at the conclusion of the trial, "the community will be made aware of its permanent use."

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VW Solves Quantum Chemistry Problems on a D-Wave Machine
IEEE Spectrum
Mark Anderson
December 17, 2018

Researchers at Volkswagen in Germany and the U.S. have used a D-Wave 2000Q quantum computer to solve rudimentary quantum chemistry problems. The researchers ran D-Wave computations that identified the ground-state energies of molecular hydrogen and lithium hydride. Although both molecules are well known and well studied, the Volkswagen researchers established an increasingly computational route to exploring chemistry in the quantum realm. The researchers also enumerated a list of quantum chemistry simulation goals that sufficiently robust quantum computation should address, such as: designing next-generation batteries; optimizing solar cells via detailed study of photosynthesis, and faithfully simulating complex molecules without restoring to approximations that conventional computers use to make such simulations tractable.

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How a Personality Trait Puts You at Risk for Cybercrime
Michigan State University
December 17, 2018

Michigan State University (MSU) scientists have examined both obvious and subtle behavioral clues that place individuals at a greater risk of exploitation by cybercriminals. MSU's Thomas Holt said, "People who show signs of low self-control are the ones we found more susceptible to malware attacks." He also said low self-control suggests shortsightedness, negligence, physical versus verbal behavior, and an inability to postpone gratification. The researchers evaluated this trait among some 6,000 study participants, and analyzed their computers' behaviors that could signal malware and infection, like slower processing times, crashes, and unexpected pop-ups. Said Holt, "If we can identify risk factors, we can work in tandem with technical fields to develop strategies that then reduce the risk factors for infection. It's a pernicious issue we're facing, so if we can attack from both fronts, we can pinpoint the risk factors and technical strategies to find solutions that improve protection for everyone."

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The robot nurse named Moxi Nurse Robot Moxi Gets Schooled by Texas Nurses
Greg Nichols
December 17, 2018

A robot from Diligent Robotics recently concluded its first real-world trial in a Texas hospital, designed to test collaborative automation integration in a working medical facility. Such robotic systems are widely seen as one potential tool to help relieve strain on healthcare workers. Diligent's Moxi robot is a socially intelligent talking humanoid designed to interact with patients and healthcare workers. In the hospital trial, Moxi took over some of the gruntwork that distracts nurses from patient care, delivering admission kits to drop-off boxes outside each patient room and laboratory specimens to the lab, as well as carrying soiled linen bags from patient rooms to cleaning areas. Diligent Robotics said the robot is slated for another six beta trials, and aims to roll out Moxi to hospitals starting in second half of next year.

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Walmart Testing Its Visual Search Technology on Hayneedle
Sarah Perez
December 18, 2018

Walmart is using the Hayneedle home furnishings retailer to test an in-house visual search technology. Said Hayneedle's Shelley Huff, "If we look at how we can enable that shopping experience...and give [consumers] more confidence in their purchases and their ability to find products, visual search plays an incredible role." Working with Walmart Labs, Hayneedle used the former's machine learning elements with its product catalog of more than 1 million stock keeping units (SKUs) to train the visual search platform, then integrated the platform with its own site. Hayneedle's Benjamin Dekarske said the retailer is running A/B tests between the two systems to compare performance and results. Dekarske said, "Walmart gains from Hayneedle a platform [for visual search] that they don't have to scale to Walmart's scale—they can try it out at Hayneedle's scale, then learn from and grow from there."

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HKEdCity Teams With Microsoft to Bolster STEM Learning
Computerworld Hong Kong
Nancy Ho
December 17, 2018

Hong Kong Education City (HKEdCity) and Microsoft Hong Kong have signed a memorandum of understanding to provide schools with emerging technologies to fortify science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning and enrich students' digital skills. Microsoft will support HKEdCity in applying a cloud development environment, as well as technologies like coding, artificial intelligence, and data analytics, over a two-year period. The alliance aims to help more than 750,000 teachers and students learn STEM subjects and promote related training to secondary and primary schools via monthly workshops, seminars, and online training content. Microsoft will help HKEdCity migrate select information technology infrastructure and education services on the HKEdCity's portal to the Microsoft Azure cloud computing service. HKEdCity's Victor Cheng said, “We hope our collaboration will help strengthen digital competencies, computational thinking, and problem-solving abilities of students.”

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Picture of trees Brazil Could Save More Species at Half the Cost With New Forest Restoration Plan
Imperial College London
Juanita Bawagan
December 17, 2018

An international research team developed customized software to determine the best strategy for Brazilian reforestation efforts, determining how best to divide space in that nation’s Atlantic Forest to maximize biodiversity and climate change mitigation. This approach promises to preserve 745 plant and animal species and sequester twice as much carbon dioxide, while slashing restoration costs 57% through regrowth. Said Imperial College London's Morena Mills, "Our study provides guidance on how multiple interests, in nature and agriculture, can be reconciled when developing forest restoration plans." The team's software considered different land-use priorities, like biodiversity conservation, to prioritize the most valuable lands to reforest, while also focusing on the least valuable lands for farming. Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro's Bernardo Strassburg said, "We show that science can help guide decisions about where to restore, multiplying benefits and saving billions of dollars in costs."

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