Welcome to the December 21, 2018 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Google to Open Artificial Intelligence Lab in Princeton
Princeton University
Steven Schultz
December 18, 2018

Starting in January, Princeton, NJ, will be the home of a new Google artificial intelligence (AI) lab, expanding New Jersey's growing innovation ecosystem by building a collaborative effort to advance research in AI. The lab, led by two computer science professors from Princeton University, will start with a small number of faculty members, graduate and undergraduate student researchers, recent graduates, and software engineers. The facility’s research will focus on machine learning. Said Princeton University's Jennifer Rexford, "It's an exciting opportunity to work with a leading company while also maintaining the strong academic independence and freedom that is essential to Princeton."

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quantum computer at IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. House Passes Bill to Create National Quantum Computing Program
The Wall Street Journal
John D. McKinnon
December 19, 2018

The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday passed legislation to accelerate development of quantum computing over the next decade by establishing a National Quantum Initiative Program, a week after the Senate approved the same bill. The legislation authorizes coordination efforts centered in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to support and promote quantum computing, and sets up Department of Energy national research centers with five-year annual allocations of up to $25 million each. The Trump administration recently predicted quantum computing could "provide solutions to some of the nation's most pressing national security concerns," while also hinting at "substantial economic growth potential through...new industries and products." Much attention is focused on quantum computing's potential for developing more powerful data encryption methods, in addition to cracking current encryption techniques. President Trump is expected to sign the bill into law.

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Better Security Achieved With Randomly Generating Biological Encryption Keys
Penn State News
A'ndrea Elyse Messer
December 20, 2018

Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) researchers have developed a clone-proof encryption key method that cannot be reverse-engineered, using biological processes to randomly generate keys. The researchers photographed a random, two-dimensional array of human T cells in solution, then digitized the image by creating pixels of the image and making the T cell pixels "ones" and the empty spaces "zeros." Organic cells can be preserved for long periods, while their constant movement means they can be photographed repeatedly to create new encryption keys. The team is currently using 2,000 T cells per encryption key, and even if someone knows the key generation mechanism, breaching the system with such information is impossible. Said Penn State's Akshay Wali, "We need something secure, and biological species-encrypted security systems will keep our data safe and secure everywhere and anytime."

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mobile app locates reindeer in Finland Then One Foggy Christmas Eve, Reindeers Got Connected
Associated Press
James Brooks
December 20, 2018

Reindeer herders in Finland's Lapland region are fitting their animals with Internet-connected collars to keep track of their whereabouts in the wilderness, using a mobile app. The wireless collars, furnished by Finnish communications firm Digita, are designed to improve herding efficiency so herders can rely on fewer workers. The technology also can help account for predation from wolverines, lynx, and other animals that migrate across the Russian border. The collars use global positioning system satellite data and long-distance networks to help herders find dead reindeer in order to claim compensation from the government. The Reindeer Herding Association's Matti Sarkela said his organization aims to shrink the transmitter down to a coin-sized microchip that can be affixed to a reindeer's ear.

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SLU Assistant Professor of Computer Science Flavio Esposito Network Orchestration: SLU Researcher Uses Music to Manage Networks
Saint Louis University
Carrie Bebermeyer
December 20, 2018

Saint Louis University (SLU) researchers have proposed a sound-based traffic-management solution for network orchestration. The researchers' Music-Defined Networking model programs network functions in response to specific sound sequences from real or virtual devices. They investigated both active applications, where network devices were coded to emit a certain sound, and passive applications, in which sounds generated by devices like datacenter fans were monitored to identify possible malfunctions; the researchers modified existing network components with sound capabilities using low-cost speakers, microphones, and Raspberry Pi computers. Researcher Flavio Esposito said, “Sound-based network management has potential as an effective and inexpensive network management technique for many applications. Exploring all these sounds fun to me.”

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Computer Hardware for 3D Games Could Hold the Key to Replicating the Brain
University of Sussex (United Kingdom)
Neil Vowles
December 19, 2018

Researchers at the University of Sussex in the U.K. have developed what they describe as the fastest, most energy-efficient simulation of part of a rat brain, using off-the-shelf computer hardware. The researchers' model beat a top 50 supercomputer by running brain simulations using their GeNN (GPU-enhanced Neuronal Networks) software and graphics processing units (GPUs). The researchers’ goals were to increase understanding into brain function, and to identify how damage to particular structures in neurons can lead to deficits in brain function. The researchers used the GeNN software to implement and test two established computational neuroscience models: one of a cortical microcircuit consisting of eight populations of neurons, and a balanced random network with spike-timing dependent plasticity. The team achieved energy savings of 10 times compared to either the SpiNNaker or supercomputer simulations.

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A grid of photos illustrating how Facebook is selective in the images blurred. Facebook Fakes the Blur With AI to Make VR More Real
Tiernan Ray
December 19, 2018

Facebook Reality Labs researchers modified a convolutional neural network (CNN) to create the impression of selective blur within virtual reality settings to improve realism, and are releasing the code as open source. The DeepFocus code functions with a prototype "Half Dome" headset, a varifocal head-mounted display equipped with eye-tracking cameras, and lenses positioned on actuators to move forward and backward. This allows the headset to adjust the depth of focus by moving the image in tandem with user gaze. The researchers replaced the CNN's pooling layers with "interleaving" and "de-interleaving" layers that preserve coarse, low-resolution data about the images; the CNN is trained by exposing it to images created by "scene generator software," with objects arranged in complex layouts with occlusion that produces layers of depth. The network is fed these image stacks, a "depth map," and a "circle of confusion" that provides clues as to the extent of desired image blur.

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Nuro’s mini car being loaded with groceries. A Toaster on Wheels to Deliver Groceries? Self-Driving Tech Tests Practical Uses
The New York Times
Cade Metz
December 18, 2018

Slow uptake of driverless passenger services is spurring the autonomous industry to experiment with offerings like food deliveries from small, self-driving vehicles. One example is an unmanned electric car from the Nuro startup that transports groceries from a local chain to customers in Scottsdale, AZ. Nuro's Dave Ferguson said, "If we can reduce the cost of these deliveries and get them to you faster than you could make the trip yourself, there would be no reason for you to get in the car." More recently, Postmates in San Francisco announced plans to dispatch robotic shopping carts with blinking digital eyes onto sidewalks for similar deliveries. Ferguson said Nuro can increase the margin of error on roads by making the delivery vehicle much smaller than a normal-sized car.

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A manatee How Many Manatees Are There? There's an Algorithm for That
Scientific American
Debbie Ponchner
December 18, 2018

Researchers at the University of Costa Rica (UCR) and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama have developed an algorithm to automatically count manatees, based on recordings of their vocalizations. The new method is less invasive to the animals compared to conventional techniques, such as sonar. The researchers showed, using a sample of 54 manatee calls that belonged to four different manatees, that the algorithm was 100% accurate. The algorithm divides the process into four basic steps: chopping the recordings into short chunks; canceling out noise; labeling the manatees' calls; and clustering the calls by individual. The researchers also translated the algorithm into a programming language that would allow them to execute tasks in parallel, making the process 120 times faster. Roberto Vargas-Masís of the National Distance Education University of Costa Rica said, “This technology will allow us to gather and analyze large quantities of data and very quickly determine if the species is present in a specific region.”

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The ResiBot robot laying on the ground. Robots Are Being Programmed to Adapt in Real Time
Horizon: The EU Research & Innovation Magazine
Gareth Willmer
December 19, 2018

Jean-Baptiste Mouret of the National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation in France, as part of the European ResiBots initiative, is designing a lower-cost robot that can function for long periods without the need for human maintenance, and is better at overcoming unexpected obstacles. Mouret's ResiBots team is using micro-data-learning algorithms, which can help robots adapt on the fly in a similar way to how animals respond to problems. In contrast, most conventional robots self-diagnose a problem before working out a solution. The new method involves having the robots learn what alternative actions they can take proactively by trial and error, which could help them overcome difficulties and prevent shutdown in situations such as disaster scenarios. Said Mouret, ‘We’re not trying to solve everything. I’m more interested in how they can adapt — and, in fact, adapting to what’s happening is some of what makes animals intelligent.”

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Meet 'Millie' the Avatar. She'd Like to Sell You a Pair of Sunglasses
Jeremy Kahn
December 15, 2018

Toronto, Canada-based startup Twenty Billion Neurons (TwentyBN) has created a life-size digital avatar to help retail brands looking for ways to boost falling in-store sales in the face of growing competition from e-commerce. The Millie avatar appears on a slightly-larger-than-life screen, seemingly making eye contact with customers and tracking their movements with her gaze; Millie is also able to tell where in the store a customer is looking and respond accordingly. The system is equipped with speech recognition and natural language processing software, which allow Millie to understand and answer simple questions or have a basic conversation with a shopper. The avatar also uses facial-recognition software to learn to recognize people it sees often by name. Natalie Berg of U.K. consultancy NBK Retail observed that there is a fine line between cool and creepy, adding that “While this kind of tech is still novel, it is a way to get people into the store, but it might not be for everyone.”

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Indian Technology Talent Flocking to Canada
The Economist
December 18, 2018

A U.S. increasingly hostile to immigration, as well as escalating living costs, have prompted an exodus of Indian technology workers to Canada, where open tech positions are forecast to reach 200,000 by 2020. Key destinations include Toronto, which plays host to artificial intelligence (AI) development efforts, along with startups like the popular Wattpad storytelling platform. Other attractive Canadian AI centers include Ottawa, home to the Shopify e-commerce platform, and Montreal, where the deep learning Element AI laboratory is located. To become more competitive in emerging tech industries, Canada has modified its permanent and temporary immigrant programs, with tech-skilled applicants in the former program receiving additional perks. The number of Indian nationals applying for permanent Canadian residency boomed between 2016 and 2017—up by 83% for those entering under a federal skills program, 122% for those selected by provinces to fill specific vacancies, and 538% for those who entered based on work experience.

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Josh Tenenbaum on stage at the MIT Quest for Intelligence launch. AI, Cognitive Science Researcher Tenenbaum Named R&D Magazine's 2018 Innovator of the Year
R&D Magazine
Laura Panjwani
December 18, 2018

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher Josh Tenenbaum was named R&D Magazine's 2018 Innovator of the Year for his efforts to better understand and apply mechanisms of human intelligence to artificial intelligence (AI). Tenenbaum takes a multidisciplinary, two-fold approach, working with neuroscientists and cognitive psychologists to study the origins of intelligence in the human mind and brain, especially in children. Tenenbaum also works with computer scientists and engineers to apply that knowledge to build more human-like intelligence in machines. The research focuses on describing the structure, content, and development of people's common sense theories, especially intuitive physics and intuitive psychology; and understanding how people learn and generalize new concepts, models, theories, and tasks from few examples, known as "one-shot learning." Said Tenenbaum, "The goal isn't to build machine humans, it is to build machines that have the kind of intelligence to live safely and usefully with us in a human world."

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Making Databases Work: The Pragmatic Wisdom of Michael Stonebraker
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