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Welcome to the May 24, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

Please note: In observance of the U.S. Memorial Day holiday, TechNews will not be published on Monday, May 27. Publication will resume Wednesday, May 29.

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NASA Tests Managing Drones in Cities
Associated Press
Scott Sonner
May 24, 2019

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has initiated the last stage of a four-year project to develop a national drone traffic management system. The agency is testing drones in cities outside an operator's line of sight for the first time. Multiple drones were launched above Reno, NV, as part of simulation testing, with one autonomous aircraft taking off, hovering, and landing on a building's roof, adjusting for strong winds via onboard sensors. Other drones outfitted with global positioning systems used onboard tracking systems linked to ground-based NASA computers to avoid collisions. The traffic management system employs software on the ground that transmits flight plans and positions to other software systems; the drones also feature landing, crash-avoidance, surveillance, and detection/identification programs, as well as cameras and laser-based systems similar to radar.

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A Ford robot completes a delivery. Ford’s Way to Finish Driverless Deliveries: Package-Carrying Robots
Keith Naughton
May 22, 2019

Researchers at Ford are working to incorporate into the company’s driverless delivery system an android capable of carrying a 40-pound load. The Digit android is intended to address what self-driving researchers refer to as "the last 50-foot problem," or how to get a package from an autonomous delivery vehicle to the customer's doorstep. Ford's decision to use a robot with two legs instead of wheels came with help from researchers at the University of Michigan, who emphasized the inherent attractiveness of a bipedal robot. In addition, the Digit system gets most of its computing power from Ford's self-driving vehicle, allowing the robot to have a more lightweight design. Ford would like to deploy Digit delivery robots as soon as 2021, the same year it plans to introduce its autonomous vehicle fleets.

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Making AI More Human
University of Waterloo News
May 21, 2019

A study by researchers at the University of Waterloo in Canada found that adding appropriate emotions to artificial intelligence (AI) avatars would make humans more accepting of them. Waterloo's Moojan Ghafurian, Neil Budnarain, and Jesse Hoey employed the classic Prisoner's Dilemma game, substituting one of two human "prisoners" with a virtual AI developed at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The researchers utilized virtual agents that evoked either neutrality, appropriate emotions, or random emotions. Participants cooperated 20 out of 25 times with the AI that exhibited human-like emotions, 16 out of 25 times for the agent with random emotions, and 17 out of 25 times for the emotionless agent. Ghafurian said, "Showing proper emotions can significantly improve the perception of humanness and how much people enjoy interacting with the technology."

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Part of the visualization of human cell division. Computerized Model Reveals Details Of How Human Cells Divide
Richard Harris
May 22, 2019

Researchers at the Allen Institute have developed a visualization of human cell division suitable for professional scientists and inquisitive amateurs. The model follows the actions of 15 parts of the cell that help tug chromosomes apart during cell division. The images that result from the model are a composite of 75 representative skin cells. Each part of the cell was flagged with a fluorescent tag so it can be followed through the stages of the cell cycle. In addition, the parts are color-coded, so users can keep track of a specific cell component as the data merges into a composite cell. Said the institute’s Susanne Rafelski, "We're interested in understanding the cell as a whole, so the really big picture view is that we want to put the cell back together with all the mechanistic information that we've been gathering over the years now."

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How Amazon Turned Tedium of Warehouse Work Into Game
The Washington Post
Greg Bensinger
May 21, 2019

Amazon has developed a video game-type competition aimed at making warehouse workers' jobs less tedious, in order to boost their productivity. The progress of Amazon workers in the games is displayed on screens at employees' workstations, with lights or screens signaling items workers must retrieve from robot-driven shelves to place into bins, while noting completed tasks. Scanners track completed tasks like packing and stacking boxes, and individuals, teams, or whole floors can compete in tournaments; game-playing workers can earn points, virtual badges, and other perks. Amazon's games range from racing virtual dragons or sports cars around a track, to collaborative castle-building. Gamification consultant Gabe Zichermann said, "Anything to reduce the drudgery, even the smallest amount, is going to give a bump to workers’ happiness."

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Interactive Quantum Chemistry in VR
University of Bristol News
May 23, 2019

Researchers at the Intangible Realities Laboratory of the University of Bristol in the U.K., and at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, have explored chemical-change mechanisms by combining virtual reality (VR) with artificial intelligence. The collaborators said an open source VR-driven interaction and visualization framework allows humans to train neural networks to execute spur-of-the-moment quantum mechanics calculations. Said Bristol's Silvia Amabilino, "Our results suggest that human intuition, combined with VR, can generate high-quality training data, and thus improve machine learning models." ETH Zurich's Markus Reiher said, "This work shows that advanced visualization and interaction frameworks like VR and [augmented reality] enable humans to complement automated machine learning approaches and accelerate scientific discovery."

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Optimization Chip Tackles Machine Learning, 5G Routing
IEEE Spectrum
Samuel K. Moore
May 22, 2019

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) have developed a programmable prototype chip that efficiently solves a class of optimization problems, including those needed for neural network training, 5G network routing, and MRI image reconstruction. The OPTIMO chip's architecture incorporates a specific algorithm that breaks up one large problem into many small problems, works on the subproblems, and then shares the results; the system does this over and over again until it produces the best possible answer. Compared to a graphics processing unit running the same algorithm, OPTIMO is 4.77 times as power efficient and 4.18 times as fast. The chip is made up of a grid of 49 "optimization processing units," cores designed to utilize the alternating direction method of multipliers (ADMM) algorithm and containing their own high-bandwidth memory. The test chip could be scaled up to do its work in the cloud, or shrunk down to solve problems closer to the edge of the Internet.

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Data Science Helps Engineers Discover New Materials for Solar Cells, LEDs
Jacobs School of Engineering (UCSD)
May 22, 2019

University of California, San Diego researchers have created a computational technique for designing materials for next-generation solar cells and light-emitting diodes, which already has yielded 13 novel material candidates for the former and 23 new candidates for the latter. These hybrid halide semiconductors are composed of an inorganic framework containing organic cations. The researchers sifted through two massive quantum materials databases, analyzing all compounds with chemical makeup similar to lead halide perovskites. From this, the researchers filtered out 24 prototype structures as models for hybrid organic-inorganic materials structures. High-throughput quantum mechanics calculations were applied to these structures to assemble a quantum materials repository, with final semiconductor candidates identified via data mining/screening algorithms.

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Rendering of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations Jason-3 satellite. 5G Networks Could Throw Weather Forecasting Into Chaos
Eric Niiler
May 17, 2019

U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) officials are concerned that 5G wireless phones could interfere with weather forecasts, reducing their accuracy as much as 30%. The American Meteorological Society's Jordan Gerth said water vapor discharges a faint atmospheric signal at 23.8 gigahertz (GHz), which is very close to the 24-GHz frequency band that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been auctioning to 5G carriers. Satellites including NOAA's GOES-R monitor this frequency, gathering data fed to prediction simulations for incipient storms and weather systems. Gerth suggested wireless carriers could reduce 5G cellphone transmitters' power emissions so they will not mask the satellite's sensors. NOAA's Neil Jacobs warned a House committee that future 5G frequency-band auctions proposed by the FCC would cause a 77% loss of data from the NOAA satellite's passive microwave sounders.

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3D-Printed Technology Lowers Cost of Common Medical Test
UConn Today
Jaclyn Severance
May 22, 2019

University of Connecticut researchers have designed a three-dimensionally (3D)-printable technology to make common laboratory tests for medical diagnosis less expensive and time-consuming. The 3D-printed pipette-tip technique avoids the need to manually wash plates typically used to conduct enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) biological-sample tests. Each single-use pipette tip substitutes for one micro-well on an ELISA plate, while a multi-tipped iteration permits eight tips to be pipetted simultaneously. Experiments demonstrated that the pipette tips can perform ELISA with accuracy comparable to traditional techniques, using a fraction of the testing agent, and achieving significant cost and time reductions.

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A colored CT scan showing a tumor in the lung. AI Took Test to Detect Lung Cancer. It Got an A.
The New York Times
Denise Grady
May 20, 2019

Google and medical researchers are developing cancer-detecting artificial intelligence (AI) that is as good as or better than physicians at spotting lung cancer nodules on computed tomography (CT) scans. The researchers devised a neural network with multiple processing layers, and trained it on a dataset of CT scans from patients with known diagnoses. When tested against 6,716 cases, the AI’s results were 94% accurate. Compared to six expert radiologists without any prior scan, the network yielded fewer false positives and false negatives; AI and human performance were equal in cases in which an earlier scan was available. Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine's Mozziyar Etemadi said AI could identify nuanced patterns people cannot perceive, adding, "It may start out as something we can't see, but that may open up new lines of inquiry."

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Using Computer Simulations to Discover Where Neanderthals Lived
Leiden University (The Netherlands)
May 23, 2019

Researchers at Leiden University in the Netherlands used computer models to identify the location of Western European Neanderthal settlements, gaining new insights into the ancient hominids' way of life. Leiden archaeologist Fulco Sherjon trained the HomininSpace program on data from 83 Neanderthal sites, along with 470 precise datings of a Neanderthal presence. HomininSpace compared this data with the results of about 40,000 simulations. The simulations' results suggested the Neanderthals likely produced many children, and tended to move around in relatively small groups. Said Sherjon, "The program is generic in design, so you can also use it to analyze hominids or top predators—animals at the top of the food chain."

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Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant. Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant Promote Sexist Attitudes Towards Women, Says U.N.
Olivia Tambini
May 23, 2019

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) suggested digital voice assistants like Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant encourage sexist attitudes towards women by using female-sounding voices for their default setting. UNESCO argued this implies to users that women are "obliging, docile, and eager-to-please helpers, available at the touch of a button or with a blunt voice command like 'hey' or 'OK.'" The organization added that the assistants possess "no power of agency beyond what the commander asks of it," and respond to questions "regardless of [the user's] tone or hostility." UNESCO attributed the prevalence of female-sounding voice assistants to a lack of female participation during the products' design process. The organization recommended male-sounding voices should be the default setting for such assistants.

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