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April 2016 — May 2016

Are We Living in a Computer Simulation? (May 1, 2016)
If you, me and every person and thing in the cosmos were actually characters in some giant computer game, we would not necessarily know it. The idea that the universe is a simulation sounds more like the plot of “The Matrix,” but it is also a legitimate scientific hypothesis. Researchers pondered the controversial notion at the annual Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate at the American Museum of Natural History.

The Light Stuff: A Brand-New Way to Produce Electron Spin Currents (May 1, 2016)
With apologies to Isaac Asimov, the most exciting phase to hear in science isn't "Eureka," but "That's funny..." A "that's funny" moment in a Colorado State University physics lab has led to a fundamental discovery that could play a key role in next-generation microelectronics. Publishing in Nature Physics, the scientists, led by Professor of Physics Mingzhong Wu in CSU's College of Natural Sciences, are the first to demonstrate using non-polarized light to produce in a metal what's called a spi...
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Google is Funding Screenplays that Change the Image of Computer Science (Apr 30, 2016)
Google wants to help change the way computer science is depicted in the media, so the company is funding a new grant for screenwriters. The company has teamed up with The Black List, a site that lets filmmakers share their scripts online, to look for three writers to create screenplays or teleplays that "changes the image of computer science or computer scientists, [particularly] as it applies to women and minorities." Each will be awarded up to $15,000 and have six months to work on their proje...
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Robotic Consensus (Apr 30, 2016)
Planning algorithms for teams of robots fall into two categories: centralized algorithms, in which a single computer makes decisions for the whole team, and decentralized algorithms, in which each robot makes its own decisions based on local observations. With centralized algorithms, if the central computer goes offline, the whole system falls apart. Decentralized algorithms handle erratic communication better, but they’re harder to design, because each robot is essentially guessing what the o...
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Bullied Parrot Finds New Confidence with 3D-Printed Beak (Apr 29, 2016)
A palm cockatoo named Huizai — Chinese for Grey Boy — has gotten a new lease on life, thanks to the wonders of technology. The parrot who lives in a Nanjing zoo in Jiangsu, China, was on the verge of losing its beak (and respect from its peers) until he was fitted with a new beak. According to one of his keepers, Chen Wei, Huizai's beak started showing cracks after a fight with another parrot, but those cracks got worse and most of it started to fall off. Both Huizai's confidence and appetit...
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With Simple Process, Engineers Fabricate Fastest Flexible Silicon Transistor (Apr 29, 2016)
One secret to creating the world's fastest silicon-based flexible transistors: a very, very tiny knife. Working in collaboration with colleagues around the country, University of Wisconsin-Madison engineers have pioneered a unique method that could allow manufacturers to easily and cheaply fabricate high-performance transistors with wireless capabilities on huge rolls of flexible plastic.

Intel Scalable Systems Framework: Next Generation Processors Open the Door to Faster, More Efficient Deep Learning (Apr 28, 2016)
Deep learning has inspired a gold rush of technology innovation across a wide range of markets from Internet search, to social media, to real-time robotics, self-driving vehicles, drones and more. Spanning the gamut of machine performance, deep learning (and machine learning in general) encompasses floating-point-, network- and data-intensive ‘training’ plus real-time, low-power ‘prediction’ operations. Intel Scalable Systems Framework (Intel® SSF) is an approach that customers can use ...
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How Social Entrepreneurship is Making a Difference in the World (Apr 28, 2016)
We have grown accustomed to the Silicon Valley zeal driving startups to develop new technologies that will disrupt the market in yet another way. On-demand apps like Uber are aimed at making our lives easier by saving us time and money. In other parts of the world, people are faced with different kinds of “problems.” They aren’t so much worried about finding an app that will water their plants — their actual concern is finding water. An example, among many others, is India.

To Make Computers Better, Let Them Get Sloppy (Apr 27, 2016)
Krishna Palem's computers won’t win any awards for accuracy. Most of the time they can’t even add up correctly. For them, 2 + 2 might as well be 5. But don’t be fooled by the wobbly arithmetic. Palem is making machines that could represent a new dawn for computing. Inaccuracy is not something we typically associate with computers. Since Alan Turing laid down their ground rules in the 1930s, computers have been sticklers for precision, built on the principle of following step-by-step instru...
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XSEDE Bringing Students to New Course (Apr 27, 2016)
Blue Waters seeking partner institutions to offer course on designing and building applications for extreme scale systems. The Blue Waters project and the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana are offering an online course on Designing and Building Applications for Extreme Scale Systems for graduate students and are seeking other university partners that are interested in offering the course for credit to their students.

Seagate, USCAS Urge Congress to Fully Fund FY17 Supercomputing Budget (Apr 26, 2016)
Given divided government and the election year, the U.S. FY17 budget discussions are likely to be more contentious than usual. Seagate tweeted yesterday that it and fellow industry members of the U.S. Coalition for the Advancement of Supercomputing (USCAS) had submitted a statement to Congress “advocating for full funding of the Department of Energy’s fiscal year 2017 budget request for supercomputing.”

Seventh-Graders Learn Astrophysics through Mixed-Reality Computer Simulation (Apr 26, 2016)
MEteor, an interactive computer simulation, teaches middle school students about gravity and planetary motion in an immersive, whole-body environment. From left, doctoral student Shuai Wang and Robb Lindgren, a professor of curriculum and instruction and of educational psychology, found in a recent study that the astronomy game’s whole-body learning activities were linked with significant learning gains, greater student engagement and more positive attitudes toward science.

Violent Video Games Eventually Lose Their Ability to Produce Guilt in Gamers (Apr 25, 2016)
Rapidly advancing technology has created ever more realistic video games. Images are sharp, settings have depth and detail, and the audio is crisp and authentic. At a glance, it appears real. So real, that research has consistently found that gamers feel guilty committing unjustified acts of violence within the game. Now, a new University at Buffalo-led study suggests that the moral response produced by the initial exposure to a video game decreases as experience with the game develops. The find...
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'Brain-Inspired' Supercomputer Explores Deep Learning for U.S. Nuclear Program (Apr 25, 2016)
A new low-power, "brain-inspired" supercomputing platform based on IBM chip technology will soon start exploring deep learning for the U.S. nuclear program. Based on IBM’s TrueNorth chip, it will have the equivalent of 16 million neurons and 4 billion synapses but consume energy like a tablet PC. IBM says it wants to make intelligent computers that can make decisions like humans, and this new technology is an enormous step in that direction.

System Predicts 85 Percent of Cyber-Attacks Using Input From Human Experts (Apr 19, 2016)
Today's security systems usually fall into one of two categories: human or machine. So-called "analyst-driven solutions" rely on rules created by living experts and therefore miss any attacks that don't match the rules. Meanwhile, today's machine-learning approaches rely on "anomaly detection," which tends to trigger false positives that both create distrust of the system and end up having to be investigated by humans, anyway. But what if there were a solution that could merge those two worlds? ...
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Robots Could Get 'Touchy' with Self-Powered Smart Skin (Apr 19, 2016)
Smart synthetic skins have the potential to allow robots to touch and sense what's around them, but keeping them powered up and highly sensitive at low cost has been a challenge. Now scientists report in the journal ACS Nano a self-powered, transparent smart skin that is simpler and less costly than many other versions that have been developed. Endowing robots and prosthetics with a human-like sense of touch could dramatically advance these technologies. Toward this goal, scientists have come up...
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Obama Announces Computer-Science-For-All Initiative (Apr 18, 2016)
Computer science is a fundamental skill in the modern economy, President Obama declared as the White House announced a series of initiatives aimed at advancing education in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. That includes a $200 million investment from Oracle to extend computer science education to 125,000 U.S. students, along with a host of commitments from federal agencies, schools and other groups to promote STEM training. In remarks at the sixth annual White...
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Top U.S. Computer Science Undergrad Programs Flunk Cybersecurity (Apr 18, 2016)
A new study out from CloudPassage — a cloud security firm based in San Francisco — concludes that the American higher-education system is failing at preparing students for careers in cybersecurity. CloudPassage hired a third party consultant to analyze computer science programs at 121 universities listed on three rankings which included U.S. News and World Report’s Best Global Universities for Computer Science, Business Insider’s Top 50 best computer-science and engineering schools in A...
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Computers in Your Clothes? A Milestone for Wearable Electronics (Apr 17, 2016)
Researchers who are working to develop wearable electronics have reached a milestone: They are able to embroider circuits into fabric with 0.1 mm precision -- the perfect size to integrate electronic components such as sensors and computer memory devices into clothing. With this advance, the Ohio State University researchers have taken the next step toward the design of functional textiles -- clothes that gather, store, or transmit digital information.

What is a Chatbot? (Apr 17, 2016)
Chatbots are on the rise, but what are they and why is everyone talking about (and to) them? Facebook has just rolled out support for bots on its Messenger platform. Meanwhile, Microsoft has described chatbots as the "new apps" with chief executive Satya Nadella saying that they "unlock conversation as a platform". What is a chatbot? A chatbot is a computer software program that is able to communicate with humans, using artificial intelligence.

High School Student Invents a Cheaper Hearing Aid (Apr 16, 2016)
A summer with his grandfather was all it took for him to be inspired. When Mukund Venkatakrishnan was 14, he visited India and was tasked with helping his grandfather get tested and fitted for a hearing aid. He saw what a costly and difficult process it was and resolved to find an alternative. "Since audiologists are specialists, even finding and getting an appointment with one in India was really hard," said Venkatakrishnan, who is now 16. "And then we got ripped off." Venkatakrishnan said they...
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Artificial Intelligence and Racism (Apr 16, 2016)
Replicants. Cylons. Skynet. Hal 9000. These are the classic pop-culture references the average person might conjure when they hear the term “artificial intelligence.” Yet, while some see AI as a novelty still guised in the trappings of the far-flung future, others realize the dawn of AI is much closer than previously thought. CNBC’s piece on Hanson Robotics shows just how far we’ve come. Indeed, AI is here — although Microsoft’s blunder with Tay, the “teenaged girl AI” embodied b...
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3D-printed Rembrandt Painting Looks Almost as Good as the Real Thing (Apr 15, 2016)
Bringing us one step closer to the day when computers compete directly with humans in the arts, a new painting has been created using software to mimic the style of a master. The painting, titled "The Next Rembrandt" (below), is the result of a team of developers who, with the technical support of Microsoft and backing from Dutch bank ING, sought to create an original new work "by Rembrandt" using data from his existing paintings. "When you want to make a new painting you have some idea of how i...
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New State of Matter Detected in a Two-dimensional Material (Apr 15, 2016)
An international team of researchers have found evidence of a mysterious new state of matter, first predicted 40 years ago, in a real material. This state, known as a quantum spin liquid, causes electrons - thought to be indivisible building blocks of nature - to break into pieces. The researchers, including physicists from the University of Cambridge, measured the first signatures of these fractional particles, known as Majorana fermions, in a two-dimensional material with a structure similar t...
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Titan Helps Shed Light on Membrane Lipids’ Multiple Roles (Apr 14, 2016)
Lipid molecules are schizophrenic. One end likes to hang out with a charged crowd (think water); the other prefers neutral neighbors (think fats). Most of us remember those funky illustrations of the bilayer lipid membrane structure that encloses animal cells from high school biology. Recently, Titan supercomputer was used to show cell membranes may be much more than simple scaffolds for proteins and protective enclosures for cells. Rather, researchers are starting to see that lipids and protein...
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