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February 2017 — March 2017

Now You Can Finally Embarrass a Robot For its Mistakes (Mar 7, 2017)
Baxter the robot is blushing. It made yet another embarrassing mistake by placing a spray paint can in the wrong bin. A moment later, the big, red bot makes the right choice, placing a bundle of wire in the wire bin. Baxter smiles at the researcher in front of it, a young woman who’s wearing a rather unattractive electroencephalography (EEG) cap. We’re witnessing a visibly symbiotic relationship between metal and flesh. That’s because Baxter, from Rethink Robotics, and the researcher are c...
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Hell on Wheels: It's Google's Latest Mad Robot (Mar 2, 2017)
We're girding ourselves for our robot overlords, but we're not entirely sure what they're going to look like. Fortunately, there's Boston Dynamics. This fine Google-owned company creates robots that do the sorts of things we wish we could. Who could forget its marvelous robo-dogs? They carried so much for the US Marines. The only slight drawback is that they made so much noise that the enemy could hear them coming from far away. On Monday, the company officially unveiled its latest creation. It'...
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Women in STEM Fields Get Boost from President Trump (Mar 2, 2017)
President Donald Trump signed into law two bills that aim to encourage women to pursue careers in science and technology. The bills — "Inspiring the Next Space Pioneers, Innovators, Researchers and Explorers (INSPIRE) Women Act" and "Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act" — were both introduced by women in Congress.

IBM Built a Voice Assistant for Cybersecurity (Mar 1, 2017)
In this week's This Feels A Little Like Skynet: IBM built a new voice assistant using artificial intelligence called Hayvn, focused on cybersecurity. Think of it as Amazon Alexa, but instead of ordering soap, it's helping you manage threats. Sure, this might sound like it's ripped straight out of the plot for Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, in which the military unleashes a new AI called Skynet to fight a virus that's been disrupting worldwide networks.

Scientists Use Robots, Drones to Accelerate Plant Genetic Research, Improve Crop Yield (Mar 1, 2017)
It may be a while before robots and drones are as common as tractors and combine harvesters on farms, but the high-tech tools may soon play a major role in helping feed the world's rapidly growing population. At the University of Georgia, a team of researchers is developing a robotic system of all-terrain rovers and unmanned aerial drones that can more quickly and accurately gather and analyze data on the physical characteristics of crops, including their growth patterns, stress tolerance and ge...
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Conversational AI and the Road Ahead (Feb 28, 2017)
In recent years, we’ve seen an increasing number of so-called “intelligent” digital assistants being introduced on various devices. At the recent CES, both Hyundai and Toyota announced new in-car assistants. Although the technology behind these applications keeps getting better, there’s still a tendency for people to be disappointed by their capabilities — the expectation of “intelligence” is not being met.

This Creepy Robot Walks Like a Chicken and Could Someday Deliver Your Groceries (Feb 28, 2017)
This could be the future of robotics — and it kind of looks like a chicken. Agility Robotics unveiled a bipedal robot called Cassie this week. The company, which spun out of the ATRIAS project at Oregon State University, is focused on "legged locomotion" and hopes to someday engineer robots that can walk just like people. That should be incredibly useful in a wide range of applications — but it needs some more work before then. Cassie was built using a 16-month, $1-million grant from the U.S...
Read More is Drastically Increasing the Number of Underrepresented Minorities Taking AP Computer Science (Feb 27, 2017), which started offering an advanced placement computer science principles this school year in partnership with The College Board, could more than double the number of underrepresented minorities enrolled in AP computer science classes across the nation. During the last school year, 8,442 underrepresented minorities (black, Latinx, American Indian/Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander) took the AP Computer science test in the U.S., according to The College Board. For the ...
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Robotics Researchers Discovered a Better Way For Insects to Walk (Feb 27, 2017)
A popular approach to designing robots that can navigate a world built for living creatures is to simply copy Mother Nature’s designs. But while trying to improve how a six-legged robot walks, researchers at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne actually found a faster way for six-legged creatures to get around. While many vertebrates are able to run quickly and with minimal ground contact, six-legged insects take a different approach to speed. They use what’s called a tripod gait,...
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Computer Bots are More Like Humans Than You Might Think, Having Fights Lasting Years (Feb 26, 2017)
Researchers say 'benevolent bots', otherwise known as software robots, that are designed to improve articles on Wikipedia sometimes have online 'fights' over content that can continue for years. Editing bots on Wikipedia undo vandalism, enforce bans, check spelling, create links and import content automatically, whereas other bots (which are non-editing) can mine data, identify data or identify copyright infringements. The team analysed how much they disrupted Wikipedia, observing how they inter...
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Research Heralds Better and Bidirectional Brain-Computer Interfaces (Feb 26, 2017)
A pair of studies, one from Stanford and another from the University of Geneva, exemplify the speed with which brain-computer interfaces are advancing; and while you won’t be using one instead of a mouse and keyboard any time soon, even in its nascent form the tech may prove transformative for the disabled. First comes work from Stanford: an improved microelectrode array and computer system that allows paralyzed users to type using an on-screen cursor.

Flabby Heart Keeps Pumping With Squeeze From Robotic Sleeve (Feb 20, 2017)
Scientists are developing a robotic sleeve that can encase a flabby diseased heart and gently squeeze to keep it pumping. So far it’s been tested only in animals, improving blood flow in pigs. But this “soft robotic” device mimics the natural movements of a beating heart, a strategy for next-generation treatments of deadly heart failure. The key: A team from Harvard University and Boston Children’s Hospital wound artificial muscles into the thin silicone sleeve, so that it alternately co...
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Calling All Computer Science Majors: Jobs are Waiting For You (Feb 20, 2017)
When he was 14 years old, Lawrence Birnbaum taught himself how to program, but he had trouble even finding a computer to work on. Still, he knew computers were going to be the future. That was in the late 1960s. When Birnbaum — today a computer science professor at Northwestern — was in college, there were relatively few computer science majors, and his professors had graduated from schools of math or electrical engineering. The field was still new. Fast forward to now. New computer science ...
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OxSight Uses Augmented Reality to Aid the Visually Impaired (Feb 19, 2017)
One percent of the world’s population, approximately 70 million people, are blind. That is not a huge number when you think of it in terms of a potential use base for a consumer product, but it is massive when you consider that there are currently few assistive technologies available as an aid to make easier the lives of the visually impaired. A new startup that spun out of Oxford last year, OxSight, is looking to change that. The company built and is testing augmented reality glasses to help ...
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The Dark Side of AI (Feb 19, 2017)
For all the good that machine learning can accomplish in cybersecurity, it's important to remember that the technology is also accessible to bad actors. While writers and futurists dream up nightmarish scenarios of artificial intelligence turning on its creators and exterminating mankind like Terminators and Cylons – heck, Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have warned AI is dangerous – the more pressing concern today is that machines can be intentionally programmed to abet cybercriminal operatio...
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Most Computer Science Majors in the U.S. are Men. Not so at Harvey Mudd (Feb 11, 2017)
Veronica Rivera signed up for the introduction to computer science class at Harvey Mudd College mostly because she had no choice: It was mandatory. Programming was intimidating and not for her, she thought. She expected the class to be full of guys who loved video games and grew up obsessing over how they were made. There were plenty of those guys but, to her surprise, she found the class fascinating.

‘The CS Detective’ Teaches Computer Science Through Fiction (Feb 11, 2017)
I was introduced to higher level Computer Science concepts in high school. I think I took at least one computer-related class each year, sometimes more. We were taught in a pretty straightforward, logical way, from simple concepts up toward more complicated ones. But these days, Computer Science concepts are often taught from such an early age that they aren’t taught sequentially, or even in order of complexity. There are books, toys, kits, apps, and games that all introduce kids to programmin...
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Wearable AI System Can Detect a Conversation's Tone (Feb 10, 2017)
It's a fact of nature that a single conversation can be interpreted in very different ways. For people with anxiety or conditions such as Asperger's, this can make social situations extremely stressful. But what if there was a more objective way to measure and understand our interactions? Researchers from MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and Institute of Medical Engineering and Science say that they've gotten closer to a potential solution: an artificially intelligen...
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Advanced Robotic Bat's Flight Characteristics Simulates the Real Thing (Feb 10, 2017)
Bats have long captured the imaginations of scientists and engineers with their unrivaled agility and maneuvering characteristics, achieved by functionally versatile dynamic wing conformations as well as more than forty active and passive joints on the wings. However, their wing flexibility and complex wing kinematics pose significant technological challenges for robot modelling, design, and control. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Caltech have developed a self-...
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San Francisco Doctor's Office is Powered by Sensors and AI (Feb 9, 2017)
It felt like a check-up from the future. Instead of a receptionist, the foyer at Forward's San Francisco doctor's office features a glass case full of Fitbits and connected blood pressure cuffs, iPads, and an inconspicuous body sensor. Sensors and technology are baked into care, and Forward, which opens Tuesday, has doctors and nurses who are on call 24/7. Founded by former Googler and AI pioneer Adrian Aoun, Forward is designed to be a primary care facility, including services for women's healt...
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Physicists Call for a Soccer-Field-Sized Quantum Computer (Feb 9, 2017)
Physicists have sketched a blueprint for building a quantum computer using existing technology that would be powerful enough to crack important and currently unsolvable problems, such as factoring enormous numbers. Such a machine would need to be larger than a football pitch and would cost at least £100 million (US$126 million) to make, its designers say. “Yes it will be big, yes it will be expensive — but it absolutely can be built right now,” says quantum physicist Winfried Hensinger of...
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Transparent Gel-based Robots Can Catch and Release Live Fish (Feb 8, 2017)
Engineers at MIT have fabricated transparent, gel-based robots that move when water is pumped in and out of them. The bots can perform a number of fast, forceful tasks, including kicking a ball underwater, and grabbing and releasing a live fish. The robots are made entirely of hydrogel -- a tough, rubbery, nearly transparent material that's composed mostly of water.

New Wave of Robots Set to Deliver the Goods (Feb 8, 2017)
The robots of the future will be coming soon, rolling along at a lumbering pace with those goods you just ordered. The six-wheeled, knee-high robots from startup Starship Technologies are part of a new wave of automated systems taking aim at the "last mile" delivery of goods to consumers. Starship is launching a pilot project of robotic deliveries of parcels, groceries and prepared foods in early February in the US capital Washington, with a similar test taking place in Redwood City, California....
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What Happened to Women in Computer Science? (Feb 7, 2017)
Hidden Figures, the just-released movie, highlights the roles of three black female mathematicians (human computers) working at NASA who helped win the Space Race. At one time, computer science was originally a female-dominated area, and computing was considered “women’s work.” Fast forward to 2017 and women in computer science aren’t common. The number of women receiving degrees in this now male-dominated area has declined. Granted, women total 48.5% of Carnegie Mellon’s computer scie...
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Google Shows Off 'Nightmare-Inducing' Robot (Feb 7, 2017)
The latest robot from Google can twirl with the grace of a figure skater and jump over tall obstacles. The company's Boston Dynamics unit recently showed off a new robot called Handle. Resembling a human with a torso, two arms and legs, Handle's feet have been replaced by wheels. At a recent event, Boston Dynamics teased the robot, which will be able to carry objects and perform other tasks.

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