Science X Newsletter Friday, Jan 10

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Here is your customized Science X Newsletter for January 10, 2020:

Spotlight Stories Headlines

Wonder drug? Exploring the molecular mechanisms of metformin, a diabetes drug with Medieval roots

Wave physics as an analog recurrent neural network

Study probes the origin of the very high energy gamma-ray source VER J1907+062

Serotonin is a master regulator of neuroregeneration

Taking one for the team: How bacteria self-destruct to fight viral infections

Scientists transform a BBQ lighter into a high-tech lab device

Plant life expanding in the Everest region

OxiCool: Pure water is refrigerant to help cool homes

Cracks in Arctic sea ice turn low clouds on and off

Molecular 'doormen' open the way to potential obesity treatment

Satellite constellations harvest energy for near-total global coverage

Plants found to speak roundworm's language

Study puts the 'Carib' in 'Caribbean,' boosting credibility of Columbus' cannibal claims

Visualizing chemical reactions with infrared thermography

Study looks at how the global energy mix could change over the next 20 years

Physics news

Wave physics as an analog recurrent neural network

Analog machine learning hardware offers a promising alternative to digital counterparts as a more energy efficient and faster platform. Wave physics based on acoustics and optics is a natural candidate to build analog processors for time-varying signals. In a new report on Science AdvancesTyler W. Hughes and a research team in the departments of Applied Physics and Electrical Engineering at Stanford University, California, identified mapping between the dynamics of wave physics and computation in recurrent neural networks.

Unexpected twist in a quantum system

Physicists at ETH Zurich have observed a surprising twist in a quantum system caused by the interplay between energy dissipation and coherent quantum dynamics. To explain it, they found a concrete analogy to mechanics.

Satellite test shows objects in space fall at a rate to within two-trillionths of a percent of each other

A team of researchers affiliated with several institutions in France and one in the U.S. has found that objects of different mass dropped in space fall at a rate within two-trillionths of a percent of each other. In their paper published in the journal Physical Review Letters, the group describes their satellite-based physics study and what they learned from it.

New research uses optical solitons in lasers to explore naturally-occurring supramolecules

Curtis Menyuk, professor of computer science and electrical engineering at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), has collaborated with a team directed by Philip Russell at the Max-Planck Institute for the Science of Light (MPI) in Erlangen, Germany, to gain insight into naturally-occurring molecular systems using optical solitons in lasers. Optical solitons are packets of light that are bound together and move at a constant speed without changing shape. This work, published in Nature Communications, was initiated while Menyuk was a Humboldt Senior Research Fellow in the Russell Division at MPI.

New approach for controlling qubits via microwave pulses reduces error rates and increases efficiency

A functional quantum computer is one of the most intriguing promises of quantum technology. With significantly increased computing power, quantum computers will be able to solve tasks that conventional computers cannot handle, such as understanding and inventing new materials or pharmaceuticals as well as testing the limits of cryptographic techniques.

Laser physics: At the pulse of a light wave

Physicists in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich and at the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics (MPQ) have developed a novel type of detector that enables the oscillation profile of light waves to be precisely determined.

Astronomy & Space news

Study probes the origin of the very high energy gamma-ray source VER J1907+062

A new study based on high-quality radio observations with the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) has investigated the origin of a very high-energy gamma-ray source known as VER J1907+062. Results of the study, published December 27 on, suggest that VER J1907+062 consists of two separate gamma-ray sources.

Satellite constellations harvest energy for near-total global coverage

Think of it as a celestial parlor game: What is the minimum number of satellites needed to see every point on Earth? And how might those satellites stay in orbit and maintain continuous 24/7 coverage while contending with Earth's gravity field, its lumpy mass, the pull of the sun and moon, and pressure from solar radiation?

Simulation of dwarf galaxy reveals different routes for strontium enrichment

Simulations of a dwarf galaxy by RIKEN astrophysicists have revealed the various processes by which moderately heavy metals such as strontium are birthed. They have found that at least four kinds of stars are needed to explain the observed abundance of these metals in dwarf galaxies.

NASA's Lucy mission confirms discovery of Eurybates satellite

NASA's Lucy mission team is seeing double after discovering that Eurybates, the asteroid the spacecraft has targeted for flyby in 2027, has a small satellite. This "bonus" science exploration opportunity for the project was discovered using images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope's Wide Field Camera 3 in September 2018, December 2019, and January 2020.

First sighting of hot gas sloshing in galaxy cluster

ESA's XMM-Newton X-ray observatory has spied hot gas sloshing around within a galaxy cluster—a never-before-seen behaviour that may be driven by turbulent merger events.

On the hunt for primordial black holes

The theory that dark matter could be made of primordial black holes a fraction of a millimeter in size has been ruled out by a team of researchers led by the Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe (Kavli IPMU).

Stellar black holes: When David poses as Goliath

Stellar black holes form when massive stars end their life in a dramatic collapse. Observations have shown that stellar black holes typically have masses of about ten times that of the Sun, in accordance with the theory of stellar evolution. Recently, a Chinese team of astronomers claimed to have discovered a black hole as massive as 70 solar masses, which, if confirmed, would severely challenge the current view of stellar evolution. The publication immediately triggered theoretical investigations as well as additional observations by other astrophysicists. Among those to take a closer look at the object was a team of astronomers from the Universities of Erlangen-N├╝rnberg and Potsdam. They discovered that it may not necessarily be a black hole at all, but possibly a massive neutron star or even an 'ordinary' star. Their results have now been published as a highlight-paper in the renowned journal Astronomy & Astrophysics

NASA's latest astronaut graduates almost half women

NASA on Friday honored its latest class of graduating astronauts in a ceremony at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, a diverse and gender-balanced group now qualified for spaceflight missions including America's return to the Moon and eventual journey to Mars.

SuperTIGER on its second prowl—130,000 feet above Antarctica

A balloon-borne scientific instrument designed to study the origin of cosmic rays is taking its second turn high above the continent of Antarctica three and a half weeks after its launch.

Eyeing Moon, NASA hosts first public astronaut graduation ceremony

NASA on Friday celebrated its latest class of graduating astronauts at a public ceremony in Houston, honoring a diverse and gender-balanced group now qualified for spaceflight missions including America's return to the Moon and eventual journey to Mars.

Landsat 9: The pieces come together

Landsat 9's two science instruments are now attached to the spacecraft, bringing the mission one step closer to launch. In late December, the Operational Land Imager 2 (OLI-2) and the Thermal Infrared Sensor 2 (TIRS-2) were both mechanically integrated on to the spacecraft bus at Northrop Grumman in Gilbert, Arizona.

Technology news

OxiCool: Pure water is refrigerant to help cool homes

An air conditioning system that offers zero emissions, cools the house with water and is powered by natural gas was getting attention this week at CES.

How well can computers connect symptoms to diseases?

A new MIT study finds "health knowledge graphs," which show relationships between symptoms and diseases and are intended to help with clinical diagnosis, can fall short for certain conditions and patient populations. The results also suggest ways to boost their performance.

Using a robot to deploy robots in remote oceans

A researcher at the University of East Anglia (UEA) has helped design a sea-going robot to deploy research equipment in remote and inaccessible ocean locations.

CES Gadget Show: Pizza from robots, underwater scooters

Robots were front and center at the CES gadget show in Las Vegas. One even made pizza.

Explainer: Not all cyber threats equally worrisome

West Virginia reported unusual cyber activity targeting its election systems. The Texas governor said the state was encountering attempted "attacks" at the rate of "about 10,000 per minute" from Iran. Information technology staff in Las Vegas responded to an intrusion, though the city says no data was stolen.

Connected cars moving targets for hackers

As cars evolve into rolling mobile computers, the potential for disastrous cyber attacks has become a new road hazard.

Boeing papers show employees slid 737 Max problems past FAA

Boeing employees raised doubts among themselves about the safety of the 737 Max, hid problems from federal regulators and ridiculed those responsible for designing and overseeing the jetliner, according to a damning batch of emails and text messages released nearly a year after the aircraft was grounded over two catastrophic crashes.

Food stirs up interest at Vegas tech show

What's cooking at the Consumer Electronics Show? AI meal planning, a robot to chop your onions and vegan pork.

YouTube's new ad policy is designed to protect kids. Will it drive them away instead?

This week, YouTube announced changes to its advertising policies for children viewing videos on the site. The changes are designed to protect against the collection of children's personal information, but may have unintended consequences, says Northeastern assistant professor Keith Smith: Reducing the overall amount of content available for children and pushing them to streaming sites that are less child-friendly.

CES: Buzzy NEON startup builds 'artificial humans' that resemble bankers, fashion models

Figuring out who and what is real or fake nowadays is getting to be a harder challenge in this AI-driven age. At CES, a buzzy startup with a Samsung pedigree, STAR Labs, introduced NEON as its first "artificial human."

Ridesharing links can boost transit use in the suburbs

Integrating ridesharing with transit in poorly serviced suburban neighbourhoods is an effective way to get people out of their cars and boost ridership.

Blockchain to trace agricultural supply chains

The impacts of unsustainable agriculture on the environment can be devastating. With increasing pressure from consumers for sustainably sourced products, companies need to act to minimise their impacts. But how can a company minimise its impacts if it doesn't know where they are occurring, or who is responsible? Blockchain could offer the technology to help companies better understand their supply chains, so they can see where action needs to be taken to make products sustainable.

Reducing power plants' thirst

Electricity production is one of the industries that uses the most water in the country each day. Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories are helping the largest power plant in the United States identify the most efficient and cost-effective strategies to reduce water use.

Transformative 3-D printing approach established from insight into developmental biology

Engineers need to get more creative in their approach to design and additive manufacturing (AM) systems, by taking inspiration from the way humans grow and develop, say researchers at the University of Birmingham.

Study examines costs of closing nuclear plants in Germany

Many countries have phased out production of nuclear energy because of concerns related to nuclear waste and the risk of nuclear accidents. A new study explored the impact of the shutdown of roughly half of the nuclear power plants in Germany after the 2011 Fukushima accident in Japan. The study found that the resulting reductions in nuclear power were replaced primarily by production from coal-fired sources and reductions in net electricity exports. The authors show that the switch to fossil fuel-fired power resulted in considerable increases in pollution at an estimated annual social cost of about $12 billion.

Privacy, once hidden topic, gets attention at CES tech show

Once a hidden and under-the-radar topic, privacy got more attention at the CES gadget show in Las Vegas this week. Startups now volunteer information about how they're securing your data and protecting your privacy when you use their heart rate monitor or cuddly robot.

Dressed to connect: wearable tech expands all over the body

From tiredness-detecting driving glasses to shin guards that judge the performance of footballers—we've come a long way since the early days of the pulse-measuring smart watch.

Bzigo marks mosquitoes for death

Startup Bzigo was at the Consumer Electronics Show this week with a gadget designed to spot mosquitos and then mark them for death.

Robo-crib highlights infant safety at technology show

A robotic crib with a mission of preventing sudden infant death syndrome made its appearance this week at the Consumer Electronics Show, part of a growing "baby tech" exhibit.

Seniors get special attention at consumer tech show

How can the tech sector help seniors remain independent, connected, healthy, and safe?

Future of mobility: some wild rides seen ahead at tech show

In the not-too-distant future you could ride one, two or three wheels... or maybe none at all.

Facebook's Zuckerberg takes long view on new year's resolutions

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has ditched his annual new year's resolutions for a long-term list of goals and predictions that he posted on the social network, including a virtual reality boom and an emphasis on community.

Infosys profits jump 23.5% as probe finds no proof of wrongdoing

India's second-largest IT outsourcing firm Infosys on Friday announced a 23.5 percent jump in its quarterly net profits, beating estimates as it declared that an internal probe had found no evidence of misconduct by its top executives.

Boeing supplier Spirit AeroSystems to lay off 2,800 workers

Spirit AeroSystems, a major supplier for the Boeing 737 MAX, said Friday it will lay off 2,800 employees after Boeing halted production of the plane.

Google legal chief leaving amid sexual misconduct troubles

David Drummond, the legal chief of Google parent company Alphabet, is leaving at the end of the month, following accusations of inappropriate relationships with employees.

Lawsuit forces Uber to stop operating in Colombia

Uber said Friday it will stop operating in Colombia following stiff opposition from taxi drivers' unions and a lawsuit that said the ride-sharing app was breaking local transport laws.

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AI Weekly | Jan. 10, 2020

On Monday, Waymo -- the subsidiary of Google parent company Alphabet that's developing a full-stack d
AI Weekly
On Monday, Waymo – the subsidiary of Google parent company Alphabet that's developing a full-stack driverless vehicle platform – announced that its cars have driven a combined 20 million autonomous miles to date, up from 10 million miles in October 2018. The metric signifies Waymo's logistical and technological superiority, implied CEO John Krafcik, who equated the miles driven to 1,400 years of driving experience for an average American.
But some experts assert that measuring driverless systems' progress by miles is a flawed approach.
This week in a conversation with VentureBeat at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Dmitry Polishchuk, the head of Russian tech giant Yandex's autonomous car project, said that miles aren't very meaningful without context to accompany them. "It's tough to directly compare miles driven," he said. "Obviously, the more miles [you] have, the better, but we believe that the environments that you're in have a huge impact."
Yandex isn't without a horse in the race – its over 100 autonomous cars in Innopolis and Skolkovo, Russia; Las Vegas; and Tel Aviv have driven 1.75 million miles as of January, up from 1.5 million miles and 1 million miles last December and October, respectively. But policymakers as well as competitors in the nearly $41.25 billion global autonomous car segment have expressed similar sentiments.
Noah Zych, head of system safety at Uber's Advanced Technologies Group, told Wired in an interview that mileage critically omits details like situations encountered, obstacles, and accidents. "You need to know … 'What was the objective of the testing in [any given area]?" he said. "Was it to collect data? Was it to prove that the system was able to handle those scenarios? Or was it to just run a number up?"
And at a conference organized by Nvidia in Washington two years ago, Derek Kan, U.S. secretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Transportation, stressed the need for objective and agreed-upon measures of driverless systems performance. Separately, David Friedman, former acting administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and vice president at Consumer Reports, recently urged Congress to direct the NHTSA to implement privacy protections, minimum performance standards, and accessibility rules for self-driving cars, trucks, SUVs, and crossovers.
Disengagements – or deactivations of cars' autonomous modes when failures occur or when drivers are forced to take over – have been adopted by agencies including California's Department of Motor Vehicles as an alternative to miles driven. (By law, companies actively testing self-driving cars on public roads in the state are required to publish disengagement reports.) But Polishchuk argues that this, too, is an imperfect metric.
"We have kind of been waiting for some sort of industry standard," he said, noting that Yandex hasn't yet released a disengagement report. "Self-driving companies aren't following the exact same protocols for things. [For example, there might be a] disengagement because there's something blocking the right lane or a car in the right lane, and [the safety driver realizes] as a human that [this object or car] isn't going to move."
For its part, whenever Yandex deploys new code into production, the company conducts real-world tests to ensure that systems performance (and by extension, safety) isn't degraded. It takes 10 cars – five equipped with the codebase from half a year ago and five with the latest code – and it runs them for a day on the same route such that they encounter identical obstacles and weather conditions. It even switches up the safety drivers behind the wheel to prevent bias from influencing the results.
"We look back at the numbers and check the correlation … using hundreds of different parameters," said Polishchuk. "The absolute number of disengagements doesn't matter."
Unfortunately for companies like Yandex, less regulatory guidance – not more – seems the likelier near-future path, at least in the U.S. At CES on Wednesday, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced Automated Vehicles 4.0 (AV 4.0), new guidelines regarding self-driving cars that seek to promote "voluntary consensus standards" among autonomous vehicle developers. It requests but doesn't mandate regular assessments on self-driving vehicle safety, and it permits those assessments to be completed by automakers themselves as opposed to by a standards body.
Advocacy groups including the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety criticized the policy for its vagueness. "Without strong leadership and regulations … [autonomous vehicle] manufacturers can and will continue to introduce extremely complex supercomputers-on-wheels onto public roads … with meager government oversight," said president Cathy Chase in a satatement. "Voluntary guidelines are completely unenforceable, will not result in adequate performance standards, and fall well short of the safeguards that are necessary to protect the public."
Indeed, regulation could go a long way to convincing a skeptical public.
Two studies – one published by the Brookings Institution and another by the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (AHAS) – found that a majority of Americans aren't convinced of driverless cars' safety. More than 60% of respondents to the Brookings poll said that they weren't inclined to ride in self-driving cars, and almost 70% of those surveyed by the AHAS expressed concerns about sharing the road with them. Elsewhere, a study conducted by think tank HNTB found that 59% of people expect self-driving cars will be "no safer" than cars driven by humans.
In the U.S., legislation remains stalled at the federal level, unfortunately. More than a year ago, the House unanimously passed the SELF DRIVE Act, which would create a regulatory framework for autonomous vehicles. But it has yet to be taken up by the Senate, which in 2018 tabled a separate bill, the AV START Act, that made its way through committee in November 2017.
Polishchuk predicts that legislation will only emerge when some "reasonable amount" of self-driving cars hit public roads. Optimistic projections peg the number at 10 million by 2030. "When this happens, we would have statistics, and basically, statistics will push regulators," he said.
For AI coverage, send news tips to Khari Johnson and Kyle Wiggers and AI editor Seth Colaner — and be sure to subscribe to the AI Weekly newsletter and bookmark our AI Channel.
Thanks for reading,
Kyle Wiggers
AI Staff Writer

From VentureBeat
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Intel uses AI and satellite imagery to help the Red Cross map vulnerable locales
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Featured Video
P.S. Please enjoy this video of a Yandex autonomous car roving public roads in Las Vegas at CES 2020.
P.S. Please enjoy this video of a Yandex autonomous car roving public roads in Las Vegas at CES 2020.
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