The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has announced a plan to establish the MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing, a new artificial intelligence (AI) college backed by a planned investment of $1 billion, 66% of which has already been raised, including a gift of $350 million from Blackstone Group’s Stephen A. Schwarzman. The AI college will create 50 new faculty positions and many more fellowships for graduate students. MIT president L. Rafael Reif says the college will “educate the bilinguals of the future,” people in fields such as biology, chemistry, politics, history, and linguistics who also have computing skills. The college is an attempt to embed computing into the curriculum, rather than tacking it on to existing courses. MIT’s Melissa Nobles said, “We’re excited by the possibilities. That’s how the humanities are going to survive, not by running from the future but by embracing it.”
More info here: The New York Times, Steve Lohr
Las Vegas hotels are experimenting with robots and other machines to meet customers’ needs. Examples include dog-like delivery robots at the Vdara Hotel and Spa, whose repertoire includes delivering food from the cafe to guestrooms, remotely calling for an elevator, and alerting guests when they arrive at their room via an automated phone message. Other deployments include robot bartenders at the Tipsy Robot bar in the Miracle Mile shops at Planet Hollywood Las Vegas, which general manager Victor Reza Valanejad says has not led to the elimination of jobs for humans, but to hiring more employees as robot operators. MGM Resorts International’s Cliff Atkinson says machines will very likely become “lobby ambassadors” as the front desk is eliminated and guests demand more customized service experiences. There are concerns that automation will cause job attrition in the hospitality industry, especially among women and minorities, but advocates promise opportunities to retrain employees to work with automation.
More info here: NPR, Lulu Garcia-Navarro; Sophia Boyd
The European Union (EU) will increase its investment in the development of high-performance computers in an effort to help Europe keep pace with China and the U.S. in the field. Currently, the EU provides about 5% of supercomputing resources worldwide but consumes one-third of them. European scientists increasingly opt to process their data outside the EU due to a lack of resources, creating issues related to privacy, data protection, commercial trade secrets, and ownership of data for sensitive applications. The EU wants to assemble a long-term ecosystem for supercomputing in Europe, ensuring that European data is protected under European regulatory standards. The initiative will be partly funded from the EU’s general budget, with significant underwriting from the Horizon 2020 framework program, the Connecting Europe Facility program, and from other contributions made by states involved in the joint undertaking.
More info here: EURACTIV, Samuel Stolton
With funding from the U.S. National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, Johns Hopkins University (JHU) researchers have engineered an “electronic skin” that can incorporate a sense of touch into a prosthetic hand. The “e-dermis” is equipped with biosensors that emulate human touch and pain receptors; they are electronically connected to nerves in the user’s arm that relay touch and pain sensations to the brain. JHU’s Luke Osborn says the e-dermis “will allow the wearer to tell the shape of what he or she is picking up. Sharp objects will actually cause the feeling of pain, which is an attempt to give the person a range of realistic sensations.” The researchers are working to expand the skin’s capabilities to include temperature perception.
More info here: National Institutes of Health
NimbRo, a two-legged robot developed at the University of Bonn in Germany, won the soccer World Cup for adult-size robots this summer in Montreal, Canada. NimbRo is 135 centimeters tall and weighs almost 40 pounds. The robot’s exoskeleton is made up of a few simple parts which are three-dimensionally (3D) printed from nylon. NimbRo is equipped with a vision system that performs object detection, robot localization, task planning, and actuator control. These functions give the robot a number of soccer skills, such as being able to locate and approach the ball, avoid obstacles, and kick and dribble. In five games during the competition, NimbRo scored 46 goals while allowing only one; the robot also accumulated 21 points in the technical challenges, giving it a clear victory.
More info here: Technology Review
University of California’s David Patterson, also a RISC pioneer and Google engineer, says Moore’s Law is over and computer architecture is on the cusp of a new era. Patterson, who served as ACM President from 2004 to 2006 and was co-recipient of the 2017 ACM A.M. Turing Award, said, “Revolutionary new hardware architectures and new software languages, tailored to dealing with specific kinds of computing problems, are just waiting to be developed. There are Turing Awards waiting to be picked up if people would just work on these things.” In software, for example, Patterson says rewriting Python into C can increase performance 50-fold, and optimization techniques can boost speed even further. He believes it would be feasible “to make an improvement of a factor of 1,000 in Python.” Applications do not all require the same level of computing accuracy, he says, adding that some could use lower-precision floating-point arithmetic instead of the commonly used IEEE 754 standard. Machine learning, he says, is “ravenous for computing” and offers the greatest area of opportunity for applying new architectures and languages. “This is a golden age for computer architecture,” Patterson says.
More info here: IEEE Spectrum, Tekla S. Perry
Underscoring how rapidly the labor market will change in the near future, the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Monday released a report showing more than half of all workplace tasks will be completed by machines by 2025. The WEF estimates that machines will be responsible for 52% of the division of labor as a share of hours within seven years, marking a significant jump from the current share of 29%. While about 75 million jobs worldwide will be lost by 2022, that number could be offset by the creation of 133 million new jobs, according to the report. However, this will require widespread training and retraining of employees. WEF board member Saadia Zahidi says, “Our research suggests that neither businesses nor governments have fully grasped the size of this key challenge of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”
More info here: Associated Press, Jamey Keaten