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IEEE Spectrum
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ISSN (Print) 0018-9235
Published by IEEE Homepage  [191 journals]
  • [Front cover]
    • Abstract: Presents the front cover for this issue of the publication.
      PubDate: Nov. 2019
      Issue No: Vol. 56, No. 11 (2019)
  • After maria - [Back Story]
    • Pages: 2 - 2
      Abstract: In Research, sometimes the investigator becomes part of the experiment. That's exactly what happened to Efraín O'Neill-Carrillo and Agustín Irizarry-Rivera, both professors of electrical engineering at the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez, when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on 20 September 2017. Along with every other resident of the island, they lost power in an islandwide blackout that lasted for months.
      PubDate: Nov. 2019
      Issue No: Vol. 56, No. 11 (2019)
  • For AI rollouts, hazards reported ahead: Getting machine learning to work
           is made a lot harder by HR and IT issues - [Spectral Lines]
    • Authors: Tekla S. Perry;
      Pages: 4 - 4
      Abstract: Implementing machine learning in the real world isn't easy. The tools are available and the road is well marked—but the speed bumps are many. ¶ That was the conclusion of panelists at the IEEE AI Symposium 2019, held at Cisco's San Jose, Calif., campus in September. _ The toughest problem, says Ben Irving, senior manager of Cisco's strategy innovations group, is people. ¶ It's tough to find applicants with expertise in data science, he indicated, so companies are looking into nontraditional sources of personnel, like political science. "There are some untapped areas with a lot of untapped data-science expertise," Irving says. ¶ Lazard managing director Trevor Mottl agreed that would-be data scientists don't need formal training or experience to break in. "This field is changing really rapidly," he says. "There are new language models coming out every month, and new tools, so [anyone should] expect to not know everything. Experiment, try out new tools and techniques, read; there aren't any true experts at this point because the foundational elements are shifting so rapidly."¶"It is a wonderful time to get into a field," he said, noting that it doesn't take long to catch up "because there aren't 20 years of history."¶ Confusion about what different kinds of machine-learning specialists do doesn't help the personnel situation. An audience member asked panelists to explain the difference between a data scientist, a data analyst, and a data engineer. Darrin Johnson, Nvidia global director of technical marketing for enterprise, admitted it's hard to sort out, and any two companies could define the positions differently. ¶ The compet-tion to hire data scientists, analysts, engineers, or whatever companies call them requires that managers make sure that any work being done is structured and comprehensible at all times, the panelists cautioned.¶ "We need to remember that our data scientists go home every day and sometimes they don't come back, because they go home and then go to a different company," says Lazard's Mottl. "If you give people a choice on [how they do their development] and have a successful person who gets poached by a competitor, you have to either hire a team to unwrap what that person built or jettison their work and rebuild it."
      PubDate: Nov. 2019
      Issue No: Vol. 56, No. 11 (2019)
  • AI agents play hide-and-seek: An OpenAI project demonstrated "emergent
           behavior" by AI players - [News]
    • Authors: Eliza Strickland;
      Pages: 6 - 7
      Abstract: After 25 million games, the AI agents playing hide-and-seek with each other had mastered four basic game strategies. The researchers expected that part.
      PubDate: Nov. 2019
      Issue No: Vol. 56, No. 11 (2019)
  • At last, a massive solar park for Egypt: A 1.8-GW, $4 billion solar power
           plant is coming on line in the Sahara - [News]
    • Authors: Amy Nordrum;
      Pages: 8 - 9
      Abstract: Amid the sand dunes of the eastern Sahara, workers are putting the finishing touches on one of the world's largest solar installations. There, as many as 7.2 million photovoltaic (PV) panels make up Benban Solar Park-a renewable energy project so massive, it's visible from space with the naked eye.
      PubDate: Nov. 2019
      Issue No: Vol. 56, No. 11 (2019)
  • China grew two leaves on the moon: The Chang'e-4 spacecraft also carried
           potato seeds and fruit-fly eggs to the lunar far side - [News]
    • Authors: Andrew Jones;
      Pages: 9 - 10
      Abstract: The team behind a pioneering biological experiment sent to the lunar far side recently released an image showing two green leaves grown on the moon. The experiment began shortly after China's Chang'e-4 spacecraft made the first ever landing on the far side of the moon, on 3 January this year. Plants have been grown in low Earth orbit on the International Space Station, but this experiment marked the first time a seed sprouted on the moon.
      PubDate: Nov. 2019
      Issue No: Vol. 56, No. 11 (2019)
  • Startup promises an electric-motor revolution: Linear labs says its
           superefficient motor could power cars, robots, and more
    • Authors: Lawrence Ulrich;
      Pages: 10 - 11
      Abstract: Makers of electric vehicles, e-bikes, or electric scooters—and the owners who love them-tend to focus on batteries, and how much better their vehicles have become as batteries shrink in weight, size, and cost.
      PubDate: Nov. 2019
      Issue No: Vol. 56, No. 11 (2019)
  • Mind games - [News]
    • Pages: 12 - 13
      Abstract: WHO SAYS PLAYING video games addles the brain' In the near future, brain surgeons could actually save lives by gaming at work. That's because MIT engineers have now created a threadlike robot capable of snaking through blood vessels inside the brain. Surgeons may one day perform delicate operations inside the skull using a joystick to remotely control the robotic thread and steer it to an aneurysm or a stroke-inducing clot. Maneuvering the thread through a maze of blood vessels-like playing a biomedical version of Pac-Man is an improvement over procedures that require the repeated use of X-rays to show a surgeon how to reach a trouble spot in a patient's gray matter. The advance could also allow clinicians to deliver drugs to where they'll be most effective.
      PubDate: Nov. 2019
      Issue No: Vol. 56, No. 11 (2019)
  • Ham radio does distant data networking: A new protocol runs on simple
           hardware and supports IPv4 - [Resources_Hands On]
    • Pages: 14 - 16
      Abstract: I HAVE BEEN A HOBBYIST AND MAKER FOR ALMOST 15 years now. I like inventing things and diving into low-level things. In 2013, I was looking at a protocol called NBP, used to create a data network over amateur radio links. NBP was developed in the 2000s as a potential replacement for the venerable AX.25 protocol that's been in use for digital links since the mid-1980s. I believed it was possible to create an even better protocol with a modern design that would be easier to use and inexpensive to physically implement. • It took six years, but the result is New Packet Radio (NPR), which I chose to publish under my call sign, F4HDK, as a nom de plume. It supports today's de facto universal standard of communication—the Internet's IPv4—and allows data to be transmitted at up to 500 kilobits per second on the popular 70-centimeter UHF ham radio band. Admittedly, 500 kb/s is not as fast as the megabits per second that flow through amateur networks such as the European Hamnet or U.S. AREDN, which use gigahertz frequencies like those of Wi-Fi. But it is still faster than the 1.2 kb/s normally used by AX.25 links, and the 70-cm band permits long-distance links even when obstructions prevent line-of-sight transmissions.
      PubDate: Nov. 2019
      Issue No: Vol. 56, No. 11 (2019)
  • Where techies want to work: Airbnb, Google, and SpaceX top the rankings -
    • Authors: Tekla S. Perry;
      Pages: 16 - 17
      Abstract: IT'S THE SALARY. AND THE location. And the mission. And the reputation. It's a combination of these things—as well as, let's face it, the coolness factor—that make a tech company a dream employer for a software engineer, product manager, data scientist, or other tech professional.
      PubDate: Nov. 2019
      Issue No: Vol. 56, No. 11 (2019)
  • Randall Munroe has absurd advice for you: The XKCD cartoonist imagines the
           limits of science and technology - [Resources_Q&A]
    • Pages: 18 - 49
      Abstract: RANDALL MUNROE GAINED INTERNET CELEBRITY for his incisive XKCD comic strip, which combines stick figures, infographics, humor, and a deep grounding in science and technology. Two of Munroe's previous books, What If' and Thing Explainer, both from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, became best sellers, and he recently released his latest book, How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems (Riverhead Books). In it, he offers hard-won advice in such essential matters as "How to build a lava moat" and "How to catch a drone with sports equipment." (In researching the latter chapter he recruited tennis star Serena Williams to knock a quad-copter out of the air using her powerhouse serves. It took only three tries.)
      PubDate: Nov. 2019
      Issue No: Vol. 56, No. 11 (2019)
  • Robots as smart as babies - [Opinion]
    • Pages: 19 - 19
      Abstract: LET'S FACE IT: ROBOTS ARE DUMB. At best they are idiot savants, capable of doing one thing really well. In general, even those robots require specialized environments in which to do their one thing really well. This is why autonomous cars or robots for home health care are so difficult to build. They'll need to react to an uncountable number of situations, and they'll need a generalized understanding of the world in order to navigate them all. Babies as young as two months already understand that an unsupported object will fall, while five-month-old babies know materials like sand and water will pour from a container rather than plop out as a single chunk. Robots lack these understandings, which hinders them as they try to navigate the world without a prescribed task and movement. • But we could see robots with a generalized understanding of the world (and the processing power required to wield it) thanks to the video-game industry. Researchers are bringing physics engines—the software that provides realtime physical interactions in complex video-game worlds—to robotics. The goal is to develop robots' understanding in order to learn about the world in the same way babies do. Giving robots a baby's sense of physics helps them navigate the real world and can even save on computing power, according to Lochlainn Wilson, the CEO of SE4, a Japanese company building robots that could operate on Mars. SE4 plans to avoid the problems of latency caused by distance from Earth to Mars by building robots that can operate independently for a few hours before receiving more instructions from Earth. • Wilson says that his company uses simple physics engines such as PhysX to help build more-independent robots. He adds that if you can tie a physics engine to a coprocessor on the robot, the realtime basic physics intuitions won't take compute cycles away from the robot's primary processor, which will o-ten be focused on a more complicated task.
      PubDate: Nov. 2019
      Issue No: Vol. 56, No. 11 (2019)
  • Wind turbines: How big' - [Opinion]
    • Pages: 20 - 20
      Abstract: WIND TURBINES HAVE CERTAINLY GROWN UP. When the Danish firm Vestas began the trend toward gigantism, in 1981, its three-blade machines were capable of a mere 55 kilowatts. That figure rose to 500 kW in 1995, reached 2 MW in 1999, and today stands at 5.6 MW. In 2021, MHI Vestas Offshore Wind's V164 will rise 105 meters high at the hub, swing 80-meter blades, and generate up to 10 MW, making it the first commercially available double-digit turbine ever. Not to be left behind, General Electric's Renewable Energy is developing a 12-MW machine with a 260-meter tower and 107-meter blades, also rolling out by 2021. • That is clearly pushing the envelope, although it must be noted that still larger designs have been considered. In 2011, the UpWind project released what it called a predesign of a 20-MW offshore machine with a rotor diameter of252 meters (three times the wingspan of an Airbus A380) and a hub diameter of 6 meters. So far, the limit of the largest conceptual designs stands at 50 MW, with height exceeding 300 meters and with 200-meter blades that could flex (much like palm fronds) in furious winds. • To imply, as an enthusiastic promoter did, that building such a structure would pose no fundamental technical problems because it stands no higher than the Eiffel tower, constructed 130 years ago, is to choose an inappropriate comparison. If the constructible height of an artifact were the determinant of wind-turbine design then we might as well refer to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, a skyscraper that topped 800 meters in 2010, or to the Jeddah Tower, which will reach 1,000 meters in 2021. Erecting a tall tower is no great problem; it's quite another proposition, however, to engineer a tall tower that can support a massive nacelle and rotating blades for many years of safe operation.
      PubDate: Nov. 2019
      Issue No: Vol. 56, No. 11 (2019)
  • Are specialist engineers more successful' - [Opinion]
    • Pages: 21 - 21
      Abstract: I WAS WALKING MY DOG ONE MORNING WHEN I SAW a man setting up a surveyor's laser transit. I stopped to ask him about it, and the man launched into a long explanation, beginning with "I'm an engineer, so I know about these things." • I didn't mention that long ago as a college freshman I was required to take a course in surveying. This, as well as drafting, welding, and other forgotten subjects, were deemed to be things that a well-rounded engineer should know. I wasn't very good at some of them, and I despaired at becoming what I thought of as a "real" engineer. • In later years, I got to know some people who I believed were "real engineers." They knew things. Lots of things, and across a broad swath of technology. And more than just knowing things, they had an instinctive ability to work with or fix anything mechanical or electronic. Often they were, or had been, radio amateurs. • I think of Thomas Edison as the epitome of a real engineer, but I'm not sure that such people still exist today. My test for being a real engineer is how well you would do as Mark Twain's Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. How much electrical technology could you create yourself if you were transported back in time to the Middle Ages' Would your electrical magic make Merlin jealous, or would all this end badly' • I held these generalist engineers in the highest esteem. They were usually the people I would call when some problem arose. But now I am wondering—how successful were they in their overall careers' I was prompted to consider this by reading Thomas Epstein's recent popular book Range-Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World (Riverhead Books). My immediate reaction to the title was skepticism. Is it true in electrical engineering today that generalists ar- more likely to succeed than are specialists'
      PubDate: Nov. 2019
      Issue No: Vol. 56, No. 11 (2019)
  • 3D — printing a rocket: I'll never forget the first time I saw a rocket
           materialize before my eyes
    • Pages: 22 - 29
      Abstract: In October 2018, I stood in a small room and watched a massive robotic arm move elegantly around a large metal shape, which was rapidly growing larger as I gazed at it. The arm precisely deposited a stream of liquid aluminum to build up the structure, layer by layer, while two other arms waited, with finishing tools at the ready. I was standing in the Los Angeles headquarters of the upstart rocket company Relativity Space, staring in awe as a piece of its first launch vehicle, the Terran 1 rocket, came into existence.
      PubDate: Nov. 2019
      Issue No: Vol. 56, No. 11 (2019)
  • The carbon-free farm
    • Authors: Jay Schmuecker;
      Pages: 30 - 35
      Abstract: YOU COULD SAY THAT FARMING IS in my blood: My grandparents on both sides ran large, prosperous farms in Iowa. One of my fondest childhood memories is of visiting my maternal grandparents' farm and watching the intricate moving mechanisms of the threshing machine. I guess it's not surprising that I eventually decided to study mechanical engineering at MIT. I never really considered a career in farming.
      PubDate: Nov. 2019
      Issue No: Vol. 56, No. 11 (2019)
  • A man-machine mind meld for quantum computing: Can an online game that
           combines human brainpower with AI solve intractable problems'
    • Authors: Ottó Elíasson;Carrie Weidner;Janet Rafner;Shaeema Zaman Ahmed;
      Pages: 37 - 41
      Abstract: ANYONE OF A CERTAIN AGE who has even a passing interest in computers will remember the remarkable breakthrough that IBM made in 1997 when its Deep Blue chess-playing computer defeated Garry Kasparov, then the world chess champion. Computer scientists passed another such milestone in March 2016, when DeepMind (a subsidiary of Alphabet, Google's parent company) announced that its AlphaGo program had defeated world-champion player Lee Sedol in the game of Go, a board game that had vexed AI researchers for decades. Recently, DeepMind's algorithms have also bested human players in the computer games StarCraft II and Quake Arena III. ¶ Some believe that the cognitive capacities of machines will overtake those of human beings in many spheres within a few decades. Others are more cautious and point out that our inability to understand the source of our own cognitive powers presents a daunting hurdle. How can we make thinking machines if we don't fully understand our own thought processes'
      PubDate: Nov. 2019
      Issue No: Vol. 56, No. 11 (2019)
  • How to Harden Puerto Rico's grid against hurricanes
    • Authors: Efraín O'Neill-Carrillo;Agustín Irizarry-Rivera;
      Pages: 42 - 48
      Abstract: Another devastating hurricane season winds down in the Caribbean. As in previous years, we are left with haunting images of entire neighborhoods flattened, flooded streets, and ruined communities. This time it was the Bahamas, where damage was estimated at US $7 billion and at least 50 people were confirmed dead, with the possibility of many more fatalities yet to be discovered. • A little over two years ago, even greater devastation was wreaked upon Puerto Rico. The back-to-back calamity of Hurricanes Irma and Maria killed nearly 3,000 people and triggered the longest blackout in U.S. history. All 1.5 million customers of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority lost power. Thanks to heroic efforts by emergency utility crews, about 95 percent of customers had their service restored after about 6 months. But the remaining 5 percent-representing some 250,000 people-had to wait nearly a year.
      PubDate: Nov. 2019
      Issue No: Vol. 56, No. 11 (2019)
  • Tiffany's transatlantic telegraphy doodad - [Past Forward_By Allison
    • Pages: 60 - 60
      Abstract: On 16 August 1858, Queen Victoria and U.S. president James Buchanan said hello. The conduit of their exchange of pleasantries was the first transatlantic telegraph cable, which connected Newfoundland with Ireland across some 3,200 kilometers. The jeweler Tiffany and Co. sought to celebrate (and cash in on) what was touted as the communications event of the century. And so it bought up surplus cable from the project and turned it into souvenirs. Each 4-inch segment retailed for 50 cents (about US $15 today). Sadly, though, the cable itself was a flop. The queen's 98-word message took almost 16 hours to transmit. The quality of the transmission quickly degraded, and the cable failed entirely after just a few weeks. Tiffany was left with unsellable stock commemorating a failure, and transatlantic communication would wait another eight years for a new, more robust cable to be laid.
      PubDate: Nov. 2019
      Issue No: Vol. 56, No. 11 (2019)
School of Mathematical and Computer Sciences
Heriot-Watt University
Edinburgh, EH14 4AS, UK
Tel: +00 44 (0)131 4513762
Fax: +00 44 (0)131 4513327
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