[Popular STEM] Curating the Internet: Science and technology digest for September 20, 2020

in Popular STEM4 months ago (edited)

A new algorithm makes waves in graph theory; IEEE Spectrum's weekly selection of awesome robot videos ; A new ranking of "cyber power" by nation; 120,000 year old human footprints found in Saudi Arabia are believed to be the first known in the region; and an argument that AI research began in 1912


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I ran this series for over a year until June of this year, but discontinued it as a result of a new time commitment in real life. It was a fun series, though, so I'm going to see if I can resurrect it with any sort of regularity. I think my new goal will be to post 3 articles per week in the series. Let's see if I can manage it...

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  1. A New Algorithm for Graph Crossings, Hiding in Plain Sight - A long time problem in computer science has been the need to determine whether a graph is planar or not. In short, a planar graph is one where none of the edges cross each other. A related problem is to determine whether a new edge can be added such that the new graph will be planar. However, (until now) little progress has been made on the problems in the last two decades. Now, though, Jacob Holm and Eva Rotenberg were able to craft a new technique using insights from a paper that they, themselves, had written. According to the article,
    Holm and Rotenberg were surprised to find that their paper contained the insight needed to do a lot better. It “solved one of the major stumbling blocks we had with actually getting a real algorithm,” said Holm, a computer scientist at the University of Copenhagen. “We might have given the whole thing away.”
    Upon realizing this, the team rushed to publish a new paper that was presented to the ACM Symposium on Theory of Computing (STOC). The new method is exponentially better than the prior state of the art algorithm, which had been around since 1996. This reminds me of a computer graphics class that I took around 2008 or 2009, where the professor pointed out that there was no known efficient and general algorithm for detecting whether a line between two points intersects with the edges of a complex graph - a task that is intuitively easy for humans.

  2. Video Friday: Bittle Is a Palm-Sized Robot Dog Now on Kickstarter - This week's weekly selection of awesome robot videos includes: A kickstarter project for a robotic dog from Rongzhong Li, creator of a robotic cat called "Nybble"; Stickybot, a wall-climbing robot from Stanford; Delivery robots from PAL Robotics are helping hospitals in Barcelona deal with increased demands during the coronavirus outbreak; Spot, from Boston Dynamics, is taking over work that is dangerous for humans at Merck’s thermal exhaust treatment plant in Darmstadt, Germany; An acrobatic biped from DrGuero; and more...

    Here is the acrobatic robot:

  3. National Cyber Power Index 2020 - A new report from the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center ranked countries by their "cyber power" capabilities. The top of the list looks like this: . 1. US, 2. China, 3. UK, 4. Russia, 5. Netherlands, 6. France, 7. Germany, 8. Canada, 9. Japan, 10. Australia, 11. Israel - h/t Bruce Schneier

  4. These 120,000-year-old footprints offer early evidence for humans in Arabia - Team lead, Michael Petraglia, says "These are the first genuine human footprints of Arabia." The article describes the find, saying:
    After a decade of scouring the Arabian Peninsula using satellite imagery and ground truthing, Petraglia and his international colleagues have identified tens of thousands of ancient freshwater lakebeds, including one in the Nefud dubbed “Alathar,” meaning “the trace” in Arabic. Here, they spotted hundreds of footprints on a heavily trampled lakebed surface, which had recently been exposed when overlying sediments eroded. Almost 400 tracks were left by animals, including a wild ass, a giant buffalo, elephants, and camels. Only seven were confidently identified as human footprints.
    The sediment above and below the prints was dated from 112,000 years to 121,000 years, a time when Neanderthal was no longer present, so the team is confident that the prints are human. - h/t archaeology.org

  5. AI Began in 1912 - A 1956 workshop at Dartmouth College is widely regarded as the start of the field of Artificial Intelligence, but Herbert Bruderer argues that it was actually much earlier. Bruderer's argument relies on the argument that chess, for decades, was considered the pinnacle of AI research, until IBM's Deep Blue defeated Grand Master Garry Kasparov in 1997. Building on that observation, Bruderer notes that Torres Quevedo devised an endgame machine for chess in 1912, and his machine was able to checkmate a human's king using its own rook and king.

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