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Engadget readers get $200 off Roomba's i7 vacuum at Wellbots


Roomba's i7 series has some of the most advanced robo-vacs you can get, but they come at high prices. But for Black Friday, Engadget readers can save $200 on both of the robot vacuums in the line. The Roomba i7 drops to $599 and the Roomba i7 falls to $399 when you use the code ENGADGET200 at checkout. We've seen these vacuums drop to $699 and $499, respectively, but this is deal represents the best prices for both that we've seen. Since these remain expensive gadgets, you'll qualify for free shipping at Wellbots and the company offers no sales tax outside New York.

A Quest to Discover America's First Science-Fiction Writer

The New Yorker

WILEY & HALSTED, No. 3 Wall street, have just received SYMZONIA, or a voyage to the internal world, by capt. As literary landmarks go, it's not quite Emerson greeting Whitman at the start of a great career. But this humble advert may herald the first American science-fiction novel. Although one might point to the crushingly dull "A Flight to the Moon," from 1813, that text is more of a philosophical dialogue than a story, and what little story it has proves to be just a dream. "Symzonia; Voyage of Discovery" is boldly and unambiguously sci-fi.

News at a glance


SCI COMMUN### Infectious diseases The 11th Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is officially over, giving the country respite from the disease for the first time in more than 2 years. On 18 November, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that no new cases had been identified for 42 days, twice the incubation period for the deadly virus. The outbreak, in the western Équateur province, started in late May, just as a bigger one in the eastern DRC was coming to an end. (That outbreak had killed 2200 people.) The Équateur outbreak sickened 130 and killed 55; a campaign that vaccinated more than 40,000 people is credited with helping end it. Special portable coolers that keep the vaccine at −80°C for up to 1 week allowed health workers to administer the shots in communities deep in the rainforest, accessible only by boat or helicopter. The same technology will be useful in efforts to distribute COVID-19 vaccines in Africa, says Matshidiso Moeti, WHO's regional director. The coronavirus pandemic complicated the fight against Ebola, WHO says, but the expertise gained by local health workers in earlier outbreaks in the region was a major advantage. They will remain on the lookout for potential flare-ups. $1,000,000 —Gift from entertainer Dolly Parton in April to support development of Moderna's coronavirus vaccine, which the company last week said showed an efficacy of 94.5%. “I felt so proud to have been part of that little seed money,” Parton told BBC. ### Marine ecology The Allen Coral Atlas, a project to map the world's shallow coral reefs with high-resolution satellites, last week launched a monitoring system to detect coral bleaching events as they occur. When corals face extreme heat, they expel their algal symbionts, leaving them bone white and vulnerable to stress; repeated bleaching episodes, growing more common with global warming, can cause massive die-offs. The system detects the whitening using imagery from the privately owned Planet satellite constellation, processed with machine learning. A pilot has begun in Hawaii to use the data as an early warning system for researchers, to help them identify and study species both vulnerable and resistant to warming extremes. The monitoring of bleaching is expected to expand next year to shallow reefs globally. ### Diagnostics The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued its first emergency use authorization last week for an at-home diagnostic test that can detect the pandemic coronavirus in just minutes. However, the test might not be widely available until spring 2021. Produced by Lucira Health, a biotech company, it is expected to cost less than $50 and require a doctor's prescription. The company says it will soon distribute tests in parts of California and Florida; it says it needs time to scale up manufacturing for national distribution. Lucira's test amplifies viral genetic material, making it nearly as accurate as laboratory tests that use the polymerase chain reaction, the current gold standard. FDA previously approved at-home tests that must be mailed to a laboratory for analysis. Several other companies are working on rapid antigen tests, which detect viral particles, for home use. But concerns remain about antigen tests' reliability. Still, some public health specialists consider widely available, low-cost, at-home testing vital for controlling the pandemic. ### Funding A new U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) award will allow early-career investigators who want to shift research directions when applying for their first independent award to submit a proposal without first generating preliminary data to support their idea. Reviewers will instead assess the soundness of the project's approach. The Katz award is named for Stephen Katz, a longtime champion of young researchers who was director of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases when he died in 2018. The grant will build on an NIH policy that prioritizes proposals from early-stage investigators—those no more than 10 years from completing their training who are applying for their first research grant. The policy has been credited with raising their numbers from fewer than 600 supported in 2013 to more than 1300 last year. Applications for the first Katz awards are due on 26 January 2021. ### Leadership Democrats in Congress say a political appointee given a senior post at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is unfit for the job because he lacks technical skills and holds pseudoscientific views about racial differences on IQ tests. On 9 November, Jason Richwine, an independent public policy analyst, took up the new position of deputy undersecretary of commerce for standards and technology, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross subsequently issued an order that would put Richwine in charge of the $1 billion research agency if NIST Director Walter Copan leaves or is fired. On 17 November, Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D–TX), who leads the science committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, asked Ross to justify the moves. Richwine has advocated for more restrictive immigration policies, and his 2009 doctoral thesis argued that lower IQ scores by Mexican and Hispanic immigrants suggest a genetic component to intelligence that is “likely to persist over several generations.” ### Diversity The editors of Nature Communications say they are reviewing a paper that drew scalding criticism after it suggested that encouraging female junior scientists to work with female mentors could “hinder the careers of women.” The 17 November study, led by data scientist Bedoor AlShebli of New York University, Abu Dhabi, examined 3 million mentor-protégé pairs and how gender influenced the impact of papers later published by the protégés. Female protégés, it concluded, did better if they worked with male mentors. Critics pounced, noting the authors ignored reviewer complaints about the study's methods and arguing the journal was promoting a harmful and unfounded message. The article's authors said they welcome the review. ### Animal diseases European authorities reported on 19 November they have detected highly pathogenic avian influenza in 302 birds in eight countries. Only 18 cases were in poultry; most of the rest were in wild birds, the European Food Safety Authority and its partners said. The number of infected birds is expected to rise with winter migrations. Several flu strains were identified, but no people were reported to be infected, and the risk of that occurring is considered low; researchers studying the viruses found no genetic markers indicating they had adapted to infect mammals. But the threat to poultry is high, and the report's authors recommended bird producers increase precautions against infections. VACCINE APPLICATION Days after making public the final analysis of their 40,000-person COVID-19 vaccine trial, which found 95% efficacy, Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech filed for emergency authorization of the messenger RNA vaccine from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration—the first such request for a vaccine during the pandemic. They plan to seek additional approvals in other countries soon. Pfizer hopes to supply up to 50 million doses this year. REMDESIVIR PANNED A World Health Organization panel recommended against using the antiviral drug remdesivir to treat most hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Its review of four studies of 7000 people found that the drug, which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved last month for hospitalized patients, did not reduce mortality or speed recovery. But the panel encouraged further study of it. AMMO BAN Denmark has become the first nation to ban all lead-based hunting ammunition, including bullets and shotgun pellets, to protect wildlife. Hunters annually release about 2 tons of lead into Denmark's environment; waterbirds and other species eat the toxic material and die. European regulators are considering a ban like Denmark's.

Engineering Practices for Machine Learning Lifecycle at Google and Microsoft


As demands for AI applications grow, we've seen a lot of effort put by companies to build their Machine Learning Engineering (MLE) tools tailored for their needs. There are just so many challenges faced by industries in regards to having a well-designed environment for their Machine Learning (ML) lifecycle: building, deploying, and managing ML models in production. This post will cover two papers, explaining MLE practices from two of the leading tech companies: Google and Microsoft. Adding a little bit of context, this article is part of a graduate-level course at Columbia University: COMS6998 Practical Deep Learning System Performance taught by Prof. Parijat Dube who also works at IBM New York as Research Staff Member. The first section will present a paper from Google and will touch on the building part of an ML lifecycle.

Biden Presidency Expected To Keep AI and Quantum R&D A Priority


As reported by the Wall Street Journal, analysts and members of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) expect that the presidency of Joe Biden will continue to make research and development for AI and quantum computing technologies a priority, although aspects of Biden's approach to regulation and spending are expected to differ. While federal investments in R&D for the Information Technology sector have fallen over the course of the last few decades, in February the White House announced a plan to increasing spending on AI and quantum technologies, and the Biden presidency is expected to continue the commitment. At the moment, total federal research and development funding sits at around $134.1 billion, while the Trump administration had proposed an increase to $142.4 billion for total federal R&D funding. In February the Trump administration announced a plan to increase annual spending on AI by more than $2 billion dollars over the course of the next two years. This was to be accompanied by an increase in funding for quantum information science to the tune of $860 million dollars over the same period.

Artificial Intelligence Usage on the Rise


Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) have captured our imaginations for decades, but until more recently, had limited practical application. Steven Kemler, an entrepreneurial business leader and Managing Director of the Stone Arch Group, says that with recent increases in available data and computing power, AI already impacts our lives on many levels and that going forward, self-teaching algorithms will play an increasingly important role in both in society and in business. In 1997, Deep Blue, developed by IBM, became the first computer / artificial intelligence system to beat a current world chess champion (Gary Kasparov), significantly elevating interest in the practical applications of AI. These practical uses still took years to develop, with the worldwide market for AI technology not reaching $10 billion until 2016. Since then, AI market growth has accelerated significantly, reaching $50 billion in 2020 and expected to exceed $100 billion by 2024, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Kea raises $10M to build AI that helps restaurants answer the phone – TechCrunch


Kea is a new startup giving restaurants an opportunity to upgrade one of the more old-fashioned ways that they take orders -- over the phone. Today, Kea is announcing that it has raised a $10 million Series A led by Marbruck, with participation from Streamlined Ventures, Xfund, Heartland Ventures, DEEPCORE, Barrel Ventures and AVG Funds, as well as angel investors Raj Kapoor (chief strategy officer at Lyft), Craig Flom (who was on the founding team at Panera Bread), Wingstop franchisee Tony Lam and Five Guys franchisee Jonathan Kelly. Founder and CEO Adam Ahmad said that with restaurants perpetually understaffed, they usually don't have someone who can devote their attention to answering the phone. At the same time, he suggested it remains an important ordering channel -- especially during the pandemic, as takeout and delivery has become the biggest source of revenue for many restaurants. The New Yorker's Helen Rosner put it succinctly when she suggested that anyone who wants to support restaurants should "pick up the damn phone." Similarly, Ahmad said that for restaurants, paying substantial third-party ordering fees on all of their orders is "not a sustainable long-term strategy."

Can an Algorithm Prevent Suicide?


At a recent visit to the Veterans Affairs clinic in the Bronx, Barry, a decorated Vietnam veteran, learned that he belonged to a very exclusive club. According to a new A.I.-assisted algorithm, he was one of several hundred V.A. patients nationwide, of six million total, deemed at imminent risk of suicide. The news did not take him entirely off guard. Barry, 69, who was badly wounded in the 1968 Tet offensive, had already made two previous attempts on his life. "I don't like this idea of a list, to tell you the truth -- a computer telling me something like this," Barry, a retired postal worker, said in a phone interview.

Global Artificial Intelligence (AI) Industry


BEGIN ARTICLE PREVIEW: NEW YORK, Nov. 23, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — Read the full report: The global market for Artificial Intelligence (AI) is projected to reach US$312.4 billion by the year 2027, trailing a post COVID-19 CAGR of 32.7% over the analysis period 2020 through 2027. Globally, over 567 AI start-up companies received investments in the first five months of the year 2020. Use of AI in myriad fields has skyrocketed during the pandemic, with the unpreceded crisis driving desperate search for new tools to manage and survive the pandemic. AI is being used for early detection, diagnosis of the infection; development of drugs, vaccines; and for reducing workload of healthcare workers. Artific

New York City wants to restrict artificial intelligence in hiring


New York City is trying to rein in the use of algorithms used to screen job applicants. It's one of the first cities in the U.S. to try to regulate what is an increasingly common -- and opaque -- hiring practice. The city council is considering a bill that would require potential employers to notify job candidates about the use of these tools, referred to as "automated decision systems." Companies would also have to complete an annual audit to make sure the technology doesn't result in bias. The move comes as the use of artificial intelligence in hiring skyrockets, increasingly replacing human screeners.