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Welcome to the January 17, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

Please note: In observance of the U.S. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday, TechNews will not be published on Monday, Jan. 20. Publication will resume on Wednesday, Jan. 22.

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Want Your Personal Data? Hand Over More Please
The New York Times
Kashmir Hill
January 15, 2020


The California Consumer Privacy Act, modeled in part on Europe's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), allows consumers to see and delete private data collected by companies on request, but accessing that data can require providing more personal details to authenticate identity—by posting a photo, for example. Companies claim this is necessary to ensure that the right person accesses the data. Researchers from Oxford University in the U.K. and Hasselt University in Belgium have demonstrated that it is possible to fool the systems created to comply with GDPR to get someone else’s personal information. Both sets of researchers thought the new law was worthwhile, but said companies needed to improve their security practices to avoid compromising customers’ privacy further.

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$25M Project Will Advance DNA-Based Archival Data Storage
Georgia Tech Research Horizons
John Toon
January 16, 2020


The Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) will co-develop exabyte-scalable DNA-based molecular data storage using a $25-million grant from the U.S. Defense Department’s Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) Molecular Information Storage program. The objective is to substantially shrink the size, weight, and power requirements for archival data storage through the proposed Scalable Molecular Archival Software and Hardware project. Biotechnology developer Twist Bioscience will develop a silicon-based DNA synthesis platform that "writes" data-carrying DNA strands, for which Roswell Biotechnologies will develop molecular electronic DNA reader chips. The University of Washington and Microsoft will provide system architecture, data analysis, and coding expertise, with GTRI overseeing fabrication.

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AI analyzing students’ emotions Are Your Students Bored? This AI Could Tell You
IEEE Spectrum
Emily Waltz
January 13, 2020


Researchers at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) and China's Harbin Engineering University have created an artificial intelligence (AI) system that analyzes students' emotions based on video recordings of their facial expressions to measure their engagement level in a class. The AI system was tested in a classroom of toddlers in Japan and a classroom of university students in Hong Kong. While the visual analytics system was successful in detecting obvious emotions like happiness, it often incorrectly reported anger or sadness in students who were focused on the lectures. Said HKUST computer scientist Huamin Qu, "To address this issue, we need to add new emotion categories, relabel our data, and retrain the model."

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Tech Start-up Develops AR Contact Lenses
Financial Times
Patrick McGee
October 16, 2020


Start-up Mojo Vision is developing augmented reality contact lenses to allow wearers access to the Internet in real time. The lenses, demonstrated at CES 2020, contain a micro-light-emitting-diode screen, a microprocessor, wireless communication, and an array of sensors. Users select functions by moving their eyes over a ring-shaped home screen. Users activate the home screen by glancing sideways, selecting options by gaze, and clicking on options by holding their stare for several milliseconds. Mojo's Steve Sinclair said, "The goal is you put the lens on in the morning and you wear it all day. It's off most of the day—but when you need it, it's on to give you the information you need."

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A pigeon shaped robot flying A Robot Equipped with Real Feathers Flies Like a Bird
New Scientist
Jason Arunn Murugesu
January 16, 2020


Stanford University researchers affixed actual pigeon feathers to a robot to allow it to fly like a bird. The propeller-driven PigeonBot has wrist and feather joints in each wing that can be remotely controlled, allowing it to achieve an average flying speed of about 40 kph (about 25 mph). Stanford's David Lentink and colleagues learned this type of flight was possible due to certain molecules in the feathers, which allow the feathers to move away from each other without getting too far apart, reducing the degree of individual feather control needed for accurate flight. PigeonBot uses real feathers because it is impossible to synthetically replicate this characteristic. Lentink said, "Feathers also have these unique properties, they have a lightness, a firmness to carry the aerodynamic load, and they're easy to repair."

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Taiwan is Using Science to Upgrade Its Manufacturing
Nature
Sarah O'Meara
January 15, 2020


Taiwan aims to create smart factories, with Chen-Fu Chien's work at National Tsing Hua University an area of focus. Chien leads an initiative employing big data analytics to improve machine intelligence by allowing decision-making without human control. Chien's Artificial Intelligence for Intelligent Manufacturing Systems (AIMS) research center is working to produce next-generation technologies and leverage the region's strength in electronics fabrication to entrench Taiwan as a nexus of high-tech manufacturing. Chien said Taiwan’s Ministry of Science and Technology wants the research center “to help create the next generation of intelligent manufacturing systems that could only be found in Taiwan.”

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A Tool to Simplify Complex Neuron Models
EPFL News (Switzerland)
January 15, 2020


Researchers at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland and Israel's Hebrew University of Jerusalem have developed a computational tool to streamline complex neuron models of any type of cell, while retaining their input/output properties and accelerating the run-times of cell simulations. The Neuron_Reduce tool maps a dendritic computation tree into a simpler multi-cylindrical tree, mapping synapses and ion channels into the reduced model to preserve their transfer impedance to the cell body. EPFL's Pramod Kumbhar said, "Neuron_Reduce ... opens the path for a novel type of reduced models that crucially maintain important details of the model but possibly run 40 to 250 times faster."

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Gov. Murphy Gov. Murphy Aims to Train More Workers for High-Tech Jobs
The Wall Street Journal
Joseph De Avila
January 15, 2020


A new workforce-development program announced by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy would help train workers for careers in computer science and other high-tech jobs, with the goal of increasing the number of postsecondary graduates employed in high-demand industries by 10% over the next five years. The program includes offering more college-level classes in disciplines like computer science in high school, expanding apprentice programs, and developing industry-focused training at community colleges. In addition, grant programs could help up to 500,000 students attend college, and reimburse employers for training employees. Said Murphy, the state needs to "help potential employers, on the one hand, find employees they need and help potential employees, on the other hand, find where they can best put their skills to work."

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People being rescued during a flood Thanks to Clouds, Climate Simulations Predict More Warming Than Predecessors
Imperial College London
Simon Levey
January 14, 2020


Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, working with colleagues at the U.K.'s University of Leeds and Imperial College London (ICL), used the outputs of close to 30 new computer models that simulate the Earth's climate, and found the impact of climate change has been underestimated. The study found that if the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doubles, the average global temperature should rise by 3.9°C, or about 0.6°C more than predicted by previous simulations, largely due to new information about clouds that suggest they act as a "sunscreen" for the planet. Moving forward, researchers will continue to compare the results from computer simulations with records of changing global temperatures. ICL’s Paulo Ceppi said, " The results reported in our paper are potentially concerning, but it is still too early to say that climate sensitivity is higher than we thought."

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The developers of the Sweat pH Monitor. A Low-Power, Highly Responsive, Reusable Sweat pH Monitor
NUS News (Singapore)
January 13, 2020


National University of Singapore (NUS) researchers have developed an upgrade to wearable health monitors that can read the pH of wearers' sweat. The pH Watch, which can be incorporated into current fitness trackers or smartwatches, can track the acidity or alkalinity level of the user's perspiration, along with heart rate and blood oxygen concentration, in real time. The researchers integrated a custom-made pH sensor and a pH sensing algorithm into pulse oximeter-equipped gadgets, which read sweat pH, heart rate, and blood oxygen saturation values with approximately 90% accuracy. Said NUS' Ananta Narayanan Balaji, “We created the pH Watch because sweat is a readily accessible bodily fluid composed of a wide array of biochemical markers that can be used to monitor the well-being of individuals in a non-invasive manner.”

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Bundesliga, Amazon Want to Predict What Happens Next
Associated Press
Ronald Blum
January 13, 2020


Germany’s Bundesliga professional football (soccer) league will make Amazon its official technology provider, with the technology company providing statistics for the soccer league's television broadcasts and digital products. Klaus Burg, general manager at Amazon Web Services for Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, envisions "machine learning and artificial intelligence being applied to historical data" that will lead to a "very high probability of being right in what's being predicted." International organization of players’ unions FIFPRO said it is in active discussions with FIFA, the international governing body of association football, “to draw up industrywide standards to help make sure player data is handled securely and fairly, and in such a way as not to prejudice the lives and careers of players.”

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Supercomputer Simulations Showcase Novel Planet Formation Models
UC San Diego News Center
Kimberly Bruch
January 10, 2020


Scientists at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) used the Comet system at the University of California, San Diego's San Diego Supercomputer Center to run a modeling approach and simulate planet formation. SwRI's Kevin Walsh said the models enabled simulations that involve a massive amount of dust interacting on super-fast timescales, concluding with planetary collisions spread out over at least 100 million years. Said Walsh, "We needed a supercomputer such as Comet to be able to crunch the huge amount of calculations required to complete the models and the power of this supercomputer allows us to dream up even bigger problems to attack in the future."

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