ACM TechNews


Welcome to the January 27, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Scientists holding a flag Scientists Unraveling Chinese Coronavirus with Unprecedented Speed, Openness
The Washington Post
Carolyn Y. Johnson
January 24, 2020


Chinese scientists freely released the genetic sequence of a coronavirus 10 days after the first reported case, to help researchers worldwide better understand and combat the pathogen. After the disclosure, Purdue University's Andrew Mesecar instructed his laboratory to analyze the genome, while researchers at the U.S. National Institutes of Health's Rocky Mountain Laboratories asked a company to convert the information from a string of letters on a computer screen into DNA for research. The Purdue scientists are about to scale up production of experimental anti-coronavirus drugs, while Northwestern University researchers have ordered the synthesis of about 12 viral genome segments to facilitate development of drugs, vaccines, and rapid diagnosis methods. Rocky Mountain Laboratories' Michael Letko said, "This is one of the first times we're getting to see an outbreak of a new virus and have the scientific community sharing their data almost in real time, rather than have to go through the classic route of going through the journals."

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A camera being used during trials at Scotland Yard for the new facial recognition system Met Police to Use Live Facial Recognition Cameras in London
The Guardian
Vikram Dodd
January 24, 2020


London's Metropolitan Police next month will deploy computer-linked live facial recognition cameras on city streets, despite outcries from civil liberties advocates and experts' doubts of the technology's efficiency. Essex University's Pete Fussey estimated the cameras are verifiably accurate in identifying wanted suspects in only 19% of cases, versus the Met's claim of 70% effectiveness. The Met said the cameras would be connected to a suspect database, and if someone is detected who is not in the database, that person's information will be deleted. However, if the system flags someone who is wanted, an officer will speak to that individual. The Met promised London Mayor Sadiq Khan the system will not be connected to other official databases, or used by authorities to monitor all of London or track someone down.

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A view of Portland, Maine A $100 Million Bet That Vacationland Can Be a Tech Hub, Too
The New York Times
Eduardo Porter
January 27, 2020


Portland, ME, has unveiled a technology research institute which local officials hope will drive the local economy. Private-equity firm Silver Lake Partners co-founder David Roux is donating $100 million to Northwestern University to set up a graduate school and research center that will award degrees in artificial intelligence and machine learning for application to the life sciences. Roux envisions a hub for producing technologists that will feed into Maine and northern New England's innovation economy. Supporters hope the Roux Institute will encourage undergraduates to enter tech-related fields, while graduates will enhance the workforce for local businesses and possibly attract tech companies to Portland.

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California OKs Highly Questioned L.A. County Voting System
Associated Press
Frank Bajak
January 24, 2020


California secretary of state Alex Padilla has approved Los Angeles County's new publicly owned computerized voting system, but is demanding modifications to address security and technical issues uncovered in testing. Padilla is requiring all polling stations to provide voters with the option of using hand-marked paper ballots in the March 3 presidential primary; his office anticipates about 63% of county voters will cast votes by mail using such ballots. Many voting integrity activists have rejected the county's Voting System for All People for depending on computerized ballot-marking devices out of concerns about hacking, and testers found weaknesses that could allow unauthorized access. Among Padilla's required system modifications are state-approved locks and seals to prevent and detect tampering, and training of poll workers to clear ballot jams.

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Single Number Helps Data Scientists Find Most Dangerous Cancer Cells
Stanford Medicine News Center
January 23, 2020


Stanford University School of Medicine data scientists used an algorithm to determine that the number of genes a cell uses to produce RNA is a reliable indicator of how evolved the cell is, which could enhance targeted cancer therapies. Stanford's Aaron Newman and Gunsagar Gulati based the CytoTRACE algorithm on the combined number of genes expressed in a cell and the number of RNA copies each gene generates. CytoTRACE is engineered to ascertain how developmentally advanced cells are, and can find tumor-initiating cells much more easily than current techniques. Gulati said, "This research opens up a whole new avenue of research to study how global changes in gene expression and DNA structure influence a cell's state."

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Researchers Simulate 61-Bit Quantum Computer with Data Compression
HPCwire
January 23, 2020


Researchers at the University of Chicago and the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory used data compression to fit a 61-quantum bit (qubit) simulation of Grover's quantum search algorithm on a supercomputer with 0.4% error. The researchers also modeled other quantum algorithms with significantly more qubits and quantum gates than previously possible. Although classical quantum-circuit simulation is essential for better understanding the operations and behaviors of quantum computation, the current full-state simulation limit is 48 qubits. This research offers a new tool for scaling quantum-circuit simulation by applying lossless and lossy data compression to the state vectors.

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ACM Signs Open Access Agreements with Leading Universities
ACM
January 23, 2020


ACM has signed new open access agreements with four major institutional clients: the University of California (UC), Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Iowa State University (ISU). The three-year agreements include access to and open access publication in ACM's journals, proceedings, and magazines, and mark the first transformative open access agreements for the association. The agreements will continue unrestricted and unlimited access to all ACM Digital Library articles for the institutions' faculty and students, and ACM will deposit papers into institutional repositories for all co-authors from those universities. Authors also will be able to retain more rights when publishing with ACM under the agreements. UC Berkeley's Jeff MacKie-Mason said, "We can—and will—work with publishers of all sizes to navigate the transition to open access so that researchers and the public have free and immediate access to the world's knowledge."

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Virginia Schools Steer Students to Computer Science Careers
U.S. News & World Report
Yann Ranaivo
January 26, 2020


Virginia school districts are starting to offer high school students dual-enrollment computer science (CS) courses that count as credit at local community colleges, in an effort to boost their prospects for careers in the field. Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) is the first district to offer the courses, which allow students to graduate with both a high school diploma and an associate's CS degree. The program includes four online courses, which Blacksburg High School teacher Jay Mathis said allows students at all MCPS high schools to participate. Montgomery County School Board chair Gunin Kiran is confident the CS program will make students employable in a profession that has high demand for talent and pays very well.

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An AI model developed at MIT and Qatar Computing Research Institute that uses only satellite imagery to automatically tag road features in digital maps could improve GPS navigation Using AI to Enrich Digital Maps
MIT News
Rob Matheson
January 23, 2020


Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Qatar Computing Research Institute have developed an artificial intelligence model that uses satellite imagery to tag road features in digital maps. The RoadTagger model combines a convolutional neural network (CNN) and a graph neural network (GNN) to automatically predict the number of lanes and road types hidden by obstructions. The CNN digests raw satellite imagery while the GNN segments the road into 20-meter tiles or graph nodes linked by lines; the CNN extracts road features and shares that data with its immediate neighbors. RoadTagger analyzed occluded roads from digital maps of 20 U.S. cities, tallying lane numbers with 77% accuracy and deducing road types with 93% accuracy. MIT's Sam Madden said, "Our goal is to automate the process of generating high-quality digital maps, so they can be available in any country."

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How Russia May have Used Twitter to Seize Crimea
University of California, San Diego
Christine Clark
January 23, 2020


At the University of California, San Diego (UC San Diego), researchers have found that online discourse by social media users can provide important insights about the political dispositions of communities. The researchers examined data from Twitter during the 2014 conflict between Russia and Ukraine. The Russian state narrative—that a fascist coup had taken place—only took hold in one Russian-speaking community in Ukraine: Crimea. This could explain why Russian military forces did not advance beyond Crimea's borders, as they may have faced strong and violent resistance if they had intruded any further into Ukraine. The researchers collected about 940 million tweets, filtered the data by time, location, and language, and then created dictionaries to identify key words associated with the competing narratives of the news cycles at the time. Said UC San Diego’s Jesse Driscoll, "Our claim is not that social media is the only way to get this information – the Kremlin has lots of eyes on the ground there – but it does provide a granular picture that analysts from different countries can observe in real time, even from a great distance.”

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A gel that mimics skin has been electrified so that touch can be felt Electrified Artificial Skin Can Feel Exactly Where It Is Touched
New Scientist
Leah Crane
January 21, 2020


Researchers at the Korea Institute of Materials Science in South Korea have developed an electrified artificial skin that can tell when a person is touching it and can heal itself when it is damaged. The new e-skin can be three-dimensionally (3D) printed into any shape; the researchers made rings, pyramids, and a kind of cap that can fit over a human finger. The jelly-like substance is made up of mostly water and acrylic acid, containing both positively and negatively charged particles; the particles are attracted to each another and help the substance heal itself when it is cut or ripped. In addition, when a weak electrical field is applied to the e-skin, electrical current flows through the gel; measuring the intensity of the current at each input reveals the exact point on the e-skin that is being touched.

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