Welcome to the February 6, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Moving the Needle on Cyber Norms
Federal Computer Week
Derek B. Johnson
February 1, 2019

The nongovernmental Global Commission on Stability in Cyberspace held a series of meetings aimed at establishing fundamental principles that states, non-state actors, and the privacy industry should follow to determine if a cyberattack constitutes an act of war. The commission worked with public and private stakeholders in developing language around behavior in cyberspace, with plans to release its final recommendations at the end of this year. Last year, the commission outlined precepts for state and non-state actors. They included avoidance of tampering with products and services if it impairs cyberspace stability; proscriptions against hacking of connected devices to create botnets; government specification of a Vulnerabilities Equities Process, with a default presumption favoring public disclosure; effective corporate policies for identifying and mitigating bugs and vulnerabilities in products and services vital to cyberspace stability; state enactments of baseline cyber-hygiene regulations, and bans on non-state actors engaging in offensive cyber operations against governments.

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A model of Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’ New 3D Printing Technique Creates Solid Objects Using Rays of Light
The Washington Post
Peter Holley
February 5, 2019

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have created a three-dimensional (3D) printer to generate whole objects at once, instead of layer by layer. Computer Axial Lithography (CAL) carves an object out of synthetic resin that solidifies when it comes into contact with specific light patterns and intensities. CAL printing starts with a computer simulation of a 3D object, fed into a digital video projector that beams the image into a rotating cylinder containing the resin. Explains UC Berkeley's Hayden Taylor, "As the container rotates, the pattern that's projected changes, so over time the amount of light that each point receives can be controlled. Spots that receive a lot of light solidify, while those that do not remain liquid." The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill's Joseph DeSimone said, "This is an exciting advancement to rapidly prototype fairly small and transparent parts."

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A passenger using OceanMedallion to check in and board the Regal Princess in Fort Cruise Lines Use Technology to Add Personal Touch
The New York Times
Julie Weed
February 1, 2019

Modern cruise ships have better data centers, satellite connectivity, and information technology staff on board, and cruise lines are looking to use technology to address several common complaints from passengers. For example, customers have long complained about the check-in process, and now passengers on all 25 Royal Caribbean and 13 Celebrity Cruises ships can use a mobile app to scan their passport, take a security selfie, and receive a digital boarding pass before they arrive at the ship. Meanwhile, passengers bearing Carnival's OceanMedallion can order a drink using a mobile app. The medallion also tells the server the passenger's name and location, even if they have moved since ordering. Other new apps encompass the passenger experience from planning the trip through documenting it, including booking, dining, excursions, and setting up a daily itinerary.

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A white rat peeking above a clear wall Scientists Connect Human Brain, 'Rat Cyborg' Brain Together
Jackson Ryan
February 4, 2019

Chinese researchers have constructed a wireless brain-to-brain interface that enables a human to direct a rat through a maze. The computer link, via electrodes installed in two sections of the rodent brain, allows decoding of the human brain's signals, stimulating the rat brain to move. After implantation, the researchers "trained" the rats by using the electrodes to generate specific movements, which they wirelessly transmitted to the rat's brain through a backpack containing the stimulator. The human operator was fitted with an electroencephalogram (EEG) to measure brain signals, connected to the computer for neural signal decoding and rat-brain stimulation. Because the skull and skin are not very conductive, said University of Auckland’s Angus McMorland, the EEG link does not provide a good spatial signal, which prevents information from being parsed rapidly from human to rat brain, resulting in an input lag that operators must account for when guiding the rat.

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Best-Paying Programming Languages, Skills
Liam Tung
February 1, 2019

Wage growth for technology-related jobs in the U.S. was essentially flat in 2018, rising just 0.6% from 2017 to an average of $93,244 for the year, according to Dice's 2018 tech salary report. This continues a stagnant trend in the industry, as tech wages have not increased since 2015. However, there are a few specialized skills and roles that have seen higher than average growth, which could motivate some professionals into make a career pivot. Dice's survey of 10,780 technology professionals found that 68% would change careers to get a higher wage, compared with just 47% who would make a switch for better working conditions, such as the ability to work remotely or more flexible hours. In terms of specific skills, Dice found that programmers using Google-developed Go, or Golang, earned the highest on average at $132,827, while programmers using Apache Kafka earned an average of $127,544. The top-paying location is Silicon Valley, but the report found the best cities for tech workers, adjusted for the local cost of living, were Minneapolis, Portland, Tampa, Charlotte, and Seattle.

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An elephant with brown dirt on the top of its head How Eavesdropping on Elephants Is Keeping Them Safe
BBC News
Rachel Nuwer
January 31, 2019

Cornell University researchers have partnered with Conservation Metrics to leverage audio technology to locate elephants and the poachers that want to kill them. The researchers have collected about 900,000 hours of recordings from central African forests, thousands of hours of which include elephant vocalizations. The researchers used deep learning programs to analyze the recordings and identified about 15,000 elephant calls indicating communication between elephants. Separately, the Wild Me non-profit is using computer vision algorithms to identify individual animals, including cheetahs, giraffes, zebras, and whale sharks. Microsoft's Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Earth program is building and piloting robotic field agents to collect blood-feeding insects, sequence their samples using advanced genetic analysis equipment, and produce information about disease presence and insect-feeding patterns.

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Supercomputing Helps Study Two-Dimensional Materials
Gauss Center for Supercomputing
Eric Gedenk
February 1, 2019

Researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf research laboratory in Germany used supercomputers to observe lithium atoms' real-time behavior when placed between two atom-thick graphene sheets. The researchers used the Hazel Hen supercomputer at Germany’s Gauss Center for Supercomputing to model, verify, and build on their experimental findings. These simulations helped the researchers gain insights into how the lithium atoms were arranged. Although previous assumptions were that the lithium atoms would be organized as a single atomic layer, the simulation revealed the material could form bi- or trilayers, at least in bi-layer graphene. The discovery will help researchers explore new approaches for improving battery efficiency.

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Homes with estimated prices next to them Winners Announced for the Zillow Prize
IEEE Spectrum
David Schneider
January 30, 2019

The Zillow Prize competition pitted nearly 4,000 teams against one another in an effort to develop a computerized system that could predict the future sale price of homes. Zillow, a real estate company, hopes to use what it learned from these teams to improve its own system of predicting home prices, called the "Zestimate." The winning team, which received the $1-million grand prize, consisted of Chahhou Mohamed of Morocco, Jordan Meyer of the U.S., and Nima Shahbazi of Canada, whose predictions bettered the Zestimate by about 13%. The winning team combined various models in an ensemble approach, and put considerable effort into the ancillary data they fed into some of their models, including the home's proximity to bodies of water, and the prevailing level of road noise. Real estate data such as square footage, the number of bedrooms, and the sale prices of comparably sized homes in the area also was fed to the algorithm.

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Boston University Researchers Develop Framework to Improve AI Fairness
Ben Dickson
January 30, 2019

Boston University (BU) researchers demonstrated the difficulty of evaluating fairness in artificial intelligence algorithms, and have attempted to set up a framework for identifying and mitigating problematic behavior in automated decisions. The researchers utilized data from a 2016 ProPublica investigation into COMPAS automated recidivism assessment software, which exhibited bias against African-American defendants. The researchers devised unique strategies for assessing and processing risk scores to reduce false positives and false negatives, and yield greater fairness toward different groups of people. They initially configured the automated decision-maker and scoring classifier separately for different populations, then revised the decision-maker to declare some cases as uncertain, particularly when risk scores were close to decision thresholds. When applied to the COMPAS data, the method determined only 75% of the cases got a correct automated decision, and the others required deferment to a separate process. BU’s Adam Smith said, “Our goal is to give people a language and a set of mathematical tools for reasoning about these complicated, multi-staged systems in a way that is not possible right now because we don’t have the conceptual framework, we don’t have the terminology, and we don’t have the math.”

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A Hamlet set, which can be watched with a virtual reality headset 'Hamlet' in Virtual Reality Casts the Viewer in the Play
The Seattle Times
Elizabeth A. Harris
February 3, 2019

Boston’s Commonwealth Shakespeare Company and Google have created a virtual reality (VR) version of "Hamlet," called "Hamlet 360: Thy Father's Spirit," in which the viewer plays the ghost of Hamlet’s father. The production was released by WGBH, a PBS member station in Boston, and it is being hosted on the station's YouTube page, where it can be watched in three dimensions using a VR headset or in two dimensions on a desktop or mobile device. The film plays out in a single location, at the center of a large, rundown hall with a stage to one side. As the actors move around the room, they encourage viewers to explore the space. The developers captured the action using Google's Yi Halo 360 camera, which was planted in one spot and the actors moved around it; the Halo is comprised of 17 cameras, one of which is pointed up and the rest fanned around in the shape of a wreath. Google’s Matt Apfel said, “Many young people’s first experience of Shakespeare is not all that great. This is a way to put into the classroom an extraordinary experience of this play and give teachers another tool to bring the material to life.”

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Scientists Use IBM Q to Tease Out Quantum Secrets
UChicago News (IL)
Louise Lerner
January 31, 2019

Researchers at the University of Chicago (UChicago) used the open-access IBM Q quantum computer to experimentally verify elusive principles governing quantum molecular behavior. The researchers focused on the Pauli exclusion principle, which states that two electrons cannot occupy the same position in space simultaneously. A molecule's electrons often experience additional localization limits, known as the generalized Pauli constraints. The UChicago team created an array of algorithms that would ask IBM's Q Experience computer to randomly produce quantum states in three-electron systems, then measure the molecules' most likely locations. The results, the researchers said, provided strong experimental verification. UChicago's David Mazziotti said, "“The simplest generalized Pauli constraints were discovered theoretically on a classical computer at IBM in the early 1970s, so it is fitting that for the first time they would be experimentally verified on an IBM quantum computer.”

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Disease Surveillance Tool Helps Detect Any Human Virus
Broad Institute
Leah Eisenstadt
February 4, 2019

Scientists at the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University have developed a computational technique to expedite human pathogen monitoring through the design of molecular lures for any such virus and all its known strains, including those with low concentrations in clinical samples. The "CATCH" (Compact Aggregation of Targets for Comprehensive Hybridization) method can help small DNA-sequencing facilities conduct disease surveillance more efficiently, and help control outbreaks. CATCH lets users design tailored sets of probes to collect genetic material from any combination of microbial species. Users can easily input genomes from all known forms of all human viruses uploaded to the National Center for Biotechnology Information's GenBank sequence database. Tests of CATCH-designed probe sets demonstrated that, following enrichment, viral content comprised 18 times more sequencing data than before, allowing the assembly of genomes that could not be cultivated from un-enriched samples.

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A robot with multiple artificial arms Self-Taught Robot Figures Out What It Looks Like, What It Can Do
New Scientist
January 31, 2019

Columbia University researchers have developed a robot that learns what it looks like without any outside help. The robot is equipped with a jointed robotic arm and a grasping hand similar to those used in many factories; the researchers deployed the robot with no previous training, and it behaved like an infant, moving randomly while attempting different tasks. Within about a day of deep learning, the robot developed an internal picture of its structure and abilities. After 35 hours, the robot could grasp objects from specific locations and drop them into a receptacle with 100% accuracy. Said Columbia's Hod Lipson, "If we want robots to become independent, to adapt quickly to scenarios unforeseen by their creators, then it's essential that they learn to simulate themselves."

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Reactive Internet Programming - State Chart XML in Action
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