Welcome to the February 11, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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A picture of Donald Trump Trump's Plan to Keep America First in AI
Tom Simonite
February 11, 2019

U.S. President Donald Trump today will sign an executive order for the federal government to channel existing funds, programs, and data in support of artificial intelligence (AI) research and commercialization. The American AI Initiative will ask agencies to assist U.S. workers' adjustment to professions impacted by AI by supporting training and fellowships, and to consider what new regulations may be needed to rein in unwelcome effects. The program also would ask certain agencies in areas like health and transportation to open data stores to academics and companies engaged in AI research, using privacy-protecting mechanisms. The University of Washington's Ryan Calo said the initiative's progress should reveal whether the White House is seriously considering related ethical and human rights issues, like whether "they [are] aware enough of [AI's] social impacts, and thinking about the effects on society and how to address the problems it creates."

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Cloud Programming Simplified: A Berkeley View on Serverless Computing
UCBerkeley RISELab
David Patterson; Ion Stoica
February 10, 2019

Sunday marked the 10th Anniversary of the publication of “Above the Clouds: A Berkeley View of Cloud Computing,” a seminal paper on cloud computing. To mark the occasion, ACM A.M. Turing Award winner David Patterson and colleagues have released a follow-up on serverless computing that "provides an interface that greatly simplifies cloud programming, and represents an evolution that closely parallels past advances in programmer productivity, such as the transition from assembly language to high-level programming languages," according to Patterson and Ion Stoica, two of the co-authors of the original paper. The new paper, “Cloud Programming Simplified: A Berkeley View on Serverless Computing," outlines, among other things, the core differences between serverless and conventional cloud computing: the decoupling of computation and storage; the abstraction of executing a piece of code instead of allocating resources on which to execute that code; and paying for the code execution instead of paying for resources you have allocated to executing the code.

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A person performing a surgery with virtual reality headset gear Genentech Uses Virtual Reality to Train Eye Surgeons
The Wall Street Journal
Sara Castellanos
February 6, 2019

Genentech is using virtual reality (VR) as a training tool for eye surgeons, with more than 150 surgeons over the past year having used VR to simulate a surgical procedure treating wet age-related macular degeneration. The surgery requires the implant in the eye of a device, about the size of a grain of rice, that continuously releases a drug for the treatment of the disease. The surgeons participating the in VR training sessions use a workstation that includes a VR headset and a physical replica of the human eye, as well as replicas of surgical tools. Surgeons are trained in VR on how to implant the device that contains the drug and also how to refill the device. The surgeons can move the physical replicas of tools onto the physical replica of the human eye, which also appear digitized in the headset, to simulate the act of surgery.

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People in blue lab coats working with their hands Tech is Splitting U.S. Workforce in Two
The New York Times
Eduardo Porter
February 4, 2019

Technological advances are cleaving through the U.S. workforce, with a small number of well-educated professionals enjoying higher salaries, while the majority toil in low-paid service jobs. Recent research has determined automation is driving down demand for workers and depressing wages, which have not risen in proportion to productivity. The overall effect is slowing productivity growth, despite breakthroughs in information technology, robotics, and artificial intelligence. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's David Autor and Anna Salomons of Utrecht University in the Netherlands have observed job declines across all industries that introduced productivity-improving technologies over the last four decades. Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers said with automation spreading, "It may well be that some categories of labor will not be able to earn a subsistence income."

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‘Virtual Pharmacology’ Advance Tackles Universe of Unknown Drugs
University of California, San Francisco
Nicholas Weiler
February 6, 2019

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco and the University of North Carolina have developed the world's largest virtual pharmacology platform. The platform, which will soon contain over a billion virtual molecules never before synthesized and not found in nature, is capable of identifying extremely powerful new drugs and is poised to dramatically change early drug discovery. The researchers partnered with Ukraine-based Enamine Ltd., to begin incorporating the company's vast virtual catalogue of drug-like compounds into their free public drug discovery database, called ZINC. The researchers are in the process of converting hundreds of millions of Enamine's theoretical molecules into three-dimensional chemical models compatible with a computational pharmacology approach called "docking." Docking makes it possible to rapidly simulate in three dimensions how hundreds of millions of potential drugs would bind to a specific biological target of interest.

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Markham to Become a 'Living Lab' for Bell, IBM Smart City Research, Mayor Says
Financial Post
David Paddon
February 6, 2019

Bell Canada and IBM Canada are partnering with the Toronto-area city of Markham, Ontario, in Canada, to test a new generation of systems for monitoring city infrastructure. The six-month research program will combine Bell's broadband networks, IBM data analytics, and data from sensors placed all over the city. Similar programs are being tested across Canada and around the world, as vendors promote the potential benefits of using the "smart city" concept to manage costs and improve services. The Markham city government will be evaluating whether the investment in staff time and other costs will be worth the effort, after taking into account the other investments that would have to be made to make it more comprehensive across the city. The pilot project will largely focus on behind-the-scenes processes designed for various tasks, including detecting leaks in city water pipes, storm-related flooding, energy usage in city buildings, and remote tracking of city equipment.

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Two men looking at the computer screen West Virginia Company Develops Breakthrough Tech for NASA
Associated Press
Eric Hrin
February 10, 2019

A team at TMC Technologies of West Virginia has developed a mini-supercomputer and software for the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, to ensure safe and efficient spaceflight software performance. The OUTLIER software is used in conjunction with a mini-supercomputer named Gargantua. TMC said this system "combines a type of artificial intelligence or machine learning, data science, and a machine able to perform hyper-fast 'what-if' simulations." According to TMC's Scott Zemerick, "OUTLIER...helps the human analyze lots and lots of flight software data that a person cannot normally analyze by themselves." The goal of OUTLIER is to prevent malfunctions from occurring and spot them early. Said TMC's Max Spolaor, "We call it Smart Fault Management because we've been trying to use these techniques and concepts from emerging technologies, so it's something new that's not been done before and it's proven to be a very robust tool and very useful."

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A picture of men playing soccer Football: New TV Technology to Take Fans 'Inside the Game'
Channel News Asia
Martyn Herman; Toby Davis
February 7, 2019

Intel has partnered with the U.K.-based soccer teams Manchester City, Liverpool, and Arsenal to introduce its state-of-the-art True View system to each team's respective stadium. True View, which was used in TV coverage of this year's Super Bowl and to bring fans courtside in National Basketball Association games, allows 360-degree replays of all the key moments in a game. In addition, the technology will allow viewers to experience winning goals, flying saves, or last-ditch tackles from the perspective of the players on the field. The system uses 38 5K ultra-high-definition cameras to capture vast quantities of "volumetric data," or three-dimensional (3D) pixels. Then, Intel's servers analyze the data to provide 3D replays from every conceivable angle. Said Manchester City's Damian Willoughby, "It's about how we enhance the fans' experience and give our global audience a deeper experience of the content around the game."

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Auto Engineers Warn Your Car Might Be Easier to Hack Than You Think
Jessica Bursztynsky
February 6, 2019

A new report from the Ponemon Institute data protection research group found that sophisticated features being added to vehicles to make drivers' daily commutes easier also make their new vehicles more vulnerable to cyberattacks, with 84% of auto engineers and IT professionals surveyed by Ponemon concerned that automakers are not keeping pace with rapidly changing security threats. Commissioned by automotive trade group SAE International and cybersecurity firm Synopsys, the study found that new cars are being loaded with infotainment systems, self-driving features, Wi-Fi, and cellular connections, among other features, that leave companies and consumers vulnerable to security breaches. Said Art Dahnert of Synopsys, "The industry has been slowly moving to a software-based environment, and as that's happened a lot of researchers found weaknesses and those weaknesses are now being used by various types of attackers." Sixty-three percent of survey respondents said they test less than half of hardware, software, and other technologies for vulnerabilities.

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Navigating Bitcoin, Ethereum, XRP: How Google Is Quietly Making Blockchains Searchable
Michael del Castillo
February 4, 2019

Last year, a team of open source developers quietly began loading data for the entire Bitcoin and Ethereum blockchains into Google's big data analytics platform, BigQuery. With assistance from lead developer Evgeny Medvedev, Google's senior developer advocate for Google Cloud Allen Day created a suite of sophisticated software to search the data. In the past year, more than 500 projects were created using these tools, collectively known as Blockchain ETL (extract, transform, load), designed to do everything from predicting the price of bitcoin to analyzing wealth disparity among ether holders. Day demonstrated Blockchain ETL by examining the so-called hard fork, or an irrevocable split in a blockchain database, which created a new cryptocurrency—bitcoin cash—from bitcoin in the summer of 2017. Using Google's BigQuery, Day discovered bitcoin cash, rather than increasing microtransactions, was actually being hoarded among big holders of bitcoin cash.

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Open-Access Satellite Data Allows Tracking of Seasonal Population Movements
Penn State News
Sam Sholtis
February 6, 2019

Researchers at Penn State University and the University of Southampton in the U.K. have provided open access to detailed satellite data on brightness for five cities in Niger and Nigeria from 2000 to 2005. The team also provided detailed methods for analyzing the data to track seasonal population movements. The data originated from the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP), a U.S. Department of Defense program run by the Air Force Space Command. The DMSP satellites capture thermal infrared images. The researchers focused on nighttime images, which can be used to measure human-related light to address a variety of research questions. For example, the researchers looked for differences between the images on shorter time-scales to see things like seasonal changes in populations, which are very important for infectious disease research and public health interventions. Said Penn State researcher Nita Bharti, this method is "unconventional, but it’s out there and is reasonably easy to access and it’s underutilized, maybe because people don’t know quite what to do with it or how to get it."

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New York Beats Out San Francisco to Be World's Best Tech City
Sydney Make
February 4, 2019

New York City is the best city in the world for the technology industry, according to the Savills Index, which ranks cities on the costs of living and doing business, investment opportunities, real estate prices, access to transit, and other factors. This marks the first time New York City has taken the top spot, with Austin, Texas, and San Francisco, CA, taking the number one and two spots, respectively, in the previous two studies in 2015 and 2017. San Francisco and London, U.K., ranked second and third in this year's study. New York ranked first because of its volume of venture capital cash, large pool of talent, and the opportunities that exist for exploiting them. Said Savills Index author Paul Tostevin, "New York can keep generating its own talent and, I think more importantly, recruiting it from around the world."

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Robbie the Robot 'Robbie the Robot' Can Spot Worsening Dementia After Watching 13 Episodes of Emmerdale
Daily Mail (United Kingdom)
Sam Blanchard
February 6, 2019

Researchers at Edge Hill University in the U.K. have developed a robot equipped with artificial intelligence (AI) that watched more than 13 episodes of the TV soap opera "Emmerdale" to learn how to recognize facial expressions. The device, nicknamed Robbie the Robot, analyzed 65,082 images of the character Ashley Thomas, who developed dementia, and is already able to identify aggressiveness and depression, both of which are possible signs of the disorder. Said Edge Hill's Ardhendu Behera, "Monitoring and recognition is still very much in its infancy and we believe Robbie is the first robot to use vision-based recognition to recognize four behaviors; aggressive, depressive, happy, and neutral." The researchers next intend to show the robot scenes from the show "Friends," to help it learn about social interactions.

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