Welcome to the May 15, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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New System Offers Protection Against Data Breaches
University of Waterloo News
May 13, 2019

Researchers at Duke University and the University of Waterloo's Cheriton School of Computer Science in Canada have developed a system that lets data owners control the extent to which privacy may be compromised during analysis of personal information. The researchers' accuracy-aware privacy engine for data exploration (APEx) partly relieves data scientists of the need to reduce analytical accuracy to ensure client privacy. APEx renders scientists' queries and accuracy limits as suitable mechanisms meeting differential privacy, which mathematically defines privacy by studying output in such a manner that it is impossible to ascertain whether any individual's data was included in the original dataset. The mechanism then deduces minimal possible privacy loss, returning a noisy answer to researchers, who would have indicated their accuracy guarantee beforehand.

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A hummingbird robot Hummingbird Robot Flies, Hovers Like Real Thing
Kayla Wiles
May 10, 2019

Purdue University researchers have built robot hummingbirds that learn to fly and hover like their real-world counterparts, using algorithms and computer simulation. Purdue's Xinyan Deng said, "The robot can essentially create a map without seeing its surroundings. This could be helpful in a situation when the robot might be searching for victims in a dark place—and it means one less sensor to add when we do give the robot the ability to see." Deng's team recorded key hummingbird motions, and incorporated them into algorithms that the robot could learn from when interfacing with a simulation. The three-dimensionally-printed robots feature carbon-fiber wings and laser-cut membranes.

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Attendees interacting with a facial recognition demonstration at this year’s CES in Las Vegas San Francisco Bans Facial Recognition Technology
The New York Times
Kate Conger; Richard Fausset; Serge F. Kovaleski
May 14, 2019

San Francisco's Board of Supervisors has banned the use of facial recognition technology for surveillance purposes by police and other agencies in the city, making it the first major U.S. city to do so. City supervisor Aaron Peskin said this sends a message to the rest of the country, because "We have an outsize responsibility to regulate the excesses of technology precisely because they are headquartered here." Under the ban, city agencies cannot use facial recognition technology or data collected by outside systems that use the technology. Among those opposed to such a ban is the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation's Daniel Castro, who argued facial recognition data should be accessible to law enforcement if they obtain a warrant from a judge, in accordance with Supreme Court guidelines for other types of electronic surveillance.

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For the First Time, Engineers Measure Accuracy of 2 Qubits in Silicon—and It Works
Peter Dockrill
May 13, 2019

Researchers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia for the first time have quantified the accuracy of two-quantum-bit (qubit) operations in silicon, in another step toward reliable quantum computing. Said UNSW's Andrew Dzurak, "Once you've got [one-qubit and two-qubit operations], you can perform any computation you want—but the accuracy of both operations needs to be very high." The researchers previously built the first silicon quantum logic gate to enable communication between two qubits, and refined its fidelity to a maximum threshold of 98%. This milestone showed silicon could find use in future quantum computers, in more powerful logic systems composed of millions of qubits, according to the researchers. The team said, "Two-qubit fidelities reaching the required limits for fault-tolerance are...within reach, and underpin silicon as a technology platform with good prospects for scalability to the large numbers of qubits needed for universal quantum computing."

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A knitted rabbit 4D Knitting Makes Rabbits That Cuddle, Lampshades That Move
New Scientist
Donna Lu
May 8, 2019

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers used industrial knitting machines to create children's toys and other objects that can move. The technique involves knitting silk strands into the fabric to serve as tendons, allowing the objects to make specific motions when pulled. The researchers surmised this technique, which they called 4D knitting (as the expansion and contraction of the knitted loops adds the fourth dimension of time to the three-dimensional objects), could be used to cost-effectively fabricate wearables and soft robots. CMU's Lea Albaugh employed a computer program to design the objects, deconstructing their moving parts as horizontal or vertical; she said fabrics are a perfect building material for soft robots, because "there's a wide range of motion types you can get out of soft robotics that can be friendly or silly." The researchers tested the technique with conductive yarn, which could be woven into objects to incorporate smart sensors that detect stretching or touching.

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When Computer Science Majors Take Improv
The Wall Street Journal
Sara Castellanos
May 14, 2019

Northeastern University computer science (CS) majors are required to take a class in theater and improvisation, in which they practice exercises to cultivate empathy, creativity, and teamwork. Northeastern president Joseph E. Aoun said the course aims to "robot-proof" CS majors, ensuring they maintain their uniquely human skills. Some professionals see improv's value in training people to communicate and work in teams, because many software apps are developed by teams of collaborating engineers, writers, and designers. Other skills the course helps foster include making presentations, which Uber software engineer and Northeastern alumnus Tiffany Seeber noted is a regular requirement of her profession. Almost 800 CS majors have taken Northeastern's improv course so far.

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A person throwing a ball at a drone Event Camera Helps Drone Dodge Thrown Objects
IEEE Spectrum
Evan Ackerman
May 13, 2019

Researchers in the Robotics and Perception Group of the University of Zurich in Switzerland have examined how much a difference it can make to use an event camera on drones moving at high speeds, compared to a regular camera. Event cameras are very sensitive to motion, responding to changes in a scene on a per-pixel basis in microseconds. The team threw soccer balls at a drone equipped with an event camera to see if it could dodge them. The researchers found that in each case, motion capture data confirmed the ball would have struck the drone if it did not move out of the way.

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University Wins Award for Driverless Car Infrastructure
University of Bristol News
May 13, 2019

Researchers at the University of Bristol in the U.K. developed a Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs) infrastructure, for which they received an award at the IEEE Vehicular Technology Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The researchers developed the Fog Compute framework, engineered to enhance cloud computing with additional resources located near CAVs, lessening communications latency between vehicles and the infrastructure, and enabling extra safety-critical services. The framework also facilitates refined trust certificate compression, network programming, and CAV data-offloading solutions. Said Bristol's Andrea Tassi, "We present a way of decoupling the relay of sensor data to and from Connected and Autonomous Vehicles, with the resource-intensive task of processing them."

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Java, PHP or .NET: Which Programming Languages Will Earn You the Most?
Steve Ranger
May 13, 2019

The salaries for in-demand programming skills are up for the third year in a row. Over the last three years, Java developers have experienced the largest increase in salaries at 41%, according to data from U.K. recruitment company Reed. Java developers' wages also increased 6% between 2018 and this year, with the average Java developer currently making £63,700. Meanwhile, PHP developers have seen their salaries increase by 20.6% over the three-year period, and .NET developers have seen their average pay increase from £39,900 in 2016 to £47,400 this year. Said Andrew Gardner, director of Reed Technology, "The impact of legislation such as GDPR is creating a lot of demand, with companies making sure they have the right skills, systems and processes in place – as a result roles in data are also growing."

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A robot walking next to a man Robots Thrive in the Forest on Jobs Humans Find Too Boring
Jesper Starn
May 10, 2019

Sweden's forest companies are embracing technology to cut costs and boost profits, while freeing employees from mundane tasks. Consultancy Sogeti and Sveaskog AB, Sweden's largest forest owner, have developed algorithms that teach themselves to find signs of spruce bark beetle attacks on satellite photos of forests. Meanwhile, Stora Enso Oyj, one of Europe's largest paper and packaging makers, is teaching an algorithm to identify risk in the contracts it handles, to free up human lawyers' time. Making such technology more accessible to the forest industry is a confluence of cheaper computer-processing power and more advanced sensors, says Olle Steffner, director of intellectual property management at packaging maker BillerudKorsnas.

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Malware Detector Identifies Bugs by Monitoring Power Usage
UT News
May 8, 2019

University of Texas at Austin (UTA) and North Carolina State University researchers have developed a tool to spot malware in large-scale embedded systems, by tracking power usage and flagging fluctuations that deviate from known behavior. The team designed a plug-in that monitors power usage, enabling engineers to detect usage patterns implying the presence of malware, as well as the threat level it presents to a compromised system. The device is external, which protects it from malware infection. UTA's Mohit Tiwari said, "The real technical contribution of this work has been our ability to successfully model malware that conceal themselves by mimicking the power signatures of benign programs. Models of evasive malware can then be used to determine the extent of damage that power detectors can protect against."

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Scientists in China Develop Ultra-Long Range AI Camera
Daily Mail (United Kingdom)
James Pero
May 10, 2019

Researchers in China have developed new camera technology that can render human-sized subjects from up to 28 miles away. The camera, which relies on a combination of laser images and advanced artificial intelligence software, can cut through smog and other pollution. The software uses a technique called "gating" that helps ignore photons reflected by other objects in the camera's field of view. Since the camera uses a laser to determine the distance of a subject by measuring how long the light takes to reflect back to the machine, the new software can tell the camera to ignore everything else that falls outside of that time signature. The camera uses a new algorithm to stitch together the data collected and form a recognizable image.

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