Welcome to the June 24, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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A man holding a zebra finch Apple, Google, and Facebook Are Raiding Animal Research Labs
Bloomberg BusinessWeek
Sarah McBride; Ashlee Vance
June 18, 2019

There are a growing number of specialized animal researchers assisting in the development of artificial intelligence (AI) software and brain-computer interfaces. Apple, Facebook, Google, and Twitter have all recently hired doctoral candidates from Harvard's Rowland Institute, one of the leading research facilities in the field. The Rowland Institute is led by Harvard researcher Mackenzie Mathis, who is focusing on how mice rapidly adjust to changes in their environment. Modern computers have only recently advanced to the point where they are powerful enough to capture, process, and analyze the volume of data produced by a subset of the average mouse brain's roughly 75 million neurons. Mathis and her husband (and fellow researcher), Alex Mathis, have developed DeepLabCut, open source software to track their subjects' movements. The application uses image recognition to follow a mouse's tiny digits as it plays a game and track its reaction to the sugar-water reward.

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AI-Da Robot with a painting created by her response from an oak tree This Robot Artist Just Became the First to Stage a Solo Exhibition. What Does That Say About Creativity?
Suyin Haynes
June 17, 2019

Researchers at Oxford University in the U.K. have developed Ai-Da, possibly the world's first robot artist and the latest artificial intelligence (AI) innovation to blur the line between machine and artist. Ai-Da has a robotic arm system and human-like features, and is equipped with facial recognition technology powered by AI. The system can analyze an image, which feeds into an algorithm to dictate the movement of the arm, enabling the robot to produce sketches. For example, to create prism-like paintings, Ai-Da draws a picture, and the researchers plot the coordinates from the drawing onto a Cartesian plane. Then, they run the coordinates through an AI neural network, which creates the prism effect. Said Oxford University researcher Aidan Gomez, "The potential for technology to augment the human potential for creativity, to expand the achievable horizons of creative expression and to possess its own creative potential as an entity of its own is so fascinating and exciting."

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U.K. Aid Funds World's Biggest Educational Technology Research Project
June 18, 2019

U.K. Aid is collaborating with British universities, scientists, and education specialists from across the globe, to build the world's largest education technology research and innovation project. The U.K. Aid-supported Education Technology (EdTech) hub is organizing participants to help children, educators, and governments in Third-World countries modernize classrooms with the latest technology. The Department for International Development has partnered with the World Bank on the EdTech hub, whose goal is to produce the largest global corpus of research, to evaluate, scale up, and apply education innovations nationwide. The University of Cambridge will vet research contributed to the project, and U.K. technology provider Brink will scale promising technology concepts with governments and teachers.

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It's Surprisingly Easy to Hack the Precision Time Protocol
IEEE Spectrum
Michelle Hampson
June 19, 2019

Researchers at Marist College in New York state and IBM have identified a simple but effective way to hack a Precision Time Protocol (PTP) network, altering the timing of slave clocks by 2,149.5 minutes after just a 37-second attack. The first form of attack relies on the packets of data sent across a network that are used to establish the master-slave hierarchy. Each node sends out a time-stamped ANNOUNCE data packet in order to identify a master clock; the clock with the best quality is selected to be the master. Then, the master clock multicasts its timestamp to all slave nodes via a SYNC message, which is sent to all nodes on a periodic basis. The researchers infiltrated the network by "sniffing" out the ANNOUNCE and SYNC packets of the legitimate master clock. They then built a rogue master clock that creates the same ANNOUNCE and SYNC messages, which then executed a denial of service attack on the slave clock.

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Skyy Brewer, a barber in Manhattan Beach, Calif., uses the app Mindstrong to manage symptoms of depression and anxiety. California Tests a Digital 'Fire Alarm' for Mental Distress
The New York Times
Benedict Carey
June 17, 2019

Mindstrong, a Silicon Valley-based venture co-founded by a former director of the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, is developing an early-warning system that would flag the user when an emotional crisis seemed imminent. For the past year, California state and county mental health officials, along with patient representatives, have met regularly to test smartphone apps for people receiving care through the state's public mental health system. Officials from 13 counties and two cities are involved in the project, and the apps are already available to the public. Mindstrong digitally installs an alternate keyboard on the users' smartphones, and monitors their moment-to-moment screen activity. If several metrics begin to stray wildly from their daily averages, the app triggers a message to the user.

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Supercomputer with art across the surface Nvidia Pushes ARM Supercomputing
Ars Technica
Jim Salter
June 17, 2019

Nvidia announced the open licensing of its supercomputing hardware and software stack for ARM-powered high-performance computers at the International Supercomputing Conference in Germany. The company hopes to complete the project by year's end. The ARM system-on-a-chip design usually emphasizes power efficiency, making less power consumption and cooling necessary, translating into potentially reduced cost, less of a footprint, and higher reliability. This open-architecture hardware design is enticing to a broad range of technologists, including developers hoping to expedite design cycles, security experts aiming to close hidden flaws within a closed central-processing unit design and manufacturing process, and inventors seeking to make entry-level computing more affordable.

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Waymo Teams Up With Renault, Nissan for Robotaxis in France, Japan
Associated Press
June 20, 2019

Autonomous car technology company Waymo has partnered with Renault and Nissan to launch ride-hailing robotaxi services in France and Japan, then consider dispatching fleets in other European and Asian markets. These offerings are unlikely to initially be a major rival to Uber, as Waymo's technology is not yet sufficiently trustworthy to make human drivers completely unnecessary in the event of a malfunction. Waymo's effort has the backing of Google, which started developing driverless technology 10 years ago, before spinning off that project into what became Waymo. Waymo CEO John Krafcik said, "This is an ideal opportunity for Waymo to bring our autonomous technology to a global stage."

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Multi-mobile (M2) Computing System Makes Android, iOS Apps Sharable on Multiple Devices
Columbia Engineering
Holly Evarts
June 20, 2019

Researchers at Columbia University have developed a new computing system that enables current, unmodified mobile apps to combine and share multiple devices across multiple smartphones and tablets. The new system, called M2, operates across heterogeneous systems, including Android and iOS, combining the functionality of multiple mobile systems into a more powerful one that gives users a seamless experience across the various systems. M2 can transform a smartphone into a Nintendo Wii-like remote to control a game on another system by converting accelerometer sensor data to input touches. Said Columbia University researcher Jason Nieh, "We think that multi-mobile computing offers a broader, richer experience with the ability to combine multiple devices from multiple systems together in new ways." The researchers presented the study today at MobiSys 2019, the 17th ACM International Conference on Mobile Systems, Applications, and Services.

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Examples of brain scanned images From One Brain Scan, More Information for Medical AI
MIT News
Rob Matheson
June 19, 2019

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a system to gather more information from images used to train machine-learning models, including those that can analyze medical scans to help diagnose and treat brain conditions. The new system uses a single labeled scan, along with unlabeled scans, to automatically synthesize a massive dataset of distinct training examples. This dataset can be used to better train machine learning models to find anatomical structures in new scans. The system uses a convolutional neural network to automatically generate data for the "image segmentation" process, which divides an image into regions of pixels that are more meaningful and easier to analyze. The network analyzes unlabeled scans from different patients and different equipment to "learn" anatomical, brightness, and contrast variations. Then, it applies a random combination of those learned variations to a single labeled scan to synthesize new scans that are realistic and accurately labeled.

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Amazon Lives on the Edge, Telecoms Should Tremble
The Washington Post
Alex Webb
June 21, 2019

Cloud providers like Amazon Web Services are investing in edge computing, making cloud functions operate on servers in closer proximity to the end user, shortening the distance to a computer making a given decision. Such companies are ahead of telecommunication firms, due to advantages in scalability, customer bases, and developer ecosystems. Telecoms apparently recognize this, and are instead gambling on remaining gatekeepers for customers' relationships with cloud operators. For example, Spain's Telefonica announced a plan to sell Google Cloud solutions globally, in the hope of offering additional profitable services, to operate on a third-party's cloud. Another strategy is to lock down the cybersecurity layer for cloud access, although cloud providers have cybersecurity solutions of their own.

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A man displaying his bespoke prosthetic liner Process Rapidly Develops Bespoke Liners for Prosthetics
The Engineer (UK)
June 21, 2019

Researchers at Bath University in the U.K. have integrated advanced three-dimensional scanning to generate digital models, for less expensive and more personalized lower-limb prosthetic liners. The technique first accurately scans an amputee's residuum, with the data fed to a digital model, which is used to design the liner. The liner is then fabricated via cryogenic machining, eliminating the need for complex, time-consuming molds. The liner is made from a soft-polymer neoprene-like material, offering greater comfort to amputees compared to conventional silicon liners. The complete process, from scanning to fitting, takes less than 24 hours.

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Google's Game Builder Turns Building Multiplayer Games into a Game
Frederic Lardinois
June 13, 2019

Google's Area 120 team has developed Game Builder, a free tool for PC and macOS users who want to build their own 3D games without having to learn to code. The overall design aesthetic is at least partially inspired by Minecraft, but users are free to create whatever kind of game they want. Game Builder can create first-person shooter games, a platformer, and a demo of the tool's card system for programming more complex interactions. Building a 3D level is like playing a game itself, and users can build multiplayer games and even create games in real time with other users. In addition, players can use JavaScript to go beyond some of the pre-programmed features. Google is also relying on Poly, its library of 3D objects, to give users lots of options for creating and designing different levels.

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