Welcome to the July 12, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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programming code on screen The Most Popular Programming Languages Used by the World's Largest Unicorn Startups
Taylor Soper
July 11, 2019

The Coding Dojo coding bootcamp has compiled a list of the most popular programming languages used by unicorn startups like Uber, Snap, Airbnb, and SpaceX, to build online services. Unicorns are privately held startup companies valued at over $1 billion. Python tops the list of programming languages; Coding Dojo said Python is “very general-purpose, which means it can be used for Web dev, scripting, software, and much more. These days, we see Python being used a lot for data science, which is revolutionizing the tech industry." Following Python in the ranking were Java, JavaScript, C/C++, and Ruby. A majority of firms employ three to six languages, while Coinbase and DoorDash both use 10, which Coding Dojo said is "a testament to the wide-reaching goals and innovation the two companies are pursuing."

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robot holding poker hand AI Poker Bot Is First to Beat Professionals at Multiplayer Game
Douglas Heaven
July 11, 2019

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers developed an artificial intelligence (AI) program that beat elite professional poker players at six-player no-limit Texas hold'em poker. CMU's Noam Brown and Tuomas Sandholm created the Pluribus AI by updating an earlier program, Libratus, which only plays two-player matches. The researchers revamped Libratus' search algorithm, which searches to the end of a game before selecting an action. Adding more players negated the practicality of this approach, so Brown and Sandholm invented a technique that permitted Pluribus to make good choices after looking ahead only a few moves. Pluribus trained itself by initially playing poker randomly, and improved as it ascertained which actions won more money; after each hand, it reevaluated its moves, and checked whether it would have won more with different actions, which it will be more likely to utilize later on.

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mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan Computer Attempts to Replicate Dream-Like Maths of Ramanujan
New Scientist
Donna Lu
July 9, 2019

Researchers at the Israel Institute of Technology have built software designed to pose conjectures for producing equations whose output is basic mathematical constants, in the manner of mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan. The Ramanujan Machine, the researchers say, “can be seen as a methodology to generate conjectures on fundamental constants. The more computational power and the more time the algorithm runs on a selected space of parameters, the more conjectures it may generate.” Saul Schleimer at the U.K.'s University of Warwick said the software "produces conjectures without exactly knowing why they're true and it likes continued fractions," although it cannot replicate Ramanujan's unique style.

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Bringing the Blockchain into the Physical World
Lancaster University
July 10, 2019

Computer scientists at the Universities of Lancaster and Edinburgh in the U.K., and the Universiti Teknologi MARA in Malaysia, have developed a kit containing everyday objects that can help people understand how digital blockchains work. The kit, known as BlocKit, includes items such as plastic tubs, clay discs, padlocks, envelopes, sticky notes, and battery-powered candles, which fulfill the roles of different parts of the blockchain, to make it easier to understand how it works. Said University of Lancaster researcher Corina Sas, "We received very positive feedback from the people who used the kit in our study and, interestingly, we found that the BlocKit can also be used by designers looking to develop new services based around blockchain, such as managing patients' health records for example."

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Amazon warehouse workers Amazon to Retrain a Third of Its U.S. Workforce
The Wall Street Journal
Chip Cutter
July 11, 2019

Amazon will spend up to $700 million to retrain 100,000 of its U.S. workers by 2025, one of the biggest corporate retraining initiatives on record. The company said it will expand its existing training programs and launch some new ones to help employees move into more advanced jobs. The training is voluntary, and most of the programs will be free to employees. Some of the programs include more advanced training, such as its Machine Learning University, which will be open to thousands of current software engineers with computer science backgrounds. Peter Cappelli of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School said Amazon’s retraining programs will likely help the company recruit and retain workers, so “It’s not altruistic. There’s some hard-nosed business-decision-making behind this.”

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user interacts with online virtual world How Social Movements Can Use Virtual Worlds
University of East Anglia
July 11, 2019

Researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the U.K. have found that online virtual worlds can help social movements raise awareness and create safe spaces for their members. The researchers focused on the game World of Warcraft (WoW) and analyzed data from an LGBT "guild" within it. The researchers examined how the guild's 7,800 members used the technology, compared to ordinary game play. Said UEA researcher Brad McKenna, "By understanding the affordances, or possible actions, available to them, groups can shape how the world works for them and think of more creative uses of the technology and features, using them in a much different way, without involvement from the game’s developers."

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A photo of a landing strip. German Scientists Pull Off Autonomous Aircraft Landing
Peter Dockrill
July 8, 2019

Today, many commercial planes and other large jets rely on an Instrument Landing System (ILS), which uses radio signals and on-board autopilot programs to guide landing aircraft on their final approach. C2Land, developed by researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) in Germany, is similar to ILS, but does not require any ground-based antennas. The C2Land system uses GPS for flight control, in conjunction with a computer vision-augmented navigation system for landing. The technology uses an optical positioning system at altitudes below 200 feet and on the ground after touchdown, as an additional source of positioning information. Said TUM flight system dynamics researcher Martin Kügler, "Automatic landing is essential, especially in the context of the future role of aviation."

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Scientists 3D-Print Human Skin, Bone for Mars Astronauts
Amanda Kooser
July 9, 2019

Researchers at Dresden Technical University (TU Dresden) in Germany have three-dimensionally (3D)-printed skin and bone samples upside down, to see if the technique is practical in a low-gravity environment for rapid tissue repair. The team printed the skin using human blood plasma as a "bio ink," to which they added plant and algae-based materials to boost viscosity and prevent scattering in low gravity. TU Dresden's Nieves Cubo said, "Producing the bone sample involved printing human stem cells with a similar bio-ink composition, with the addition of a calcium phosphate bone cement as a structure-supporting material, which is subsequently absorbed during the growth phase." A future goal of the project is to adapt the 3D printing of entire organs to space conditions.

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An illustration of a cityscape with smart icons floating overhead A Secure Cloud Architecture for Smart Cities
Government Computer News
Stephanie Kanowitz
July 11, 2019

Syracuse University researchers have issued a new blueprint designed to help smart cities and communities create a hybrid cloud architecture that upholds confidentiality, access control, least privileges, and security of personally identifiable information. The Smart City and Community Challenge cloud privacy security rights inclusive architecture action cluster developed the framework, which is designed to back up critical systems in the event of attacks. The architecture employs a three-tiered data/risk classification scheme, with workflows applied to data depending on its classification. Officials then assign probability, impact, and overall ratings to each risk, and install mitigation controls. The researchers first tested the architecture by applying it to a network of city-owned smart streetlights in Syracuse, NY; other projects under consideration for the architecture include catch-basin monitoring and water-metering projects, in addition to others involving the ethics of artificial intelligence, facial recognition, and machine learning.

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An illustration showing how streaming data can be sent via music to a smartphone. Storing Data in Music
ETH Zurich
Fabio Bergamin
July 9, 2019

Researchers at ETH Zurich in Switzerland have developed a method for embedding data in music in a way that is imperceptible to the human ear, and transmitting it to a smartphone. The researchers found that under ideal conditions, the technique can transfer up to 400 bits per second without the average listener noticing. The researchers used the dominant notes in a piece of music, overlaying each of them with two marginally deeper and two marginally higher notes that are quieter than the dominant note. The team also used the harmonics of the strongest note, inserting slightly deeper and higher notes there as well. The data is stored in these additional notes. Said ETH’s Simon Tanner, “What we’re doing is embedding the data in the music itself; transmitting data from the loudspeaker to the mic.”

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A helicopter lifting off of a Coast Guard vessel. Coast Guard Calls for Ships to Update Their Systems After Malware Attack
The Hill
Maggie Miller
July 8, 2019

The U.S. Coast Guard is recommending ships update their cybersecurity, following a February malware attack on a vessel that "significantly degraded" its computer system. The hack impacted the functionality of the ship's computer system, which was employed for managing cargo data and communicating with the Coast Guard and shore-side facilities. Said the Coast Guard, "The vessel was operating without effective cybersecurity measures in place, exposing critical vessel control systems to significant vulnerabilities." The agency added that computer control of engines, electronic charting, and navigation makes cybersecurity as vital to protecting vessel operations "as controlling physical access to the ship or performing routine maintenance on traditional machinery." The Coast Guard urged vessels to segment their networks to complicate malefactors' access, establish network logins for every worker onboard, patch vulnerabilities, and install antivirus software.

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A robotic hand making a gesture in sign language. UC3M Programs a Humanoid Robot to Communicate in Sign Language
Carlos III University of Madrid (Spain)
July 8, 2019

Researchers at Carlos III University of Madrid (UC3M) in Spain have programmed a humanoid robot, named TEO, to communicate in sign language. The team used simulations to indicate the specific position of each phalanx (finger bone) in depicting specific signs from Spanish Sign Language. The researchers then reproduced each position with the robot’s hand, trying to make the movements similar to those a human hand would make. To date, TEO has mastered the fingerspelling alphabet of sign language, as well as a very basic vocabulary related to household tasks. Said UC3M researcher Jennifer J. Gago, "The deaf people who have been in contact with the robot have reported 80% satisfaction, so the response has been very positive."

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Digital Threats: Research and Practice (DTRAP)
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