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Welcome to the July 22, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Recursion technician preps solutions AI Drug Hunters Could Give Big Pharma a Run for Its Money
Robert Langreth
July 15, 2019

Using the latest neural-network algorithms, DeepMind, the artificial intelligence (AI) arm of Alphabet, beat seasoned biologists at 50 top labs from around the world in predicting the shapes of proteins. The company's win at the CASP13 meeting in Mexico in December has serious implications, as a tool able to accurately model protein structures could speed up the development of new drugs. Although DeepMind's simulation was unable to produce the atomic-level resolution necessary for drug discovery, its victory points to the potential for practical application of AI in one of the most expensive and failure-prone parts of the pharmaceutical business. AI could be used, for example, to scan millions of high-resolution cellular images to identify therapies researchers might otherwise have missed. In the short term, experts say AI-based simulations likely will be used to determine whether prospective drugs will be effective before proceeding to a full clinical trial.

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New Election Systems Use Vulnerable Software
Associated Press
Tami Abdollah
July 13, 2019

The vast majority of the approximately 10,000 election jurisdictions nationwide use Windows 7 or an older operating system to create ballots, program voting machines, tally votes, and report counts, according to a recent Associated Press analysis. On Jan. 14, Microsoft will stop providing technical support for Windows 7, which includes producing "patches" to fix software vulnerabilities. However, the software giant has said it will offer continued Windows 7 security updates for a fee through 2023, one example of how a lack of federal requirements or oversight can result in private companies determining the security level of election systems. Even if certain jurisdictions wanted to switch to Windows 10, which has more security features, it is uncertain whether the operating system could be certified and rolled out in time for upcoming primary elections.

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2-qubit gate, illustration The Speediest Quantum Operation Yet
University of New South Wales
Isabelle Dubach
July 18, 2019

Researchers at the University of New South Wales in Australia built the first two-qubit gate between atomic qubits in silicon, a significant breakthrough in the effort to build an atom-scale quantum computer. A two-qubit gate is an essential piece of any quantum computer, and this version is the fastest ever demonstrated in silicon, completing an operation in 0.8 nanoseconds, about 200 times faster than other spin-based two-qubit gates. The researchers were able to build the two-qubit gate by placing two atom-scale qubits closer together than ever before, then observing and measuring their spin states. This approach to quantum computing requires the placement of individual qubits in silicon, as well as the associated circuitry to initialize, control, and read the qubits at nanoscale.

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Microsoft's TypeScript Language Makes Top 10 for First Time
Liam Tung
July 19, 2019

Microsoft's TypeScript has broken into the top 10 on RedMonk's programming language popularity rankings for the first time. The ranking is based on the company's analysis of developer chatter on Stack Overflow, a coder knowledge-sharing site, and the number of projects in a language on Microsoft's GitHub. While RedMonk makes no claim that its rankings reflect how widely a language is used, trends such as TypeScript's rise can suggest future adoption or abandonment of a given language. In RedMonk's June quarterly report, TypeScript was the only major mover among the top 10 languages, with other top languages remaining static. Said RedMonk analyst Stephen O'Grady, "The ubiquity of JavaScript coupled with the optional safety offered by TypeScript has proven to be a winning combination, and vaulted it directly into rare territory."

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Professor Min-Soo Kim and Ph.D. students Yoon-Min Nam and Donghyoung Han A Fast, Elastic Distributed Matrix Computation Engine Using GPUs
Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology
July 17, 2019

Researchers at the Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology (DGIST) in South Korea have developed a system which, they say, can process and analyze 100 times more data 14 times faster than previous technologies. The DistME (Distributed Matrix Engine) technology is expected to be used in machine learning applications requiring big data processing, or in industry fields that need to analyze large-scale data. The researchers developed a distributed matrix multiplication method called CuboidMM, which performs matrix multiplication in a three-dimensional hexahedron, then partitions and processes the results into multiple pieces called cuboids. Said the Institute’s Min-Soo Kim, “The information processing technology developed this time can overcome such limitations and will be useful in not only machine learning but also applications in wider ranges of science technology data analysis application.”

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U.K. AI Gender Diversity is in 'Crisis' as Number of Female Scientists Drops
The Telegraph (U.K.)
Natasha Bernal
July 19, 2019

A report from innovation foundation Nesta found the U.K.'s artificial intelligence (AI) sector is suffering from a "serious gender diversity crisis" as only 14% of researchers in the field are women. As a result, the amount of research published by female AI professionals has dropped over the last decade, and gender diversity in AI is only slightly better than it was in the 1990s. The report also found the U.K. is lagging behind other countries in contributions made by female researchers to the development of AI. Said Nesta’s Joysy John, "This is not simply an issue because of the lost talent of capable women; it is also a much wider problem. Future technology will not be able to meet the needs of a diverse population if it is being shaped by a small section of society with a singular worldview."

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A tiny 3d-printed robot placed next to a penny to illustrates its diminutive dimensions. Vibration-Powered Robots Are the Size of the World's Smallest Ant
Georgia Tech Research Horizons
John Toon
July 16, 2019

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) have developed tiny three-dimensional (3D)-printed robots that move by harnessing vibration from piezoelectric actuators, ultrasound sources, or tiny speakers. The bots respond to different vibration frequencies, depending on their configurations, allowing users to control individual devices by adjusting the vibration. The bots are about two millimeters long, about the size of the world's smallest ant, and can cover four times their own length in one second. The researchers built a “playground” in which multiple micro-bots can move around as the researchers learn more about what they can do. Said Georgia Tech's Azadeh Ansari, “We are working to make the technology robust, and we have a lot of potential applications in mind. We are working at the intersection of mechanics, electronics, biology and physics. It’s a very rich area, and there’s a lot of room for multidisciplinary concepts.”

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Dataset Archive Helps Researchers Quickly Find a Needle in a Haystack
University of California, Riverside
Holly Ober
July 17, 2019

Researchers at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) have developed the UCR Spatio-temporal Active Repository (UCR STAR), a free archive of large spatio-temporal datasets available through an interactive exploratory interface. UCR STAR's interface is similar to that of Google Maps, as users can zoom in and out and pan around to get a quick overview of the data distribution, coverage, and accuracy. Important details are displayed once a dataset is selected, and the subset download feature allows users to quickly download the data for a given geographical region. Said UCR’s Ahmed Eldawy, “The map interface visualizes the data, so you can see if it’s a good fit. It’s like a catalog for datasets.”

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Three researchers holding some of the smart textiles created at the National University of Singapore. NUS Innovation Boosts Wireless Connectivity 1,000 Times
NUS News (Singapore)
July 15, 2019

Researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS) have developed a way for wearable devices to interconnect by incorporating conductive textiles, or metamaterials, into clothing to dynamically connect several wearable devices simultaneously. The resulting "wireless body sensor network" enables devices to transmit data with a signal that is 1,000 times stronger than conventional technologies, significantly improving the battery life of each device. The metamaterials create "surface waves" that hold the energy of the signal between devices close to the body, so the wearable devices use significantly less power and can detect much weaker signals. The metamaterials work with any existing wireless device in the designed frequency band. Said John Ho of NUS, "We envision that endowing athletic wear, medical clothing, and other apparel with such advanced electromagnetic capabilities can enhance our ability to perceive and interact with the world around us."

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A photo of a tornado funnel cloud. Twitter 'Fingerprint' Helps Decode How Individuals Respond to Crises
Purdue University News
Kayla Wiles
July 16, 2019

Purdue University researchers have developed an algorithm that analyzes tweets to better understand how users respond to crises, offering a new way to inform decisions on disaster management. The algorithm captures individuals' responses to a particular crisis via their tweets, creating a "fingerprint" that researchers and policy makers can use to better quantify what the community thinks about that crisis. The technique examines individuals' tweets associated with an event and breaks them down into categories of community resilience: ecological, economical, institutional, social, infrastructure, and quality of life. The algorithm automatically calculates and generates a heat map of the fingerprint, which makes it easier to determine which aspects of community resilience are more prevalent in people's reactions to certain crises.

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At Least 62 Colleges Exploited by a Software Vulnerability. Here's What You Need to Know.
The Chronicle of Higher Education
Grace Elletson
July 18, 2019

At least 62 colleges that use Banner, a program operated by the higher-education software company Ellucian, have been exploited through a vulnerability in the program that could allow users to gain access to student records, according to the U.S. Department of Education's Federal Student Aid office. The department reports that attackers infiltrated the program and created at least 600 fake or fraudulent student accounts, some of which "appear to be leveraged almost immediately for criminal activity." Paul E. Black, a computer scientist with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, said attackers able to gain administrative privileges could change any information in the system, including grades and course-registration schedules. A spokesperson for Ellucian said the company released a patch in May to address the vulnerability.

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An image from the new IBM, RPI system that shows the a virtual environment that teleports them to busy Beijing streets. New Immersive Classroom Uses AI, VR to Teach Mandarin Chinese
Technology Review
Karen Hao
July 16, 2019

Researchers at IBM and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) have developed a 360-degree virtual environment to help students learn Mandarin Chinese. The IBM/RPI system allows students to experience Chinese culture without leaving the classroom. It is equipped with different artificial intelligence capabilities to respond to users in real time. In addition, the environment uses several types of sensors to dynamically adapt to students' words and actions. The participants also wear microphones that feed their audio directly into speech recognition algorithms. Cameras track their movements and gestures to understand when they point to various objects or approach different virtual agents. IBM’s Hui Su said the work will help the researchers understand how such immersive cognitive environments can affect learning, collaboration, and sense-making.

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Hardness of Approximation Between P and NP
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