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Welcome to the August 5, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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A self-driving bicycle And Now, a Bicycle Built for None
The New York Times
Cade Metz
July 31, 2019

A team of researchers from Tsinghua University in China has developed a self-driving bicycle outfitted with artificial intelligence, which navigates using a neuromorphic chip. The researchers envision the Tianjic processor as helping machines respond to vocal commands, recognize their surroundings, evade obstacles, and maintain balance. The bicycle uses the chip to efficiently run software previously trained for specific tasks vital for battery-powered vehicles. Researchers hope ultimately to combine the training process with in-the-moment execution, so the bicycle can learn as it goes. The Chinese scientists view the Tianjic chip as a milestone toward "artificial general intelligence." The hope is that such chips eventually will allow machines to learn more complex tasks more efficiently, and be more adaptable in executing them. “That is where we see the big promise,” said Mike Davies, who oversees Intel's efforts to build neuromorphic chips.

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Air traffic control tower U.S. Issues Hacking Security Alert for Small Planes
Associated Press
Tami Abdollah
July 30, 2019

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued a security advisory for small planes, warning of a hacking exploit if someone physically accesses the aircraft. The Rapid7 cybersecurity company learned an attacker could potentially disrupt electronic messages routed across an aircraft's network, and interfere with the plane's systems, by affixing a small gadget to its wiring. The DHS recommended plane owners limit unauthorized access until the vulnerability is corrected. The report also urged manufacturers to review how they deploy open electronics systems known as "the CAN bus," to restrict an attacker's ability to execute such a hack.

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Stretchy Wearable Patch Allows Two-Way Communication with Robots
IEEE Spectrum
Samuel K. Moore
August 2, 2019

University of Houston researchers have developed a flexible wearable electronics patch that translates the wearer's movements and other instructions to a robot, and in turn receives temperature feedback from the machine. The researchers applied a low-temperature manufacturing process to fabricate transistors, resistive random-access memory cells, strain sensors, ultraviolet-light detectors, temperature sensors, and heaters, which they combined into a 4-micrometer-thick adhesive patch. When affixed to a volunteer's hand, the patch causes a robot hand to open or close, based on the strain sensor's reaction to the volunteer's hand movements. The patch's components are made from indium zinc oxide. Said the university’s Cunjiang Yu, “Traditionally, to achieve multiple functions you might need the heterogeneous integration of materials, or multiple chips together. But now using one material you can do all this.”

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Companies Make It Easier for Scientists to Use AI
Matthew Hutson
July 31, 2019

Companies are offering off-the-shelf software to help researchers utilize artificial intelligence (AI) without requiring programming expertise. The open source Ludwig software, released this year by the Uber ride-sharing company, can train itself to recognize associations when fed a spreadsheet containing training data and a file specifying input/output columns; the software then can process new data to label images, answer questions, or conduct estimates. Uber AI Labs' Piero Molino said both startups and major firms use Ludwig, while scientists employ the software for image analysis. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Tim Kraska said tools like the Northstar software, with its drag-and-drop interface, can build models that perform better than some created by data scientists.

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The VR world VR Game Allows Parkinson's Patients to Move, Feel in Virtual Worlds
USC Viterbi School of Engineering
Dena Taha
August 1, 2019

University of Southern California (USC) Viterbi School of Engineering researchers have developed a virtual reality (VR) game that allows people with Parkinson's disease to walk around a virtual modern city. Traditional physiotherapy is focused on strength training, stretching, and movement practice, but studies have shown that activity performed in the context of the environment aids long-term retention in motor skills. In the VR game, users can gain points by avoiding obstacles randomly generated on the sidewalks. The VR experience also includes a haptic feedback component, as well as audio feedback, so when a patient comes into contact with an obstacle, the user feels a vibration warning them to change their path. Said USC’s Adim Abass, “Our solution is not a substitute for being outdoors, but it eases the initial phase of rehabilitation.”

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Is Your Supercomputer Stumped? There May Be a Quantum Solution
Berkeley Lab News Center
Glenn Roberts Jr.
August 1, 2019

A new study by researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) found that quantum annealing can address problems pertaining to basic questions in nuclear physics about the subatomic building blocks of matter. Berkeley Lab's Chia Cheng Chang said, "The idea here is that the quantum annealer can evaluate a large number of variables at the same time and return the right solution in the end." The researchers used a commercial quantum annealer, with superconducting electronic elements chilled extremely low, to perform calculations. Each quantum bit (qubit) the team used ultimately generated either 1 or 0 by applying the lowest-energy-state rule, and up to 30 logical qubits were used in the algorithmic test. Said Chang, "Solving the system classically using this approach would take an exponentially long time to complete, but verifying the solution was very quick" with the annealer.

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At the Heart of Innovation
Carnegie Mellon News
Emily Durham
August 1, 2019

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed a technique that allows the three-dimensional (3D) bioprinting of tissue scaffolds out of collagen, a major structural protein in the human body. The Freeform reversible Embedding of Suspended Hydrogels (FRESH) method brings the field of tissue engineering one step closer to being able to 3D-print a full-sized, adult human heart. FRESH has allowed the researchers to overcome many challenges associated with existing 3D bioprinting methods, and to achieve better resolution and fidelity using soft and living materials. Said Carnegie Mellon researcher Adam Feinberg, "What we've shown is that we can print pieces of the heart out of cells and collagen into parts that truly function, like a heart valve or a small beating ventricle."

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CS Undergrads Most Likely to Drop Out
Karl Flinders
August 1, 2019

Researchers at the U.K.’s Higher Education Statistics Agency have found that 9.8% of computer science undergraduates dropped out before completing their degree—the highest rate among any major, according to the most recent available figures. This high dropout rate, combined with relatively low numbers of students working toward computer science degrees, comes as U.K.-based organizations are struggling to hire skilled technology professionals. Computer science as an undergraduate degree saw some growth in demand between the 2015-16 and 2016-17 academic years, rising by 4% in undergraduate enrollment numbers. The most common reason cited for leaving degree courses was that students did not feel they were getting enough for their money, while 49% said they did not enjoy it, and 33% said it was too hard.

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The procedure for monitoring the blood sugar levels of diabetics For Many Diabetes Patients, Skin Patches, Phones Replacing Finger Pricks
The Wall Street Journal
Peter Loftus
July 29, 2019

Diabetes patients increasingly are testing their blood sugar with disposable electronic skin patches and smartphones, rather than pricking their fingers. Many diabetics now wear coin-sized patches that assess glucose levels automatically on their arms or stomachs; the patches send this information to the patient's smartphone, or to a wearable insulin pump. The skin patches insert a small needle into the skin to detect blood sugar fluctuations and transmit their readings wirelessly. Use of digital blood-glucose monitors has risen due to upgrades in the technology's accuracy, and as more health plans cover the devices. Device maker DexCom is working with Alphabet's Verily unit, and has been hiring data-analytics workers to search for insights by pairing sugar data with exercise data collected from other wearable devices. Said Aaron Kowalski of JDRF, a group that funds Type 1 diabetes research, “There’s very few other diseases like this that put the bulk of the data in the hands of the patient.”

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Figure showing what happens to heat flow with and without trees next to a house Novel Process to Study How Trees Affect Building Temperatures, Air Flow in Extreme Heat
Iowa State University News Service
July 31, 2019

Iowa State University (ISU) researchers have created a computational model to assess how tree shading and air flow affects building temperature in extreme heat. The researchers inventoried a neighborhood of 1,142 trees and 340 buildings, which they rendered as a three-dimensional model to simulate trees' impact on indoor energy use, accounting for energy input of nearby buildings and effects of the surrounding environment. Initial results showed changes in landscaping can improve temperature control in buildings during times of extreme heat, since trees provide shading, radiation blockage, and evapotranspirational cooling. Said ISU's Ulrike Passe, "We are developing data-driven models and physics-based computational fluid dynamics models to see if a building can be operated with natural air flows, or if it needs air conditioning."

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NIST Releases Draft Security Feature Recommendations for IoT Devices
National Institute of Standards and Technology
Chad Boutin
August 1, 2019

The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has issued a "Core Baseline" guide on voluntary recommended cybersecurity for Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices. Recommendations include using in-network-capable devices, and the guide's precepts are applicable to any Internet-connected device. NIST's Mike Fagan said securing IoT devices requires the participation of both device manufacturers and users. The Core Baseline directs IoT devices to be self-identifying, via a serial number and/or a unique address used when connecting to networks; authorized users also should be able to reconfigure device software and firmware, which is securely updatable. Devices also should have a clear explanation of their data-security capabilities, limit access to local and network interfaces, and support logging of cybersecurity events accessible to owners.

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Visual Forensics to Detect Fake Text
Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
Leah Burrows
July 25, 2019

Researchers at Harvard University's John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and IBM have developed a statistical method and an open access interactive tool to detect artificial intelligence (AI)-generated text. GLTR (Giant Language Model Test Room) identifies text that is too predictable, rather than focusing on identifying errors in natural-language generators. GLTR is based on a model trained on 45 million texts from websites—the public version of the OpenAi model, GPT-2. When a passage of text is fed into the tool, it highlights the text in one of four colors, based on predictability of a word in the context of the word before it. The method isn't meant to replace humans in identifying fake texts, but rather to support human intuition and understanding. Said Sebastian Gehrmann of SEAS, “Our goal is to create human and AI collaboration systems."

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The Handbook of Multimodal-Multisensor Interfaces - Volume III
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