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Welcome to the September 6, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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ORNL-VA Collaboration Targets Veteran Suicide Epidemic
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Rachel Harken
August 29, 2019

The U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have jointly engineered an expanded iteration of the medication possession ratio algorithm, a predictive model for identifying veterans at risk of suicide. The expanded model is 300 times faster than the previous version, enabling it to prescribe more timely interventions for veterans with inconsistent medication usage patterns. Earlier versions only factored in active psychotropic medications, spanning a narrow category of the total veteran population in the Veterans Health Administration database. The ORNL team broadened the algorithm’s drug coverage to include all current medications, past prescriptions, and all 9 million veterans in the database. It also made the model more efficient; it now runs in 15 minutes, versus the earlier version's 75 hours. The VA's Jodie Trafton said, "The better our models can be, the better we'll get at calling the right people at the right time."

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exec on mobile phone An AI First: Voice-Mimicking Software Reportedly Used in a Major Theft
The Washington Post
Drew Harwell
September 4, 2019

French insurance company Euler Hermes recently revealed that one of its clients was victimized by thieves who used voice-mimicking software to imitate a company executive's speech and dupe one of the employees into sending hundreds of thousands of dollars to a secret account. The managing director of a British energy company, believing he was talking to his boss, followed instructions to wire more than $240,000 to an account in Hungary. While the director found the request "rather strange," he said the voice was so accurate that he had no choice but to comply. Said Andrew Grotto of Stanford University’s Cyber Policy Center, “This is a technology that would have sounded exotic in the extreme 10 years ago, now being well within the range of any lay criminal who's got creativity to spare.”

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A New Alphabet to Write and Read Quantum Messages with Very Fast Particles
University of Vienna (Austria)
September 2, 2019

Researchers at the University of Vienna in Austria and the Austrian Academy of Sciences have developed a new method to write and read quantum messages that guarantees reliable decoding of the messages. The method provides a new definition of the spin of quantum particles that move very fast, modifying the way messages are written and read. The technique relies on a "translation" of the way the message would be written and read between the standard alphabet—used when the electron is at rest—and the new alphabet, which is used when the electron travels very fast. Said University of Vienna researcher Flaminia Giacomini, "These results are indicative that this translation procedure could open up to new applications in relativistic quantum information."

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Sally Floyd Sally Floyd, Who Helped Things Run Smoothly Online, Dies at 69
The New York Times
Katie Hafner
September 4, 2019

Computer scientist Sally Floyd, whose pioneering work on controlling congestion on the Internet in the 1980s remains essential to Internet stability, has died at age 69. Floyd co-invented the Random Early Detection (RED) algorithm, which helps network traffic flow smoothly during periods of overload. UC Berkeley's Vern Paxon said, "With RED, a router would generate a signal saying, 'I've got enough backlog that I'm going to tell senders I'm backed up.'" This meant bottlenecks could be completely avoided by having routers discard the occasional data packet sooner. Said Harvard University’s Eddie Kohler, a longtime colleague of Floyd’s, “Before Sally, the working of network traffic mechanisms wasn’t completely understood, and as the Internet expanded through the 1980s and began carrying much more traffic, that lack of understanding had real consequences.”

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cows wearing 5G-connected sensor collars British Farm Moo-ves into New Tech with 5G Collars on Cows
ABC News
James Brooks
September 4, 2019

Researchers at the Agricultural Engineering Precision Innovation Center in the U.K. are testing next-generation mobile technology aimed at helping make dairy farming more efficient. They fit a herd of 180 cows with wireless monitoring collars that work like fitness trackers, recording the bovines' movements and eating habits, and sending the data to the cloud using 5G mobile network signals. An algorithm then analyzes the data, enabling farmers and veterinarians to see information via a smartphone app, increasing their productivity and reducing the manpower needed to keep tabs on the herd. Said the Center's Mark Gough, "Having the data available to your phones, to mobile devices, just makes it that much more accessible, much quicker."

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hand-scanner, illustration Amazon Tests Tool That Scans Your Hand to Let You Pay at Whole Foods
The Telegraph (U.K.)
James Cook
September 4, 2019

Amazon is reportedly testing a hand-scanning payments system to enable shoppers to pay for groceries. Shoppers using the Orville system hold their hands before a camera; the system measures the size and shape of the hands to confirm their identity and allow the purchase to proceed. Amazon reportedly plans to implement the system in U.S. Whole Foods stores in the coming months (the retail giant bought the supermarket chain in 2017).

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Illustrative cybergrid with glowing lock. Efficient Protection of Sensitive Data
Max Planck Gessellschaft
September 3, 2019

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems in Germany have developed a new technology to isolate software components from each other. ERIM allows sensitive data to be protected from hackers when the data is processed by online services. The method has up to five times less computational overhead than the previous best isolation technology, making it more practical for online services to use. The researchers combined the Memory Protection Keys (MPK) hardware feature with instruction rewriting to create an environment in which an attacker is no longer able to get around the "walls" between software components. Said the Institute’s Peter Druschel, “Software developers are in a permanent race against time and cyber criminals, but data protection still has to be practical. This sometimes calls for systematic but unconventional approaches, like the one we pursued with ERIM.”

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Intel Unveils World's Fastest Academic Supercomputer
Kyle Wiggers
September 3, 2019

Intel and Dell EMC this week formally unveiled an academic supercomputer that can achieve peak performance of 38.7 quadrillion floating point operations per second (petaflops), making it the world's fastest computer designed for academic workloads such as modeling, simulation, big data, and machine learning. Earlier this year, the supercomputer Frontera, which was deployed in June, ranked fifth on the Top500 list with 23.5 petaflops on the LINPACK benchmark, which measures the most powerful non-distributed computer systems. Frontera relies on hundreds of 28-core 2nd Gen Xeon Scalable (Cascade Lake) processors slotted into Dell EMC PowerEdge servers, alongside Nvidia nodes for single-precision computing. Said Intel's Trish Damkroger, "The Frontera system will provide researchers computational and artificial intelligence capabilities that have not existed before for academic research."

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An artistic grip of exclamations points. System Ingests AT&T Network Logs to Reveal Root Cause of Errors
IEEE Spectrum
Payal Dhar
August 29, 2019

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (UIUC) have developed a set of algorithms that can group the raw error data of commercial networks into events described by important keywords. When an error occurs in these networks, it can be difficult for providers to find the root cause because the error message may be generated in a different spot within a network than where the error actually occurred. The team analyzed error logs related to millions of messages exchanged through AT&T's network, focusing on latency errors. The researchers were not identifying the cause of the errors, but simply separating the messages into groups, each consisting of messages created by a single event. Said UIUC's Siddhartha Satpathi, "This grouping of messages make the message log human interpretable, and can help an engineer decipher the root cause of the error."

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Algorithm Identifies Optimal Pairs for Composing Metal-Organic Frameworks
Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology
August 30, 2019

Researchers at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) in South Korea utilized the results of an algorithmic study to develop an algorithmic technique for identifying metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) that can be combined with other materials to generate optimal synergetic structures. The researchers found the metal node of one MOF can coordinately bond with the linker of a different MOF, and the precisely matched atomic- and molecular-interface configurations can improve the probability of MOF@MOF synthesis. The team screened thousands of MOFs to spot optimal MOF pairs that seamlessly link to each other by exploiting this phenomenon.

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A photo of Purdue University Reactor Number One (PUR-1) plant. How America's First Digitally Operated Reactor Could Push Nuclear Technology Forward
Popular Mechanics
David Grossman
September 4, 2019

The Purdue University Reactor Number One (PUR-1) nuclear plant has switched over from analog to all-digital operation as a testbed for the technology. PUR-1, an academic power plant used for research purposes or to power other projects at Purdue, is extremely small, and can only legally generate enough energy to power a toaster or hair dryer. The reactor will allow live data-streaming to remote locations, with researchers able to monitor experiments and students to observe its working components in real time. PUR-1 supervisor Clive Townsend said, "We are inviting and forming partnerships—that could be private, other universities, or national labs—to explore how we can leverage the strengths of digital systems in order to ensure reliability."

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A photo of MIT’s robotic boats floating in a pool. MIT's Fleet of Autonomous Boats Can Now Shapeshift
MIT News
Rob Matheson
August 29, 2019

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) scientists have upgraded a fleet of autonomous boats to autonomously disconnect and reassemble into different forms of floating platforms, in the canals of Amsterdam. The rectangular roboats—a collaboration between MIT and the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions—use a new algorithm for efficient reconfiguration. This algorithm performs planning and tracking so groups of roboat units can unlatch from each another in one set formation, follow a collision-free trajectory, and reattach to their appropriate place on the new set configuration in minutes. The researchers hope to use the roboats to form into a dynamic “bridge” across a 60-meter canal in downtown Amsterdam. Said MIT’s Carlo Ratti, “This will be the world’s first bridge comprised of a fleet of autonomous boats.”

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A photo of floating lava. Computer Models Solve Magma 'Sweet Spot' Mystery
Kevin Stacey
September 5, 2019

Brown University researchers used computer models to help explain why magma chambers that feed recurrent and often explosive volcanic eruptions usually exist in an extremely narrow depth range within the Earth's crust. The simulations model the physics of the chambers' evolution, revealing that the ability of water vapor to bubble out of the magma, and of the crust to expand as the chamber expands, significantly contribute to limiting their depth to about six to 10 kilometers (3.7 to 6.2 miles) below the surface. A pressure range between about 1.5 kilobars and 2.5 kilobars allows chambers to expand without exploding to the surface. Brown's Christian Huber said the computer models capture the dynamics of the host crust and the magma in the chamber to better understand the limiting factor that water vapor exerts on shallow chambers.

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