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Welcome to the September 11, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Red skulls Scientists Find the Skull of Humanity's Ancestor, on a Computer
The New York Times
Carl Zimmer
September 10, 2019

Researchers at the French National Museum of Natural History and the U.K.'s University of Cambridge have reconstructed a virtual skull of the last common human ancestor using computerized-tomography scans of 260 modern-day skulls from various populations, and 100,000-year-old skulls from Israel. The team also analyzed a series of extinct human relatives and plotted these species on an evolutionary tree, tracing skull development along each branch and ending at a model of the common ancestor. The researchers compared this skull with actual African fossil skulls from the same era, identifying sufficient differences to speculate that the fossils belonged to three separate populations, rather than one. Katerina Harvati at Germany's University of Tubingen said this research is "a really great way to test hypotheses about the fossil record."

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A computer science class. States Boost Computer Science Education Efforts
U.S. News & World Report
Casey Leins
September 11, 2019

A study by the Advocacy Coalition, the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA), and the Expanding Computing Education Pathways Alliance found that only 45% of U.S. high schools offer classes in computer science (CS), and that girls and minorities are underrepresented in those classes. The Advocacy Coalition generated nine policy recommendations for U.S. states to address the lack of computer science classes in most high schools, and the underrepresentation of girls and minorities in CS education. said states adopting one to four of the coalition’s recommendations have seen a 39% boost in the number of high schools teaching CS, while adopters of all nine recommendations have witnessed a 65% increase. The report found that states adopting even one of the recommendations have more schools teaching CS, and more female students taking CS Advanced Placement exams.

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Scientists in Israel Store Digital Information in DNA
The Jerusalem Post
Leon Sverdlov
September 9, 2019

Scientists at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and the Interdisciplinary Center have streamlined the process of storing more than 10 petabytes of digital information in a single gram of DNA. The researchers created new error-correction mechanisms that can fix errors within biological-physical processes, such as those used in DNA storage. The optimized process could offer a viable substitute to conventional information storage, resulting in a reduced carbon footprint attributed to traditional storage technology such as server farms. The researchers suggested this technology could potentially streamline synthetic biology and biotechnology, especially as synthetic DNA is increasingly utilized in research and industry.

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The PhotoChromeleon system allows the manipulation of colors. Objects Can Now Change Colors Like a Chameleon
MIT News
Rachel Gordon
September 10, 2019

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) developed a system that uses reprogrammable ink to allow objects to change colors when exposed to ultraviolet (UV) and visible light sources. The PhotoChromeleon system uses a mixture of photochromic dyes that can be sprayed or painted onto the surface of any object; exposure to UV light saturates the colors in the dyes from transparent to full saturation, while exposure to white light desaturates them as desired. Said MIT’s Stefanie Mueller, "By giving users the autonomy to individualize their items, countless resources could be preserved, and the opportunities to creatively change your favorite possessions are boundless."

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IBM, Fraunhofer Partner on German-Backed Quantum Computing Research Push
Douglas Busvine
September 10, 2019

IBM has partnered with Germany's Fraunhofer Society research institute to investigate quantum computing's potential, with the German government earmarking $717 million over two years for broader research in the field. IBM will deploy a 20-quantum-bit Q System One quantum computer at one of its German facilities, and collaborate with Fraunhofer on developing a related research unit and community. Said IBM Europe's Martin Jetter, "This effort is poised to be a major catalyst for Europe's innovation landscape and research capabilities." German scientists also will be able to access IBM's U.S.-based Q Network research forum, while the Q System One will be cloud-accessible.

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Looking to Switch Careers? Data Science Is Booming
PC Magazine
Angela Moscaritolo
September 10, 2019

Estimates by U.K.-based recruitment firm Harnham indicate a boom in U.S. jobs in the field of data science. Harnham said East Coast data science job openings during the first six months of this year grew 273% year-over-year, while the number of West Coast-based data science jobs rose 174%. Harnham’s Sam Jones said the firm is seeing “huge growth across the country, particularly in New York and Boston.” Jones said the “Data and Analytics market is showing no signs of slowing, and a lack of high-level candidates means there are huge opportunities for those working in this space.” The Glassdoor job website also ranked data scientist as the top U.S. job for the fourth straight year, offering a median annual base salary of $108,000 and high job satisfaction.

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Google, Amazon, Microsoft Battle to Store Health Data in the Cloud
The Wall Street Journal
Melanie Evans
September 10, 2019

Tech giants Google, Microsoft, and Amazon are vying to control the healthcare and cloud-computing markets through agreements to store data and develop hospital software. Google announced a 10-year deal with the Mayo Clinic to store the hospital system's medical, genetic, and financial information, while Microsoft reached a similar data-storage agreement with Providence St. Joseph Health. Meanwhile, Amazon Web Services agreed to store electronic health record data from Missouri-based Cerner Corp. in the cloud. Certain hospital-system and company officials expect to co-develop new software by merging the data and expertise of healthcare companies with technology providers' computing power and engineering knowledge. Said Mayo's Chris Ross, “Google can’t do this alone. We can’t do this alone.”

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Army Leans Into Biometric ID
Government Computer News
Lauren C. Williams
September 4, 2019

The U.S. Army's C5ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Combat Systems, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) Center is implementing two biometric identification systems to spot potential threat actors. C5ISR's deployment of the Video Identification, Collection, and Exploitation (VICE) program and the Voice Identity Biometric Exploitation Services (VIBES) expands its face-recognition and voice-recognition capabilities. C5ISR's Keith Riser said VICE has generated about 25,000 biometric records, processed hundreds of watchlist matches, facially templated thousands of people, and voice-printed hundreds of "unpictured, unvoiced ISIS fighters." VICE's modular framework is integrated into a user interface for analysts, who match this information against data in the Department of Defense's releasable Biometrically-Enabled Watchlists or Automated Biometrics Identification System. Said Riser, “We're a face-matching system, providing the analyst a way to match faces against media that they have. You might not always be able to [collect] a fingerprint but this way we can check against the face."

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A computer model holding a paper umbrella. Computer Model Turns Text Into Animation
Byron Spice
September 10, 2019

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) scientists have developed a computer model that can directly render text describing physical movements as computer-generated animation, an initial step toward creating movies from scripts. The Joint Language-to-Pose (JL2P) neural architecture incorporates sentences and physical motions to deduce connections between language and action, gestures, and movement. CMU's Louis-Philippe Morency said the current focus for JL2P is virtual character animation, but he suggested, "this link between language and gestures could be applied to robots; we might be able to simply tell a personal assistant robot what we want it to do." JL2P views verbs and adverbs as classifying action and speed/acceleration, with nouns and adjectives describing locations and directions.

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A real lizard encounters a robot lizard. Realistic Robots Provide Clues to Lizard Interaction
Alma College
Mike Silverthorn
September 5, 2019

Researchers at Alma College have developed an interactive robot that responds to the immediate actions of live lava lizards on the Galapagos Islands. The robots, connected to a computer that controls their actions, previously were programmed to be unaffected by the response of a real lizard. The researchers used the robots to study male lizard contests for access to reproductive females, which involve performing head-bobbing displays. The researchers observed how the lizards reacted if the robot immediately responded. or had a delayed response to a head bob by a lizard. Said Alma's Dave Clark, "Our research confirms that scientists can use robotic stimuli to interact with these animals, to communicate with them, and even manipulate their behavior, which in turn furthers our understanding of how lava lizards respond to each other in their natural habitat."

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Rutgers Researchers Develop Custom Data Collection System to Improve Health Disparity Research
Rutgers University
September 9, 2019

Rutgers University researchers have developed a custom Web application that facilitates data collection from minority research participants in in-person, multilingual health surveys. Said Rutgers' XinQi Dong, "This method...has allowed our researchers to overcome common cultural and communication barriers and has promoted the development of stronger interpersonal connections between researchers and participants." With the app, surveys can be conducted in-home by trained multilingual and bicultural staff, in respondents' preferred language or dialect. The app relays data wirelessly to a secure server in real time, where multiple features optimize quality monitoring, data security, and simplified dataset preparation.

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A CCTV camera in use. AIs That Deblur Faces Could Make People on CCTV Easier to Identify
New Scientist
Donna Lu
August 31, 2019

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University and Adobe have developed an artificial intelligence (AI) system that can automatically deblur photographs of people's faces. The program could be used to improve facial recognition on long-distance surveillance images, such as those taken from a drone. The researchers trained the AI program by providing it with thousands of both clear and blurry photos of people's faces. In each picture, different facial features were labelled, such as the eyes, nose, and mouth. In addition, the AI was trained to deblur individual features such as skin and hair, and then combine the deblurred features into a final clear photo.

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