MS in Data Science
Welcome to the December 4, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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That Smart TV You Just Bought May Be Spying on You, FBI Warns
Josh Campbell
December 3, 2019

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is warning consumers that televisions that offer Internet streaming and facial recognition capabilities may be vulnerable to intrusion. The FBI has outlined how such advanced technological features could permit smart TV manufacturers and app developers to spy on consumers. The FBI also claims malicious cyber actors can take control of unsecured smart TVs and potentially cause problems for owners. In order to guard against possible intrusion, the FBI suggests that smart TV owners educate themselves on their device's security settings, change default network passwords set by manufacturers, and understand how to enable and disable microphones and cameras.

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A birdhouse Carpentry Compiler Helps Woodworkers Design Objects They Can Actually Make
UW News
Sarah McQuate
December 2, 2019

University of Washington (UW) researchers have developed a digital tool that, when users design woodworking projects, generates fabrication instructions based on the materials and equipment available, while solving problems with techniques from programming languages. The Carpentry Compiler includes Hardware Extensible Languages for Manufacturing, a system with two programming languages: a high-level object-design language, and a low-level fabrication-instruction language. As the user designs an object with the high-level language, a compiler confirms that the design is possible according to the specified tools and materials; once the design is complete, the compiler formulates instructions for building it based on different costs. "The future of manufacturing is about being able to create diverse, customizable high-performing parts,” said UW’s Adriana Shulz. “Previous revolutions have been about productivity mostly, but now it’s about what we can make, and who can make it."

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Ultrafast Quantum Simulations: New Twist to Old Approach
University of Warwick
November 25, 2019

Researchers at the Universities of Warwick and Oxford in the U.K. have developed a new technique for simulating quantum systems with large numbers of particles. The ultrafast simulation allows users to study the interactions of electrons and ions at the quantum level. The researchers said the new simulation is more than 10,000 times faster than previous methods. Said Warwick’s Dirk Gericke, “With this huge increase of numerical efficiency, it is now possible to follow the full dynamics of fully interacting electron-ion systems. This new approach thus opens new classes of problems for efficient solutions.”

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Big Data Algorithms Improve Quake Detection, Monitor Livestock Health, Agricultural Pests
UCR News (CA)
Holly Ober
November 26, 2019

University of California, Riverside scientists have designed two algorithms that could improve earthquake monitoring, help farmers protect crops from insects, or monitor the health of livestock. The algorithms rapidly detect patterns in massive datasets, but consume less computing power than other techniques. The SCAMP (SCAlable Matrix Profile) algorithm sorted about two years of seismic recordings from a California seismic fault in hours, at a cost of about $300, and detected 16 times as many quakes than were previously known. Other applications included reading sensor-collected insect movements to identify an insect that spreads citrus-killing bacteria, and analyzing a dataset from accelerometers on chickens to classify feeding and other behavior patterns. A second algorithm, LAMP (Learned Approximate Matrix Profile), trained on SCAMP's data from fault analysis and compared the streaming data to examples it had previously observed. Faster interpretation of seismic data could improve current earthquake warning systems for real-time quake detection.

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Crypto-Cracking Record Reached, with Less Help Than Usual From Moore's Law
Ars Technica
Dan Goodin
December 3, 2019

An international team of French and U.S. researchers factored the largest RSA key size ever computed, as well as a matching computation of the largest integer discrete logarithm, using more efficient algorithms than hardware changes would predict to be required. The researchers successfully factored RSA-240, an RSA key with 240 decimal digits and a size of 795 bits, and a same-sized discrete logarithm. The researchers used the Number Field Sieve algorithm, and the total computation time for achieving these records was approximately 4,000 core-years, using the same hardware and software. Enhancements to the open source software that implements Number Field Sieving played a more substantial role in realizing these records than Moore's Law. Tests using hardware from 2016 to sieve both the 795-bit RSA key and logarithm suggested a tripling of performance over what was expected, without requiring faster computers.

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Most Brazilians Believe Companies Don't Protect Their Personal Data
Angelica Mari
December 2, 2019

Among the findings of a Harris Poll survey of 11,000 consumers in 11 countries was that nearly all Brazilians feel companies are not adequately protecting their personal data. Half of Brazilian consumers surveyed said they realize companies always, or frequently, share their information with organizations they are unaware of, while 81% acknowledged having lost control of their data's use by companies. The survey also found that 60% of Brazilians have been impacted by a data leak or know someone who has been the victim of one. Brazil's General Personal Data Protection Act is slated to go live in August 2020, although a recent bill proposed a two-year delay in implementation in order to establish a governing body responsible for modifying the country’s data protection and privacy regulations.

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A man wearing VR glasses New Streaming Technology Will Change Computer Gaming
Graz University of Technology (Austria)
Christoph Pelzl
December 2, 2019

Researchers at Austria’s Graz University of Technology (TU Graz) have developed a combined cloud computing/virtual reality (VR) streaming technology that will allow affordable, untethered VR headsets to display computer games in extremely high quality. The Shading Atlas Streaming technique delivers compelling VR experiences with substantially fewer bits per second broadcast over the network by streaming geometrically encoded data rather than videos; the headset decodes the data and renders it into an image. Said TU Graz’s Dieter Schmalstieg, "Our encoding allows correct images to be predicted for a small temporal window into the future. As a result, physical latency is compensated for, and the user does not perceive any delays." The researchers utilize conventional MPEG video compression for encoding and transmitting data; because VR headsets already support MPEG decoding, Shading Atlas Streaming does not require the addition of any new hardware.

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A man on a skateboard Report: These 10 Hottest Tech Skills Could Pay Off the Most in 2020
Jennifer Liu
December 2, 2019

The Udemy online learning platform's 2020 Workplace Learning Trends Report identified the most popular and fastest-growing technology skills among users, highlighting the need for employees to continue learning new talents. Udemy's Shelley Osborne said, "When we're having to contend with trends shifting so quickly, it's hard to hire for that, which is why it's important to look at this from a learning standpoint." The top three skills identified by the report are familiarity with the open source Gatsby.js Web framework tool for developing websites; Amazon Web Services' Big Data course for managing massive data workloads; and the React Hooks Web development tool. Other important emerging skill areas include the Microsoft Azure Architecture public cloud computing platform for managing scalable and efficient apps, the open source Apache Airflow tool for complex computational and data processing, and the SwiftUI tool for building user interfaces across Apple apps.

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Toward More Efficient Computing, With Magnetic Waves
MIT News
Rob Matheson
November 28, 2019

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed a circuit design that enables control of computing using magnetic waves, rather than electricity. This development is a step toward practical magnetic-based devices, which have the potential to compute much more efficiently than electronics. The researchers developed a circuit architecture that uses a nanometer-wide domain wall in layered nanofilms of magnetic material to modulate a passing spin wave (a quantum property of electrons) without any added components or electrical current. This allows the spin wave to be tuned to the location of the domain wall as needed. Said MIT’s Luqiao Liu, "People are beginning to look for computing beyond silicon. Wave computing is a promising alternative."

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A drone carrying a package UBC Research Highlights Need to Safeguard Drones, Robotic Cars Against Cyber Attacks
University of British Columbia
November 27, 2019

Researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada have discovered that robotic vehicles like Amazon delivery drones or Mars rovers can be hacked more easily than people may think. The researchers developed three kinds of stealth attacks on robotic vehicles that caused such systems to crash, miss their targets, or complete their missions much later than planned. The attacks require little to no human intervention to succeed on both real and simulated drones and rovers. An automated process allows an attacker to learn the allowed deviations of robotic vehicles running on conventional protection systems; the attacker could use that information to launch automated attacks that the vehicle cannot detect until it is too late. Said UBC's Karthik Pattabiraman, "Especially worrisome is the fact that none of these attacks could be detected by the most commonly used detection techniques." UBC’s Pritam Dash added, "We need safety measures to prevent rogue drones and rovers from causing serious economic, property, and even bodily harm."

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An image of a tiger Tech Is Transforming Wildlife Conservation
Financial Times
Clive Cookson
November 28, 2019

Researchers at the U.K.’s Zoological Society of London (ZSL) have developed the Instant Detect poaching alarm system, which uses metal detectors to activate a camera when metal objects such as knives and guns are detected, then sends the resulting images to authorities. ZSL is working on a machine learning algorithm to add the ability to detect the sound of gunshots, with plans to incorporate acoustic sensors into its Instant Detect system. The TrailGuard system developed by conservation charity Resolve incorporates vision-processing chips in its cameras and carries out image analysis locally to extend battery life and cut transmission costs. The first version of TrailGuard, operating in Tanzania's Grumeti reserve, enabled rangers to make 30 arrests and seize 1,000 kg. of illegal bushmeat. Said Instant Detect project manager Sam Seccombe, “Conservation organizations don't generally have the resources to recruit and employ expensive software engineers and developers, so we depend on collaboration with the tech industry.”

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CMU Algorithm Rapidly Finds Anomalies in Gene Expression Data
Carnegie Mellon University Computational Biology Department
Byron Spice
November 27, 2019

A new algorithm developed in Carnegie Mellon University's Computational Biology Department can quickly sort through massive amounts of gene expression data to identify unexpected phenomena that might warrant further study. The algorithm then re-examines its own output, looking for mistakes it has made and correcting them. The research team has used the algorithm to detect 88 anomalies in two widely-used RNA-sequencing libraries that were both common and not previously known. The algorithm automates the search for anomalies, allowing users to consider all of the transcript sequences, rather than just those regions where they expect to see anomalies.

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Most Data Scientists Plan Exit in 2020, Women in Data Conference Hears
Brian McKenna
November 28, 2019

A study presented at the Women in Data U.K. conference indicated that most data scientists intend to leave the field soon, due to a lack of management support. In an online poll of 907 U.K. data science professionals in October, 56% of respondents said they plan to switch jobs in 2020, driven by lack of management support, bureaucracy, and little access to tools for conducting data science. A dearth of predominant internal science communities pointed to a sense of mounting crisis, with 51% of those surveyed who were managers calling siloed organizations an obstacle, while 86% cited skills shortages, and 69% planned to upskill. Respondents listed machine learning, big data storage and database technologies, and data analytics technologies as the leading three areas in which they intend to refine their skills. Said Rich Pugh of the Mango Solutions consultancy, "If organizations cannot hire people with all the skills required, I would urge them to look at what skills are in existence internally and create a team of people with complementary skillsets."

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