MS in Data Science
Welcome to the December 6, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

ACM TechNews mobile apps are available for Android phones and tablets (click here) and for iPhones (click here) and iPads (click here).

To view "Headlines At A Glance," hit the link labeled "Click here to view this online" found at the top of the page in the html version. The online version now has a button at the top labeled "Show Headlines."

Fantastic Voyage ship in blood vessel Instrument Guidance Through Deep, Convoluted Blood Vessel Networks
Polytechnique Montreal
December 3, 2019

Researchers at the Polytechnique Montreal Nanorobotics Laboratory in Canada have developed a robotic platform that can guide endovascular surgery through deeper, difficult-to-access blood vessel networks than previously possible. The Fringe Field Navigation (FFN) method taps the magnetic field that the superconducting magnet of a clinical magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner produces. The platform utilizes a robotic table positioned within the fringe field by the scanner; this table moves on all axes to position and orient the patient, based on the direction in which a surgical instrument must be guided through the body. The table automatically shifts direction and orientation to position the subject for successive stages of the instrument's journey, with FFN mapping the directional forces of the scanner's magnetic field.

Full Article

University of Waterloo Ph.D. graduate Fiodar Kazhamiaka and Professor Catherine Rosenberg Making Photovoltaic Storage Systems More Financially Attractive to Homeowners
University of Waterloo News
December 1, 2019

Fiodar Kazhamiaka at Canada's University of Waterloo has developed specific ways to boost the economic value of residential photovoltaic (PV) energy storage systems to homeowners. Kazhamiaka collaborated with his supervisors at the University of Waterloo, and with Yashar Ghiassi-Farrokhfal at Erasmus University in the Netherlands, on algorithms for sizing such systems. Kazhamiaka also created control solutions for PV storage systems that learn and adjust to changes in the operating environment over time. Said Kazhamiaka, "For widespread adoption, a PV-storage system has to make sense economically. Everyone understands money and that's the Holy Grail of sustainable energy production—finding a way to provide clean energy that competes with or is cheaper than what's available now."

Full Article
Fake 'Likes' Remain Just a Few Dollars Away, Researchers Say
The New York Times
Davey Alba
December 6, 2019

A study by researchers at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Strategic Communications Center of Excellence found social media companies are doing a poor job of policing inexpensive techniques and tools for flooding platforms with disinformation. The researchers evaluated social media companies' ability to curtail paid influence campaigns by tapping Russian and European vendors of fake social media engagement; they purchased massive numbers of bogus comments, likes, views, and followers, for roughly $330. About 80% of the fake clicks persisted four weeks later, and 95% of the accounts used to generate the clicks remained active three weeks after researchers reported them to the social media firms. Many sellers of social-media manipulation tools are in Russia. NATO's Sebastian Bay said, "We need to consider if [regulation of social media manipulation] is something which should be allowed but, perhaps more, to be very aware that this is so widely available."

Full Article
*May Require Paid Registration

water horse and Elsa in Frozen 2 Water Animation Gets Easier, Thanks to BYU Professors
BYU News (UT)
December 4, 2019

Three computer science professors and a graduate student at Brigham Young University (BYU) have developed a technique for rapidly resizing fluid animations without remodeling entire animation sequences. The method uses fluid carving to remove pixels identified by a mathematical function as redundant. The researchers can edit a three-dimensional video spread out over time with this process, rendering it smaller to make it easier for animators to change the animation on the fly. BYU's Parris Egbert said, "Probably the most difficult thing was figuring out how you carve these seams through a four-dimensional volume. Not to mention the task of keeping it all straight as you're going along."

Full Article
New Iranian Wiper Discovered in Attacks on Middle Eastern Companies
Ars Technica
Sean Gallagher
December 4, 2019

IBM's X-Force security unit has reported a new type of wiper malware associated with threat groups in Iran and employed in attacks against Middle Eastern energy and industrial companies. The ZeroCleare wiper was launched from Amsterdam Internet Protocol addresses owned by a group linked to an Iranian threat group, and another threat group may have used it to access accounts beforehand. ZeroCleare uses software maker EldoS' RawDisk software driver to directly access disk drives and write data, along with a vulnerable but signed driver from a version of Oracle's VirtualBox virtual machine software. This allows the malware to circumvent signature checking of the driver, so it can attack 64-bit versions of Windows. The payload overwrites the Master Boot Record and disk partitions of the compromised machine.

Full Article

driver with mobile phone in hand Cellphone Detection Cameras Rolled Out in Australia
Amy Woodyatt
December 2, 2019

Australia's state of New South Wales (NSW) has started using high-definition detection cameras to identify drivers illegally using cellphones while driving. Transport for NSW, the state’s leading transport and roads agency, said the fixed and mobile trailer-mounted cameras will use artificial intelligence to vet images and detect suspected violators, before sending the images to authorized personnel for verification. NSW minister for roads Andrew Constance said, "The NSW Government is serious about reducing our state's road toll and rolling out mobile phone detection cameras is another way we will do this." State officials said an earlier trial spotted more than 100,000 drivers illegally using cellphones while driving. Forty-five portable cameras will be deployed across NSW over the next three years.

Full Article

An MIT-invented model demonstrates some basic intuitive physics. Helping Machines Perceive Some Laws of Physics
MIT News
Rob Matheson
December 2, 2019

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed a model that exhibits some understanding of basic intuitive physics with regard to how objects should behave. The ADEPT model monitors objects on video moving around a setting and makes behavioral predictions based on their underlying physics. As the model tracks moving objects, it generates a signal for each video frame that correlates to a level of "surprise," which increases with the size of the signal; the signal spikes if the object dramatically deviates from predictions. MIT's Kevin A. Smith said, "We wanted to capture and formalize [object behavior knowledge] to build infant cognition into artificial intelligence agents. We're now getting near human-like in the way models can pick apart basic implausible or plausible scenes."

Full Article
Vacancies for IT Specialists in Germany Double Within Two Years
November 29, 2019

A study by Germany’s digital association Bitkom found vacancies for information technology (IT) specialists in that country more than doubled to 124,000 over a two-year period. Moreover, 65% of 850 polled managing directors and human resource managers in German companies anticipate the shortage will grow even larger with the acceleration of digitization. The study found IT positions remained unfilled for more than six months in every sixth German company. The Bitkom study said vacant IT positions would be much harder to fill than any other position. As a short-term solution, Bitkom suggested modifying Germany's labor law for the IT sector so specialists could divide their working time as needed within the framework of maximum weekly working time. One longer-term strategy suggested for filling those positions would be to draw "significantly more" young workers, particularly women, into computer science education or IT training.

Full Article

Parisians flocked to the Fountaine du Trocader during a record heat wave in July 2019. Even 50-Year-Old Climate Models Correctly Predicted Global Warming
Warren Cornwall
December 4, 2019

University of California, Berkeley researchers demonstrated the accuracy of older climate models—including some 50 years old—in predicting climate change. The researchers compared yearly average surface temperatures worldwide to the surface temperatures anticipated in 17 forecasts, drawn from 14 separate models released between 1970 and 2001. Most of the models accurately predicted recent global surface temperatures. The researchers noted no statistically significant differences between the output and historic observations for 10 models. Although seven older models' predictions were off by up to much as 0.1 degrees Celsius per decade, five forecasts improved to match observations when the researchers adjusted the amount of human-emitted climate-changing pollution over time. Piers Forster of the U.K.’s University of Leeds notes that even today's computer programs incorporate some uncertainties, but “We know enough to trust our climate models” and their message that urgent action is needed.

Full Article

Two images showing how bees see bluebells compared to humans. Humans Closer to Seeing Though the Eyes of Animals
University of Exeter (U.K.)
December 3, 2019

Researchers at Australia's University of Queensland (UQ) and the University of Exeter in the U.K. have developed a software framework designed to significantly improve humans' ability to analyze complex visual information as animals would. The Quantitative Color Pattern Analysis (QCPA) framework is a kit of digital image processing techniques and analytical tools. Its use of digital photos means it can adapt to nearly any habitat, using technologies ranging from commercially available cameras to full-spectrum imaging systems. UQ's Karen Cheney said the framework is sufficiently flexible to explore the color patterns and natural surroundings of many organisms. Said Cheney, "We're helping people—wherever they are—to cross the boundaries between human and animal visual perception."

Full Article

A smartphone displaying the PXL Vision app. How Smartphones Can Verify Your Identity
ETH Zurich
Astrid Tomczak
November 28, 2019

Swiss Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich spin-off PXL Vision has developed technology to verify one’s identity via smartphone. The Daego (digital alter ego) automated solution involves first scanning both the front and back of one's ID card, then recording a short selfie video to be uploaded to a cloud on a certified Swiss server. The system authenticates the scanned card and video within seconds, determining whether the actual person is before the camera and the identity document is a match. Daego supports all international travel documents and other types of identification. PXL Vision co-founder Karim Nemr said the technology is faster, more accurate, less expensive, and more secure than human identity verification.

Full Article

A photo of smoke from a wildfire billowing above Santa Paula, CA. Tech Aims to Predict Problems on Power Lines Before Disaster
Associated Press
Brian Melley
December 2, 2019

A diagnostic tool designed by Texas A&M University's B. Don Russell to detect power line problems is being used by utilities to address those problems before they become disasters. At least one utility in Texas is using the Distribution Fault Anticipation tool, and the technology is also being tested by two utilities in California, as well as utilities in Australia and New Zealand. The tool detects variations in electrical currents caused by deteriorating conditions or equipment and notifies utility operators to send a crew to fix the problems. Said Russell, “If we can find things when they start to fail, if we can find things that are in the process of degrading before a catastrophic event occurs, such as a downed line that might electrocute someone or a fire starting or even an outage for their customers, that's kind of the Holy Grail."

Full Article
Can We Identify Invasive Species Before They Invade?
Scientific American
Zach St. George
December 5, 2019

Researchers at the University of Georgia, Dartmouth College, and Western Carolina University have developed models for predicting patterns of damage by invasive insects that attack North American trees. The researchers focused on 58 non-native insects that feed on one or more of 49 species of North American conifers. The researchers compiled a database of the trees' ecological traits, and the native and non-native insects that consume them; they found a crucial relationship between the trees most damaged by non-native insects and those the insects fed on in their native ecosystem. Another model found shade-tolerant and drought-intolerant trees were most susceptible to non-native insect damage, while a third model showed that conifers possessing defenses against native insects were more likely to tolerate invasions of closely related non-native insects. In combination, the researchers said, these models can retroactively forecast which non-native species will become damaging, with more than 90% accuracy, so they are confident the model can predict potential damage by future insect invaders.

Full Article
The Essentials of Modern Software Engineering
ACM Online Books and Courses

Association for Computing Machinery

1601 Broadway, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10019-7434

ACM Media Sales

If you are interested in advertising in ACM TechNews or other ACM publications, please contact ACM Media Sales or (212) 626-0686, or visit ACM Media for more information.

To submit feedback about ACM TechNews, contact: [email protected]