Welcome to the January 15, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Left: the design discovered for the biobot developed on a supercomputer. Right: the actual physical organism, built completely from biological tissue. Scientists at UVM, Tufts Create 'Living Robots'
The Boston Globe
January 13, 2020

Researchers at the University of Vermont (UVM) and Tufts University created tiny living robots made of frog cells using a supercomputer, an achievement with implications for regenerative medicine. The biobots were designed on the Deep Green supercomputer cluster at UVM's Vermont Advanced Computing Core. The supercomputer considered billions of designs in search of one that would quickly travel across the bottom of a petri dish, then the team used tiny forceps and a tinier electrode to assemble cells from the embryos of African frogs into a close approximation of the designs specified by the computer. Said UVM's Joshua Bongard. "We used an evolutionary algorithm, a computer program which, in virtual words, evolves virtual creations."

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Tech Industry Rallies Behind Google in Supreme Court Fight
The Hill
Emily Birnbaum
January 13, 2020

Some of Google's biggest rivals, including Microsoft, IBM, and Mozilla, filed amicus briefs on its behalf Monday in a copyright battle with Oracle. The companies argued technology innovation could be hampered if the U.S. Supreme Court rules that Google violated federal copyright law when it used some of Oracle's programming language to build its Android operating system. Said Google’s Kent Walker, "Today, we saw a remarkable range of consumers, developers, computer scientists, and businesses saying that open software interfaces promote innovation and that no single company like Oracle should be able to monopolize creativity." In its brief, IBM wrote, "Computer interfaces are not copyrightable."

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A sign of US security agency NSA Found Dangerous Microsoft Software Flaw and Alerted the Firm—Rather Than Weaponizing It
The Washington Post
Ellen Nakashima
January 14, 2020

U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) officials said the agency discovered a major flaw in Microsoft's Windows operating system (OS) and notified Microsoft instead of turning the bug into a hacking weapon. This diverges from NSA's typical strategy, which Anne Neuberger at NSA's Cybersecurity Directorate said the organization has adopted to build public trust. Microsoft has issued a patch for the bug, which impacts the Windows 10 OS. When Windows users log onto a website, their browser checks the site's authenticity via Microsoft software, which contains a coding error that fails to properly check the authenticity; hackers who use the flaw could build a tool that redirects users to malicious sites. NSA's alert could help rehabilitate the agency's reputation after its EternalBlue hacking tool—secretly developed from a vulnerability in Microsoft OS without informing the company—was released online to enable ransomware and other attacks.

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How to Verify That Quantum Chips Are Computing Correctly
MIT News
Rob Matheson
January 13, 2020

A study by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Google, and other institutions has led to the creation of a protocol that verifies whether a Noisy Intermediate Scale Quantum (NISQ) chip is computing correctly. NISQ chips contain enough qubits to demonstrate the “quantum advantage,” meaning they can solve certain algorithms that classical computers cannot, although outputs can look entirely random, making verification of correctness difficult. Said MIT's Jacques Carolan, “Instead of doing the whole thing in one shot, which takes a very long time, we do this unscrambling layer by layer. This allows us to break the problem up to tackle it in a more efficient way."

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Kim Seok-wu, a university senior majoring in management, demonstrates an AI interview program How to Beat South Korea's AI Hiring Bots and Land a Job
Sangmi Cha
January 12, 2020

Major South Korean companies are using artificial intelligence (AI) to screen job applicants, giving rise to an industry to help job-seekers beat these systems. For example, the People & People consultancy offers classes on handling video interviews using facial-recognition technology. One AI system asks interviewees to introduce themselves, while it identifies and tallies facial expressions and analyzes word choices; other systems employ gamification to test a candidate's personality and adaptability. Some candidates think it is futile to try to beat AI hiring. University student Kim Seok-wu said, "The AI interview is too new, so job applicants don't know what to prepare for and any preparations seem meaningless, since the AI will read our faces if we make something up."

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Memory Storage for Super-Cold Computing
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
January 13, 2020

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have demonstrated a cryogenic (low-temperature) memory cell circuit incorporating three inductively coupled Josephson junctions that can harness magnetic flux to store data. The cells were tested at about -452 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature near Absolute Zero at which certain materials lose their resistance to the flow of electricity. The design allows all basic memory operations (read, write, and reset) to be implemented on the same junction cell, which could add stability while saving space and energy as cell circuits are scaled into larger arrays, with implications for quantum and exascale computing. Said ORNL's Yehuda Braiman, “If scaled, such memory cell arrays could be orders of magnitude faster than existing memories, while consuming very little power."

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Finn Myrstad of the Norwegian Consumer Council oversaw a new report that traced how widely dating apps spread personal information. Grindr, OkCupid Spread Personal Details, Study Says
The New York Times
Natasha Singer; Aaron Krolik
January 14, 2020

An examination of 10 popular Android apps commissioned by the nonprofit Norwegian Consumer Council (NCC) found that online dating services like Grindr, OkCupid, and Tinder are spreading personal user information to advertising and marketing companies in ways that may violate privacy laws in Europe and elsewhere. NCC hired Oslo, Norway-based cybersecurity firm Mnemonic to examine how developers embed software from ad tech companies into their apps to track users' app usage and locations. Said NCC's Finn Myrstad, “Any consumer with an average number of apps on their phone — anywhere between 40 and 80 apps — will have their data shared with hundreds or perhaps thousands of actors online." The Council said it has filed complaints asking Oslo regulators to investigate Grindr and five ad tech companies over potential violations of EU data protection law.

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A person receives a test for diabetes during Care Harbor LA free medical clinic Israeli-Developed Algorithm Predicts Gestational Diabetes
The Jerusalem Post
January 13, 2020

Researchers at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science have developed an algorithm that can predict which women are at high risk of gestational diabetes in the early stages of pregnancy or before, in an effort to prevent the condition through nutritional and lifestyle changes. The researchers applied machine learning to records from Clalit Health Services, Israel's biggest health insurance provider, on about 450,000 pregnancies in women who gave birth from 2010 to 2017. Gestational diabetes had been diagnosed in about 4% of these pregnancies using glucose tolerance testing. The algorithm analyzed a 2,000-parameter dataset and determined nine parameters were sufficient to identify those at risk of developing gestational diabetes. The researchers applied those parameters to records of about 140,000 additional pregnancies, validating the study's findings.

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European Forecaster Quintuples Computing Power to Predict Extreme Events
Rudy Ruitenberg
January 14, 2020

The European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), one of the most accurate global weather forecasters, is upgrading its supercomputer to enhance its climate models and refine projections of extreme weather. French information technology consultancy Atos will deliver the new BullSequana supercomputer, which will increase the agency's computing capacity fivefold from the current 8,500 teraflops and allow it to generate more detailed forecasts for smaller regions. ECMWF's Hilda Carr said, "Our science evolves continuously, there are more and more satellite observations that we want to process, our codes become more complex because they use many Earth system components, and we still have to get the data to our member states within one hour, so more computing capability will help."

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Accelerated Speed of Discovery Could Lead to More Effective Smoking Cessation Aids
University of Bristol News
January 13, 2020

Scientists at the U.K.'s University of Bristol and Oracle used new computational simulation methods to determine how receptors in the human brain work in response to nicotine. Oracle Cloud Infrastructure enabled the researchers to run a large number of computer simulations in an extremely short time, accelerating the speed of discovery from potentially months to just five days. Bristol's Adrian Mulholland said, "We were able to show how nicotine exerts its effects, at the molecular level, the first stage of signaling in the brain. This information, and the methods we have developing, will help in developing new smoking cessation aids."

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An iPhone in hand As Justice Department Pressures Apple, Investigators Say iPhone is Easier to Crack
The Wall Street Journal
Robert McMillan; Sadie Gurman
January 14, 2020

Security experts said new hacking tools can more easily crack many Apple gadgets, even as the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) pressures Apple to provide access to the contents of two iPhones owned by a Saudi aviation student who allegedly killed three people at a U.S. Navy base in Florida last month. Apple said DOJ notified the company that the Federal Bureau of Investigation required additional access, following Apple's provision of iCloud backups, account information, and transactional data for one of the suspect's iPhones. Companies like Grayshift offer methods for extracting data from recent iPhone models, while new forensics products could likely retrieve the iPhone's data for $15,000 or less; one tool built with Checkm8 software exploits an unpatchable flaw in Apple's hardware, and operates on all iPhone devices. Sarah Edwards of the SANS Institute, which trains cybersecurity investigators, said, "It's a cat-and-mouse game. Apple locks things, but if someone wants to find a way to get into these devices, they will find a way."

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Global Study of Street Networks Reveals Growing Urban Sprawl
UC Santa Cruz
Jennifer McNulty
January 14, 2020

A study by researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Canada's McGill University found growing disconnection of local streets in cities, which is fueling urban sprawl and discouraging the use of public transit. The researchers utilized information from the OpenStreetMap online map database, along with satellite-derived data, to consider the connectivity of 46 million km (about 29 million miles) of urban streets, then used an algorithm to calculate the connectivity of global cities and regions. The analysis found that cities like Mexico City and Los Angeles were not the worst in terms of sprawl, despite their reputations; Southeast Asia was found to be home to some of the most sprawling cities. The researchers also identified areas that are bucking the trend, such as Buenos Aires and Tokyo.

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Deep Learning, 3D Technology to Improve Structure Modeling for Protein Interactions, Create Better Drugs
Purdue University News
Chris Adam
January 9, 2020

Researchers at Purdue University have developed a system that applies deep learning principles to virtual models of protein interactions in an effort to better understand how proteins interact in the body, with the goal of developing better drugs that specifically target these interactions. The DOVE (DOcking decoy selection with Voxel-based deep neural nEtwork) system captures the structural and energetic features of the interface of a protein docking model with a three-dimensional (3D) box and judges whether the model is more likely to be correct or incorrect through the use of a 3D convolutional neural network. Said Purdue's Daisuke Kihara, "This may be the first time researchers have successfully used deep learning and 3D features to quickly understand the effectiveness of certain protein models."

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Providing Sound Foundations for Cryptography: On the Work of Shafi Goldwasser and Silvio Micali
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