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Welcome to the March 18, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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ACM A.M. Turing Award recipients Ed Catmull and Pat Hanrahan This Year's Turing Award Winners Helped Pixar Create Hit Films
Jonathan Vanian
March 18, 2020

ACM has named former Pixar senior scientist Patrick Hanrahan and his colleague Ed Catmull to receive this year's ACM A.M. Turing Award, the technology industry's equivalent to the Nobel Prize. Hanrahan and Catmull are being recognized for the 3D technology they developed during the creation of the hit animated film "Toy Story." Since then, the duo's technology has been used in movies such as "Avatar," "Finding Nemo," and "Titanic." Said Hanrahan, "I would just love to see more attention paid to art in technology, and I think art doesn't get the support it deserves." Hanrahan and Catmull will officially receive the award in June during the ACM's awards banquet in San Francisco.

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White House Urges Researchers to Use AI to Analyze 29,000 Coronavirus Papers
Paresh Dave
March 16, 2020

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy on Monday called on researchers to use artificial intelligence to analyze roughly 29,000 scholarly articles to gain insight into the coronavirus. The office said it has teamed with Microsoft, Google, and other companies to accumulate a database of such papers. U.S. Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios said only about 13,000 articles are contained in the database in their entirety in a format that software can easily analyze, while the remaining 16,000 are partial texts. Federal officials and U.S. technology companies and research institutions said they scrambled in the last several days to secure legal authorization from academic publishing houses and others to make the articles widely available. Microsoft's Eric Horvitz told reporters the aim of the project is to "empower scientists and empower [health] care practitioners to come to solutions more quickly."

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army of bugs Bugs in Open Source Software Hit a Record High
Liam Tung
March 13, 2020

The number of open source software vulnerabilities identified has risen from 4,100 last year to 6,100 this year, according to security firm WhiteSource. This trend can be attributed to increased adoption of open source software and more focused efforts on finding dangerous bugs. WhiteSource found that 85% of open source vulnerabilities have been disclosed and already have a fix available (although some users are not aware of the fixes because only 84% of known open-source bugs have been entered into the National Vulnerability Database). WhiteSource also looked at how many vulnerabilities were found across the most-used programming languages. The greatest share (30%) of vulnerable code was written in C, while code written in PHP was responsible for 27% of security bugs, and Python code was responsible for 5% of bugs.

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road signs U.S. Revises Passenger Safety Rules for Autonomous Vehicles
Associated Press
Tom Krisher
March 17, 2020

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is seeking comment on updated regulations meant to improve automotive passenger safety in autonomous vehicles. The new standards would apply to vehicles that do not have manual controls such as steering wheels or brake pedals, or a driver sitting in the traditional driver's seat. The proposal would revise requirements and test procedures, and clarify that passenger protection standards do not apply to vehicles made specifically to carry goods rather than people. Said NHTSA’s James Owens, "We do not want regulations enacted long before the development of automated technologies to present an unintended and unnecessary barrier against innovation and improved highway safety."

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robot hand touching human hand Allowing Robots to Feel
ETH Zurich
Fabio Bergamin
March 16, 2020

Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich (ETH Zurich) used machine learning to create a tactile sensor that allows robot arms to grasp sensitive or fragile objects by measuring force distribution. An elastic silicone "skin" is equipped with colored microbeads and a camera underneath; when an object indents the skin, the camera registers the changing bead pattern, enabling a force-distribution calculation that is matched to patterns recorded via machine learning. ETH Zurich's Carlo Sferrazza said the skin can differentiate between several forces acting on the sensor surface, and calculate them with high accuracy and resolution. He added that the skin is well-suited for robot gripper arms because it "would recognize when an object threatens to slip out of the arm's grasp so the robot can adjust its grip strength."

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board with Intel Loihi neuromorphic chips Intel Trains Neuromorphic Chip to Detect Odors
Kyle Wiggers
March 16, 2020

Intel and Cornell University researchers have trained Intel's Loihi neuromorphic processor to identify 10 materials from their odors, demonstrating how neuromorphic computing could be applied to detect precursor smells and potentially find explosives and narcotics, diagnose diseases, and notice signs of smoke and carbon monoxide. The chip was trained by configuring the circuit schematic of biological olfaction, using a dataset compiling the activity of 72 chemical sensors in response to various scents. The researchers said the method kept Loihi's memory of the scents intact, and the chip has "superior" recognition accuracy compared with conventional techniques. Said Intel's Nabil Imam, "This work is a prime example of contemporary research at the crossroads of neuroscience and artificial intelligence and demonstrates Loihi's potential to provide important sensing capabilities that could benefit various industries."

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A graphic illustrating men make more than women. U.S. Women in Tech Are Paid Less Than Men
IEEE Spectrum
Tekla S. Perry
March 12, 2020

A study of salary survey data by job search site Dice indicated that U.S. women in technology fields still earn less than men overall, although this gap might be smaller for women in cloud engineering, systems architecture, and network engineering. Also, female tech professionals in Minnesota might be out-earning their male counterparts (although the difference in pay did not satisfy the threshold for statistical significance). Dice said since women have come to expect to be paid less, the average salary of a woman satisfied with her compensation was $93,591, versus $108,711 for a man. In a February poll by software review site TrustRadius, 45% more women than men attributed the gender pay gap to discrimination and bias, while three times as many men cited differing job performance.

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Examples of ways people customize purchases. Customers Want Customization, Companies Are Giving It to Them
The New York Times
Aviva Freudmann
March 18, 2020

Companies increasingly are offering personalized products based on each customer's unique features, such as footwear that precisely fits the contours of the client's foot. Facilitating mass customization are technologies like three-dimensional (3D) printing, networked production, and high-speed data transmission. Mass-customized products keep costs low by combining bespoke elements with mass-produced components in smart factories. By all indications, mass customization will spread, especially in consumer industries. Said Manfred Dangelmaier, project director for mass personalization at Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering, “The customer's input gives manufacturers valuable market feedback, which helps with product development.”

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A photo of zebrafish Genetic Control of Collective Behavior
The Harvard Gazette
Jessica Lau
March 13, 2020

Researchers at Harvard University and the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Germany have developed a computer vision-reliant method to study how genes influence collective behavior. The team tested 90 different genes to see if they affect zebrafish social behavior, using gene editing to mutate one gene at a time. The researchers used computer vision to track individual fish and analyze their interactions, finding several genetic mutations that had a significant effect on fish group behavior. Said Institute director Iain Couzin, "We developed new computational tools for tracking and analyzing behavior among animals, which provide a powerful means to investigate how genetic factors influence collective behaviors."

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Scrabble pieces spell out the word Privacy. Study Ranks Privacy of Major Browsers
Ars Technica
Dan Goodin
March 17, 2020

A study of the privacy protection provided by major browsers ranked upstart browser Brave at the top of the list. In the study, computer scientist Doug Leith at Ireland's Trinity College Dublin analyzed browsers' transmission of data that could be used to monitor users over time. Microsoft Edge and Russia's Yandex tied for the lowest ranking, while Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Apple Safari were ranked in the middle. Edge and Yandex transmit persistent identifiers that can be used to tie requests and associated Internet Protocol (IP) address/location to backend servers. Brave's default settings offer the most privacy, with no collection of identifiers permitting the tracking of IP addresses over time, and no sharing of details of webpages visited with backend servers.

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Qubits Will Operate at Room Temperature
National University of Science and Technology (Russia)
March 6, 2020

Scientists at Russia’s National University of Science and Technology NUST MISIS and Sweden's Linkoping University, working with colleagues in Hungary and the U.S., have developed a technique for manufacturing stable quantum bits (qubits) that operate at room temperature. Previous qubit types were based on superconducting materials or on single atoms, which only stabilize at extremely low temperatures. The researchers used structurally modified silicon carbide (SiC) as a base material; they used a laser to excite a point defect in the material’s crystal lattice until it luminesced. They said the process can be replicated through the use of chemical vapor deposition, a standard semiconductor manufacturing process.

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Low-Cost Approach Detects Building Deformations in Real Time
Optical Society of America
March 16, 2020

Researchers at the University of Stuttgart in Germany have developed a camera-based method for measuring building deformations in real time. It involves setting up a camera on a tripod a short distance from the front of a structure, and attaching small light emitters to the structure; the camera detects whether the light sources move relative to each other. A computer-generated hologram creates multiple copies of each light source image on the image sensor; the system then averages the movement of the multiple copies of the laser spot, producing measurement uncertainties below a hundredth of a pixel. Stuttgart's Flavio Guerra said, “Because it operates in real time, it could be used to set off an alert the moment any new deformations, which can lead to cracks, were detected.”

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Two men wearing surgical masks connected to values produced by 3D printers. Coronavirus: 3D Printers Save Hospital with Valves
BBC News
Zoe Kleinman
March 16, 2020

Three-dimensional (3D) printer company Isinnova in Italy designed and printed 100 valves for respirators in 24 hours for a hospital in Brescia, Italy, whose supply was depleted. Isinnova’s Cristian Fracassi and Alessandro Romaioli went to the hospital to study the valve, and had a prototype ready in three hours. After patient testing proved the prototype's viability, Isinnova began printing new valves, and partnered with local 3D printing firm Lonati to meet demand. Fracassi said printing the valve is challenging because it has extremely thin holes and tubes, and caution is necessary to avoid contamination. He added that a second hospital has now requested the valves. "We haven't slept for two days. We're trying to save lives."

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