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Welcome to the September 30, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Hackers Infiltrated Many Washington State Agencies
Kartikay Mehrotra; Dina Bass
September 27, 2020

At least 13 of Washington State's departments and commissions reportedly have been hit by a sophisticated malware attack. Although the attack has not affected state operations significantly, it highlights potential vulnerabilities in state computer networks about a month ahead of the U.S. Presidential election. The multifaceted attack enabled hackers to spread malware, including Trickbot and Emotet, and to establish a foothold in several state agencies. It remains uncertain whether any data was stolen. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and Microsoft Corp. are assisting state efforts against the attack. The office of Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman office tweeted it is aware of the attack, “though we have no reason at this time to believe this is targeted at elections.”

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A classroom. Parents Think Computer Science Education Is Important
Gallup Blog
Valerie J. Calderon; Stephanie Marken
September 29, 2020

A study by Google and Gallup found two-thirds (69%) of parents and guardians of U.S. students in grades seven through 12 consider computer science (CS) an important or very important subject for their children to learn. Students in those grades are less likely than their parents and guardians to consider learning CS important, the study found, with boys more likely to value it than girls. A third (31%) of public school teachers surveyed for the study said they consider CS courses less important to students' future success than other required subjects, as do 21% of principals and 18% of superintendents. These findings highlight the challenge educators and families face in improving student perceptions of CS.

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Neural Network Trained to Control Anesthetic Doses, Keep Patients Under During Surgery
Charlie Osborne
September 28, 2020

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Massachusetts General Hospital trained a neural network to administer anesthetic during surgery. The team trained the network on patient data, and on models that track levels of consciousness during an operation and recommended drug doses. Using a simulated environment and virtual patients, the researchers conducted trials to improve the model over time via a "cross-entropy" methodology. The network outperforms the proportional-integral-derivative (PID) controllers currently utilized to determine the right levels of anesthetic to use, and to administer it. MIT's Gabriel Schamberg said, "Deep neural networks allow us to make a model with many continuous input data, so our method generated more coherent control policies than prior table-based policies."

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Seventh-grader Nina Mones, a student at Phoenix International Academy. Using Technology to Tailor Lessons to Each Student
The New York Times
Janet Morrisey
September 29, 2020

Computer algorithms and machine learning are helping to personalize instruction to individual students, a trend experts say is long overdue. Some think the Covid-19 pandemic is accelerating U.S. schools' migration to personalized learning programs; American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten said, "Innovations like this can help educators meet students where they are and address their individual needs." Companies like New Classrooms are striving to advance personalized learning; the nonprofit's Teach to One 360 algorithm gives each student access to multigrade curriculums and skills, in order to better address learning gaps in those who are several grades behind. Other companies working aggressively on personalized learning solutions include Eureka Math, iReady, and Illustrative Mathematics.

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3D Biometric Authentication Based on Finger Veins Almost Impossible to Fool
Optical Society of America
September 28, 2020

Researchers at the State University of New York at Buffalo (UB) have developed a three-dimensional (3D) biometric authentication methodology based on finger veins that they say can improve the security of this type of authentication. The protocol utilizes photoacoustic tomography, in which laser light directed onto the subject's finger generates sound when it encounters a vein; an ultrasound detector captures the sound, and uses all the sounds generated to create a 3D image of the veins. Testing found the technique can correctly accept or reject an identity 99% of the time. UB's Jun Xia said, "Since no two people have exactly the same 3D vein pattern, faking a vein biometric authentication would require creating an exact 3D replica of a person's finger veins, which is basically not possible."

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App Analyzes Coronavirus Genome on Smartphone
Garvan Institute of Medical Research (Australia)
September 29, 2020

Researchers at Australia's Garvan Institute of Medical Research and Sri Lanka's University of Peradeniya have developed Genopo, an open source application that can read or ‘sequence’ genetic material in a biological sample using an Android smartphone. Garvan's Hasindu Gamaarachchi said, "To enable in situ genomic sequencing and analysis, in real time and without major laboratory infrastructure, we developed an app that could execute bioinformatics workflows on nanopore sequencing datasets that are downloaded to a smartphone." In testing Genopo on raw sequencing data of samples extracted from nine patients infected with coronavirus on different Android devices, the app took 27 minutes on average to determine the complete genome sequence. Garvan's Ira Deveson said this "makes genomic analysis more accessible, literally placing the technology into the pockets of scientists around the world."

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Nearly 70% of corporate boards cite the impact of Covid-19 for a ramp-up in spending on IT and digital capabilities, according to a Gartner analysis Enterprise Tech Efforts Move Beyond Survival Mode
The Wall Street Journal
Angus Loten
September 23, 2020

Many companies that rushed to install remote-work applications at the start of the pandemic now are moving forward with their pre-Covid-19 technology plans. Enterprise technology firms have seen more companies act on their plans to expand use of cloud computing, data analytics, smart software, and other technologies as lockdowns end. In a recent analysis by technology research firm Gartner, the impact of Covid-19 was cited by almost 70% of corporate boards for increased spending on IT and digital capabilities. Similarly, in a survey of 800 global business executives by consulting firm McKinsey & Co., about half said the pandemic has prompted their firms to accelerate the implementation of new technologies.

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Irish Schools Harnessing Solar Power, Smart Tech to Measure Energy Use
Anmar Frangoul
September 29, 2020

Microsoft's Irish unit has partnered with renewable energy provider SSE Airtricity on a plan to deploy Internet-connected solar panels on the rooftops of 27 schools in Ireland. SSE Airtricity said Internet of Things technology will link the panels to a cloud computing platform from Microsoft. Digitally connected screens installed in the schools will let students follow energy use in real time. The utility said the software would "aggregate and analyze real-time data on energy generated by the solar panels," and demonstrate "a mechanism for Microsoft and other corporations to achieve sustainability goals and reduce the carbon footprint of the electric power grid." The Microsoft Sustainability Project is funding the program, to the tune of 1 million euros ($1.17 million).

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The Amazon One palm-reading system. Amazon Introduces the Amazon One, a Way to Pay with Your Palm When Entering Stores
Sarah Perez
September 29, 2020

Amazon on Tuesday unveiled the Amazon One, a contactless scanner that will permit shopper to pay at Amazon Go outlets with their palms. Shoppers insert their credit card into the device and then hover their palm over it, to match their palm image to their payment mechanism. Amazon said the Amazon One uses computer vision technology in real time to generate the palm signature, which allegedly offers more privacy than other biometric authentication solutions. Images are encrypted and sent to a secure area in the cloud, where palm signatures are generated. The device is being tried out at two Seattle-area stores.

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Half of Young Women Will Leave Their Tech Jobs by Age 35, Study Finds
Erin Carson
September 29, 2020

A study from information technology consultancy Accenture and technology education organization Girls Who Code found that half of young women who enter the tech workforce exit by age 35. The study compiled data from 1,990 tech workers, 500 senior human resources leaders in firms employing people in tech occupations, and 2,700 college students. About a third (37%) of respondents who left the industry cited a non-inclusive corporate culture as fueling their departures. The report also highlighted divergent perceptions among senior HR leaders and women, with 45% of HR respondents saying it is easy for women to flourish in tech, versus 21% of women and 8% of women of color. The report suggested strategies to reduce the attrition of women from tech, including setting external goals, encouraging employees who become parents to take advantage of parental leave policies, and ensuring employees have access to mentors, sponsors, and employee-resource networks.

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MissionGO conducts test flights of its unmanned aerial system in the Nevada desert. Drone Carries Human Kidney Over Las Vegas Desert
USA Today
Adrianna Rodriguez
September 28, 2020

Researchers at unmanned aviation solutions provider MissionGO and the Nevada Donor Network organ procurement organization last week announced successful test flights of drones carrying a human organ and tissue in Las Vegas. One flight on Sept. 17 flew research corneas from one hospital to another about 2.5 miles away; a second flight the same day transported research kidneys 10 miles from an airport to a site outside a small town in the Las Vegas desert. Drone deliveries could reduce flight times, as well as the chances of organs becoming nonviable or failing after implantation. MissionGO's sister company MediGO aims to add global-positioning software to monitor the quality of the trip and the transported organ.

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Amsterdam, Helsinki Launch Algorithm Registries to Bring Transparency to Public AI Deployments
Khari Johnson
September 28, 2020

The cities of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and Helsinki, Finland, have launched beta versions of artificial intelligence (AI) registries to detail algorithmic delivery of municipal services, and to provide citizens a way to give feedback on algorithms their local government uses. The registry trials are part of the Next Generation Internet Policy Summit, organized in part by the European Commission and the city of Amsterdam. Amsterdam's registry features a handful of algorithms, but will be extended to cover all algorithms following feedback at the summit to outline a European plan for the future of the Internet. Helsinki’s Pasi Rautio said the city hopes its registry will boost public trust in the kinds of AI "with the greatest possible openness."

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