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Welcome to the May 14, 2021 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Ayanna Howard of Ohio State University. Ayanna Howard Named ACM Athena Lecturer
May 12, 2021

ACM named Ayanna Howard, dean of the Ohio State University College of Engineering, its 2021-2022 ACM Athena Lecturer for her contributions to the development of accessible human-robotic systems and artificial intelligence (AI), and for boosting participation in computing. Howard proposed some of the first concepts for simulating deformable objects via physical modeling, to enable robust robot grasping; she also introduced the modeling of environmental uncertainty through fuzzy logic, furthering the state of the art in field robotics. Howard also has spearheaded modeling trust among humans, robots, and AI systems, including conversational agents, emergency response situations, autonomous navigation, child-robot interaction, and use of lethal force. ACM president Gabriele Kotsis said, "Both as an entrepreneur and mentor, Ayanna Howard has worked to increase the participation of women and underrepresented groups in computing."

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U.S. President Joe Biden. Biden Signs Executive Order to Strengthen U.S. Cybersecurity Defenses After Colonial Pipeline Hack
Kevin Breuninger; Amanda Macias
May 12, 2021

In the wake of the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack, President Biden has signed an executive order to fortify U.S. cybersecurity defenses. The pipeline hack is the latest in a string of high-profile attacks on private and federal entities conducted by criminal groups or state actors. Biden's directive requires information technology service providers to alert the government to cybersecurity breaches that could impact U.S. networks, and lifts contractual barriers that might prevent them from flagging breaches. The order also calls for a standardized playbook and definitions for federal responses to cyber incidents; upgrades to cloud services and other cyber infrastructure security; a mandate that software developers share certain security data publicly; and a Cybersecurity Safety Review Board to analyze breaches and make recommendations.

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Patients May Not Take Advice from AI Doctors Who Know Their Names
Penn State News
Matt Swayne
May 10, 2021

Patients may be less inclined to heed artificial intelligence (AI) doctors that know their names and medical history, according to researchers at Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) and the University of California, Santa Barbara. The team designed five AI chatbots; Penn State's Jin Chen said the bots were programmed to ask questions about COVID-19 symptoms and behaviors, and to offer diagnosis and recommendations. Study participants were more likely to consider a chatbot intrusive and less likely to follow its medical advice when it used their first name and referred to their medical history, yet they expected human doctors to distinguish them from other patients, and were less likely to comply when a clinician did not recall their information. Penn State's S. Shyam Sundar said, "When an AI system recognizes a person's uniqueness, it comes across as intrusive, echoing larger concerns with AI in society."

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A Nanyang Technological University student attaching an electrode to the surface of a Venus flytrap plant. Singapore Researchers Control Venus Flytraps Using Smartphones
May 12, 2021

Researchers at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University (NTU) connected electrodes to the surface of a Venus flytrap, in order to control it with electric signals from a smartphone application. NTU’s Luo Yifei said the non-invasive technology can detect the plant's electric signals. Luo said, "We are exploring using plants as living sensors to monitor environmental pollution like gas, toxic gas, or water pollution." The NTU researchers also detached the flytrap's trap portion and reattached it to a robotic arm, where it has demonstrated the ability to grasp a thin, light item when directed to do so. The researchers think this technology could enable the plant to function as an environmentally friendly soft robot for handling fragile objects.

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The National Football League logo on goalposts. Amazon Cloud Technology Aids NFL in Schedule Making
Associated Press
Josh Dubow
May 12, 2021

The National Football League (NFL) used Amazon Web Services (AWS)' cloud platform to arrange its just-released 272-game 2021 schedule. The NFL's Mike North said, "We've got 5,000 computers each building up schedules." The cloud computers negotiated trillions of possibilities on what day, time, and network to play each game, and league officials studied over 80,000 possibilities before making a final choice. Each morning officials receive new schedules from the computers, determine whether any schedule rates being the new lead, and instruct the computers by eliminating certain seed games or shifting different spots to hopefully resolve other problems; this process repeats until a final option is reached.

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Dr. Melanie Suppan presenting the ‘Escape COVID-19’ computer game. Escape COVID-19: Game Can Help Healthcare Warriors Unwind, Combat Spread
The Economic Times
May 12, 2021

Researchers at the Geneva University Hospitals (HUG) in Switzerland have developed a computer game to help healthcare workers unwind while educating them on how change their behaviors to curtail the spread of COVID-19. The game, "Escape COVID-19," guides players through scenarios encountered by healthcare workers every day. A study of almost 300 emergency room workers in Geneva who were given either written materials about proper protocols or an opportunity to play the computer game showed that the game was more effective in inspiring behavioral change. HUG's Melanie Suppan said, "Those who played the game were three times more likely to say they wanted to change their behavior compared to those who received the regular material."

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An infographic shows the system that automatically cleans dirty data. System Cleans Messy Data Tables Automatically
MIT News
May 11, 2021

A system developed by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) automatically cleans "dirty data" of things such as typos, duplicates, missing values, misspellings, and inconsistencies. PClean combines background information about the database and possible issues with common-sense probabilistic reasoning to make judgment calls for specific databases and error types. Its repairs are based on Bayesian reasoning, which applies probabilities based on prior knowledge to ambiguous data to determine the correct answer, and can provide calibrated estimates of its uncertainty. The researchers found that PClean, with just 50 lines of code, outperformed benchmarks in both accuracy and runtime.

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IBM Just Solved This Quantum Computing Problem 120 Times Faster Than Previously Possible
Daphne Leprince-Ringuet
May 11, 2021

IBM researchers have solved a quantum computing problem 120 times faster than the last time they solved it. The IBM Quantum team simulated the behavior of the lithium hydride molecule entirely on the cloud in just nine hours on IBM's Qiskit Runtime platform. In 2017, researchers ran the simulation with a seven-qubit quantum processor; it took 45 days. With Qiskit Runtime, IBM Quantum's Blake Johnson said, "The classical part, which generates queries to the quantum hardware, can now be run in a container platform that is co-located with the quantum hardware. The program executing there can ask a question to the quantum hardware and get a response back very quickly. It is a very low-cost interaction, so those loops are now suddenly much faster."

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Overcoming Tab Overload
Carnegie Mellon University School of Computer Science
Aaron Aupperlee
May 7, 2021

In a study of Internet browser tab usage, computer scientists at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) found that tab overload is an issue for many people. The researchers assessed tab use via surveys and interviews, asking why people kept tabs open and why they closed them. They found that despite being overwhelmed by the number of open tabs, people did not want them hidden for fear they would not go back to them. The researchers also created a Google Chrome browser extension, dubbed Skeema, to turn tabs into tasks. Skeema leverages machine learning to suggest how open tabs could be grouped into tasks and allows users to organize, prioritize, and switch between them. CMU's Joseph Chee Chang said, "Our task-centric approach allowed users to manage their browser tabs more efficiently, enabling them to better switch between tasks, reduce tab clutter, and create task structures that better reflected their mental models."

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Illustration of a smaller chip indicating the location of the RFID tag. Smaller Chips Open Door to RFID Applications
NC State University News
Matt Shipman
May 12, 2021

North Carolina State University (NC State) researchers have built what they’re calling the world's smallest Gen-2 compatible radio-frequency ID (RFID) chip. The Gen-2 chips measure 125 by 245 micrometers, a size that allows more chips to be obtained from a silicon wafer, reducing costs. The lower cost increases the likelihood manufacturers, distributors, or retailers will use RFID tags to track lower-cost items. NC State's Kirti Bhanushali said the circuit design also can interoperate with a wide spectrum of semiconductor technologies, which "makes it possible to incorporate RFID tags into computer chips, allowing users to track individual chips throughout their life cycle."

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A take on a Twitter homepage. Public Health Tweets Struggled to Reflect Local Realities at Start of Pandemic: Study
May 11, 2021

Researchers at McMaster University and the University of Waterloo studied nearly 7,000 tweets from Canadian public health agencies and officials in the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic and found the messages often did not reflect the specific risk level in local communities. Accounts tied to urban areas, where community transmission risks were higher, issued tweets primarily to disseminate information, while tweets to promote specific actions declined over time. Accounts related to rural areas with lower transmission risks largely were used to encourage actions, rather than to provide information about the virus. Only 2% of the studied tweets addressed misinformation and myths. McMaster’s Catherine Slavik said, "We were surprised public health officials did not put more emphasis on messages showcasing people coming together or local programs helping to keep us safe.”

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A corridor of computers in a supercomputer center. Reconfigurable Optical Networks Will Move Supercomputer Data 100X Faster
IEEE Spectrum
Michelle Hampson
May 7, 2021

Researchers at self-described mission capability integrator and transformative enterprise IT provider Peraton Labs have designed a system to increase the speed of data flow between supercomputer processors and computer subsystems. The FLEET system potentially could speed the transfer of supercomputer data as much as 100 times. The researchers developed Optical Network Interface Cards (O-NICs) to replace traditional network interface cards; the new components can support data transfer among different computer subcomponents and are connected to optical switches that enable the system to reconfigure the flow of data as needed. They also designed a new software planner that adjusts the flow of data based on what it has determined to be the best configuration.

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The input image (left) and output image (right) as processed by the fully convolutional neural network. AI, Drones Will Help Pin Down Sosnovsky's Hogweed
Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Russia)
May 11, 2021

To help contain the spread of Sosnovsky's hogweed, a plant hazardous to agriculture, local ecosystems, and human health, across Russia, scientists at the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech) have developed an artificial intelligence monitoring system that performs real-time image segmentation onboard drones to identify the toxic weed. The system uses drones that can capture high-resolution images even in cloudy weather via in-flight data acquisition and processing. Each drone's computer runs heavy segmentation algorithms based on Fully Convolutional Neural Networks (FCNN) that can identify an irregularly shaped object on a pixel-by-pixel basis. The researchers utilized popular architectures for the FCNN and adapted them for a single-board computer. Skoltech's Andrey Somov said, "We installed and flight-tested our monitoring system on board the drone which covered an area of up to 28 hectares in 40 minutes, flying at an altitude of 10 meters. And it did not miss a single weed!"

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Code Nation: Personal Computing and the Learn to Program Movement in America
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