Welcome to the October 5, 2018 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Red laser light on a dark street The Nobel Prize in Physics 2018: From Lasers to Quantum Computation
Computer Business Review
Ed Targett
October 3, 2018

Chirped pulse amplification (CPA), a technique recognized in this year's awarding of the Nobel Prize for Physics, has implications for data storage and quantum computing. The technique was developed in 1985 by Donna Strickland of Canada, the first woman to win the prize in 55 years, and Gérard Mourou, a French pioneer in the field of electrical engineering and lasers. CPA works by stretching laser pulses to reduce their peak power, amplifying them, and then compressing them, thus dramatically increasing the intensity of the pulse. “Lasers can be used to create more efficient data storage, as the storage is not only built on the surface of the material, but also in tiny holes drilled deep into the storage medium," the Nobel Prize Committee said in announcing the prize. CPA has previously been used by researchers to guide electrons through semiconductors, a development seen as a step toward quantum computing.

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Spies in China allegedly inserted malicious chips into computer systems. This Tech Would Have Spotted the Secret Chinese Chip in Seconds
IEEE Spectrum
Samuel K. Moore
October 4, 2018

Researchers in the University of Florida’s Florida Institute for Cybersecurity Research (FICS) have developed a semiautomated system that could have identified in seconds the malicious chips reportedly inserted into computer systems by the Chinese government. The FICS system uses optical scans, microscopy, x-ray tomography, and artificial intelligence to compare a printed circuit board and its chips and components with the intended design. The system takes high-resolution images of the front and back of the circuit board, then machine learning algorithms go through the images, tracing the interconnects and identifying the components. X-ray tomography imagery is then applied to examine interconnects and components buried within the circuit board. Finally, the system captures a series of two-dimensional images and automatically combines them to produce a layer-by-layer analysis that maps the interconnects and the chips and components they connect.

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Murphy Announces 'Computer Science for All' Initiative
New Jersey Business
October 3, 2018

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has announced a plan to institute technology and programming-focused education in state public schools. Murphy's "Computer Science for All" initiative is designed to give students fundamental skills in computer science (CS), with $2 million underwriting grants for high schools to offer advanced CS courses and support teachers' professional development. The initiative is the first time New Jersey has made a specific funding outlay to expand CS education. Murphy also announced that the state Department of Education's Office of Educational Technology will be reengineered into the Office of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics to oversee subjects that include educational technology, CS, and cybersecurity. He also pledged that New Jersey will join the Governor's Partnership for K-12 Computer Science to expand access and funding for CS education.

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Family holding English and Arabic welcome signs for Syrian refugees at Toronto's Pearson International Airport. Researchers Raise Alarm Over Use of AI in Immigration, Refugee Decision-Making
The Star (Toronto)
Nicholas Keung
September 26, 2018

Researchers in Canada are expressing concern over government initiatives to replace human decision-making with artificial intelligence, with one University of Toronto (U of T) team saying it is giving rise to "a laboratory for high-risk experiments" that threaten immigrants' human rights. The team delved into public records, including public statements, policies, and media reports of the federal government's adoption of the technologies in the immigration system. U of T's Petra Molnar says Canada has been using automated decision-making tools for at least four years to triage immigration and visa applications into simple cases and complex ones that require further auditing by officers due to warning signs the algorithms were trained to spot. Molnar says, "Biases of the individuals designing an automated system or selecting the data that trains it can result in discriminatory outcomes that are difficult to challenge because they are opaque."

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Developers Can Play a JavaFX-Powered, Augmented Reality Scavenger Hunt at Oracle Code One
Alexa Morales
October 3, 2018

Attendees at the Oracle Code One developer conference in San Francisco can participate in a scavenger hunt conducted in augmented reality (AR), which is coded in Java and the JavaFX client-side user interface platform. Participants download the application from the Apple or Google Play stores, and then use their smartphone cameras to seek chess pieces in the lounge area. If the game detects one of the images, the app summons a three-dimensional rendering of the Java mascot to the display, then quizzes the player about the JavaFX 11 platform, sending the answer back to Oracle Cloud for scoring. The AR gaming app was developed by Johan Vos, co-founder of the Gluon startup in Belgium. Vos says his goal in creating the app was to make Java more attractive to data scientists, who would benefit from greater productivity and easier integration.

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Dialing 911 on smartphone screen This App Knows When You've Been in an Accident—and Then It Calls 911 for You
The Washington Post
Peter Holley
October 2, 2018

The Noonlight rescue-service connection platform has developed a mobile application with a feature called "automatic crash detection and response," based on an algorithm that accesses a smartphone's sensors so the platform can measure and detect tiny changes in user location, motion, and force. If the sensors detect a sudden change in motion and force indicating that the user was in a car accident, the app alerts 911. Noonlight depends on a smartphone's global-positioning system, accelerometer, gyroscope, proximity meter, and magnetometer. The sensors are used in conjunction with analytics data from billions of miles of driver data, which the algorithm analyzes and regularly updates to boost accuracy. Noonlight's Nick Droege says, "Our big audience is potentially parents who can add this to a teenager's phone so they know that in the event that something happens on the road, help will get to them," as well as seniors who may have trouble calling emergency services.

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Text Messages Quickly Track Healthcare Use During Ebola Outbreak
New York University
October 2, 2018

New York University (NYU) researchers used text message surveys to evaluate in real time how people employed maternal health services during the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and discovered a decline in hospital-based births. NYU's Rumi Chunara and colleagues polled Liberians on their health and usage of maternal health services, with responses compiled from 6,694 individuals between March and June 2015. The team used propensity score matching to compare this data with the 2013 Liberian Demographic Health Survey, matching cellphone poll participants who reported giving birth within the past 12 months with women reporting a birth in the earlier survey. Said Chunara, "Using these statistical methods to adjust for the populations being different, we were able to make sure we were comparing apples to apples and generating matched groups across which to compare outcomes." The team observed that far fewer hospital-based deliveries took place during the outbreak compared to afterwards, in both public and private hospitals.

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ISOLDE Reveals Shape-Shifting Character of Mercury Isotopes
Corinne Pralavorio
October 1, 2018

Through experimental nuclear physics and theoretical and computational modeling techniques, a research team at the European Organization for Nuclear Research's (CERN) ISOLDE nuclear physics facility in France has demonstrated a singular phenomenon in mercury isotopes. The atomic nuclei's configuration was revealed to dramatically shift between football-like and rugby ball-like shapes. The team replicated the results of a historic experiment by generating and analyzing four extra exotic mercury isotopes. Another team in Japan, using one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers, conducted nuclear shell model calculations to reveal the shape-staggering mechanisms. Said Eckhard Elsen, CERN’s director for research and computing, "Ingenuity and innovation are characteristics of the ISOLDE community and the generation and measurement of the suite of mercury isotopes is a particularly beautiful example. I am even more impressed that the theoretical explanation of the puzzling behavior using supercomputer modeling was provided at the same time."

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Blue eye made to look like lens of a camera The Robot Eye With an All-Round Field of View
Bettina Laux
October 1, 2018

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Research Institution for Additive Manufacturing Technologies in Germany have developed a laser sensor outfitted with image processing algorithms to facilitate a robot vision system with a shadow-free all-round field of view. SensePRO produces a 360-degree measurement field, so at least one laser line is always optimally positioned regardless of where the robot moves, providing the camera with accurate positional data. SensePRO also has an air- or water-using cooling module so it can operate in harsh environments for prolonged periods. The sensor's complexity requires manufacturing via three-dimensional printing, and it can fit robots made by all leading fabricators and be easily integrated into existing production lines.

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Scientists Use AI to Predict Why Children Struggle at School
ANI News (India)
September 30, 2018

Scientists at the University of Cambridge in the U.K. have used machine learning to identify why children struggle at school via analysis of 550 students having difficulty. The team fed their algorithm cognitive testing information from each child, which determined how the children best fit within four clusters of problems. Two clusters identified working memory skills and processing sounds in words as problem areas, while the other two cited broad cognitive difficulties in many areas and typical cognitive tests for the subjects' age. Cambridge's Joni Holmes says the results suggest "children who are finding the same subjects difficult could be struggling for very different reasons, which has important implications for selecting appropriate interventions."

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Computer Scientists Receive $1.7M Grant to Make Chip Design Easier
University of Texas at Austin
Marc Airhart
October 2, 2018

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has allocated $5 million to researchers at the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin), Yale University, and Texas State University to initiate the next wave of U.S. semiconductor innovation and circuit design. UT Austin will receive $1.7 million over four years to work with the partner universities to develop parallel electronic design automation (EDA) software for the creation of computer chips. UT Austin's Keshav Pingali says the proposed software will target both synchronous and asynchronous circuit designs, and will be designed to operate on multicore and manycore parallel processors, including processors equipped with graphics processing units. Says Pingali, "The EDA industry has recognized the need to parallelize their software for a while now, and they refer to this as EDA 3.0. Our new project brings together experts in EDA tools and parallel computing to make EDA 3.0 happen."

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Smartphone With a Finger Crawls Across the Table to Stroke Your Wrist
New Scientist
Douglas Heaven
October 4, 2018

Researchers at the University of Paris-Saclay in France have developed MobiLimb, a realistic-looking mechanical finger that plugs into the USB port of a mobile device and can be used as an additional way to interact with a smartphone or tablet. For example, the researchers say a smiley face emoji in a text message can be given extra nuance if the finger sticking out of the bottom of the phone can stroke one’s wrist. In addition, the mechanical appendage can also be used like a joystick. The researchers say the main goal of the project was to overcome the limitations of mobile devices. University of Paris-Saclay's Marc Teyssier says, "In real life, we use touch to convey emotions. A robotic extension like MobiLimb would be capable of transmitting a remote touch from someone."

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