Welcome to the May 6, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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A 3-D printed organ Bioengineers 3D-Print Complex Vascular Networks
Christine Fisher
May 2, 2019

Rice University and University of Washington researchers have three-dimensionally (3D) printed human-like vascular networks, to emulate the body's natural channels so they can fulfill critical roles in artificial organs. Their technology prints thin layers of a pre-hydrogel solution, which solidifies in response to blue light. This reaction generates biocompatible gels whose interior architecture is modeled after human vascular networks. The tool was based on the open source stereolithography apparatus for tissue engineering (SLATE). The researchers hope this innovation will help bring 3D-printed organs closer to reality.

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New Machine Learning Research IDs Opioid Addiction Self-Treatments, Risks
Georgia Tech News Center
Albert Snedeker
April 25, 2019

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) used machine learning techniques to examine nearly 1.5 million Reddit posts to identify risks associated with several of the most common alternative treatments for opioid addiction. The researchers focused on Kratom, Imodium, and Xanax, clinically untested, self-directed treatments often developed and promoted through online communities like Reddit, which commonly encourage their use without professional medical consultation. To help analyze the posts, the researchers developed a machine learning binary classifier, which used a transfer learning approach to improve results as it scanned from one subreddit to the next, automatically labeling each post as either recovery related or non-recovery related. The researchers found these treatments offer risky results, potentially substantial side effects, and a high chance of abuse for those struggling with recovery.

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Why Do Latino, Black Students Leave STEM Majors at Higher Rates?
The Washington Post
Morgan Smith
May 3, 2019

Federal data from the National Center for Education Statistics showed a relatively even distribution of white, Latino, and African-American science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) students enrolling in college for the first time the 2003-2004 school year. However, Latinos and African Americans switched majors at higher rates than whites, with about 37% of Latino and 40% of black STEM students changing majors as undergraduates, versus 29% of whites. This is despite a strong interest in pursuing STEM degrees among African-American and Latino high school students. Bias against minorities in science and technology was suggested as a factor, as was less accessibility to academic resources for students in low-income families. Purdue University's Darryl Dickerson said, "We have to hone in on the reasons they’re leaving and directly address these issues before solving anything else."

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Picture of brain waves This Video Game Can Detect Early Stages of Alzheimer's Better Than Medical Tests, Researchers Say
Ryan Prior
April 27, 2019

A smartphone app in which gamers navigate a virtual environment could help researchers spot signs of early-stage Alzheimer's disease, in ways beyond the capabilities of conventional medical tests. The Sea Hero Quest app lets users move a boat through maritime labyrinths with their thumbs, testing their spatial navigation. U.K. researchers said players with a high genetic predisposition for Alzheimer's reached checkpoints by following less efficient routes, and such movement patterns were detected among players in the genetic risk cohort who had yet to exhibit any other memory difficulties. The University of East Anglia's Michael Hornberger said, "Emerging evidence shows that subtle spatial navigation and awareness deficits can precede memory symptoms by many years."

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Unhackable: New Chip Stops Attacks Before They Start
University of Michigan News
Gabe Cherry
May 2, 2019

University of Michigan (U-M) researchers have designed a new computer chip architecture that could enable proactive defense against cyberthreats. The MORPHEUS chip obstructs potential attacks with security measures baked into its hardware, encrypting and randomizing key code bits and data 20 times each second, outperforming both human hackers and the fastest hacking methods. U-M's Todd Austin said, "With MORPHEUS, even if a hacker finds a bug, the information needed to exploit it vanishes 50 milliseconds later. It's perhaps the closest thing to a future-proof secure system." The researchers' prototype RISC-V chip successfully thwarted all known iterations of control-flow attack, and its rate of randomization, or churn, can be tuned to balance out maximized security and minimized resource consumption.

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A checkpoint, equipped with a metal detector and facial recognition technology, at a bazaar in Urumqi China's Mass Surveillance More Sophisticated Than Thought
Blake Schmidt
May 1, 2019

Some of China's biggest technology companies are helping the government operate a mass surveillance system, according to a report from Human Rights Watch. For example, a mobile app used by police relies on facial recognition technology from a firm backed by Alibaba Group Holding to match faces with photo identification and cross-check pictures on different documents. In addition, the app checks a range of other data points—including electricity and smartphone use, personal relationships, and political and religious affiliations—to flag suspicious behavior. The report sheds light on the vast scope of activity the Chinese government is monitoring as it cracks down on its minority Muslim Uighur population. Human Rights Watch says it collected the information by reverse-engineering the police app, which communicates with a database known as Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP).

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A worker holding an amazon box For Lower-Paid Workers, the Robot Overlords Have Arrived
The Wall Street Journal
Greg Ip
May 1, 2019

Companies like Amazon are using software to monitor employee productivity and terminate underperforming workers. A law firm representing Amazon notified the National Labor Relations Board that the company's Associate Development and Performance Tracker (Adapt) software "tracks the rates of each individual associate's productivity, and automatically generates any warnings or terminations regarding quality or productivity without input from supervisors." The Adapt software reportedly monitors how workers at fulfillment centers meet benchmarks, and alerts them when they are underperforming; Adapt also sends termination notices to managers and human resources, who discuss options with employees before making a termination decision. Critics contended such deployments can be particularly bad for lower-paid employees. The University of California at Los Angeles' Ian Larkin said automating disciplinary procedures "makes an already difficult job seem even more inhuman and undesirable."

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A handmade bunny wrapping its arms around a human finger Knit 1, Purl 2: Assembly Instructions for a Robot?
Carnegie Mellon News
Byron Spice
May 1, 2019

Carnegie Mellon University researchers have created tendon-actuated plush toys and other knitted objects via computationally controlled knitting machines, which they suggested could be applied to the manufacture of soft robots and wearables. The techniques embedded tendon paths horizontally, vertically, and diagonally in fabric sheets and tubes. This enabled the fabric's configuration, in combination with the tendon path's orientation, to produce various motion effects, like asymmetric bends, S-shaped bends, and twists. Stuffing the objects with various materials allowed their stiffness to be adjusted, and the assembly techniques also enabled the attachment of sensors to each tendon.

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Design Flaws Create Security Vulnerabilities for 'Smart Home' Internet of Things Devices
North Carolina State University
D'Lyn Ford
May 2, 2019

Researchers at North Carolina State University (NC State) have identified flaws in Internet of Things (IoT) devices that allow third parties to prevent those devices from sharing information. These flaws can be used to prevent security systems from signaling that there has been a break-in, or from uploading video on intruders. The team found that if third parties can hack a home's router, they can upload network layer suppression malware to the router. That malware allows devices to upload their "heartbeat" signals, designating that they are online and functioning, but blocks signals related to security, such as when a motion sensor is activated. Such suppression attacks can be executed on-site or remotely.

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A microbot alongside a paramecium The Microbots Are on Their Way
The New York Times
Kenneth Chang
April 30, 2019

Marc Miskin, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, has developed tiny robots, thousands of which can fit side by side on a single silicon wafer. The microbots, which are each about 100 atoms thick, rely on a technique used to put layers of platinum and titanium on a silicon wafer. When an electrical voltage is applied, the platinum contracts while the titanium remains rigid, and the flat surface bends. This bending action serves as the motor that moves the limbs of the robots. The robots are powered by shining lasers on tiny solar panels on their backs.

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White House Kicks Off Effort to Develop AI Standards
Brandi Vincent
May 1, 2019

The White House Office of Science and Technology has launched a request for information (RFI), seeking insight into developing standards around artificial intelligence (AI). The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will coordinate the RFI and all AI-standards-related endeavors, as directed by a February executive order. The order directed the NIST to issue a set of standards and tools that will guide the government in its adoption of the emerging technology. NIST is seeking information on a range of issues, including technical standards and guidance needed to advance transparency and privacy around the trustworthiness of AI technology; the urgent need for AI standards; and the degree of federal agencies' current and required involvement to address the government's needs.

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Major New Initiative to Encourage Girls into Computing
The Engineer (United Kingdom)
May 1, 2019

The Gender Balance in Computing initiative, funded by £2.4 million (about US$3.14 million) from the U.K. Department of Education, will use a "range of tailored interventions" and randomized control trials to encourage more young women to enter science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. More than 15,000 students at 550 schools across the country will be involved in the trials, which will run through 2022. Gender Balance in Computing is backed by a consortium including the Raspberry Pi Foundation, STEM Learning, BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, the Behavioral Insights Team, Apps for Good, and WISE. In addition, the initiative is associated with the National Center for Computing Education, and is part of an overall £84-million (US$110-million) package to improve computing education in the U.K. Said Helen Wollaston, chief executive of WISE, "It is vital that we show girls the skills required for opportunities in computing now, so they can make well-informed decisions about their future."

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