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Welcome to the October 18, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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California Launches Earthquake Early Warning System
Dan Whitcomb
October 17, 2019

California has launched the first statewide earthquake warning system in the U.S., aimed at detecting seismic waves and notifying residents via a mobile phone app up to 20 seconds before tremors hit. The California Earthquake Early Warning System taps hundreds of sensors to detect P-waves, which travel through the interior of the Earth, and arrive prior to surface waves and at a higher frequency during a temblor. University of California, Berkeley seismologists and engineers designed the MyShake phone app, which will initially warn users of local quakes with a magnitude of 4.5 or higher. Alerts are based on the ShakeAlert computer program operated by the U.S. Geological Survey, which analyzes data from seismic networks across the state, estimates the preliminary magnitudes of tremors, and calculates which areas will feel them.

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A motion-blurred photo. Recovering “Lost Dimensions” of Images, Video
MIT News
Rob Matheson
October 16, 2019

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a model that recovers valuable data lost from images and video that have been "collapsed" into lower dimensions. Captured visual data often collapses data of multiple dimensions of time and space into one or two dimensions called "projections." The researchers created a "visual deprojection" model that uses a neural network to learn patterns that match low-dimensional projections to their original higher-dimensional images and videos. The model takes in new projections and uses what it has learned to recreate the original data. During testing, the model synthesized accurate video frames showing people walking by extracting information from single-one-dimensional lines. The model also recovered video frames from single, motion-blurred projections of digits moving around a screen.

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Security Researchers Warn of Online Voting Risks
Rohan Pearce
October 17, 2019

Security researchers said Australia should not rely on any online voting system that lacks a thorough ballot-verification method, to ensure against fraudulent voting. The University of Melbourne's Chris Culnane and Vanessa Teague warned of the vulnerability of Scytl's iVote platform, designed to accommodate visually impaired voters and those traveling on the day of the election, as well as substituting for voting by mail. The researchers cited findings that votes cast via iVote in a 2017 Western Australia election were channeled through a content delivery network that could potentially "read and alter votes." Culnane, Teague, and their colleagues told an ongoing Victorian inquiry examining the conduct of the state’s 2018 election, "Electronic voting risks introducing into Australian elections the possibility of large-scale, undetectable fraud that could potentially be committed from anywhere in the world."

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A robotic hand holding a Rubik’s cube. Dexterous Robot Can Solve a Rubik's Cube One-Handed
New Scientist
Donna Lu
October 15, 2019

Researchers at OpenAI have developed an artificial intelligence (AI) system that can guide a robotic limb in solving a Rubik's cube with one hand, a task that requires so much dexterity that even some humans find the movements difficult. The researchers taught an AI to control a commercially available robotic hand developed by the Shadow Robot Company, by training it in a simulation for the equivalent for 13,000 years. The system used visual sensors and a dedicated cube-solving algorithm, which gave the AI instructions about what moves to make so the AI could focus on the required physical movements of the robotic hand.

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An image of vertical HARP prints. Highest-Throughput 3D Printer Is Future of Manufacturing
Northwestern Now
Amanda Morris
October 17, 2019

Northwestern University researchers have developed a three-dimensional (3D) printer that can print a human-sized object in a few hours. The prototype high-area rapid printing (HARP) system supports record throughput to print half a yard in an hour, allowing fabrication of either large individual parts or multiple small parts at the same time. HARP employs a new type of stereolithography that prints vertically and cures liquid resins into hardened plastic with ultraviolet light, supporting mechanical robustness rather than the laminated structures other 3D-printing technologies produce. Said Northwestern's Chad A. Mirkin, "If we could print fast without limitations on materials and size, we could revolutionize manufacturing. HARP is poised to do that.”

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Asia-Pacific Universities Making Progress on Computer Science
Times Higher Education (U.K.)
Ellie Bothwell
October 16, 2019

Universities in the Asia-Pacific region have made significant strides in teaching and research on computer science, with four institutions in the region ranking in the top 20 of the 2020 Times Higher Education computer science list (compared to two last year). The National University of Singapore leads the region and ranked 11th overall in the study, up from 15th place last year, while Nanyang Technological University, Singapore ranks 13th in this year’s survey, rising 16 places from last year. Also in the top 20 of the ranking from the region are China's Tsinghua University (which ranked 15th) and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (17th). The computer science listing continues to be led overall by institutions in the U.K., the U.S., and Switzerland; the University of Oxford held onto its number-one ranking.

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NICT’s experimental set up. Demonstration of 1 Petabit per Second Network Node
National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (Japan)
October 17, 2019

Researchers at Japan's National Institute of Information and Communications Technology's Network System Research Institute demonstrated the first large-scale optical switching testbed that can handle 1-petabit-per-second optical signals. The demonstration utilized large-scale/low-loss optical switches based on microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), and routed signals with capacities ranging from 10 terabits per second to 1 petabit per second. The testbed successfully managed multiple functions required for next-generation optical-fiber networks, including optical switching of 1 petabit per second of data, redundant configuration to accommodate network failures, branching of signals into optical fibers with different capacities, and handling of lower-capacity signals for high granularity.

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Computational 'Match Game' Identifies Potential Antibiotics
Carnegie Mellon News
Byron Spice
October 16, 2019

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) computational biologists collaborated with researchers at seven other institutions to develop a software tool that identifies bioactive molecules and the microbial genes that generate them, for assessment as potential antibiotics. The team demonstrated that MetaMiner can detect such molecules at least 100 times faster than was possible with previous techniques. MetaMiner applies genome mining methodology, analyzing gene clusters to deduce molecules the genes produce. CMU's Hosein Mohimani and Liu Cao bypassed genome mining's high susceptibility to error by building an error-tolerant search engine that finds matches between databases of microbial DNA and databases that classify molecular products according to mass spectra. With MetaMiner, the researchers identified 31 known and seven previously unknown ribosomally synthesized and post-translationally modified peptides in about 14 days; Mohimani said obtaining those results manually likely would have taken decades.

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A child actor pictured as a Walmart salesperson. Walmart, Mattel Lease 'Floors' in a Virtual Toy Store
The Wall Street Journal
Sahil Patel
October 16, 2019

Toy company Mattel and retailer Walmart are testing interactive videos to market and sell merchandise by "leasing floors" in a virtual store so visitors can browse items in choose-your-own-adventure formats. Walmart's Toy Lab lets users examine, test, and watch children play with 40 toys, and Mattel has a "grownups only" floor where parents can view children's wish lists and purchase products via The interactive KidHQ virtual store was built by startup Eko and developed with Walmart funding. Said Eko's Ivy Sheibar, "When you have meaningful choice on platforms with superior tech, you will see the engagement, the completion rates, the click-through rates that get people to sit up and take notice." Aggregated anonymized data on purchases made through KidHQ, and information about how visitors interact with different items, is provided to marketers.

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NUS researchers holding elements of a novel bodysuit. NUS Team Creates Interactive Multisensory VR Game
NUS News (Singapore)
October 14, 2019

Researchers and developers at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Keio-NUS CUTE (Connective Ubiquitous Technology for Embodiments) Center have created a mixed-reality game that permits multisensory interaction. The "Lost Foxfire" game combines multiple sensory streams—vision, hearing, smell, touch, and heat sensitivity—to enable a high level of realism. Players wear virtual reality headsets and multisensory bodysuits, which provide real-time sensory feedback to inform decisions that affect gameplay. The suit produces thermal, wind, and olfactory stimuli to help players achieve the game’s goal of tracking down and stopping a fire spirit from burning down a temple.

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A photo of a python showing fangs. Bug in Python Script May Have Affected Hundreds of Studies
Ars Technica
Sean Gallagher
October 15, 2019

University of Hawaii (UH) researchers discovered a coding error in a set of Python scripts often used for computational analysis of chemistry data yielded significantly different outcomes, depending on which operating system (OS) was used. This has cast doubt on more than 150 published studies that employed the Willoughby-Hoye scripts, which returned correct results on macOS Mavericks and Windows 10, yet were off by almost 1% on macOS Mojave and Ubuntu. This variation is rooted in the scripts' use of Python's glob module, which seeks out files matching a specific name pattern, but relies on the OS for the sequence in which those files are returned. The results of script calculations also are impacted by the order of file processing; UH's Rui Sun and Phillip Williams wrote sorting code that corrects the error.

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Photo of the aerodynamic bike. Bike Designed with AI Breaks World Speed Records
Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (Switzerland)
Celia Luterbacher
October 10, 2019

Ilona Peltier and Fabian Canal set the women's and men's world records for fastest human-powered vehicle at the 2019 edition of the World Human Powered Speed Challenge last month in Nevada, riding a bicycle designed using a software application developed by Neural Concept, a spin-off of Switzerland’s Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne Computer Vision Laboratory. The artificial intelligence-driven software uses deep learning to take a set of constraints—such as pilot height, width, and weight—to perform aerodynamic simulations. The software's algorithm learns from the data to propose the best designs within the constraints provided. Said Neural Concept's Thomas von Tschammer, "The big advantage of this technology is that it can speed up simulation processes, allowing companies to increase efficiency and decrease costs, in addition to optimization."

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Microsoft 2020 Imagine Cup
Northeastern University Institute for Experiential AI

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