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Welcome to the November 4, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Demonstrators protest at a Free Internet rally in Moscow in March Russian Law Gives Government Sweeping Power Over Internet
NPR Online
Merrit Kennedy
November 1, 2019

Earlier this year, Russia passed a law that theoretically would allow the government to sequester the country's Internet from the rest of the world, as well as blocking any individual posts. Human Rights Watch said the sovereign Internet law requires Internet service providers (ISPs) to install software that can "track, filter, and reroute Internet traffic," and allows Russia's telecommunications regulator "to independently and extrajudicially block access to content that the government deems a threat." Russia claims the law is necessary to prevent U.S. cyberattacks, but human rights organizations worry it could be used to quash dissent. However, experts believe the sheer number of the Russian Internet's international connections make cutting it off extremely complicated. David Belson at the Internet Society said, "There were dozens of existing Internet exchange points in Russia, some of which have hundreds of participants,” including international network providers, so "basically it's challenging — if not impossible, I think — to completely isolate the Russian Internet."

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Why Music Makes Us Feel, According to AI
USC Viterbi School of Engineering
Caitlin Dawson
October 31, 2019

Researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) used artificial intelligence to study how music affects listeners' brains, bodies, and emotions. The team examined heart rate, galvanic skin response, brain activity, and subjective feelings of happiness and sadness in a group of 40 volunteers as they listened to three pieces of unfamiliar music. Of the 74 musical features used in the study, the researchers found dynamics, register, rhythm, and harmony were especially helpful in predicting listeners' responses. Said USC professor Shrikanth (Shri) Narayanan. “Using this research, we can design musical stimuli for therapy in depression and other mood disorders. It also helps us understand how emotions are processed in the brain.”

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Toronto Toronto's City of Tomorrow Scaled Back Amid Privacy Concerns
The New York Times
Dan Bilefsky
October 31, 2019

Sidewalk Labs, a sibling company of Google, had planned to overhaul Toronto's eastern waterfront to become a "smart city" of tomorrow, equipped with sensors tracking the speed of people crossing the streets and robots that could serve as trash collectors. However, the planned city, called Quayside, has been severely scaled back amid privacy concerns. Waterfront Toronto, the government agency overseeing the area, voted unanimously to reduce the original 190-acre plan to just 2 acres. The plan called for sensors and cameras to track the people who live, work, or pass through the area, with the resulting data to be used to further shape the new community. Such data collection spurred protests from local residents and privacy advocates, with one group decrying the project as "a “Google affiliate” trying to turn cities into “corporate surveillance states, modeled after Disney-style developments and sold to police services and corporate partners.”

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Scientists Make Quantum Encryptor 1,000 Times Smaller
David Nield
November 3, 2019

Researchers at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore have developed a quantum key distribution (QKD) chip only 3 millimeters (0.12 inches) in size, or 1,000 times smaller than earlier models. QKD technology ensures the security of encrypted information, since any act of observation by unauthorized parties renders the data unreadable. The proof-of-principle chip uses standard industry materials such as silicon, which should make mass production practical and affordable. Experts suspect such technology will be used alongside classical computing systems as it is further entrenched and refined. NTU's Liu Ai Qun said, "[This research] will help spark the creation of next-generation communication devices, as well as enhance digital services such as online financial portals of banks, and digital government services."

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A delivery drone Delivery Drones Could Land on Public Transport to Extend Their Range
New Scientist
Edd Gent
October 31, 2019

Researchers at Stanford University have developed a computer program that plans deliveries by getting drones to piggyback on public transport for a range boost. The program has two layers: one that decides which drones should deliver which packages, and another that sets the route each should take and when they should board and leave buses. In simulations of San Francisco and the Washington, D.C., areas, the software typically routed all packages in a few seconds, and the drones that used public transportation saw their ranges increased by up to 450%. The largest simulation included 200 drones delivering 5,000 packages using an 8,000-stop bus network. However, transit networks in many urban areas would not be sufficiently extensive or fast enough for this system to work, according to Niels Agatz at Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

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Nature Can Help Solve Optimization Problems
MIT News
Kylie Foy
October 28, 2019

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory researchers demonstrated a technique modeled after nature to expedite computation of combinatorial optimization problems. The researchers built a type of Ising machine, based on a physical model describing a network of magnets, each possessing a magnetic spin orientation that can only point up or down, with each spin's final orientation reliant on its interaction with every other spin. An Ising machine is designed to find the correct configuration of each magnetic spin to minimize overall system energy, given a particular coupling strength network. "Our computer works by 'computing with physics' and uses nature itself to help solve these tough optimization problems," said Lincoln Laboratory researcher Jeffrey Chou. "It's made of standard electronic components, allowing us to scale our computer quickly and cheaply by leveraging the existing microchip industry."

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Locus Robotics robots at work 'Tis the Season for Surge Robots as Holiday Hiring Finds Automation
The Wall Street Journal
Jennifer Smith
October 28, 2019

Retailers and logistics operators are investing in collaborative robots (cobots) to accelerate warehouse operations in the holiday season. Locus Robotics CEO Rick Faulk cites increasing demand this year for "surge robots," to supplement the seasonal warehouse workforce, and assist in filling online orders and restocking inventory at brick-and-mortar stores. Companies are turning to robots to help with storing, sorting, and packing goods for shipment, especially during the holidays, when retailers and logistics providers hire tens of thousands of additional employees. Automation companies say the bulk of seasonal demand for robots comes from clients that already use their machines, which means new operations can be set up in minutes or hours. Some companies envision robots taking over for an aging labor pool, while other warehouse operators envision machines filling in for a shortage of available workers.

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Computer Model to Design Drugs for Sickle Cell
Brown Daily Herald
Rahma Ibrahim
October 30, 2019

Researchers at the Brown University, the University of Houston, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Massachusetts General Hospital have developed a computer model that could help scientists design drugs to treat sickle cell disease. The research team built on a theory of the way red blood cells are affected by the mutation that accompanies sickle cell disease. The model is more reliable than previous versions, because it considers the physical and chemical characteristics of red blood cells. The new model explicitly accounts for differences that exist within different parts of the body, such as hemoglobin concentrations. The team tested the model under a variety of conditions and found it was able to replicate a majority of previously collected clinical data, which means it could serve as an alternative to costly, time-consuming, and often unsuccessful clinical drug trials.

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Artificial Networks Shed Light on Human Face Recognition
Weizmann Institute of Science
October 30, 2019

Researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel have gained new insights on humans' ability to recognize faces using deep neural networks. The researchers compared brain activity to these networks by analyzing data from 33 epileptics with implanted brain electrodes as they were shown a series of faces, each of which triggered a unique neuronal activation pattern. The neural network was shown the same images, to determine whether it would exhibit activation patterns similar to the human brain. There were striking resemblances, especially in the network's middle layers, which represent the actual pictorial appearance of the faces. Weizmann's Shany Grossman said, "These findings can help advance our understanding of how face perception and recognition are encoded in the human brain [and] ... may also help to further improve the performance of neural networks, by tweaking them so as to bring them closer to the observed brain response patterns."

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E-hall pass School Apps Track Students From Classroom to Bathroom, Parents Struggle to Keep Up
The Washington Post
Heather Kelly
October 29, 2019

Parents and students are grappling with the privacy implications of software increasingly used by U.S. schools, including apps that monitor students' movements—even to the bathroom—so approved administrators can see pass histories or search for patterns. Classroom management apps like Google's G Suite for Education track schoolwork and help teachers, parents, and students communicate through email and messaging. Smaller apps like ClassDojo deal with specific subjects or challenges, such as helping teachers reward students for positive behaviors. Privacy proponents warn the education technology sector's safeguards still fall short, with many apps continuing to sell de-anonymized data and watching users. Parent Coalition for Student Privacy director Leonie Haimson said, "Many parents are upset about the lack of privacy involved with the data going into private corporate hands and how their education is being outsourced to tech companies."

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'Listening' to Engine Blades to Stop Failures, Disasters
Purdue University News
October 31, 2019

Purdue University researchers have developed a monitoring system to identify the sound of rotor-forced response vibration, a common cause of premature blade malfunction in gas turbine engines. The system employs multiple unsteady pressure sensors to listen for specific pressure waves associated with turbine engine blade vibration. Gas turbine blades are typically very lightly damped, and can function like a tuning fork; their blades can produce a specific frequency or tone when they resonate, which the pressure sensors are designed to pick up. Said Purdue's Nicole Key, "With the help of big data analytics, the blade vibration information can be used to predict the possible engine failure and optimize preventive maintenance schedules."

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Museum of the Future: Building Designed by Algorithm
BBC News
Elizabeth Bains
October 28, 2019

The Museum of the Future in the United Arab Emirates, designed as a torus with an elliptical void, would be impossible to realize without parametric design and Building Information Modeling. In parametric design, specific factors or parameters can be manipulated to change the outcome of an equation. U.K.-based project consultant BuroHappold Engineering first had to refine the museum's theoretical shape to eliminate the maximum number of curvatures, then crafted a growth algorithm to arrange the optimal configuration of the building's steel diagrid framework. Laser scanning was used to compare the as-built support positions with the three-dimensional BIM model during construction. Meanwhile, parametric modeling of people's movements throughout the museum was used to ascertain how to reduce waits in queues, and to assist flow within the building by altering the width of corridors, number of elevators, bathroom design, and ticketing hall layout.

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