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Welcome to the November 8, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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boy playing video games China Restricts Video Gaming by Minors
NPR Online
Paolo Zialcita
November 6, 2019

Chinese officials have unveiled guidelines for limiting online videogame use by persons under 18, claiming it hurts health and learning. The strictures include a ban on gameplay from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m.; a limit of 90 minutes of daily game time except for national holidays, when three hours will be the maximum allowed; and a monthly cap of $28 or $57 for online microtransactions, depending on the age of the child. A state official said playing games depicting "sexual explicitness, goriness, violence, and gambling" is forbidden across all age groups, and everyone must register for online gaming accounts using their real names and phone numbers, so their playing time can be regulated. The government said several agencies are directing development "of a unified identification system” to verify the identity of minors who game online.

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Virginia Seeks Larger Pipeline of CS Degrees
The Washington Post
Nick Anderson
November 7, 2019

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam unveiled plans to help public universities produce 31,000 additional degree-holders in computer science and related disciplines over the next 20 years, to meet mounting demand for a high-tech workforce. Central to this effort is a plan by Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) to establish an “innovation campus” for graduate students in Alexandria. Participating universities will receive various amounts of state funding; the state has approved $16.6 million in funding to support the first year of these plans. Said Northam, "We are educating a workforce that will fill jobs at hundreds of tech companies around the Commonwealth ... helping boost our economy and quality of life."

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UC Berkeley student retrieves order from a KiwiBot Burrito Delivered by Bot, as Long as Students Don't Trap It
The New York Times
Bradley Berman
November 7, 2019

The Kiwi Campus startup near the University of California, Berkeley, offers robot meal deliveries to students, with remote "pilots" in Colombia setting and adjusting way points as the bots travel along a path. The sidewalk-traveling bots have an onboard computer and cameras, while Kiwi couriers load the bots with food ordered to go from local restaurants; if the bots encounter problems, like students trapping them or blocking their path, human couriers deliver the food on foot, or via Segway scooter. Kiwi Campus has made more than 60,000 robotic food deliveries in the past two years. Said Kiwi’s Sasha Iatsenia, “It’s ultimately a social experiment to see how robots get accepted by a community.”

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Cheap Sensor Detecting Landslides in India
BBC News
November 7, 2019

Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology have developed a low-cost technology that can detect landslides in rural and mountainous regions of the country. The researchers made a few modifications to the accelerometer found in smartphones, which measures changes in velocity, so the device can be used to measure soil movements. When embedded in the soil, the accelerometer moves when the soil moves, allowing the researchers to track small displacements in soil that lead to landslides. When the device detects a displacement of soil that could result in a landslide, it emits loud noises and sends text messages to officials so they can evacuate and stop vehicular movement in the area. The researchers now are using artificial intelligence and machine learning on the data generated by the device, in the hope they can develop algorithms that will enable them to predict landslides in advance.

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Online Birth Stories Reveal Power Imbalances
Cornell Chronicle (NY)
Melanie Lefkowitz
November 4, 2019

Computational analysis by Cornell University researchers of nearly 3,000 online birth stories publicly posted on Reddit revealed how powerless new mothers often feel in the delivery room, and demonstrated the potential of artificial intelligence to analyze complex narratives. Birth stories are ideal for training machine learning algorithms given their predictability, and Cornell's Maria Antoniak accurately predicted these similarities would help an unsupervised algorithm produce a list of chronological subjects. The model correctly identified narratives diverging from the standard arc, marked by phrases like "emergency c" and "slightly traumatic." New mothers often viewed themselves as the most powerless people in the delivery room, and Antoniak said these findings "might point to relatively small actions that can be taken to make them feel more empowered."

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mobile app screens Apps Become Safer After GDPR
Karlstad University (Sweden)
Sophia Hedmark-Stefansson
November 6, 2019

A study by researchers at Karlstad University in Sweden found that since the European Union's (EU) General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was implemented in May 2018, apps have less access to personal data, although many still access more functions than those described in the privacy policy. While many app developers have made an effort to make their programs more compliant with GDPR, the study shows “many insecurities remain” when it comes to privacy and personal data on smartphones and tablets. The team conducted a survey of 50 popular apps in November 2017, before the introduction of GDPR, and repeated the survey in December 2018 to learn if, and how, the apps had changed under GDPR.

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In Classical and Quantum Secure Communication, Practical Randomness is Incomplete
Bar-Ilan University
November 4, 2019

Researchers at Bar-Ilan University (BIU) in Israel confirmed the impossibility of generating true random bit sequences, classical or quantum, which supports a new classified secure communications technique. The researchers showed long sequences with randomness certified by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology are not truly random, and a large portion of non-random bits can be systematically incorporated within such bit sequences. This led to a method for classified secure communication between two parties, where even the existence of the communication itself is hidden. "Our strategy aims to quantify the maximal amount of information that can be systematically embedded in a certified random bit sequence, without harming its certification," said BIU's Shira Sardi and Herut Uzan. This allows the randomness level to be measured beyond the binary certification, and supports a new cryptosystem that conceals the presence of communication.

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GitHub logo GitHub Tops 40 Million Developers as Python, Data Science, Machine Learning Popularity Surges
Larry Dignan
November 6, 2019

Microsoft-owned GitHub's annual Octoverse report said its software developer community now exceeds 40 million developers, with data science, artificial intelligence, and machine learning repositories significantly aiding growth. GitHub reported 10 million new users, 44 million repositories, and 87 million pull requests in the last year. GitHub found Python overtook Java as the second-most-popular programming language on the platform based on repositories; JavaScript retained the number-one spot in the ranking. Meanwhile, repositories with data-science-focused subjects like deep learning, natural-language processing, and machine learning are becoming more popular. Star counts partly reflect this in the growing popularity of natural-language processing packages like scipy, skikit-learn, and TensorFlow, while non-code contributions such as academic papers have increased as well.

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Disney anthropomorphic cat with robotic arm Robotic Arm Slows Down to Avoid Uncanny Valley
Devin Coldewey
November 7, 2019

Disney Research roboticists learned that slowing a robot’s reaction time made people feel less threatened, helping to avoid the "uncanny valley" effect. The experiment involved people handing a ring to a robot hand in a natural and non-threatening manner, with the machine's arm moving at normal human speed. The hand, mated to an anthropomorphic cat torso, reached out to take the ring at three different rates of speed and delay: slow, moderate, and fast. People found fast robotic movement, and movement with no delay, discomforting and lacking warmth. Reactions to slow robotic movement were better, especially when combined with a reasonable, but not sluggish, delay.

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Drone-Mounted Lasers Reveal Ancient Settlement Off Florida Coast
The Guardian
Victoria Bekiempis
November 4, 2019

University of Florida (UF) researchers deployed flying drones with lasers to produce three-dimensional maps of an island off the Gulf coast, which found architectural details of a settlement dating from 900 to 1200 C.E. The drone-mounted LiDAR scanners covered areas on Raleigh Island with 16 lasers, penetrating heavy foliage. The settlement includes 37 residential areas surrounded by ridges of oyster shell up to 12 feet tall. UF's Terry E. Barbour and Ken Sassaman observed evidence that beads crafted from large marine mollusks were produced in the settlements, and stone implements to make the beads also were discovered. Said Sassaman, “The discovery of possible bead production may provide information on past societies in eastern North America – and how beads were integral to social capital.”

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dog with head out of car window What Makes an Image Memorable? Ask a Computer
MIT News
Kim Martineau
November 1, 2019

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers developed an artificial intelligence model to visualize elements that make images memorable. The new GANalyze model applies generative adversarial networks (GANs) to visualize a single image as it incrementally evolves from mediocre to memorable. Three models compose the GAN: an MemNet-based assessor that tunes memorability levels on the target image, and estimates how to realize the desired effect; a transformer to execute instructions; and a generator to produce the final image. Experiments revealed close-ups, brightness, centering the subject in the frame, and placement within a square or circular shape are factors that heavily influence memorability. Said Lore Goetschalckx, a visiting graduate student from Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium, “The human brain evolved to focus most on these features, and that’s what the GAN picks up on.”

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Google Chip Design Protects Cloud Where It's Most Vulnerable
Technology Review
Patrick Howell O'Neill
November 5, 2019

Google announced a new chip design based on OpenTitan, the open source incarnation of the Titan chip used in the company's data centers, to ensure the safety of its cloud computing business. By open-sourcing the chip, Google will let anyone check, understand, and fully trust its computers. OpenTitan features a self-testing capability to look for memory tampering every time the chip boots, which halts the boot process if the code the firmware generates does not match the code expected by the chip. Said Kaveh Razavi of the Netherlands' Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, “Google wants to ensure from the moment you press the power button that they can verify exactly the sequence of everything that happens before the first instruction gets executed."

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Cybersecurity Guide First to Gather Global Expertise
University of Bristol News
November 5, 2019

A guide funded by the U.K.'s National Cyber Security Program and initiated by the National Cyber Security Center assembles insights from cybersecurity experts worldwide to help organizations better protect their assets. The Cyber Security Body of Knowledge (CyBOK) highlights 19 Knowledge Areas covering the strengths, limitations, and ramifications of issues like risk management and governance, law and regulations, privacy and online rights, malware and criminal behavior, securing mobile and web technologies, large networked systems, software, and hardware. The University of Bristol's Awais Rashid said, "Our hope is that CyBOK will provide a consolidated body of knowledge that can become a universal guidebook and authoritative reference tool for academia, industry, and government."

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Microsoft 2020 Imagine Cup
Northeastern University Institute for Experiential AI

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