Welcome to the November 27, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Mother and son looking at pictures from his hospitalization for vaping-related lung disease Inside CDC's Scramble to Solve Mysterious Vaping Disease
The Washington Post
Lena H. Sun
November 25, 2019

Efforts by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to investigate a spate of vaping-related injuries and deaths required building a new data-collection system on the fly, as well as the use of three-dimensional (3D) printing. Macarena Garcia, chief data scientist for the investigation, realized data collection was a major challenge, since the agency's foodborne disease outbreak-tracking system was not sufficiently scalable, and differing data formats from states compounded these shortcomings. Data managers had to write code enabling each state to transfer its information into the CDC system. Since the questions states had asked patients were not uniform, Garcia's team had to create a separate, parallel system to collect the information. Since the special smoking machines used to test aerosols from vaping devices associated with sick patients did not match with many vaping devices' rectangular mouthpieces, CDC scientists used 3D printers to manufacture custom interfaces.

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Team Designs Machine Learning Algorithms to Offer Safety, Fairness Guarantees
University of Massachusetts Amherst
November 21, 2019

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Stanford University, and the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil have developed a framework for designing machine learning algorithms that make it easier for users of the algorithm to specify safety and fairness constraints. The team tested the framework by using it to create a Seldonian algorithm with constraints to predict grade point averages in a data set of 43,000 students in Brazil; the algorithm successfully avoided several types of gender bias. Said Amherst’s Philip Thomas, “The framework is a tool for the machine learning researcher. It guides them toward creating algorithms that are easier for users to apply responsibly to real world problems.”

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Tactile Display Using Computer-Controlled Surface Adhesion
Osaka University
November 15, 2019

Researchers at Osaka University in Japan have developed a two-dimensional (2D) graphical tactile display to which one-dimensional (1D) adhesive data can be added. The adhesion of a polymer sheet mounted on the display can be altered via computer-directed temperature adjustment of the display surface, up to a boundary temperature of 40 degrees Celsius. The display is designed to provide users both visual and tactile information. The university’s Yuichi Itoh explained, “This graphical tactile system allows users to get ‘touch and feel’ information that would be difficult to perceive on a visual display. We will consider applications to entertainment and digital signage to pursue its commercial viability.”

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Search Results Not Biased Along Party Lines, Stanford Scholars Find
Stanford News
Melissa De Witte
November 26, 2019

A study by Stanford University scholars did not find any apparent political bias in the algorithm of the Google search engine. The researchers reviewed the first page of Google search results for every candidate running for federal office in the 2018 U.S. election over a six-month period, and found sources from either end of the political spectrum were not being excluded, while news sources held a relatively centrist viewpoint for the most part. Stanford's Jeff Hancock suggested Google's algorithm highlights authoritative sources, but emphasized the need to audit such algorithms to ensure the absence of bias, adding “without audits, it’s difficult to assess these opaque algorithms.”

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Air New Zealand Blockchain, 3D Printing Combine to Make Aircraft Parts
The Wall Street Journal
Agam Shah
November 26, 2019

Aircraft-component manufacturer Moog is testing a combined blockchain/three-dimensional (3D) printing solution to accelerate replacement of defective aircraft parts from days or even weeks to a few hours, to demonstrate the potential for a new type of digital marketplace for the highly regulated components. Moog chief technology officer George Small said, "The idea is that I'm going to stock those parts digitally and turn them into physical goods when I need them." Blockchain allows buyers to locate and immediately purchase needed parts with less paperwork. In addition to sharing a digital ledger of transactions and trusted manufacturers, blockchain also could host data on material used to make airplane parts, so part orders could be rerouted to a relevant 3D printer.

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Researchers Reach Milestone in Quantum Standardization
Waterloo News
November 26, 2019

Researchers at Canada’s University of Waterloo have developed a method that could lead to the establishment of standards for measuring quantum-computer performance. The cycle benchmarking technique allows scientists to evaluate scalability potential of a quantum computing system, and to compare performance between systems. The method offers a way to help quantum computing users ascertain the comparative value of competing hardware platforms, and boost each platform's capability, to yield robust solutions for applications of interest. Cycle benchmarking determines the likelihood of error under any given quantum computing application when implemented via randomized compiling. Waterloo's Joel Wallman said, "A consistent method for characterizing and correcting the errors in quantum systems provides standardization for the way a quantum processor is assessed, allowing progress in different architectures to be fairly compared.”

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Sir Tim Berners-Lee in 2012 Tim Berners-Lee Launches 'Contract for the Web' to Govern Internet Giants, Governments
Graeme Burton
November 25, 2019

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, recipient of the 2016 ACM A.M. Turing Award for his invention of the World Wide Web, has launched a global plan of action to govern the behavior of Internet giants and governments. The Contract for the Web, which says it aims "to make our online world safe and empowering for everyone," includes nine principles: three aimed at governments, three for companies, and three for individuals. Governments must ensure everyone can connect to the Internet, keep all of the Internet available all the time, and respect people's fundamental online privacy and data rights. Companies must provide affordable Internet access to everyone, respect and protect people's online privacy and personal data, and develop technologies that support the best in humanity and challenge the worst. Individuals must be creators and collaborators on the Web, build strong communities that respect civil discourse and human dignity, and fight to keep the Web open and a global public resource.

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In the cockpit of an A320 flight simulator, an eye-tracking system consisting of cameras and infrared sensors keeps constant track of where the pilot (left) is looking. Tracking the Eye of the Pilot
ETH Zurich
Michael Keller
November 25, 2019

Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich, Swiss International Air Lines, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and others have developed and tested eye-tracking software to train pilots. The Instructor Assistant System (iAssyst) software lets instructors analyze the gaze patterns of trainees in the cockpit of a flight simulator to see how they monitor the automated systems of modern passenger planes. iAssyst combines video, audio, and simulator recordings, while displaying pilots' gaze patterns. iAssyst permitted trainers to analyze pilots' flying performance with greater precision, enabling instructors to better evaluate the causes of potential pilot errors, and appropriately adjust the training regimen. ETH researchers Martin Raubal and David Rudi said the software also could be used for medical training.

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Digital Sandtable Helps CBP Visualize Terrain
Government Computer News
November 25, 2019

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate has developed an interactive digital sandtable that uses augmented reality to create a three-dimensional map of any terrain. The Augmented Reality Sandtable (ARES) was developed to help U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents train to track criminals, undocumented immigrants, or potential terrorists over complex and unfamiliar territory. A projector displays a topographical map of the desired location on top of sand in a large sandbox, visualizing features of the area like trails, valleys, and hilltops. A motion sensor tracks changes made by the user, shifting the sand to match the topographical display and adjusting the computer-generated terrain projection to match the sand. In addition, a projector can overlay different types of maps on the sand to show street names and specific buildings. The system is built from off-the-shelf components, and proprietary software developed by the U.S. Army Research Lab.

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One of the robotic balls opened up, showing its circuit boards Swarms of Golf Ball-Sized Robots Could Detect Leaks in the Sewers
New Scientist
Donna Lu
November 22, 2019

Researchers at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands have developed golf ball-sized robots that can collect data as they float through pipes. Each robot is equipped with a microprocessor, a sensor, memory boards, and a battery, and can be programmed to detect sound, temperature, pressure, acceleration, rotation, and magnetic fields. The sensor may be activated by a sudden change in conditions, such as hissing associated with water escaping, or increased rotation that could indicate turbulent water flow. The researchers aim to use the floating sensors to map water distribution networks below cities, and to detect leaks in those networks.

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Software to Speed Up Clothing Development
Olivia Gotschi
November 21, 2019

Scientists at Empa, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, have come up with a computer model that calculates how well a given garment keeps the wearer warm. Empa's Agnes Psikuta explained, "Air gaps are responsible for more than 70% of a garment's thermal properties," so clothing insulates particularly well when there is a lot of air between the body and the outermost layer of clothing. The software blends interacting mathematical models that predict not just air layers, but also the wearer's thermal comfort, along with the influence of perspiration or body movements on a proposed garment; the software then renders a cutting pattern into a virtual piece of clothing that an avatar can wear. Psikuta said, "Even before the fabrics or the aesthetic design have been determined, our software calculates [how] the necessary clothing should fit."

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Python Programming Language, AWS Skills Demand Has Exploded
Liam Tung
November 20, 2019

Analysis of Indeed.com job search engine listings over the last five years found explosive growth in demand for skills in Python, showing the coding language is the most popular one, or on its way to becoming most popular. Job listings mentioning Python climbed from 8% in September 2014 to 18% in September 2019, with the upsurge often credited to growth in data science and interest in machine learning and artificial intelligence, helped by abundant third-party Python packages and developer tools. Indeed also revealed skyrocketing demand for developers with Amazon Web Services (AWS) skills, with about 14% of current listings calling for AWS knowledge. Indeed Hiring Lab economist Andrew Flowers said, "A big reason behind the exceptional growth of Python and AWS is that the underlying tech job mix is changing in ways that favor these programming languages."

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Rice University's Computer Science Department is Growing
Faculty Positions Available at Carnegie Mellon University

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