MS in Data Science
Welcome to the December 11, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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A photo of Mark Zuckerberg Facebook's Ad Tools Subsidize Partisanship; Campaigns May Not Even Know It.
The Washington Post
Isaac Stanley-Becker
December 10, 2019

Northeastern University and University of Southern California computer scientists, working with the managing director of the nonprofit Upturn, found that the technologies Facebook uses to sort the relevancy of advertising may be more responsible for the polarization of U.S. politics than previously known. The findings portray Facebook as delivering political ads based on their content and the information the social network has on its users, rather than on targeting decisions made by a political candidate or campaign. The researchers said when they tried to get Facebook to show posts to users not already aligned with the ideology of the advertising, the cost rose, so campaigns would have to pay more if they wanted to reach that audience. They warned Facebook is “wielding significant power over political discourse through its ad delivery algorithms without public accountability or scrutiny."

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Microsoft, Ford Try Using Quantum-Style Computing to Solve Seattle's Traffic Problem
Alan Boyle
December 10, 2019

Microsoft and Ford Motor are using quantum-inspired computing models to try to optimize traffic management in Seattle. Ford chief technology officer Ken Washington said timely optimization using an enormous number of possible route assignments is not feasible with traditional computers, so the partners have experimented with algorithms that simulate a quantum approach on classical systems. The researchers tested various scenarios, including one involving about 5,000 vehicles concurrently requesting routes that spanned the Seattle area. Washington said the algorithms sent balanced routing suggestions to the vehicles in 20 seconds, improving congestion by 73% versus "selfish" routing, while cutting average commuting time by 8%. Said Microsoft's Julie Love, “We don't have to wait until quantum computers are deployed on a wide scale to take advantage of the technology."

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Facebook, which counts India as its biggest market by number of users, promoted its “Live What You Love” campaign last year in Bangalore On Data Privacy, India Charts Its Own Path
The New York Times
Vindu Goel; Karan Deep Singh
December 10, 2019

India is considering its first major data privacy statute which, if enacted, would impose new limits on corporations' collection and use of information from citizens. However, attorneys said the legislation would allow the government to oversee the Internet. India's bill is similar to Europe's General Data Protection Regulation in requiring global Internet companies to obtain explicit consent from individuals for personal data use, and to comply with demands that their data be deleted. Yet the measure would lessen government constraints on its own use of people's information, and the central government would have authority to exempt any public body from the mandates. Also concerning for domestic businesses is India's proposed Data Protection Authority, which would create privacy rules and monitor corporate compliance, despite a lack of legal precedent in either area.

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3-D printed bunny 3D-Printed Bunny Contains DNA Instructions to Make Copy of Itself
New Scientist
Layal Liverpool
December 9, 2019

Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich and Israel's Erlich Lab three-dimensionally (3D)-printed a polyester rabbit that contains DNA in which instructions for making copies of itself are stored. The researchers encoded the 45kb printing instructions into the DNA bases, then synthesized the corresponding DNA sequence, which they packed into glass spheres and embedded them in the polyester. As a test, they removed a piece of plastic from the rabbit, and isolated the DNA; a sequencing machine read the DNA-base sequences and translated them into instructions for the 3D printer, which replicated an identical plastic rabbit, complete with DNA-impregnated spheres. Said Sriram Kosuri at the University of California, Los Angeles, “You can imagine a system where everything is tagged with small bits of useful information. What’s cool about this work is that they show that is doable today, and it seems pretty reliable.”

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For IT Pros, Adding Blockchain Skills Can Pad Your Paycheck—by a Lot
Lucas Mearian
December 9, 2019

A report by technology analyst firm Foote Partners found that information technology (IT) professionals can significantly boost their earnings potential with blockchain skills. The market value of blockchain-skilled IT workers rose 6.3% in the six months through Oct. 1, 2019, and 13.3% for the 12 months through that date, which Foote Partners rated as "well above average." Foote Partners' David Foote says the average pay premium for blockchain skills is 17% above base salary. The consultancy notes blockchain is positioned to enhance a virtually infinite number of transactional activities—and shortages of those who can design, build, and test blockchain operating models are expected to persist. The company says it will be critical in the future for IT professionals to be capable of integrating blockchain with artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, and the Internet of Things.

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Reorganizing a Computer Chip: Transistors Can Now Process, Store Information
Purdue University News
Kayla Wiles
December 9, 2019

Purdue University engineers integrated a transistor with higher-performing memory technology to create a device that can process and store information. The researchers employed a semiconductor with ferroelectric properties, and the resulting ferroelectric semiconductor field-effect transistor overcomes the efficiency limitations of ferroelectric random-access memory. Building the semiconductor from alpha indium selenide eliminated the issue of a wide band gap that prevented electrical transmission. The transistor's performance was comparable to that of current ferroelectric field-effect transistors, and could outperform those devices with additional optimization. The Purdue researchers also collaborated with Georgia Institute of Technology researchers to build a high-performance ferroelectric tunneling junction by enhancing a chip with alpha indium selenide.

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Women fetching water during the regional anti-insurgent Operation Barkhane in Tin Hama, Mali App Predicts Water-Related Conflict Up to a Year in Advance
Emma Batla
December 5, 2019

A new early-warning app could predict areas of likely conflicts over water up to a year in advance by using machine learning to pinpoint risks, based on about 80 factors going back two decades. The Water, Peace, and Security (WPS) partnership's WPS Global Early Warning Tool factors in 20 years of data on rainfall and droughts from satellite sources, as well as socio-economic and demographic information. The WPS partnership expects the tool will allow governments and others to defuse conflicts through early interventions. According to the WPS partnership, tests suggested the app is 86% successful in identifying conflicts with at least 10 casualties. The World Resources Institute's Charles Iceland said, "This could be a breakthrough in development and peacekeeping operations, giving time to intervene before bloodshed occurs."

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Tool Predicts 3D Organization of Human Chromosomes
UW-Madison News
Eric Hamilton
December 9, 2019

University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) researchers have come up with a computational tool for predicting interactions in three dimensions between regions of human chromosomes. The HiC-Reg tool is based on Hi-C, an experimental method for measuring interactions, but can perform measurements at less cost, using more easily quantifiable and commonly available genomic data. HiC-Reg can predict whether two regions will interact, and the potential strength of the interaction. The researchers entered genomic data into a machine learning algorithm, along with Hi-C data from the few cell lines for which it is available; the tool learned relationships that facilitated prediction of Hi-C measurements for a new pair of genomic regions. HiC-Reg, which accurately predicted 40% to 80% of regional associations, is freely accessible to biologists.

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Agencies Plan to Develop Data Science Talent
Federal Computer Week
Lia Russell
December 4, 2019

The U.S. Census Bureau is working with the Federal CIO Council and U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) on an anticipated January launch for the Data Science Training Pilot, designed to incentivize career growth and foster retention of existing federal employees by training them in data science. About 40 agencies and departments are participating in the program, which will give up to 50 applicants the opportunity to take data science classes to train for more data science-oriented work. Data scientists in the Census Bureau will provide direct mentorship to program participants.

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Researchers recreated visual elements in an out-of-view video Using Computers to View the Unseen
MIT News
Rachel Gordon
December 6, 2019

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)'s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory have advanced a technique to envision scenes outside a line of sight without special gear. The passive method can reconstruct concealed images from subtle shadows and reflections. An algorithm monitors how shadow and geometry interact to predict the path light travels in a scene, then calculates what is unseen from the observed shadows—and builds a silhouette of a live-action performance. The algorithm concurrently trains two neural networks specialized for a single target: one creates the scrambling pattern, while the other estimates the hidden video. The networks are rewarded when the blended factors replicate the video recorded from the clutter, driving them to explain their observations with plausible concealed data.

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Robot and Software Make it Easier to Create Advanced Materials
Rutgers Today
December 4, 2019

Researchers at Rutgers University (RU) have developed an automated way to produce polymers. The system, which features custom software and a liquid-handling robot, can create up to 384 different polymers at once; a human researcher may be able to make a few polymers a day. The custom software allows the robot to interpret polymer designs made on a computer, and to complete every step of the chemical reaction required to create them. Said Adam J. Gormley of RU–New Brunswick, “By automating polymer synthesis and using a robotic platform, it is now possible to rapidly create a multitude of unique materials."

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The participants discuss the crisis at the Digital Currency Simulation Situation Room table Brace for the Digital-Money Wars
The Wall Street Journal
Paul Vigna
December 7, 2019

China's plan to digitize its currency, the yuan, could allow it to circumvent U.S. sanctions. Were the U.S. to respond by digitizing its own currency, that could become a significant surveillance tool, as the U.S. would be able to track every digital dollar transaction. Experts like Cornell University's Emin Gun Sirer warn that it is nearly impossible to create a form of cryptocurrency that does not identify its users. A digital yuan would invert bitcoin's decentralized digital currency model, with all data generated by transactions to be centrally stored as part of China’s surveillance of its citizens. Said Neha Narula, director of MIT Media Lab’s Digital Currency Initiative, “The fundamental nature of money is really changing.”

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