Welcome to the February 3, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Lead author Venkat Arun in front of the RFocus smart surface prototype. MIT's 'Smart Surface' Could Improve Your Wi-Fi Signal Tenfold
Jon Fingas
February 3, 2020

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have designed a prototype "smart surface" that can concentrate wireless radio signals to maximize reception. The RFocus device has more than 3,000 minuscule antennas arranged by software into optimal receptive configurations, with control enabled via central beamforming rather than through transmitters and client devices. RFocus can improve signal strength nearly 10-fold without any signal amplification, and could potentially strengthen longer-ranged connections for Wi-Fi as well as high-band 5G. The CSAIL researchers hope to find a way to produce the smart surface at scale, preferably as a thin, wireless "wallpaper."

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Firefighters demonstrate Haptic Helmet prototypes. Safety Helmet for Firefighters
Carnegie Mellon University
Sherry Stokes
January 30, 2020

Researchers at the Carnegie Mellon University CyLab have developed a firefighter's helmet equipped with haptic actuators, a control box with a radio module, and other devices to provide real-time information to firefighters. The prototype, called the Haptic Helmet, communicates directions to a firefighter by sending a buzz to the front, back, or sides of the head, indicating to the firefighter to move forward, stop, or turn left or right. The signals are sent to the helmet either via an RF remote controller in the surrounding area, or from a virtual reality simulator using a cable. In November, the research team (and the helmet) won the National Institute of Standards and Technology Public Safety Communication Research Division’s Haptic Interfaces for Public Safety Challenge.

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AI is Being Used to Select Embryos for Women Undergoing IVF
New Scientist
Donna Lu
January 29, 2020

Harrison.ai, a tech firm based in Sydney, Australia, has developed an artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm that is being used during in vitro fertilization to select embryos with the highest chance of resulting in a successful pregnancy. The Ivy algorithm analyzes time-lapse videos of embryos as they are incubated after being fertilized. It was trained on more than 10,000 videos of embryos growing inside an incubator for five days, in combination with data about which embryos resulted in pregnancy. “The results look very promising,” said Cornell University's Iman Hajirasouliha, who along with colleagues has developed a similar tool, based on videos of 12,000 embryos on day five post-fertilization.

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People awaiting President Trump’s arrival for a speech about USMCA in Milwaukee last summer. USMCA Formalizes Free Flow of Data, Other Tech Issues
The Wall Street Journal
Agam Shah; Jared Council
January 29, 2020

The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) signed into law by U.S. President Trump on Jan. 29 provides companies with greater certainty about technology issues such as liability protection and the free flow of data across borders. For example, the USMCA prevents its participants from limiting cross-border data flows from local data centers; it also prohibits all three countries from imposing tariffs on those data transfers. The agreement also restricts governments from forcing companies to disclose their underlying source code. Said Victoria Espinel of software industry trade group BSA, “For any company that's creating software ... knowing that governments won't be able to force them to disclose the source code for their software is a real benefit."

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Quantum Entanglement Meets Superconductivity in Novel Experiment
IEEE Spectrum
Mark Anderson
January 27, 2020

An experiment by Rice University researchers linked quantum entanglement, the key to quantum computing, and quantum criticality, which is required for high-temperature superconductors, with the outcomes suggesting both technologies have similar underlying physical properties. The researchers analyzed a thin metal film manufactured by scientists at the Vienna University of Technology in Austria, observing the material in a state that concurrently exhibited "quantum critical" behavior and quantum entanglement among billions of electrons. Said Rice's Qimiao Si, “Usually with qubits, you build one; you build two; if you get to ten, that’s a large number. There’s a tantalizing promise that collectively, there’s so many electrons that are quantum mechanically entangled, and they could potentially be a resource for quantum engineering."

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Pinterest Bans Misinformation About Voting, Census
The Washington Post
Cat Zakrzewski
January 29, 2020

The Pinterest platform has banned the posting of misleading information related to voting or the census, instituting a "civic participation" policy that is applicable to content from users' posts and ads on the service. Pinterest will disclose any census count-related hoaxes to the U.S. Census Bureau so the agency can dispel them and prevent their proliferation on other social networks. The network also will display a banner atop search results so people seeking "2020 Census" and other popular terms can easily access the U.S. 2020 Census website. “This is an Internet problem,” said Pinterest's Aerica Shimizu Banks, adding that the only way to address such misinformation broadly is for tech companies and government officials to work together.

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A student room in Empa’s NEST research building is equipped with a self-learning heating and cooling control system. Self-Learning Heat­ing Control System
Rainer Klose
January 30, 2020

Researchers at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa) have developed a smart heating control system that can assess a building's behavior and provide greater comfort and lower energy costs. The researchers fed an experimental heating control system equipped with artificial intelligence temperature data from the previous 10 months, along with the current weather forecast. The team found the smart heating and cooling control system adhered fairly closely to pre-set comfort specifications, while using about 25% less energy. Said Empa's Felix Bünning, "With this method we can construct a good, energy-saving retrofit solution for existing heating systems using relatively simple means and the recorded data."

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Social Scientists Battle Bots to Glean Insights From Online Chatter
Heidi Ledford
January 28, 2020

Social scientists say social-media bots taint research that mines websites like Twitter, Reddit, and Instagram for data on human health and behavior. Computer researcher Sune Lehmann, who designed bots in 2013 at the Technical University of Denmark, said many scientists fail to use bot-detectors to purge their data of automated content. Katrin Weller at Germany's Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences said defining bots is a key issue, since not all bots spread malicious misinformation. Meanwhile, bot-detectors are constantly competing with developers, with more-refined machine learning bots posting original content rather than simply retweeting others' posts. Some scientists are designing their own bots for experimentation, like the Pennsylvania State University researchers who built bots to chastise Twitter users for using racist language.

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Members of the Carbin team at the office of Franz-Josef Ulm at M.I.T. Mapping Potholes by Phone
The New York Times
Mark Gardiner
January 24, 2020

Engineering students at schools including Birzeit University in the Middle East’s West Bank, Harvard University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed an app for mapping potholes and road quality via the accelerometers in smartphones. The Carbin app functions best when the smartphone is attached to a vehicle in a holder, but also operates well if the device is laid flat on the car floor. The app's estimates are comparable to measurements from more sophisticated lasers transported by van. Some 1,000 people have downloaded Carbin, and together have mapped the quality of more than 175,000 miles of roads in 11 nations.

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Congress Passes Bill to Spur Veterans' Participation in STEM Fields
Brandi Vincent
January 28, 2020

The U.S. House of Representatives last week passed bipartisan legislation to increase veterans' participation in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines through new federal initiatives; the bill was passed by the Senate in December. The bill directs the U.S. National Science Foundation to ramp up outreach and focus on programs to help veterans pursue STEM and computer science careers, and to update scholarships, fellowships, grants, and programs to make more veterans eligible to participate. The bill also directs the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to establish an interagency working group to bring veterans and their spouses into STEM fields. Said bill co-sponsor Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), "We are one step closer to providing veterans the benefits of well-paying jobs ... and helping employers better meet their hiring needs."

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