Welcome to the February 5, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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An image of someone voting on their phone. Iowa Caucus Chaos Likely to Set Back Mobile Voting
Lucas Mearian
February 4, 2020

The failure of a vote-recording app used in the Iowa Democratic Presidential Caucus may set back online voting. The app was developed by the vendor Shadow, which created a website for uploading caucus results; the site failed to accurately do so due to "a coding error," according to a statement from the Iowa Democratic Party. Said Jeremy Epstein of ACM's U.S. Technology Policy Committee, “The Iowa Democratic Party had planned to allow voters to vote in the caucus using their phones; if this sort of meltdown had happened with actual votes, it would have been an actual disaster." The Nevada Democratic Party said Tuesday it was dropping plans to use the app for its Feb. 22 caucus.

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Teaching Tomorrow's Automobiles to Hear
Christian Colmer
February 3, 2020

Researchers at Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology (IDMT) have developed a system that allows self-driving cars to recognize external noises such as sirens. The team trained the system to recognize the acoustic signature of specific sound events, using machine learning methods that rely on acoustic libraries. In addition, the researchers created beamforming algorithms that enable the system to dynamically locate moving sound sources. The researchers also developed artificial intelligence-based algorithms to distinguish specific noises the system is designed to identify from other noise. Said IDMT's Danilo Hollosi, “Such systems would be able to immediately recognize the siren of an approaching emergency vehicle, for example, so that the autonomous vehicle would then know to move over to one side of the highway and form an access lane for the rescue services."

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Lawrence Livermore Researchers Release 3D Protein Structure Predictions for Coronavirus
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
February 3, 2020

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) researchers have released a preliminary dataset of predictive three-dimensional (3D) protein structures of the coronavirus. The models are based on the genomic sequence of the pathogen and the known structure of a protein found in the virus that induces Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). LLNL's Adam Zemla said the new models present the predicted protein in complex with SARS-neutralizing antibodies—a first step for modeling therapeutic antibodies to combat the coronavirus. The next step is to design coronavirus countermeasures with a system that combines machine learning, biological experiments, and high-performance simulations.

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Researchers Report Progress on Molecular Data Storage System
News from Brown
Kevin Stacey
February 4, 2020

Researchers at Brown University have stored and retrieved over 200 kilobytes of digital image files by encoding the data in mixtures of custom-synthesized libraries of small molecules. The Brown team last year published a paper showing they could store image files in the kilobyte range using some common metabolites; in this new work, the researchers were able to expand the size of their library of molecules by synthesizing their own. Brown's Jacob Rosenstein said, “The large numbers of unique small molecules, the amount of data we can store, and the reliability of the data readout shows real promise for scaling this up even further.”

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Image of an American flag being scanned. Jigsaw Tool to Help Journalists Spot Doctored Images
The New York Times
Davey Alba
February 4, 2020

Technology incubator Jigsaw, owned by Google parent Alphabet, has released a free tool designed to help journalists identify doctored photos, including those generated through the use of artificial intelligence. More than a dozen news and fact-checking organizations worldwide are testing the Assembler tool, which is not intended for public use. Journalists feed images into Assembler, which can spot photo-manipulation techniques via seven "detectors," and highlight areas where traces of manipulation may linger. Jigsaw also announced an interactive platform documenting coordinated disinformation campaigns from the past decade, in the hope of cultivating a taxonomy for media outlets and groups studying such disinformation techniques.

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A More Efficient Way to Process Tasks in the Cloud
IEEE Spectrum
Nick Stockton
February 3, 2020

Researchers at the University of Michigan (UM) have developed a task-scheduling tool for cloud-based services that manages and prioritizes tasks efficiently. The Q-Zilla system moves tasks from one server queue to the next, so simple tasks do not have to wait behind those requiring more time. The Size-Interval Task-Assignment (SITA) scheduling algorithm sorts tasks as "mice" (easy to process) and "elephants" (more complex). Q-Zilla’s Server-Queue Decoupled-SITA automatically classifies every incoming task as a mouse and puts it in the express queue; every few microseconds, any task at the front of the line that has not been processed is defined as an elephant and moved to a different server queue. Said UM's Amirhossein Mirhosseini, "If you look at the distribution of response times for a cloud processor, the slowest tasks to resolve are not the elephants. It's the mice that get stuck behind the elephants."

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AI-Created Medicine to Be Used on Humans for First Time
BBC News
Jane Wakefield
January 30, 2020

A group of researchers from U.K.-based drug-discovery startup Exscientia and Japan’s Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma used artificial intelligence (AI) to create a drug molecule that will be used in human trials. The drug was designed to treat patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The AI drug took 12 months to develop, compared to the five years traditional drug development typically takes to get to the trial stage. The molecule, DSP-1181, was created using algorithms that analyzed potential compounds and checked them against a database of parameters. Said Exscientia's Andrew Hopkins, "This year was the first to have an AI-designed drug, but by the end of the decade, all new drugs could potentially be created by AI."

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Handheld 3D Skin Printer Demonstrates Accelerated Healing of Large, Severe Burns
University of Toronto Engineering News
Liz Do
February 4, 2020

Researchers at Canada’s University of Toronto Engineering and Sunnybrook Hospital have created a handheld three-dimensional skin printer that can accelerate healing from large burns. The device covers wounds with a uniform sheet of biomaterial, using a bio ink of mesenchymal stroma cells that differentiate into specialized cell types to promote skin regeneration and reduce scarring. The prototype device features a single-use microfluidic printhead to guarantee sterilization, while a soft wheel follows the printhead's track to enable better control for wider wounds. Sunnybrook's Marc Jeschke said, "Once it's used in an operating room, I think this printer will be a game changer in saving lives. With a device like this, it could change the entirety of how we practice burn and trauma care."

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Cows milked on a large carousel. U.S. Dairy Farmers Look for Any Tech Edge in Fight to Survive
Associated Press
Ivan Moreno
February 2, 2020

U.S. dairy farmers are using technology to boost efficiency and control costs amid low milk prices and Americans buying less milk. A project at the University of Wisconsin (UW) Madison would integrate all the data farms collect each day on cow production, feed, and health, and use artificial intelligence and machine learning on the resulting data to help farmers make the best decisions. UW Madison's Victor Cabrera has been collecting data from five farms for that project, and expects to have it completed in three years. Matt Wichman of Wisconsin’s Rosendale Dairy said the use of technology tools in dairy farming is “becoming so economically viable that anybody that’s of a decent scale is adopting these.”

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SDSC Supercomputer Models Improve Oregon/Washington Coastal Forecasts
UC San Diego News Center
Kimberly Mann Bruch
February 3, 2020

Researchers at Oregon State University (OSU) are using the Comet Supercomputer at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) to test an algorithm designed to reduce errors in three-day forecasts for water temperature, salinity levels, sea heights, and currents off the coasts of Oregon and Washington. The researchers combined traditional forecasts with observations using a method called ensemble four-dimensional variational data assimilation. Said Ivo Pasmans of the University of New Orleans, who was lead author on the study, “Earth systems such as its oceans are stochastic systems that always contain random components, which make exact forecasts impossible. Thanks to supercomputers such as Comet, however, we were able to run high-powered data assimilation that allowed us to correct these errors to the best of our abilities and generate more accurate forecasts."

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India’s finance minister, Nirmala Sitharaman. India Bets Big on Quantum Technology
T.V. Padma
February 3, 2020

India has allocated 80 billion rupees ($1.12 billion) over five years for quantum technology research. In 2018, India allocated a five-year budget of 1.9 billion rupees ($27.9 million) for a quantum technology research program as part of the National Mission on Interdisciplinary Cyber-Physical Systems. India’s Secretary of Science and Technology, Ashutosh Sharma, said the new mission commits to providing infrastructure and experimental facilities for the development of quantum communications, computing, materials development, and cryptography tech. Urbasi Sinha at India's Raman Research Institute said the potential for quantum-related research previously attracted little recognition in the country, but "The funding boost now will ensure that India can make significant contributions in these disruptive technologies."

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U.K. Companies Tackle Brexit's Effect on Tech Hiring
The Wall Street Journal
Angus Loten; Sara Castellanos
January 30, 2020

The U.K.'s official departure from the European Union (EU) on Jan. 31 concerns domestic companies seeking technology talent, given uncertain labor and immigration policies compounded by a tight labor market. Some startups are worried the situation is already driving away skilled employees, which EU companies could poach with rival job offers. Staffing company Robert Half International said most chief information officers at U.K.-based companies expect to increase tech worker headcount in the year ahead, with demand particularly strong for information technology (IT) security and management staff, and technical IT support, operations, and management. Some companies hope their focus on artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies will continue to draw talent, despite any fallout from Brexit.

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Special Olympics have paired with the International Floorball Federation to introduce new technology. Special Olympics to Introduce New Technology at Test Event
James Ayles
January 31, 2020

The Special Olympics will unveil new statistics technology this month at its Winter Olympics test event in Sweden, in partnership with the International Floorball Federation (IFF). The technology will allow fans to monitor individual athletes' statistics online, as well as building a performance database. Special Olympics Sport's Jon-Paul St. Germain said, "We are trying to make our event easier for our public to understand what we are about and what we do for sport to make a social impact, and we want to pivot that story to the journey and talking about the athletes' efforts to be the very best." Added IFF’s John Liljelund, "The statistics and use of personal performance data is growing rapidly, there is such a demand for it.”

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