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Welcome to the February 28, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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robots controlled by magnets, illustration UCLA Engineers Develop Miniaturized 'Warehouse Robots' for Biotechnology Applications
UCLA Samueli Newsroom
February 27, 2020

Engineers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science have designed tiny warehouse robots that could help accelerate and automate biotechnology applications. The disc-shaped, magnetism-driven "ferrobots" collaboratively and precisely move and manipulate fluid droplets, and can be programmed to execute massively parallelized and sequential fluidic operations at small scales. Electromagnetic tiles in an index-card-sized chip drag the droplet-bearing ferrobots along desired paths. UCLA's Dino Di Carlo said, "Our technology could transform various biotech-related industries, including medical diagnostics, drug development, genomics, and the synthesis of chemicals and materials."

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Study Allows Brain, Artificial Neurons to Link Up Over the Web
University of Southampton
February 26, 2020

Researchers at the University of Southampton in the U.K., the University of Padova in Italy, and the University of Zurich and ETH Zurich in Switzerland have developed a system that enables brain neurons and artificial neurons to communicate with each other over the Internet. The research demonstrates how three emerging technologies—brain-computer interfaces, artificial neural networks, and memristors—can work together to create a hybrid neural network. Southampton’s Themis Prodromakis said the research lays "the foundations for the Internet of Neuro-electronics and brings new prospects to neuroprosthetic technologies, paving the way towards research into replacing dysfunctional parts of the brain with AI chips."

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key, cyber defense, illustration Computer Scientists' Tool Fools Hackers into Sharing Keys for Better Cybersecurity
UT Dallas News Center
Kim Horner
February 27, 2020

University of Texas at Dallas (UT Dallas) computer scientists, in collaboration with researchers at IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Center and the Jordan University of Science and Technology in Jordan, have developed a method of luring hackers to a decoy site to probe their tactics, in order to train computers to identify and thwart future intrusions. The DEEP-Dig (DEcEPtion DIGging) technique is designed to surmount a shortage of data needed to train computers to detect hackers, yielding insights into intruders' strategies as they break into decoy sites filled with disinformation. The method also could potentially help cybersecurity defense systems keep pace with shifting hacker tactics. UT Dallas' Kevin Hamlen said, "When an attacker tries to [deceive the program], the defense system just learns how hackers try to hide their tracks."

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three lasers, illustration Quantum Researchers Split One Photon Into Three
Waterloo News
February 27, 2020

Researchers at the University of Waterloo's Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) in Canada have split one photon into three, using spontaneous parametric down-conversion (SPDC) to produce a non-Gaussian state of light. IQC's Chris Wilson extended the limits of SPDC with microwave photons, deploying a superconducting parametric resonator that revealed a strong correlation among three photons generated at different frequencies. Said Wilson, "The two-photon version has been a workhorse for quantum research for over 30 years. We think three photons will overcome the limits and will encourage further theoretical research and experimental applications, and hopefully the development of optical quantum computing using superconducting units."

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Pentagon Adopts Ethical Principles for Using AI in War
Associated Press
Matt O'Brien
February 24, 2020

The Pentagon is adopting new ethical principles regarding the use of artificial intelligence (AI) technology on the battlefield. The new principles ask users to "exercise appropriate levels of judgement and care" when using AI systems. In addition, decisions made by automated systems should be "traceable" and "governable," meaning users must be able to deactivate or disengage AIs if they exhibit unintended behaviors. The principles are intended to guide both combat and non-combat AI applications. Lucy Suchman, an anthropologist who studies the role of AI in warfare, said she worries “that the principles are a bit of an ethics-washing project. The word ‘appropriate’ is open to a lot of interpretations.”

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cable on switch at data center Datacenters Use Less Energy Than You Think
Northwestern Now
Amanda Morris
February 27, 2020

An analysis by researchers at Northwestern University, the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Koomey Analytics determined that global datacenter energy consumption remained relatively flat across the last decade. Previous analyses forecast rapid energy consumption growth in sync with increasing demands for data, but the new model also accounted for industrial efficiency advances by factoring in datacenter equipment stocks, efficiency trends, and market structure. Said Northwestern’s Eric Masanet, who led the study, “We think there is enough remaining efficiency potential to last several more years. But ever-growing demand for data means that everyone — including policy makers, data center operators, equipment manufacturers and data consumers — must intensify efforts to avoid a possible sharp rise in energy use later this decade.”

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Tech Platforms Aren't Bound by First Amendment, Appeals Court Rules
The Wall Street Journal
Jacob Gershman
February 26, 2020

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Wednesday unanimously ruled that privately operated Internet platforms are not bound by the First Amendment, and so are free to censor any content they find objectionable. The case stems from a 2017 lawsuit by talk-show host Dennis Prager's nonprofit Prager University (PragerU) against Google and its YouTube subsidiary, claiming the latter's restriction of PragerU's videos was "inappropriate" and an act of discrimination. In rejecting PragerU's argument, the court reinforced the First Amendment's applicability to government, and not private-sector entities—which YouTube is. YouTube spokesperson Farshad Shadloo said, "PragerU's allegations were meritless ... and the court's ruling vindicates important legal principles that allow us to provide different choices and settings to users."

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A mesoscale simulation of a virus. Researchers Tackle the Flu with Virus Simulations
UC San Diego News Center
Cynthia Dillon
February 25, 2020

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and University of Pittsburgh researchers have developed new molecular virus simulations to help fight influenza. The researchers used the Influenza A H1N1 2009 pathogen to analyze two binding sites in the virus' molecular environment, yielding an all-atom, solvated, experimentally based integrative model. Assembling the simulation required combining different types of experimental data at different resolutions, and the researchers utilized the Blue Waters supercomputer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to model atomic movements in the viral envelope. UCSD's Rommie Amaro said the research could enable a new approach to anti-flu drug development, through its finding "that an often-overlooked so-called 'secondary site' may be the first place the natural substrate of the flu binds."

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STATICA: A Novel Processor Solves Notoriously Complex Mathematical Problem
Tokyo Institute of Technology
February 27, 2020

Scientists at the Tokyo Institute of Technology (TIoT), Hitachi Hokkaido University Laboratory, and the University of Tokyo in Japan have come up with a specialized processor architecture that solves combinatorial optimization problems faster than existing architectures. Combinatorial optimization involves pinpointing an optimal object or solution among a finite series of possibilities. Current computers cannot solve such problems when the volume of factors is high, but the new STATICA processor architecture can solve such problems rendered as Ising models through full connection and consideration of all spin-to-spin interactions. Said TIoT's Masato Motomura, "We have proven that conventional approaches and STATICA derive the same solution under certain conditions, but STATICA does so in N times fewer steps, where N is the number of spins in the model."

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'Surfing Attack' Hacks Siri, Google with Ultrasonic Waves
The Source (Washington University in St. Louis)
Brandie Jefferson
February 27, 2020

A multi-institutional collaboration led by Washington University in St. Louis (WUSL) researchers has demonstrated a "surfing attack" that uses ultrasonic waves to hijack voice-recognition systems on cellphones, including those used by Siri and Google. Such waves can propagate through solid surfaces to activate these systems, and allow hackers to hear the phone's response with additional equipment. WUSL's Ning Zhang and colleagues sent voice commands to cellphones on a table near the owner, using a microphone to communicate back and forth with the phone and control it remotely. A piezoelectric transducer converted electricity into ultrasonic waves, while a waveform generator produced the correct signals to command the phone. Tests on 17 cellphone models showed that all but two were exploitable, and that the waves could propagate through metal, wood, glass, and plastic.

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Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey wears an Oura Ring. Employers Adding High-Tech Solutions to Solve Low-Tech Problem: Getting More Sleep
The Washington Post
Jena McGregor
February 14, 2020

Employers are providing workers with high-tech tools to help them get more sleep, in the hope of improving productivity and reducing healthcare costs. Among the tools companies are piloting is the sleep and activity tracking Oura Ring. Emily Haisley at asset manager BlackRock said the rings raise users' awareness of how exercise and earlier bedtimes affect them, and some have started meditating before bed or stopped looking at screens before bedtime. Oura sends users a daily "readiness score" based on body temperature, resting heart rate, and the previous night's sleep, and suggests appropriate actions to encourage better sleep. CVS Health offers Big Health's Sleepio insomnia-treatment app to employers who use its pharmacy benefits manager, but experts are concerned about the personal data such tools collect and how this information might be used—and the ramifications for employees' personal privacy.

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AI Discovers Antibiotics to Treat Drug-Resistant Diseases
Financial Times
Madhumita Murgia
February 20, 2020

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers used artificial intelligence to discover a new antibiotic that successfully destroyed 35 drug-resistant bacteria. MIT's Regina Barzilay designed the algorithm, which was trained through deep learning to analyze the makeup of 2,500 molecules, including current antibiotics and other natural compounds, and to rate their anti-bacterial effectiveness. The algorithm then scanned a database of 100 million molecules to predict the efficacy of each against specific pathogens, as well as searching for molecules that appeared to physically differ from existing antibiotics to eliminate continued resistance among the newly discovered compounds. Said Barzilay, "There is still a question of whether machine learning tools are really doing something intelligent in healthcare, and how we can develop them to be workhorses in the pharmaceuticals industry. This shows how far you can adapt this tool."

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A party to celebrate Marty the robot’s first birthday. Should Robots Have a Face?
The New York Times
Michael Corkery
February 26, 2020

Robots deployed in supermarkets and other public environments raise the issue of whether equipping them with anthropomorphic features will enhance their social acceptance. Retail giant Walmart worked with the firm Bossa Nova and Carnegie Mellon University researchers to design a shelf-scanning robot with which both workers and customers feel comfortable. The robots intentionally lack a face, but staffers assign them names in order to create attachment and a desire to protect the machines. Giant Eagle groceries in Pennsylvania and Ohio have deployed Tally, a robot that checks inventory and has blinking cartoonlike eyes to boost shoppers' comfort level. Some experts are concerned such robots stoke the fears of human employees over the potential for being replaced by automation.

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