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Welcome to the May 1, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Andrea Goldsmith Andrea Goldsmith Becomes First Woman to Win the Marconi Prize
Stanford News
Tom Abate
April 30, 2020

Stanford University professor Andrea Goldsmith has been named to receive the 2020 Marconi Prize for her pioneering contributions to the theory and practice of adaptive wireless communications, and for her leadership in boosting diversity and inclusion in the engineering field. In announcing this award, former ACM president and current Marconi Society chair Vint Cerf said, "Andrea has enabled billions of consumers around the world to enjoy fast and reliable wireless service, as well as applications such as video streaming and autonomous vehicles that require stable network performance." Goldsmith's theories and engineering methods formed the underpinnings of wireless networks' ability to adapt to ever-changing variables, including location, signal strength, and interference. Goldsmith is the first woman to receive the Marconi Prize, and she will donate her $100,000 award to the Marconi Society to establish an endowment to finance technology and diversity initiatives.

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How AI Steered Doctors Toward Possible Coronavirus Treatment
The New York Times
Cade Metz
April 30, 2020

In January, researchers at U.K.-based artificial intelligence (AI) startup BenevolentAI mined scientific literature about the coronavirus to uncover a potential treatment within two days. BenevolentAI's technology can pinpoint information buried in massive volumes for the design of new drugs, using universal language models that teach themselves to understand written and spoken language by analyzing digital text. The company's engineers employed automated language tools to generate an interconnected database of biological processes related to the coronavirus, then BenevolentAI's Peter Richardson applied additional tools to browse the findings. He plotted out linkages between human genes and the biological processes affected by the virus, and identified two particular genes. Using a digital flow chart to outline how current medications targeted these genes, the researchers identified the anti-inflammatory drug baricitinib as a possible treatment that may block the coronavirus from entering cells; the drug is being prepared for clinical testing.

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social media outlets Red-Flagging Misinformation Could Slow the Spread of Fake News on Social Media
NYU Tandon School of Engineering
April 27, 2020

Researchers at the New York University Tandon School of Engineering found that pairing headlines with credibility alerts from fact-checkers, the public, news media, and artificial intelligence (AI) programs can reduce people's intention to share fake news. While the effectiveness of these alerts varies with political orientation and gender, official fact-checking sources are overwhelmingly trusted. The team studied 1,500 individuals to measure the effectiveness among different groups of four "credibility indicators" displayed beneath headlines. The researchers found that Republicans and men are less likely to be influenced by any of the credibility indicators, and are more inclined to share fake news on social media.

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Device Tracks Vaping Habits to Better Understand Use
Cornell Chronicle
Melanie Lefkowitz
April 30, 2020

A team of Cornell Tech researchers has developed a device that can monitor electronic cigarette inhalations, providing data about vaping habits from which scientists can draw insights to perhaps curb addiction. The researchers designed three versions of the battery-powered PuffPacket, which can attach to all types of e-cigarettes and other nicotine-delivery kits. The device harnesses the e-cigarettes' own signals and Bluetooth technology to track inhalation intensity, duration, and frequency. This data is sent to a smartphone that records location, time, and activity, to help identify conditions that might trigger vaping. The researchers hope PuffPacket will help vapers monitor their nicotine consumption, and help scientists better understand the various factors shaping drug cravings and addictive behavior and design interventions.

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patient with prosthetic arm Mind-Controlled Prostheses That 'Feel' for Real
Chalmers University of Technology
April 30, 2020

Researchers at Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology, Sahlgrenska University Hospital, University of Gothenburg, and Integrum AB collaborated with colleagues at Austria's Medical University of Vienna and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to develop mind-controlled arm prostheses that several amputees have used in their everyday lives for years. These prostheses, attached to the bone and controlled by electrodes implanted in nerves and muscles, function with much greater precision than conventional prostheses. Users perceive tactile sensations as arising from the missing limb, with the sense of touch facilitated by stimulation of the nerves that used to be connected to the hand. Force sensors in the prosthesis' thumb measure contact and pressure applied to an object while grasping, which is sent to the nerves leading to the brain. An embedded control system fits within the prosthesis, using refined artificial intelligence algorithms to control movement.

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Tasmanian devil Australian Researchers Tap Cloud to Save the Tasmanian Devil
Computer Weekly
Aaron Tan
April 29, 2020

University of Sydney researchers in Australia have been partnering with Amazon Web Services (AWS) since last year on using cloud-based services to process, analyze, and categorize genomic data to protect endangered animals. The team performed a genetic assessment of the rare Tasmanian devil to determine which animals could be moved to Maria Island, off mainland Tasmania’s coast, and later to identify which could be brought back to improve the genetic makeup of diseased animals on the mainland. Using the cloud, the team was able to analyze and process the data from more than 50 data pipelines within 12 weeks. Said the university's Carolyn Hogg, "The thing that AWS gives us is the ability to scale the size of the machine quite rapidly to the size of the data that we have."

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A wearable sleeve that incorporates new electronic material allowing it to function as a video game controller. 'Breathable' Electronics Pave the Way for More Functional Wearable Tech
NC State News
April 30, 2020

Engineering researchers at North Carolina State University (NC State) have invented an ultrathin, stretchable electronic material that "breathes" because it is gas-permeable, which may lead to more functional wearable technologies. NC State's Yong Zhu said the breath figure method for fabricating the material enables easy scaling-up. The technique involves coating an evenly perforated polymer film with a solution of silver nanowires, which are sealed in place through heat-pressing; the film combines electric conductivity, optical transmittance, water-vapor permeability, and stability when exposed to sweat and long-term wear. Former NC State researcher Shanshan Yao said the micrometers-thick electronics enhance the signal-to-noise ratio through better skin contact, while their gas permeability avoids irritation. The researchers demonstrated use cases with prototypes, including skin-mountable dry electrodes used as electrophysiologic sensors, and textile-integrated touch sensing for human-machine interfaces.

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Making Cryptocurrency Payments Fast, Secure
ETH Zurich
Santina Russo
April 29, 2020

Researchers at ETH Zurich in Switzerland have developed a system that adds security and speed to Ether cryptocurrency payments. Their "Snappy" system runs in the background of the payment process, in which customers place a deposit of the same value as their purchase for as long as it takes to verify payment; this interval lasts up to three minutes for Ether, which is the latency of the Ethereum blockchain. The deposit does not show up in the user's virtual wallet, but the seller can immediately confirm the transaction without losing the sum, with any anomalies automatically appearing in the blockchain. Sellers also pay deposits that are higher than those of the buyers and are equal to the sum of all individual sellers' transactions occurring at the same time, which protects buyers from malicious seller behavior. ETH Zurich's Srdjan Capkun said, "That's why our solution can process payments so quickly and yet securely."

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Anxious About Public Speaking? Your Smart Speaker Could Help
Penn State News
Jessica Hallman
April 27, 2020

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) have developed a public-speaking tutor that runs on Amazon Alexa to enable users to engage in cognitive restructuring exercise. The team found that the tutor relieved users’ pre-speech anxiety. As part of the study, participants were guided to interact with an Amazon Echo smart speaker and were randomly assigned to interact with either a highly social Alexa or one that was less social. The researchers found the highly-sociable Alexa provided a better user experience by establishing a sense of interpersonal closeness with the user. Said Penn State's S. Shyam Sundar, "People are not simply anthropomorphizing the machine, but are responding to increased sociability by feeling a sense of closeness with the machine, which is associated with lowered speech anxiety."

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A photo of chairs stacked in a deserted town square in The Villages, Florida’s biggest retirement community. UPS to Fly Medications by Drone to Florida Retirement Area
Thomas Black
April 27, 2020

UPS will use drones to make prescription deliveries to residents of The Villages in Florida, one of the biggest retirement communities in the U.S. These time-sensitive deliveries, which will begin early this month, will be the first paid residential deliveries by UPS's Flight Forward drone unit. Last year, Flight Forward was granted approval to operate under relaxed rules for commercial lightweight unmanned aircraft. The drones will deliver the prescriptions from a CVS store about a half mile away to a central location, after which a Flight Forward employee will deliver them by golf cart to homes. UPS' Bala Ganesh says the ultimate goal is to make deliveries directly, with the drone lowering the packages to customers’ doorsteps by winch.

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Sandia National Laboratories computer scientist Mohamed Ebeida giving on talk on VoroCrust, a software that creates meshes using polyhedral cells rather than tetrahedral and hexahedral cell. Automating Complex 3D Modeling
Sandia Labs News
April 27, 2020

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories, the University of Maryland, College Park, the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of California, Davis have developed software to automatically generate three-dimensional (3D) digital models, or meshes, of complex objects. The VoroCrust software employs 3D polyhedral Voronoi cells to produce meshes. Sandia's Mohamed Ebeida said VoroCrust is the first software that creates Voronoi-cell meshes that conform to complex models without requiring manual correction. Points or seeds are positioned around the boundaries of geometrical objects to become Voronoi-cell footholds, and then VoroCrust fills the interior with additional cells. Ebeida said, "Once you decompose the object into these well-shaped pieces ... you can mesh any model you want with confidence about the quality of the resulting mesh without any post-processing."

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An example of an intelligent tutoring system built by CMU researchers that in effect teaches the computer to teach. AI Enables Teachers to Rapidly Develop Intelligent Tutoring Systems
Carnegie Mellon University Human-Computer Interaction Institute
April 30, 2020

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers have created an artificial intelligence-based technique to enable educators to rapidly develop intelligent computerized tutoring systems. The teachers can teach the computer by demonstrating several ways to solve problems in a topic, and correcting the system if it responds erroneously. The system can not only solve the problems as it was trained to do, but also can generalize to solve all other problems in the topic in ways that the teacher did not demonstrate. The method employs a machine learning algorithm that models how students learn, and a user-friendly teaching interface that uses a "show-and-correct" process that is significantly easier than programming. CMU's Ken Koedinger said the technique may enable teachers to produce a 30-minute lesson in about half an hour, which he described as "a grand vision" among intelligent tutor developers.

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AMD GPU Hijacked to Sneak PC Data
Anthony Spadafora
April 28, 2020

Researchers at security firm Duo modified an AMD Radeon Pro WX3100 graphics processing unit (GPU) as a radio transmitter to send data, without physically altering hardware. The researchers rigged the card's shader clock rates to become a tunable radio device, which they used to siphon data from an air-gapped PC that was behind a wall 50 feet away. The team employed radio frequencies generated by the GPU as it operated at different clock rates, while a Software-Defined Radio (SDR) device that plugs into a standard USB port received the stolen data. When coupled with ultra-high-frequency and directional ultra-wideband antennas on the PC, the SDR retrieved the data, while the open source GQRX software ran the receiver. The method is limited in that the host machine would have to be compromised by another exploit like malware, in order to set up the correct code.

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A photo of e-skin peeled off an arm. Electronic Skin Powered by Sweat Can Monitor Health, Serve as Human-Machine Interface
Caltech News
Emily Velasco
April 22, 2020

California Institute of Technology (Caltech)'s Wei Gao has developed a perspiration-powered electronic skin (e-skin) that can be applied directly to human skin, with embedded sensors to monitor the wearer’s vital signs. The e-skin's built-in biofuel cells absorb lactate from the wearer's sweat, which combines with air to generate water, pyruvate, and electricity, powering the sensors and a Bluetooth device. This enables the e-skin to wirelessly broadcast sensor readings, and the biofuel cells can produce continuous, stable power output over multiple days. Gao said the goal is to create diverse sensors that can be embedded in the e-skin for multiple functions. He said, "This can be a human–machine interface. The vital signs and molecular information collected using this platform could be used to design and optimize next-generation prosthetics."

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