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Welcome to the May 18, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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A person using an phone with a notification 'how you can prevent COVID-19' Apple, Google Start to Win Over Europe to Their Virus-Tracking Technology
The Wall Street Journal
Sam Schechner; Jenny Strasburg
May 17, 2020

European nations including Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands are considering or have opted for technology developed by Apple and Google for smartphone contact-tracing applications to contain the coronavirus pandemic. The Apple/Google system is designed for phones running Bluetooth, which emit a unique, frequently changing identification number and record the ID numbers of any phone in proximity for more than a few minutes. In this decentralized model, an infected person's phone uploads data on all of the ID numbers it has broadcast over a set time period to a temporary server; other phones then check the server to see if any of the IDs are among those they recorded, and alert the user if a match is detected.

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MIT Researchers Develop Wireless System That Measures Use of Appliances to Optimize Energy Usage
The Daily Mail (U.K.)
James Pero
May 13, 2020

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory have developed a wireless system that tracks the electrical usage of home appliances. The developers said the Sapple system is designed to use the accumulated data to optimize energy consumption and reduce energy costs, as well as to help supplement health data to monitor physical well-being. The system features a smart electricity meter paired with a wall-mounted wireless device similar to a Wi-Fi router. Sapple uses radio signals to track people's location in their homes, and couples that data with an algorithm to ascertain when an appliance is being utilized. Sapple piggybacks on a technology called Emerald that is used to track COVID-19 patients quarantined at home.

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Risks Overshadow Benefits with Online Voting, Experts Warn
Government Technology
Lucas Ropek
May 15, 2020

With a handful of U.S. states launching online voting pilots amid fears that the COVID-19 pandemic could dampen voter turnout in the 2020 election, many experts warn that such technology carries more pitfalls than benefits. Stanford University's David Dill said it is impossible to ensure that devices and applications are free of vote-gaming malware, while hackers from foreign governments could theoretically infiltrate such systems to alter or rig votes. Meanwhile, a joint statement by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Echelons Above Corps, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency discouraged wholesale adoption of online voting. Former ACM president Barbara Simons said, "Given the threat of the virus, vote-by-mail seems like the safest way for voters to cast their ballots in November."

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Texas A&M and Essentium researchers have developed the technology to weld adjacent 3D printed layers more effectively. Researchers Invent Technology to Remedy 3D Printing's 'Weak Spot'
Texas A&M Today
Vandana Suresh
May 12, 2020

Researchers at Texas A&M University and industrial three-dimensional (3D) printing solutions company Essentium have developed technology to fix 3D printing's "weak spot"—inadequate bonding between printed layers. The team incorporated an integrated plasma science and carbon nanotube solution into standard 3D printing, in order to boost the reliability of the final printed component by more effectively welding adjacent layers. Components printed with this new technology exhibited strength comparable to injection-molded parts. Texas A&M's Micah Green said, "With our technology, users can now print a custom part, like an individually tailored prosthetic, and this heat-treated part will be much stronger than before."

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Artist’s conception of a blockchain. Blockchain: Not Just for Bitcoin
National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Wayne Hicks
May 14, 2020

National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) researchers are considering the use of blockchain technology to help the nation's energy grid manage complex energy transactions at scale. Their experiments aimed to determine what could happen when two homes are connected by blockchain so one could sell excess solar power to the other, which required two blockchain transactions, one a secure transmission of data about the amount of energy generated, the other a payment to the seller. The research centered on NREL's foresee software solution, which uses homeowners' energy preferences to control connected appliances in the home. Foresee informed the second home when it would be cheaper to purchase renewable energy from its neighbor than to pay utility charges. NREL's Dane Christensen said, “Utilities are very interested in how to manage electric service without having to up-size all the grid equipment.”

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AI Technique Detects, Classifies Galaxies in Astronomy Image Data
UC Santa Cruz Newscenter
Tim Stephens
May 12, 2020

Researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) have developed a new artificial intelligence (AI) program that can analyze image data to detect and classify galaxies and stars in large datasets from astronomical surveys. Morpheus is a deep learning framework that utilizes AI technologies developed for applications like image and speech recognition. The algorithm employs as input the original image data in standard digital file format used by astronomers, with pixel-level classification to handle complicated images. UCSC's Ryan Hausen said, "Morpheus provides detection and morphological classification ... at a level of granularity that doesn't currently exist."

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EU Robotics Project Gives Maintenance Workers a 'Second Pair of Hands'
Paul Sawers
May 5, 2020

A five-year EU effort to develop a proactive humanoid assistant as a "second pair of hands" for industrial workers has concluded with the development of a new robotic helper. The SecondHands project was created to develop a “proactive” robotic assistant that could help technicians lift/carry objects, and generally act as an apprentice-like helper. The project's final product was the ARMAR-6 robot, which has been tested for several years at U.K. grocery company Ocado's automated customer fulfillment centers for conveyor belt system maintenance as a technician's assistant. The robot, equipped with sensors and cameras, a telescopic torso, and rotatable arms, hands, and fingers that can grasp, interacts with its environment using visual data, localizing humans and estimating their posture from real-time images alone.

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Computer Vision Helps SLAC Scientists Study Lithium Ion Batteries
SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
Nathan Collins
May 8, 2020

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have melded machine learning algorithms with X-ray tomography data to produce a detailed picture of how a lithium ion battery cathode degrades with use. The team used a type of algorithm set up with hierarchical objects, and trained it to distinguish kinds of particles in order to develop a three-dimensional picture of how nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) particles break away from the cathode. The researchers used this method to discover that particles detaching from the carbon matrix really do contribute significantly to a battery's decline under conditions normally seen in consumer electronics.

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Multiple supercomputers. Supercomputers Hacked Across Europe to Mine Cryptocurrency
Catalin Cimpanu
May 16, 2020

Hackers have reportedly compromised multiple supercomputers in the U.K., Germany, Switzerland, and possibly Spain with cryptocurrency-mining malware. Last Monday, the U.K.'s University of Edinburgh disclosed an apparent security exploitation on the ARCHER supercomputer login nodes, prompting the system's shutdown and resetting of Secure Shell (SSH) passwords to prevent further intrusions. The German state of Baden-Wurttemberg's bwHPC organization also said that five of its high-performance computing clusters had been shut down due to similar security incidents. Last Wednesday, security researcher Felix von Leitner posted in a blog that a supercomputer in Barcelona, Spain, had been infiltrated. While these incidents weren't the first time crypto-mining malware has been installed on a supercomputer, these are the first attributed to hackers, rather than malicious employees.

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Algorithms Help Scientists Connect Data Points from Multiple Sources to Solve High Risk Problems
CSIRO (Australia)
Emily Connel
May 7, 2020

StellarGraph, an open source graph machine learning library managed by Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), has launched a series of new algorithms for network graph analysis to help find patterns in data, work with larger data sets, and accelerate performance while reducing memory usage. The StellarGraph library algorithms give data scientists and engineers the tools to build, test, and experiment with powerful machine learning models on their own network data. This allows them to see patterns and help apply their research to solve real-world problems across industries. Said CSIRO's Tim Pitman, "The new algorithms in this release open up the library to new classes of problems to solve, including fraud detection and road traffic prediction."

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Virtual animals roaming the streets. The Virtual Made Real—New Technology for the Media of the Future
ETH Zurich
Florian Meyer
May 14, 2020

Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich's Media Technology Center (MTC) are developing future media technologies to transform journalism. One project is "augmented paper" that would allow anyone wearing augmented reality (AR) glasses to see moving images on a page that would display correctly even when the pages bend. MTC is using Zurich's city center to test the concept's practical legibility, with wearers of AR glasses able to see local information like tram departure times, ads for shops, or related newspaper articles. MTC's Severin Klingler said, "Our tool means users no longer have to grapple with the difficult question of how to get their virtual content into the right real place."

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Sony Says It Created World's First Image Sensor with Built-in AI
Takashi Mochizuki; Vlad Savov
May 14, 2020

Sony announced its development of the world's first image sensor with built-in artificial intelligence (AI), which promises to accelerate and enhance the security of data collection. The sensor features a logic processor and memory, and can perform image recognition without generating any images in order to conduct AI tasks like identifying, analyzing, or counting objects without offloading data to a separate chip. Sony said this boosts privacy and facilitates near-instant analysis and object tracking. While the technology was developed for use by commercial customers, the company says it holds promise for consumer applications as well, like helping a smart device to identify objects and users securely.

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UCLA Student Club Honored by World's Largest Educational, Scientific Computing Society
UCLA Samueli Newsroom
Emily Luong
May 15, 2020

ACM has named its University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) student chapter to receive its Outstanding School Service Award for 2020, in recognition of its significant contributions to the school. The ACM at UCLA chapter improved a learning-assistant initiative that allows undergraduates to teach fellow students as a component of their computer science courses. The chapter also helped increase participation at the UCLA Computer Science Department's yearly student town hall and at other events. ACM at UCLA also assisted with updating the undergraduate curriculum, and participated in the university’s Women in Engineering Stayover Program. The ACM Outstanding School Service Award provides the recipient chapter $500 and a "best of" icon to proudly display on the chapter's website.

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ACM Digital Threats: Research and Practice
ACM Distinguished Speakers Program

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