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Welcome to the May 27, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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The Twitter logo. Researchers: Nearly Half Of Accounts Tweeting About Coronavirus Are Likely Bots
Bobby Allyn
May 20, 2020

Computer scientists at Carnegie Mellon University have determined that nearly half of all Twitter accounts spreading messages about the COVID-19 pandemic are likely bots. The team analyzed more than 200 million tweets discussing the virus since January, and found about 45% were sent by accounts that behave more like computerized bots than humans. In addition, the researchers identified more than 100 false narratives about the novel coronavirus that bot-controlled accounts are spreading on the platform. The researchers used a bot-hunter tool to flag accounts that post messages more often than is humanly possible, or which claim to be in multiple countries within a period of a few hours. Said Carnegie Mellon researcher Kathleen Carley, "We're seeing up to two times as much bot activity as we'd predicted based on previous natural disasters, crises, and elections."

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NIST Formula May Help 5G Wireless Networks Efficiently Share Communications Frequencies
May 26, 2020

U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology researchers have developed a mathematical formula that computer models suggest could help 5G and other wireless networks share communications frequencies with about 5,000-fold greater efficiency than trial-and-error techniques. The machine learning-based formula selects a wireless channel based on prior experience in a specific network setting, which could be coded into software on transmitters in various real-world networks. Transmitters can use the formula to quickly choose optimal subchannels for successful, simultaneous operation of Wi-Fi and Licensed Assisted Access (LAA) networks in unlicensed bands, without communicating with each other. Appropriate channel selection by both networks can raise both the data rate and the received data rate.

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A Purdue University researcher using a smartphone app that can accurately extract information about a person’s blood hemoglobin content from a photo of the inner eyelid. Smartphone App to Help Assess Anemia by Taking Picture of a Person's Eyelid
Purdue University News
Kayla Wiles
May 21, 2020

Purdue University engineers have developed software that would allow medical staff to obtain a patient’s hemoglobin count in real time by capturing an image of the patient's inner eyelid with a smartphone. Purdue's Young Kim and colleagues created an algorithm that uses super-resolution spectroscopy to render low-resolution smartphone photos as high-resolution digital spectral signals, and another algorithm to identify and use these signals to measure blood hemoglobin content. Unlike spectroscopic analysis, a smartphone app would not require additional hardware to perform the same function. Purdue’s Young Kim said the technology “won’t replace a conventional blood test, but it gives a comparable hemoglobin count right away and is noninvasive and real-time.”

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Supercomputer Model Simulations Reveal Cause of Neanderthal Extinction
Institute for Basic Science (South Korea)
May 20, 2020

Climate scientists at the Institute for Basic Science (IBS) Center for Climate Physics in South Korea used supercomputer models to determine that competition between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens was likely responsible for the former's extinction in Eurasia. The researchers ran their model on the IBS Aleph supercomputer to simulate both groups' competition for food resources within a time-varying glacial environment under fluctuating temperature, rainfall, and vegetation patterns; a small percentage was allowed to interbreed. The team fed the model key parameters from realistic climate simulations, as well as genetic and demographic data. Comparing the model's results with existing paleo-anthropological, genetic, and archaeological information showed that Neanderthal extinction was only possible in the simulation if Homo sapiens had an advantage in exploiting existing food resources.

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Israeli Researchers Stop Cyberattacks with Discovery of Major DDoS Exploit
The Jerusalem Post
May 22, 2020

Researchers at Tel Aviv University (TAU) and the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya discovered a previously unknown Distributed Denial of Service exploit. The team suggested that a vulnerability within the Domain Name System (DNS) may have been responsible for a massive 2016 breach that crippled Amazon, Reddit, Spotify, and Slack; the attack used more than 1 million Internet of Things devices. The NXNSAttack involves an attacker infiltrating a DNS server and redirecting the resolver to send hundreds of thousands of requests to servers. The researchers alerted Google, Microsoft, Cloudflare, Amazon, Oracle’s Dyn, Verisign, and Quad9 (a nonprofit operating a privacy-and-security-centric public DNS resolver), which updated their software. TAU’s Afek said, "Our discovery has prevented major potential damage to Web services used by millions of users worldwide."

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Printed metal parts. Army 3D Printing Study Shows Promise for Predictive Maintenance
U.S. Army Research Laboratory
May 19, 2020

A study by researchers at the U.S. Army's Combat Capabilities Development Command (CCDC) Army Research Laboratory (ARL), the National Institute of Standards and Technology, CCDC Aviation and Missile Center, and Johns Hopkins University detailed a method for monitoring the performance of three-dimensionally (3D)-printed parts. The technique uses sensors to detect and track the wear and tear of 3D-printed maraging steel (known to possess superior strength and toughness without losing ductility), to help forecast degradation or malfunctions that warrant replacement. ARL's Todd C. Henry said the study was as much about understanding the specific performance of a 3D-printed material as it was about understanding the ability to monitor and detect the performance and degradation of 3D-printed materials.

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Amazon's AI Tool Can Plan Collision-Free Paths for 1,000 Warehouse Robots
Venture Beat
Kyle Wiggers
May 18, 2020

Researchers at the University of Southern California and Amazon Robotics have developed a solution to the problem of lifelong multi-agent path finding (MAPF), which involves moving agents to goal locations without collisions. The solution has been applied to Amazon's warehouses, where drive units are in constant motion as they move inventory pods or flat packages between locations. The solution models the MAPF problem as a graph containing vertices that correspond to locations, a series of edges that correspond to connections between neighboring locations, and a set of agents like drive units. The solution updates each agents' start and goal locations at every timestep, calculates the number of steps each agent needs to visit all locations, and moves the agents along collision-free paths. The researchers said their method outperformed all others in terms of throughput.

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Wearable Sensor Tracks Vitamin C Levels in Sweat
UC San Diego News Center
Alison Caldwell
May 18, 2020

A team of University of California, San Diego (UCSD) researchers developed a new wearable sensor that monitors vitamin C levels in perspiration, which could offer a highly personalized option for users to track daily nutritional consumption and dietary compliance. The wearable is an adhesive patch that includes a system to stimulate sweating, and an electrode sensor to rapidly detect vitamin C concentrations. The flexible electrodes contain the enzyme ascorbate oxidase, which converts vitamin C to dehydroascorbic acid; the resulting rise of oxygen triggers a current that the device measures. UCSD's Juliane Sempionatto said, "Ultimately, this sort of device would be valuable for supporting behavioral changes around diet and nutrition."

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Searching Websites the Way You Want
Adam Conner-Simons
May 18, 2020

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have developed ScrAPIr, a tool that enables non-programmers to access, query, save, and share Web data application programming interfaces (APIs). Traditionally, APIs could only be accessed by users with strong coding skills, leaving non-coders to laboriously copy-paste data or use Web scrapers that download a site's webpages and search the content for desired data. To integrate a new API into ScrAPIr, a non-programmer only needs to fill out a form telling the tool about certain aspects of the API. Said MIT’s David Carger, “APIs deliver more information than what website designers choose to expose it, but this imposes limits on users who may want to look at the data in a different way. With this tool, all of the data exposed by the API is available for viewing, filtering, and sorting.”

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A project promoting the spinning of organic cotton in Ethiopia is one way campaigners are trying to build greater sustainability into the global fashion industry. Fashion Turns to Technology to Tailor Sustainable Solutions
Al Jazeera
Helen Massy-Beresford
May 22, 2020

The fashion industry is seeking technological solutions to the growing problem of unwanted textiles through tailored apparel. French startup Heuritech's artificial intelligence-driven platform trains algorithms to analyze images from Instagram and Weibo, forecasting trends by recognizing product details. Brands that include Adidas, Celio, Lee, Wrangler, and Havaianas use Heuritech's platform to help accurately tailor their production to future demand, reducing waste; the platform can recognize details like color, texture, print, neckline, or sleeve shape, deriving data and using algorithms to predict trends. Another solution is digital sampling to replace physical samples, while the Optoro company employs cloud-based software, data, and machine learning to boost the efficiency of returns, and keep unwanted products out of landfills. Meanwhile, Israeli startup SMX uses blockchain technology to enhance supply-chain transparency.

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Australian Researchers Record World's Fastest Internet Speed from Single Optical Chip
Monash University
May 22, 2020

Researchers at Monash and Swinburne universities and the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) in Australia recorded the world's fastest Internet data speed from a single optical chip: 44.2 terabits per second. At this speed, users can download 1,000 high-definition movies in less than a second. The new system relies on a micro-comb, a single piece of hardware that replaces 80 lasers. The team demonstrated the impact of optical micro-combs by installing 76.6 kilometers of "dark" optical fibers between RMIT's Melbourne City Campus and Monash University's Clayton Campus, then using a micro-comb to send maximum data down each channel, simulating peak Internet usage across four terahertz of bandwidth.

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Bristol's Photon Discovery a Major Step Toward Large-Scale Quantum Technologies
University of Bristol News
May 20, 2020

A team of physicists at the University of Bristol in the U.K. and Italy's University of Trento has developed the first integrated photon source for potentially delivering large-scale quantum photonics. Bristol's Stefano Paesani said the work overcame the absence of on-chip sources to produce high-quality single photons through inter-modal spontaneous four-wave mixing, in which multiple modes of light propagating through a silicon waveguide are non-linearly interfered. The team employed such sources in a Hong-Ou-Mandel experiment, a key component of optical quantum information processing, yielding the highest-quality on-chip photonic quantum interference ever seen (96% visibility). Said Paesani, "With advanced optimization and miniaturization of the photon source, our technology could lead to fault-tolerant quantum operations in the integrated photonics platform, unleashing the full potential of quantum computers!"

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Smartphones, Laptops, IoT Devices Vulnerable to BIAS Bluetooth Attack
Catalin Cimpanu
May 18, 2020

Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne; Germany's CISPA Helmholtz Center for Information Security, and the U.K.'s University of Oxford found a new flaw in the Bluetooth wireless protocol that could make smartphones, tablets, laptops, and Internet of Things devices vulnerable to Bluetooth Impersonation AttackS (BIAS). The bug affects the Bluetooth Classic iteration, and resides in how devices authenticate the long-term key formed when two Bluetooth devices initially bond. The vulnerability allows hackers to spoof the identity of a previously bonded device, and to authenticate and link to another device without knowing the previously established long-term key. A successful BIAS exploit can enable attackers to access or commandeer another Bluetooth Classic device. The Bluetooth Special Interest Group has reportedly updated the Bluetooth Core Specification to prevent hackers from downgrading the Bluetooth Classic protocol from a "secure" authentication technique to a "legacy" authentication mode.

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A woman's shoes on top of a social distancing sign. Don’t Stand So Close to Me: AI Cameras Police Social Distancing at Work
The Wall Street Journal
Parmy Olson
May 15, 2020

Artificial intelligence-powered sensors are being repurposed to meet a surge in demand from organizations trying to comply with government guidelines on social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, privacy advocates are concerned the technology could be used to track individuals and monitor productivity. Even if the initial implementation is for health and safety in the workplace, in the future vendors could repurpose their technology to monitor other kinds of behavior, according to Albert Gidari, director of privacy at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society. Employers should be transparent with workers and consider removing the technology after the pandemic is over, Gidari adds.

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Harvard Data Science Review
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