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Welcome to the May 29, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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drone over NYC The Drones Were Ready for This Moment
The New York Times
Alex Williams
May 23, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic could help change public perception of aerial drones as everything from tools for surveillance and warfare to common, everyday technology. Experts believe drones are uniquely well-suited to performing dull, dirty, dangerous tasks during a global emergency. Richard Yonck at Intelligent Future Consulting said the virus has spurred "a push to develop new tools that can reduce people's exposure." Examples include law enforcement officials worldwide using drones to monitor parks, beaches, and city squares for violators encroaching on the safe spaces of others. Drones from U.S. startup Zipline are delivering medicine and tests from hospitals in Ghana and Rwanda to remote areas, removing the risk of face-to-face contact. Alphabet's Wing unit offers drone-based home delivery of medications and basic staples to customers in the U.S.

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location data on Android phone, illustration Arizona Sues Google Over Allegations It Illegally Tracked Android Smartphone Users' Locations
The Washington Post
Tony Romm
May 27, 2020

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich has filed a lawsuit against Google claiming the search engine giant monitored the locations of Android smartphone users even when such features purportedly were disabled, in violation of the state's consumer protection laws. The suit contends Google’s mobile software is designed to benefit its targeted advertising business, and deceives phone owners about privacy safeguards. Android smartphones generally allow users to deactivate location tracking, but the complaint alleges that certain applications—like mapping and weather—continue to record location records and searches, even when turned off. Blocking this requires disabling another, hard-to-find setting, and the suit described the maze of menus users must navigate as deceptive. Google’s Jose Castaneda said the suit mischaracterizes the firm's services, and that the company has "always built privacy features into our products and provided robust controls for location data."

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woman at laptop computer Programming Languages: Developers Reveal What They Love, Loathe, and What Pays Best
Liam Tung
May 28, 2020

A survey of roughly 65,000 developers by coding question and answer website Stack Overflow found that that TypeScript has overtaken Python as the second most-preferred programming language, behind Rust. Stack Overflow credits TypeScript's growth to Microsoft's adoption of open source software, and to bigger and more complex JavaScript and Node.js codebases. The three least-popular coding languages in the survey were VBA, Objective-C, and Perl. The survey, which also looked at average salaries for developer roles, identified the two highest-paid developer professions in the U.S. as engineering managers ($152,000 annually) and site reliability engineers ($140,000 annually). Data scientists and machine learning specialists earn an average of at least $115,000 in the U.S., according to the survey.

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hands stitching A Stitch in Time: How a Quantum Physicist Made New Code From Old Tricks
University of Sydney
May 22, 2020

Quantum physicist Ben Brown at the University of Sydney in Australia has developed a form of error-correcting code for quantum computers that will liberate more hardware to perform useful calculations by applying already established code that functions in three dimensions to a two-dimensional framework. Brown compared his error-suppression approach to knitting, as “each row is like a one-dimensional line. You knit row after row of wool and, over time, this produces a two-dimensional panel of material.” Microsoft Quantum's Michael Beverland said Brown's research offers a path "towards potentially achieving universal quantum computation in two spatial dimensions without the need for distillation, something that many researchers thought was impossible."

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Activation maps of neural network model for digital staining of tumors. Deep Learning Accurately Stains Digital Biopsy Slides
MIT News
Becky Ham
May 22, 2020

A research team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)'s Media Lab, Stanford University’s School of Medicine, and Harvard Medical School used deep learning algorithms to computationally stain digital tissue biopsy slides that were indistinguishable from traditionally stained slides. The researchers trained the algorithms on 87,000 physically dyed slides, after which the neural networks generated images that were 90% to 96% similar to the hand-dyed slides. This process enables researchers and clinicians to analyze slides for multiple types of diagnostic and prognostic tests, without extracting additional tissue sections. The researchers also analyzed the steps by which neural networks stained the slides, which is critical for clinical translation of deep learning systems. MIT's Pratik Shah said, "This provides explanation and validation of randomized clinical trials of deep learning models and their findings for clinical applications."

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Gap Rushes in More Robots to Warehouses to Solve Virus Disruption
Jeffrey Dastin
May 21, 2020

Gap Inc. is deploying warehouse robots more quickly amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has resulted in more online orders and fewer staff to fulfill them due to social distancing rules. The U.S. apparel chain had reached a deal to more than triple its number of warehouse robots to 106 by the fall, but it called on Kindred AI to deliver the robots earlier. Kindred has deployed 10 of the eight-foot-tall robotic stations — each of which can handle the work of four people — to Gap’s warehouse near Nashville, TN, and another 20 near Columbus, OH. Kindred will deliver the final robots to four of Gap's five U.S. facilities by July. Gap and Kindred said the robots are meant to complement, not replace, human workers.

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States Plead for Cybersecurity Funds as Hacking Threat Surges
The Hill
Maggie Miller
May 25, 2020

As hackers exploit the coronavirus crisis by targeting overwhelmed government offices, cash-strapped state and local governments are turning to Congress for funds to improve cybersecurity. Government entities across the U.S. have been contending with ransomware attacks for the past two years, and now they are seeing an increase in phishing attacks and other malicious activity related to Covid-19. An April letter to U.S. House and Senate leaders from a coalition of groups representing state and local officials requested that Congress "fully fund a dedicated cybersecurity program" to help respond to the stress placed on networks by remote working and the recent increase in attempted cyberattacks.

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An illustration of a set of algorithms that predict, diagnose, and prevent abnormalities in complex systems. Patented Technology Designed to Stop Tiny Errors from Crashing Large Healthcare, Supply Chain Systems
Purdue University Research Foundation News
Chris Adam
May 21, 2020

Researchers at Purdue University have developed a set of algorithms that predict, identify, diagnose, and prevent abnormalities in large and complex systems. Purdue’s Shimon Y. Nof said the algorithms analyze “the large amount of data within and across systems and determines the sequence of resolving interconnected issues to minimize damage, prevent the maximum number of errors and conflicts from occurring, and achieve system objectives through interaction with decision makers and experts.” Nof said the technology could be applied to smart grids, healthcare systems, supply chains, transportation systems, and other distributed systems that must handle ubiquitous abnormalities and exceptions. Purdue’s Xin Chen added, "Our algorithms and solution apply systems science and data science to solve problems that encompass time, space, and disciplines, which is the core of industrial engineering."

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An illustration of OCT imaging data. Laser-Based Technique Captures 3D Images of Impressionist-Style Brushstrokes
Optical Society of America
May 20, 2020

Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) and New Jersey Institute of Technology researchers have created a laser-based technique for measuring the surface and underlying details of impressionist-style oil paintings, for conversion into three-dimensional (3D) imagery. The solution integrates optical coherence tomography with a robot scanning stage and software that enables real-time sampling and removal of distortions and other image artifacts. The recorded data can be applied to 3D-print samples, in order to give people who are visually impaired a tactile experience of the paintings. Penn State Abington's Yi Yang said the technology also can help to repair artwork by allowing conservators to print and attach damaged areas to the original painting, as well as preserving digital copies in case of the destruction of the original artworks.

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An image showing an array of pills. More Efficient Drug Development With the Help of Computer Models
Leiden University (The Netherlands)
May 19, 2020

Researchers at Leiden University's Center for Computational Life Sciences (CCLS) in the Netherlands are using computer models to reduce costs and speed the process of drug development in an effort to find a vaccine for the novel coronavirus. The researchers are using machine learning combined with multi-criteria optimization algorithms, which make it possible to compare different alternatives or scenarios on the basis of multiple criteria. The team is using this method to search all possible molecules for optimal candidate molecules with respect to conflicting criteria. Said CCLS researcher Michael Emmerich, "Our research can yield improvements in the mid-term and long-term. Once the first drugs are available, the search for alternative drugs will continue, that is, drugs with less side effects, less costly, or applicable to a broader range of patients.”

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An avatar/telepresence robot in photo depicting Microsoft’s Virtual Robot Overlay for Online Meetings. Microsoft Research's VROOM Combines Life-Sized AR Avatars With Robots
Khari Johnson
May 5, 2020

Microsoft Research’s Virtual Robot Overlay for Online Meetings (VROOM) combines augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to create life-size avatars in the form of telepresence robots. The technology aims to make the person working remotely in VR and the person working in an office and wearing a HoloLens AR headset feel as though they are in the same location. The researchers say it is best applied to work that involves whiteboard or design sessions. The telepresence robot gives the remote worker a 360-degree view of their office environment, and a first-person view of their own hand movements and gestures. The system will convert a two-dimensional image into a three-dimensional avatar, with the remote worker's face appearing on the avatar's head; it adds mouth movements when people are talking, as well as blinking and other idle movements, to make the avatar seem more lifelike.

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