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Welcome to the June 5, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Luiz Andre Barroso. Pioneer of Modern Datacenter Design Receives Eckert-Mauchly Award
June 3, 2020

ACM and the IEEE Computer Society named Google's Luiz Andre Barroso to receive the 2020 Eckert-Mauchly Award for pioneering warehouse-scale computing design, and driving its use in industrial applications. Barroso is widely credited as the preeminent architect of hyperscale datacenters, whose core element is a holistic approach to system design. He formulated the concept of designing a datacenter as a single, massive warehouse-scale computer, coupling inexpensive hardware with powerful distributed systems software. This design is appealing for its ability to manage increasing workloads from Internet services and cloud computing, while lowering hardware and operating costs. Barroso also co-authored an influential paper detailing a new approach for realizing energy efficiency, in which consumption is approximately commensurate to system usage; this led to significant efficiencies when computers were running below peak capacity.

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SK Telecom's AI speaker Nugu. In Virus-Hit South Korea, AI Monitors Lonely Elders
Associated Press
Kim Tong-Hyung
May 30, 2020

South Korean telecommunications provider SK Telecom operates an experimental artificial intelligence (AI)-powered network of voice-enabled smart speakers to remotely monitor thousands of isolated seniors during the coronavirus pandemic. The speakers feature the "Aria" AI component, and a lamp that turns blue when processing voice commands for news, music, and online searches. The devices also can assess users' memory and cognitive functions with quizzes, which would be potentially helpful for advising treatments. However, it is difficult for SK Telecom customers to use this information without clear legal guidelines for managing health data on private networks. Seoul National University's Haksoo Ko said, "An appropriate control system needs to be baked into the process, to make decisions on data access based on necessity and sensitivity, and restrict access to information that isn't really needed."

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Java-Based Ransomware Targets Windows, Linux
Zack Whittaker
June 4, 2020

Security researchers have uncovered new Windows- and Linux-targeting ransomware that uses a little-known Java file format to complicate detection before it is activated. An attack against an unnamed European educational institute was probed by consultancy KPMG in partnership with BlackBerry; they found a hacker had infiltrated the institute's network via a remote desktop server connected to the Internet, and deployed a persistent backdoor to easily access the network. The hacker re-entered several days later, disabled operating anti-malware services, spread the Tycoon ransomware module across the network, and set off the file-encrypting payload. BlackBerry's Eric Milam and Claudiu Teodorescu reported witnessing about a dozen "highly targeted" Tycoon infections in the past six months, implying that the hackers choose their victims carefully.

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U.S. University to Trial Covid-19 Checker App Linked to Campus Access
Financial Times
Dave Lee
June 4, 2020

About 1,000 University of Kansas graduate students and staff will trial a smartphone application designed to check for Covid-19 symptoms before permitting them to access the university campus. The CVKey system will ask users about their physical condition, and potential coronavirus symptoms, before generating a QR code that will permit access to six key buildings on campus. The non-profit CVKey organization said the app’s underlying code will be open source, and will store health data locally on each user's phone. Former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, a proponent of the system, observed efforts like this face opposition from data privacy advocates. She said, "We will see about the trust element of [CVKey], and whether or not we can engage a population in using it."

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ISCA Honors Scientists for Paper's Lasting Impact
UC San Diego News Center
June 3, 2020

The International Symposium on Computer Architecture (ISCA) honored a paper by University of California, San Diego scientists Dean Tullsen, Rakesh Kumar, and Victor Zyuban with its 2020 Influential Paper Award. The paper, originally presented in 2005, explored how interconnections on multiprocessor chips impact power, performance, and design, and offered new ways to model these issues. The paper was the first to measure real multicore designs extensively, and to assess the global tradeoffs of interconnect design decisions. The researchers determined the core, cache, and interconnect architectures must be co-developed, while designs yielding the best interconnect performance were not optimal in a resource-limited, single-chip processor. Kumar said, "We pointed out that naive implementation of what was state-of-the-art then ... won't cut it. So, people did a lot of innovation subsequently on reducing the overhead of interconnection."

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German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier. Germany, France Hope Cloud Data Project to Boost Sovereignty
U.S. News & World Report
Geir Moulson
June 4, 2020

Germany and France have launched a project to establish a European cloud computing platform, in order to advance European economic sovereignty in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and end Europe's dependence on U.S. and Chinese cloud providers. German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier and French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said 22 companies from both nations will develop the GAIA-X platform. Le Maire emphasized the value of interoperability, allowing companies to easily transition to the new system without losing data. Altmaier said, "Everyone who wants to have the label of GAIA-X will have to respect and to satisfy several sets of rules," including regulations on interoperability and data migration. The two nations hope a prototype GAIA-X platform will be online early next year, and will be accessible to users from outside Europe that pledge to comply with European standards.

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MIT Researchers: If Chips Can't Get Smaller, Programmers Must Get Smarter
American Inno
Srividya Kalyanaraman
June 4, 2020

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) suggest the approaching limits of chip miniaturization require future increases in computing power to come from software, algorithms, and specialized hardware. MIT's Neil Thompson said shrinking processors has been the standard approach to growing computer performance for decades, "but the nature of computer processing is changing." Performance extension has long relied on generic hardware and specialized software, but Thompson suggested it may prove more economical to design hardware for executing particular tasks, even if speed and other factors must be compromised. He added that such an approach initially will be applicable to specific areas like supercomputing and quantum computing.

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Programming Languages: Rust Enters Top 20 Popularity Rankings for the First Time
Liam Tung
June 2, 2020

The Rust programming language has cracked the top 20 rankings of the Tiobe popularity index for the first time, amid growing interest in using it for systems programming to build major platforms. Microsoft is considering Rust for Windows and Azure, aiming to eliminate memory bugs in code authored in C and C++; Amazon Web Services is using Rust for performance-sensitive elements in Lambda, EC2, and S3. Tiobe ranked Rust in 20th place this year versus 38th last year, and although this does not mean more people are using Rust, it demonstrates that more developers are searching for information about the language. Tiobe software CEO Paul Jansen credited Rust's ascension with being a systems programming language that is "done right." He said, "All the verbose programming and sharp edges of other languages are solved by Rust while being statically strongly typed," which "prevents run-time null pointer exceptions, and memory management is calculated compile-time."

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An off-the-shelf six-legged robot. These Flexible Feet Help Robots Walk Faster
UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering
June 1, 2020

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) roboticists have developed flexible feet that help robots walk up to 40% faster on uneven surfaces. The feet are flexible spheres fabricated from a latex membrane filled with coffee grounds embedded with nature-inspired and man-made structures. Robots can walk faster and grip better using a granular jamming approach that allows the coffee grounds to act like a solid and a liquid; the grounds firm up when the feet hit the ground, then unjam and loosen when transitioning between steps, while the supportive structures help the feet maintain stiffness while jammed. The researchers mated the feet to an off-the-shelf hexapod robot featuring an onboard system that generates negative pressure to control feet jamming and positive pressure for unjamming. UCSD's Nick Gravish said, "Feet that can adapt to these different types of ground can help robots improve mobility."

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The Interactive model of living on Mars. Interactive Model Simulates Keeping House on Mars
Scott Seckel
May 29, 2020

Arizona State University (ASU)'s School of Earth and Space Exploration Interplanetary Initiative is running a pilot program to assess simulated Mars habitats with an interactive computer model and Web interface. SIMOC (Scalable Interactive Model of an Off-World Community) is based on published data for mechanical life support systems, with guidance from experts at the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, life-support-system developer Paragon Space Development, ASU, and the University of Arizona. SIMOC allows citizen scientists to test Mars habitats of their own design, to determine the minimum complexity for sustaining human life off-world during long missions. ASU's Kai Staats said, "Our goal was to build a platform for research and education built on the real thing—expertise in human-in-the-loop closed ecosystems and decades of data. Three years of studying literature, collecting data, building and testing our models resulted in the platform."

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Software Solution Predicts Costs for Manufacturers
Purdue University News
Chris Adam
May 26, 2020

Researchers at Purdue University and the Indiana Next Generation Manufacturing Competitiveness Center (IN-MaC) have developed software that can help manufacturers better predict and adjust their costs. The software tool provides a drag-and-drop palette of process steps that allow the user to change the manufacturing process line with different configurations, such as equipment, robots, and employees. Users can see how each change affects the final cost of the product, as each process step is characterized by cost parameters that can be adjusted to study the effects on overall manufacturing costs. Said IN-MaC's Ben Haley, "This software helps manufacturers strategically plan their operations and then evaluate changes, all within the scope of understanding how everything affects the total cost."

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Configurable Circuit Technology Poised to Expand Silicon Photonic Applications
Optical Society of America
May 28, 2020

Researchers at the University of Southampton in the U.K. have developed a configurable circuit technology that is poised to lower fabrication costs by allowing mass production and programming of generic optical circuits for a wide range of silicon photonics applications. The investigators applied previous research that yielded an erasable version of a grating coupler by implanting germanium ions into silicon, to create erasable waveguides and directional couplers. The researchers designed and fabricated these components, as well as switching circuits. Photonic devices from different chips tested before and after programming via laser annealing performed consistently. Southampton's Xia Chen said this technology "could be used to make integrated sensing devices to detect biochemical and medical substances, as well as optical transceivers for connections used in high-performance computing systems and datacenters."

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'Artificial Chemist' Combines AI, Robotics to Conduct Autonomous R&D
NC State News
Matt Shipman
June 4, 2020

North Carolina State University (NC State) and University at Buffalo researchers have developed a technology combining artificial intelligence (AI) with robotics to conduct chemical reactions, in order to expedite research and development and synthesis of commercially desirable materials. The Artificial Chemist platform uses a "brain" AI program that characterizes materials being synthesized by an experiment-conducting "body," and applies this data to autonomously decide about the next set of experimental conditions. NC State's Milad Abolhasani said, "We tried to mimic the process that humans use when making decisions, but more efficiently." In proof-of-concept experiments, Artificial Chemist was able to identify and produce the best possible quantum dots for any color in 15 minutes or less.

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Computing and the National Science Foundation, 1950-2016: Building a Foundation for Modern Computing
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