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Welcome to the June 12, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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2020 ACM Student Research Competition Winners Honored for Outstanding Projects in Diverse Areas
June 9, 2020

ACM announced the winners of the 2020 Grand Finals of its Student Research Competition (SRC), who were honored for their exemplary computer science projects. Projects earning the graduate category's top three spots included "A Mutual Information Accelerator for Autonomous Robot Exploration" by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Peter Li; "On the Impact and Defeat of Regex DoS" by Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University's James Davis; and "Real-time, Portable, and Lightweight Nanopore DNA Sequence Analysis Using System-on-Chip" developed by Hasindu Gamaarachchi at Australia's University of New South Wales. The announcements conclude a yearlong contest between 356 computer science students who presented projects at 22 ACM conferences. ACM president Cherri M. Pancake said, "It's obvious that students like this unique challenge of their ability to undertake leading-edge research, while also honing their presentation skills in front of peers and experts in their fields."

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Battling Anti-Encryption Drive, Tech Companies Pledge New Child Abuse Disclosures
Katie Paul
June 11, 2020

Technology firms including Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, facing a growing push to restrict encryption in consumer technologies, have vowed to improve and standardize their yearly disclosures on online child abuse. The Technology Coalition, which coordinates industry action around child sexual exploitation, said its 18 member companies would set up a "multi-million" dollar fund to research patterns of abuse and build preventive technologies. Child welfare proponents say known images of child sexual abuse have ballooned in recent years as predators have increasingly employed social networks to lure victims and share images. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimated Facebook generated more than 90% of U.S. child sexual abuse reports online in 2019. Meanwhile, the EARN IT Act unveiled in March by lawmakers would require tech companies to follow best practices to "earn" legal immunity from content posted on their platforms.

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New research shows that what a self-driving car doesn't see (in green) is as important to navigation as what it actually sees (in red). Self-Driving Cars That Recognize Free Space Can Better Detect Objects
Carnegie Mellon University School of Computer Science
Byron Spice
June 11, 2020

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers have developed a method to help self-driving vehicles enhance their object-detection accuracy by enabling them to recognize empty space. CMU's Peiyun Hu said autonomous cars usually reason about surrounding objects by using three-dimensional (3D) LiDAR data to represent objects as a point cloud, and then trying to match those point clouds to a library of 3D object representations. However, sensors cannot perceive occluded parts of an object, and current algorithms do not reason about such occlusions. Hu and colleagues used map-making techniques to help the perception system reason about visibility when attempting to recognize objects—and it outperformed a standard benchmark, improving detection by 10.7% for cars, 5.3% for pedestrians, 7.4% for trucks, 18.4% for buses, and 16.7% for trailers. Said Hu, “Perception systems need to know their unknowns.”

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A drone swarm. Army Researchers Find Ways to Test Swarming Drones
Army Research Laboratory
June 11, 2020

The U.S. Army has deployed an outdoor system for testing unmanned aircraft system (UAS) swarms that is vastly larger in volume than a typical testing facility. The Future Soldiers platform will function with many drones across a battlespace, using an interconnected swarm to facilitate situational awareness, defense, and logistics. Researchers worked with motion-capture technology developer PhaseSpace to create a motion-capture capability for outdoor applications, eliminating interference by sunlight. Dan Everson at the Army Research Laboratory said, "This will allow us to replicate more realistic UAS operation conditions and conduct experiments that were previously not possible, such as using cameras to navigate terrains, testing RF [radio frequency] communication within a swarm, and flying larger drones."

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A three-dimensional reconstruction of a giant larvacean. The Sea’s Weirdest Creatures, Now in ‘Staggering’ Detail
The New York Times
William J. Broad
June 5, 2020

Researchers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) in California and the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile have developed an imaging device specifically designed for the study of creatures that live in the ocean's middle depths. The DeepPIV device emits a thin fan of laser light that scans through the animals, gathers backscattered rays from inner flows and tissues, and feeds the resulting data into a computer that visually reconstructs the organisms in minute detail. The team conducted tests in Monterey Bay off the coast of California, where a robot holding DeepPIV was lowered into the sea on a long tether; DeepPIV produced images of creatures at depths of up to a quarter-mile. Said MBARI's Kakani Katija, "Now that we have a way to visualize these structures, we can finally understand how they function."

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Coronavirus Makes AR's Potential a Reality for Chip Makers
The Wall Street Journal
Asa Fitch
June 10, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has spurred the everyday use of augmented reality (AR) in semiconductor manufacturing and other industries. AR, which imposes digital images onto real-world views, enables specialists and managers to guide colleagues through procedures without being in the same physical space. Intel has transitioned AR into an element of its permanent operational strategy, following a successful trial of remote maintenance at a chip plant in Arizona. The chip sector, with its ultra-specialized equipment and highly automated plants, is well suited for AR, especially now that remote workforces and virtual interaction have become essential and are likely to persist. Before the coronavirus, chipmakers had balked at installing cameras on production lines, out of concern about the security of their trade secrets.

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Researchers developed synthetic structure-based color materials – like those found in chameleon skin – for polymer inks used in 3D printing. Researchers Mimic Nature for Fast, Colorful 3D Printing
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign News Bureau
Lois Yoksoulian
June 10, 2020

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) and Argonne National Laboratory have modified three-dimensional (3D) printing to mimic nature by producing multiple colors from a single ink. The technique employs nanoscale structures called photonic crystals to emulate structural coloration, in which light reflecting off structures in the tissues of animals and minerals amplifies and suppresses certain wavelengths. UIUC's Ying Diao said, "Precise control of polymer synthesis and processing is needed to form the incredibly thin, ordered layers that produce the structural color as we see in nature." Careful tuning of the assembly process of bottlebrush-shaped polymers during 3D printing enables production of photonic crystals with tunable layer thicknesses that reflect the visible light spectrum from a single ink. The researchers tweaked a consumer 3D printer to refine the printing nozzle's speed as it travels across a temperature-controlled surface, facilitating nanoscale control of assembly speed and internal layer thickness.

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Meat-Tearing CG Breakthrough Promises to Make Video Game Injuries Disgustingly Realistic
Andrew Liszewski
June 5, 2020

University of Pennsylvania researchers have developed a method that could make the simulated injuries of video game characters more realistic. The researchers were able to accurately simulate the destruction of anisotropic materials (whose physical properties vary in different directions) by adding additional structures to a three-dimensional model that help define their unique directionality and elasticity. The added structures modify the results when damage to a virtual character is calculated. The new approach could be used to help train doctors and surgeons.

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Facebook's TransCoder AI Converts Code From One Programming Language Into Another
Kyle Wiggers
June 9, 2020

Facebook says its TransCoder can convert code from one high-level programming language into another. The system, which Facebook researchers describe as “a neural transcompiler,” uses an unsupervised learning approach to translate between languages like C++, Java, and Python. The researchers trained TransCoder on a public GitHub corpus featuring more than 2.8 million open source repositories. To evaluate its capabilities, the researchers extracted 852 parallel functions in C++, Java, and Python from the online GeeksforGeeks platform and developed a new computational accuracy metric that tests whether hypothesis functions generate the same outputs as a reference when given the same inputs. Wrote the researchers, “TransCoder can easily be generalized to any programming language, does not require any expert knowledge, and outperforms commercial solutions by a large margin.”

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Tool Helps Nanorods Stand Out
Rice University
Mike Williams
June 8, 2020

Rice University researchers have developed a simple, open source tool for counting and classifying nanoparticles. The SEMseg (scanning electron microscope segmentation) program compiles data on nanoparticles from SEM images, based on the finding that proteins can be used to push nanorods into chiral assemblies. SEMseg extracts and recombines pixel-level data from low-contrast, low-resolution images into crisp images; it also differentiates individual nanorods in closely packed assemblies and aggregates to ascertain the size and orientation of each particle, and the size of gaps between them, for efficient statistical aggregate analysis. Rice's Rashad Baiyasi said, "In a matter of minutes, SEMseg can characterize nanoparticles in large datasets that would take hours to measure manually." SEMseg also can be modified for other imaging techniques like atomic force microscopy, and extended to other nanoparticle configurations, such as cubes or triangles.

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The ANYmal robot This Robot Can Tell When Sewers Need Repairing By Scratching the Walls
New Scientist
Donna Lu
June 4, 2020

Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) in Switzerland have developed a robot that determines the condition of concrete walls. The ANYmal robot, which is waterproof, is equipped three jointed limbs to enhance maneuverability, as well as LiDAR and a stereo camera to help it position itself. When the robot scratches one of its feet against the concrete walls of a sewer, it measures the vibrations generated, giving an indication of the roughness of the surface. Testing in sewage tunnels in Zurich yielded data that was used to train a machine learning algorithm, which was able to distinguish between good, satisfactory, or fair conditions in those tunnels with 92.6% accuracy.

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Billions of Smart Home Devices Open to Attack
Tom's Guide
Nicholas Fearn
June 9, 2020

Security professional Yunus Cadirci discovered a vulnerability in the Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) networking protocol that could expose billions of smart home devices to cyberattack. As explained on a dedicated website, the CallStranger bug's use for exflitration mainly impacts corporate networks, while the network-scanning and DDoS exploits target consumer Internet of Things devices. Cadirci thinks the flaw could affect billions of devices, as it extends to Windows devices, Xboxes, and most TVs and routers. Since he reported CallStranger to UPnP maintainer Open Connectivity Foundation, the group has published updates for the protocol. Cadirci recommends consumers disable UPnP on their home Wi-Fi router, and he has posted a Python script on GitHub to let users scan their local network for susceptible devices.

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Washington County Sheriff's Deputy Jeff Talbot demonstrates how his agency used facial recognition software. Amazon Bans Police Use of Its Facial Recognition Technology for a Year
The Washington Post
Jay Greene
June 10, 2020

Amazon has barred police from using its Rekognition facial recognition technology for a year, in the midst of nationwide unrest over police brutality and racial profiling. Rekognition can compare grainy photos against thousands of images to find a potential match. Privacy proponents raised concerns about Rekognition leading to wrongful arrests of people who bear only a resemblance to video images, while studies have indicated facial recognition systems misidentify people of color more often than Caucasians. Amazon said, "We hope this one-year moratorium might give Congress enough time to implement appropriate rules." The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California's Nicole Ozer said Amazon must commit to a blanket moratorium on the technology's use by law enforcement "until the dangers can be fully addressed, and it must press Congress and legislatures across the country to do the same."

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Approximately 117,000 IT Jobs Lost Since March, U.S. Data Shows
Stephanie Condon
June 5, 2020

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates roughly 117,000 information technology (IT) professionals have lost their jobs since March. In reviewing that data, consulting firm Janco said U.S. jobs in telecommunications, data processing, hosting and related services, and computer systems design and related services declined from 3.655 million to 3.538 million from March through May. The firm forecasts slightly more than 35,000 net new IT jobs will be created this year, given continuing economic and social uncertainty across the U.S. Janco also suggested IT job attrition has ended, and professionals should benefit from the fact that most will be able to work remotely. The company said more than 85% of organizations it reviewed are capable of permitting IT staff work from home.

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