Fordham Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
Welcome to the June 15, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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New Approach to DNA Data Storage Makes System More Dynamic, Scalable
NC State News
June 12, 2020

North Carolina State University researchers have developed a new, more dynamic approach to DNA data storage, enabling users to read or alter data files without destroying them, and easing scalability. The Dynamic Operations and Reusable Information Storage (DORIS) system does not rely on polymerase chain reaction, as most DNA storage systems do. Rather than using double-stranded DNA as a primer-binding sequence, DORIS employs a single-strand "overhang," which means the system can find the appropriate primer-binding sequences without disrupting the double-stranded DNA. DORIS can operate at room temperature, making viable DNA data management technologies more feasible. DORIS also can significantly boost information density, and ease scaling up to accommodate very large databases.

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Java Beats Python to Remain the Most Popular Programming Language Around
Anthony Spadafora
June 13, 2020

According to software developer JetBrains' State of Developer Ecosystem 2020 report, Java, JavaScript, and Python are the three most popular programming languages in use among developers, with Java holding the top spot. The survey of roughly 20,000 developers also found that while developers employ JavaScript in their projects, they do not spend most of their time working with the language. Meanwhile, Python has overtaken Java in the last year in terms of utilization, partly due to the growth of machine learning, with Python the most-studied language by developers. Developers also are increasingly using Microsoft's TypeScript to work with large JavaScript codebases, and Python currently is the primary language for 12% of developers.

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A fleet of drones. Researchers Train Drones to Perform Flips, Rolls, Loops with AI
Kyle Wiggers
June 12, 2020

Researchers at Intel and Switzerland's University of Zurich and ETH Zurich have created an artificial intelligence system that enables autonomous drones to perform aerial acrobatics, including barrel rolls, loops, and flips. The system trains the drones in simulation, along with demonstrations from a controller module, to enable real-world deployment. The researchers employed the open source Gazebo simulator to train a controller module; over 10 training runs the controller successfully completed each maneuver 100% of the time, without intervention or breaks. The researchers said, "We have shown that designing appropriate abstraction of the input facilities direct transfer of the policies from simulation to physical reality."

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A scuba diver sends sea-life shots to the surface using an aquatic Internet service. Angling for Underwater Wi-Fi
KAUST Discovery
June 10, 2020

Researchers at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia built an underwater Wi-Fi system that could enable divers to transmit footage from underwater to the surface instantly by sending data through light beams. Researchers tested the Aqua-Fi system by simultaneously uploading and downloading multimedia between two computers located a few meters apart in static water, recording a maximum data transfer speed of 2.11 megabytes per second. The goal is to use radio waves to send data from a diver's smartphone to a "gateway" device attached to their gear, which would then send the data via a light beam to a computer at the surface connected to the Internet via satellite. Said King Abdullah University’s Basem Shihada, “This is the first time anyone has used the Internet underwater completely wirelessly.”

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An Nvidia chip. Computer Chips Could Power AI to Next Level
The Wall Street Journal
Agam Shah
June 2, 2020

Neuromorphic chips designed for artificial intelligence (AI) could facilitate new applications. Dan Hutcheson at semiconductor research company VLSI Research said such chips diverge from the conventional approach of producing answers logically, deriving probable answers through associations and patterns among available data. Hutcheson said some processors have neural networks that calculate probabilities so robots and drones have a better contextual understanding of their surroundings, and can make smarter decisions. Cerebras Systems' AI chip can run onboard neural networks for data processing; Argonne National Laboratory is using the processor to research drugs and vaccines for Covid-19. AI chips like Intel's specialized graph processor also have implications for contact tracing, transferring data between memory and storage at speeds that conventional chips cannot match, to draw connections between data faster.

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Discovering How the Brain Works Through Computation
Columbia Engineering
Holly Evarts
June 11, 2020

Researchers at Columbia Engineering, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Austria's Graz University of Technology have proposed a computational model of the brain based on neuronal assemblies, to expand knowledge of how the brain operates at an intermediate level. The model's application to syntactic processing in language production corresponds with experimental results. Columbia Engineering's Christos Papadimitriou and colleagues developed a computational system, the Assembly Calculus, that encompasses operations of neuronal assemblies that seem to participate in cognitive processes like imprinting memories, concepts, and words. The researchers demonstrated, analytically and via modeling, that the Assembly Calculus can be plausibly realized at the neuronal and synaptic level. Papadimitriou said the model provides a theoretical framework for logical transformation of neural activity into thought and action.

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An Apple watch Researchers Turn to Wearable Tech in Race to Track Covid-19
Financial Times
Siddarth Venkataramakrishnan
June 10, 2020

As part of the effort to track the transference of Covid-19, researchers are applying wearable technologies that monitor fluctuations in biomarkers like heart rate or skin temperature to collect real-time patient data. NHS England has partnered with U.K. health technology startup Huma to analyze roughly 160 patients recovering from the virus using Huma's remote-monitoring solution—including oximeters to check blood-oxygen saturation levels and smartphone cameras to measure resting heart rate. An application uses this data to build a picture of the patient's health. In the U.S., Scripps Research's Jennifer Radin is investigating the use of Fitbit data for identifying emerging disease epicenters and enhancing treatment. Brent Mittelstadt at the U.K.'s Oxford Internet Institute said disease models based on heart rate and sleep levels have a risk of false positives, and this information must be properly contextualized for personalized medicine.

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Researchers Model the Health Benefits of Electric Cars, Find 'Large Improvement in Air Quality'
U of T News
Tyler Irving
June 8, 2020

Researchers at the University of Toronto (U of T) in Canada created computer simulations of the potential human health benefits of a large-scale transition to electric cars across the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area (GHTA). The simulations explored the impact of replacing 20%, 50%, or 100% of cars and sport utility vehicles in the GTHA with electric models, as well as replacing transit buses with electric buses and transport trucks with models that generate fewer emissions. The researchers calculated the predicted reduction in emissions for various air pollutants in each scenario, then estimated the resulting reduction in premature deaths. Finally, they converted this reduction into a dollar figure to measure the switchover's social impact. U of T's Marianne Hatzopoulou said, "If you bring it down to an individual level, each electric vehicle replacing a gas-powered one brings nearly $10,000 in social benefits."

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Electronic Nose Sniffs Out Perfectly Ripe Peaches for Harvest
IEEE Spectrum
Michelle Hampson
June 12, 2020

Researchers at Brazil’s Federal University of Technology-Parana and State University of Ponta Grossa have developed an electronic nose (e-nose) system to sniff out the ripest peaches for harvest. Researcher Sergio Luiz Stevan Jr. said the technology enables online, real-time monitoring of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted by the fruit via special gas sensors. The e-nose digitizes the VOC measurements and pre-processes them in a microcontroller, and then a pattern recognition algorithm classifies each combination of VOC molecules associated with the three peach-ripening stages. The data is stored on a secure digital memory card, and sent to a computer via Bluetooth or USB connection for analysis. Stevan says several e-noses deployed across an orchard would form a sensing network.

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DARPA Invites Hackers to Break Hardware to Make It More Secure
Sean Lyngaas
June 8, 2020

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is inviting elite white-hat hackers to identify vulnerabilities in computer chips prior to their deployment in weapons systems or other critical technologies, offering a $25,000 bounty for each bug they uncover. The agency has enlisted Synack, a Silicon Valley-based penetration testing company, to audition potential hackers to filter out the less-talented. Synack hackers will tweak existing exploits to determine whether the DARPA-backed hardware can block them, trying to breach systems hosted in cloud computing networks. DARPA's Keith Rebello said the goal is to weed out as many vulnerabilities as possible prior to deployment, which can help the hardware industry break its "vicious cycle" of patching weak systems that have already been deployed.

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Robots Armed with UV Light Fight Grape Mildew
Cornell Chronicle
Krishna Ramanujan
June 3, 2020

A multi-institutional and international collaboration led by Cornell AgriTech researchers and Norwegian agricultural-industry service provider SAGA Robotics has yielded autonomous robots that use ultraviolet (UV) lamps to kill powdery mildew on crops. The robots will patrol vineyards at night when a lack of blue light suppresses the pathogen's biochemical repair mechanism, while using low-dose UV light to ensure the mildew's destruction without harming plants. Field trials of the robots are taking place in two Chardonnay vineyards in New York State. Project partner Lance Cadle-Davidson is working with Carnegie Mellon University scientists to develop imaging technology that can measure mildew on grape leaves. He said, "Our long-term vision is we'll couple these detection and treatment approaches across the vineyard in an automated way."

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Using eye-tracking to control a cockpit computer. Indian Military Tests Eye-Tracking Tech to Help Pilots Control Planes
New Scientist
Donna Lu
June 12, 2020

Researchers at the Indian Institute of Science have developed an aircraft display system that tracks and responds to eye movements. The system—currently under review by India's military—is embedded within a cockpit computer, allowing the pilot to select the relevant display simply by gazing at it, then confirming selection by pressing a button on the control stick. The Indian Institute of Science's Pradipta Biswas said flight-simulator tests showed the system halved the time it took to complete a task. The team also tested a head-mounted eye-tracking system that tracks the pilot’s eye and head movements.

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