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Welcome to the June 17, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Ceze, Strauss Share ACM SIGARCH Maurice Wilkes Award
University of Washington Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering
June 16, 2020

The ACM Special Interest Group on Computer Architecture named Luis Ceze at the University of Washington's Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering and Microsoft's Karin Straus to share the 2020 Maurice Wilkes Award, for their work on DNA-based digital data storage. Ceze and Straus designed an archival storage system for converting the binary 0s and 1s of digital data into the As, Ts, Cs, and Gs of DNA molecules; they also stored a record 200 megabytes of data in DNA. The two researchers also described a method for enabling random access with a library of primers for use in conjunction with polymerase chain reaction, to demonstrate the feasibility of a large-scale DNA-based digital storage framework.

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Silq is the first quantum programming language that enables the solving of complex computations elegantly, simply, and safely. The First Intuitive Programming Language for Quantum Computers
ETH Zurich
Florian Meyer
June 15, 2020

Computer scientists at ETH Zurich in Switzerland have created the first intuitive high-level quantum programming language, a coding mechanism that they say is as simple, reliable, and as safe as classical computer languages. ETH Zurich's Benjamin Bichsel described Silq as a programming language keyed toward the mindset of programmers when they want to solve a problem, rather than on hardware construction and functionality. Silq's most significant advancement is its ability to automatically identify and delete intermediate or temporary values that are no longer needed, a process called uncomputation, using only programming commands that lack any special quantum operations. ETH Zurich's Martin Vechev said, "Silq is a major breakthrough in terms of optimizing the programming of quantum computers; it is not the final phase of development."

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A voting machine. Activists Cite Tabulation Flaw in Georgia Mail-In Ballots
Associated Press
June 13, 2020

Election officials and activists report that thousands of votes in Georgia's primary may not have been counted, due to faulty software or poorly calibrated vote-tabulation scanners used to count mailed-in ballots. The issue was reported in at least four counties, where post-election reviews detected unregistered votes. Activists have sued the state for alleged election mismanagement. Georgia Institute of Technology computer scientist Richard DeMillo says the issue likely is systemic, given that identical scanners and software were used to count all absentee ballots statewide. In-person voting also faced issues, with equipment problems, poll workers unfamiliar with a new voting system, and social distancing measures forcing voters at some polling places to wait as long as five hours to cast ballots.

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Home-Health Device Uses Wireless Signals to Identify a Person It's Seen Before
Adam Conner-Simons
June 16, 2020

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory used a touch-free system that reads vital signs by analyzing ambient wireless signals to identify a person they have monitored before. The RF-ReID (radio-frequency re-identification) system uses physical qualities inferred from radio signals—like body size, walking speed, or gait—to identify a person, while keeping their appearance and other personal information private. Tests in 19 retirement homes demonstrated that, after being trained on more than 20 people, the RF-ReID system could observe a new person and re-identify them after less than 10 seconds of physical activity. The researchers said they hope to adapt the system to continuously monitor people in retirement homes, and others in high-risk populations.

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Apple’s Tim Cook, and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. Tech Companies Say They Value Diversity, but Reports Show Little Change in Last Six Years
Kate Rooney; Yasmin Khorram
June 12, 2020

A CNBC analysis of annual disclosures of minority hiring by tech companies shows they have made little progress in their goals in the six years since vowing to increase diversity. The analysis shows that Alphabet, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, and Twitter have increased their percentage of black employees by low single-digit rates since 2014. The increase at Amazon was higher than the others, but includes warehouse and delivery workers. The percentage of black employees rose from 3% to 3.8% of workers at Facebook over the report period, while Twitter recorded an increase from 2% to 6%, and Amazon posted an 11-percentage-point gain to 26.5% at the start of last year. The diversity numbers are lower among leadership and technical roles like coders and engineers; for example, black employees account for 9% of Apple's workforce, but just 3% of leadership roles.

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Spies Can Eavesdrop by Watching a Light Bulb's Vibrations
Andy Greenberg
June 12, 2020

Researchers at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Weizmann Institute of Science have developed a long-distance eavesdropping method that exploits vibrations on the glass surface of a light bulb's interior. The lamphone technique allows anyone with a laptop, a telescope, and an electro-optical sensor to pick up sound with sufficient clarity to discern conversations or even recognize a piece of music, by measuring small changes in light output from the bulb caused by sound vibrations. Said Ben-Gurion’s Ben Nassi, "Any sound in the room can be recovered from the room with no requirement to hack anything and no device in the room. You just need line of sight to a hanging bulb, and this is it."

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The Dawn of 2020 Was a Boom Time for Tech Salaries
IEEE Spectrum
Tekla S. Perry
June 16, 2020

The Hired job-search marketplace's 2020 State of Salaries report found that technology occupations saw across-the-board wage growth in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. last year. Tech employees in Austin, TX, and Toronto, Canada, saw the biggest increases in salary offers (10%) over 2018 levels. Data science salaries rebounded in the U.S. after a decrease in 2018, but were relatively unchanged in the U.K., where product management salaries continued to rise steeply. With the coronavirus pandemic driving uncertainty, a forward-looking Hired survey of 2,300 tech professionals in the U.S., Canada, France, and the U.K. found that more than half expected a raise of up to 20% in the next six months, while 42% worried about the possibility of layoffs.

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AI Makes Blurry Faces Look More Than 60 Times Sharper
Duke Today
Robin A. Smith
June 11, 2020

Researchers at Duke University have created an artificial intelligence (AI) tool that can improve an image of a face with up to 64 times its original resolution, making a blurry, unrecognizable picture into a sharp, realistic image. However, the method, known as PULSE, cannot be used to identify people, such as by making images from a security camera clearer, because the faces it produces may not actually exist. Using a generative adversarial network machine learning tool, the system weeds through AI-generated examples of high-resolution faces to find images that appear similar to the input image when reduced to the same size. Said Duke’s Cynthia Rudin, “Never have super-resolution images been created at this resolution before with this much detail.”

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Norway Pulls Its Coronavirus Contact Tracing App After Privacy Watchdog's Warning
Natasha Lomas
June 15, 2020

Norway has suspended use of a coronavirus contact tracing application to allow changes to be made, after the Norwegian Data Protection Authority (DPA) said it presents a disproportionate threat to user privacy. The Smittestopp app tracks Bluetooth signals to estimate a user’s proximity to others to calculate exposure risk to Covid-19, while also tracking and continuously uploading each user’s location from real-time global-positioning system data. The DPA’s Bjorn Erik Thon said the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI) “has not demonstrated that it is strictly necessary to use location data for infection detection.” Another troublesome aspect of the app, according to Luca Tosoni of the University of Oslo, was that app users “are currently unable to consent only to the use of their data for infection tracking purposes, without consenting to their data being used also for research purposes.”

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Improving the Operation, Performance of Wi-Fi Networks for the 5G/6G Ecosystem
Universitat Pompeu Fabra (Spain)
June 5, 2020

Researchers at Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Spain have found that machine learning can improve the operation and performance of 5G/6G Wi-Fi networks. They focused on Wi-Fi networks with multiple access points and found that, using reinforcement learning techniques, stations (such as PCs, tablets, and mobile phones) can determine dynamically which access point offers the best service for their needs. Each station autonomously considers how the Wi-Fi network is behaving and chooses an access point based on the benefits it can provide. The researchers developed an algorithm that shortens station learning time, and found that the entire network benefits if even just a few stations implement the algorithm.

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Report Points to How Russian Misinformation May Have Adapted Since 2016 Election
The Wall Street Journal
Robert McMillan
June 16, 2020

A study by research firm Graphika described how Russia-based hackers used new methods to spread misinformation in the U.S. and thwart detection by social media for years. This could provide an indication of how Russian attempts to sow confusion online have evolved in response to countermeasures since the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The so-called Secondary Infektion hacker group evaded detection by spreading content in seven languages across more than 300 platforms and Web forums, using temporary "burner" accounts that were quickly discarded. The group ran on popular social media platforms in addition to niche discussion forums, avoiding detection by using multiple platforms and keeping activity levels low. Graphika suggests Secondary Infektion shifted its strategies as social media companies have tried to spot information operations more effectively since the 2016 elections.

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Title page of the award-winning virtual reality app. UH Hilo, UH Manoa Team Wins National Award for Coral Reef VR App
University of Hawaii
Susan Enright
June 15, 2020

A team of researchers from the University of Hawai'i at Hilo (UH Hilo) and UH Manoa was awarded the Best Visualization Showcase Award and will be recognized at the upcoming Practice and Experience in Advanced Research Computing 2020 Conference (PEARC20) for a project that integrated three-dimensional (3D) models of Hawaiian coral reefs into a virtual reality (VR) platform. The models were built from images collected from long-term monitoring sites throughout the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. The UH Hilo Multiscale Environmental Graphical Analysis Laboratory processed the images using structure-from-motion photogrammetry to produce high-resolution reconstructions of each reef study plot. UH Hilo's John H.R. Burns said, "The VR application is an incredible way to engage broad audiences and provide them with a unique immersive experience to see coral reefs firsthand and witness changes occurring in these valuable ecosystems."

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A metaphor for multithreading. Method Ensures Complex Programs Are Bug-Free Without Testing
The Michigan Engineer News Center
June 16, 2020

Researchers at the University of Michigan, Microsoft Research, and Carnegie Mellon University have created a technique for verifying that complex programs are bug-free, without the use of traditional software testing. The Armada system employs formal verification to determine whether software will yield what it is designed to, focusing on programs that operate via concurrent execution. The system offers a single architecture for applying many verification techniques, in order to minimize upfront effort as much as possible. Armada converts a system designed with concurrency into a simpler representation through transformations, with developers using high-level syntax to describe the simpler program and indicate a proof method to support transformation. The researchers hope Armada will encourage wider use of formal verification outside of the most critical systems.

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