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Welcome to the June 26, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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A police car at night. California City Bans Predictive Policing in U.S. First
Avi Asher-Schapiro
June 24, 2020

Santa Cruz, CA, has become the first U.S. city to ban predictive policing, with Mayor Justin Cummings pointing out that it can be disproportionately biased against people of color. Predictive policing involves the use of algorithms to interpret police records, analyze arrest or parole data, or identify places where crime may occur. However, there are concerns that it reinforces racist policing patterns by identifying historically over-policed low-income, ethnic minority neighborhoods as crime hotspots and prompting more police to be deployed to those areas. PredPol Inc., the Santa Cruz-based firm that pioneered the technology, said the city requirement that predictive policing "not perpetuate bias" is "a legitimate filter to be applied to any new technology acquired by a public entity, whether used for public safety or not." Meanwhile, Boston’s City Council has voted to ban face surveillance technology.

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Surveying the damage of the March 23 Croatia earthquake. AI Helps Decode Mysterious Earthquake Swarms
The Wall Street Journal
Daniela Hernandez
June 24, 2020

Seismologists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) input data from a flurry of small earthquakes near Cahuilla from 2016 to 2019 into an artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm and generated one of the most detailed descriptions so far of earthquake swarms. The AI system scanned recorded earthquake data and identified the time they occurred and their locations. More than 22,000 earthquakes ranging from magnitude 0.7 to 4.4 were detected by the software; most were imperceptible to humans and less advanced methods of analysis. Said Caltech's Zachary Ross, "These smaller earthquakes are happening all the time, which means they're filling in gaps between all the larger ones. It's connecting the dots better." The findings are important because the geographic events that lead to large earthquakes are not fully understood by seismologists.

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A self-driving car on a road outside the city. Countries Agree on Regulations for Automated Driving
The Japan Times
June 26, 2020

The United Nations announced that 53 countries have agreed on common automated driving regulations, including Japan and all EU member states. The U.N. Economic Commission for Europe World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations adopted binding rules on Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS), which come into effect next January. The rules concern Level-3 vehicle automation, in which drivers are idle when automated systems are engaged but can intervene at any time and must assume control at the system's request. The regulations set up strict requirements for ALKS, which can operate vehicles when drivers are behind the wheel with their seatbelt on; vehicles must have a Data Storage System for Automated Driving to record when ALKS is activated. Automakers also must include Driver Availability Recognition Systems, which monitor the driver's capability to retake vehicle control, while ALKS must adhere to cybersecurity and software update mandates.

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Smart Home Devices Can Reveal Behaviors Associated With Dementia
IEEE Spectrum
Michelle Hampson
June 23, 2020

Researchers at Gonzaga University and Washington State University developed a novel algorithm to analyze data from smart home devices to gauge the cognitive decline of users over time. The Behavior Change Detection for Groups (BCD-G) algorithm analyzes residents' behavioral patterns. The researchers continuously monitored 14 people, seven of whom were living with dementia, in their homes for one month. BCD-G was used to assess 16 types of activities, including bathing, cooking, sleeping, working, and taking medications, and to compare the group with dementia to the healthy control group of individuals of similar age and educational background. Gonzaga's Gina Sprint said the algorithm analyzes changes over time and could be helpful in monitoring nearly any condition where clinicians want to know whether someone is improving or declining.

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Screens of various sizes. Google Researchers Working on Light Field Videos for Immersive AR, VR Experience
Hindustan Times (India)
June 21, 2020

Google researchers are experimenting with a practical light field video system to advance immersive augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), recording wide field-of-view scenes for streaming over regular Wi-Fi, and enabling users to move items within video. The technology also helps to rebuild and compress high-quality videos. The data compression innovation will allow the researchers to design systems that can reconstruct a recorded video for an immersive AR or VR experience, as well as a Web browser—and will ensure the system is available to users who may lack standalone AR or VR devices. Google's Michael Broxton said, "Photos and videos play a huge role in our day-to-day experience on mobile devices, and we are hoping that someday immersive light field images and videos will play an equally important role in future AR and VR platforms."

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Optical chips with waveguides. Scientists Grow Optical Chips in Petri Dish
June 18, 2020

Scientists at Russia's Information Technologies, Mechanics, and Optics (ITMO) and St. Petersburg Academic universities, working with colleagues at France's Universite de Lorraine, have grown optical chips in a Petri dish. The new chip is made from gallium phosphide (GaP), with a halide perovskite microlaser grown directly on the waveguide. The device transmits signals for a much greater distance than chips with silicon or silver nano-waveguides. The chip also can adjust the laser-emission range from green to red spectral range, and shift emission color after production; a perovskite optical nanoantenna receives the signal travelling along the waveguide, coupling two chips into one system. ITMO’s Sergey Makarov said, “The beauty of this approach is that we create perovskite microlasers with nano-waveguides embedded in them right from the start.”

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Honeywell Claims to Have Created the World's Most Powerful Quantum Computer
Robert Hackett
June 18, 2020

Honeywell announced what it is calling the "world's highest-performing quantum computer," for its high score with regard to quantum volume. Honeywell said its system has a quantum volume of 64, making it "twice as powerful as the next alternative in the industry;" earlier this year, IBM said it had built a computer with a quantum volume of 32. IBM in 2017 proposed quantum volume as an alternative metric of quantum computing power, in a bid to move the industry away from the more cumbersome measure of quantum-bit numbers. Quantum volume factors in other key properties, like stability of a given system, susceptibility to error, and ease of programming. The University of Texas at Austin's Scott Aaronson said the quantum volume achievement, while significant, "is nowhere near quantum supremacy."

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Online Trackers Follow Health Site Visitors
Cornell Chronicle
Melanie Lefkowitz
June 24, 2020

A study by Cornell Tech researchers found that online trackers are more likely to follow people who visit popular health websites to other types of sites. The study finding suggests that advertisers might be more likely to target visitors based on sensitive health information than previously believed. The investigators analyzed how the order in which users visit 15 major health, education, and news sites affects how third-party trackers follow them. The researchers performed six experiments representing all possible browsing sequences between health, education, and news contexts, ascertaining user identifiers from the first context that trackers employed in the two subsequent contexts. Results indicated that trackers monitor users among all three contexts, between every pair of sites studied—and healthcare sites are most likely to link users' identifiers to other types of websites. Cornell Tech's Ido Sivan-Sevilla said, "We want to shed more light on this complex ecosystem of Web tracking, hopefully hold the industry more accountable."

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An illustration of how AI and radar are combined to track speeders around corners. Radar Allows Cars to Spot Hazards Around Corners
Princeton University
John Sullivan
June 25, 2020

Researchers at Princeton University, Germany's Ulm University and University of Kassel, Mercedes-Benz, and Canadian software firm Algolux have developed an automated radar system that will enable cars to look around corners and spot oncoming hazards. The system employs Doppler radar to bounce radio waves off surfaces at an angle to detect occluded objects and determine if they are moving or stationary. Radar's spatial resolution is relatively low, but the researchers think they could design algorithms to read the data to allow the sensors to operate. The team used artificial intelligence techniques to refine processing and interpret the images, focusing on background noise rather than usable information to distinguish objects. Princeton’s Felix Heide said, “In terms of integration and bringing it to market, it requires a lot of engineering. But the technology is there, so there is the potential for seeing this very soon in vehicles.”

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An illustration of the how synthetic data can solve many health problems. Producing Data Synthetically to Help Treat Diseases Like Covid-19
Aalto University
June 25, 2020

Finnish Center for Artificial Intelligence (FCAI) researchers have developed a machine learning-based method that can synthetically generate research data and help in designing better treatments for diseases like Covid-19. The team based a newly released application on the technique, allowing academics and companies to exchange data while maintaining the privacy of individuals involved in the research. Researchers enter the original dataset into the app, which produces a synthetic dataset that can be shared securely with other scientists and companies. FCAI investigators are currently using synthetic data to construct a model that anticipates whether a subject's coronavirus test is positive or negative, based on certain biomarkers.

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An image of MathDeck, a math-aware search interface. RIT Researchers Create Easy-to-Use Math-Aware Search Interface
Rochester Institute of Technology
Scott Bureau
June 23, 2020

Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) researchers have developed MathDeck, an online search interface that allows anyone to easily create, edit, or look up complex mathematical formulas. MathDeck users can enter and edit formulas in multiple ways using the scientific markup language LaTeX, including handwriting, uploading a typeset formula image, and text input. The math-aware interface can identify formula images and hand-drawn symbols via image processing and machine learning. MathDeck also features an auto-complete function for formulas and keywords; users looking for a popular symbol or formula will likely find an entity card displaying the formula, the name of its associated concept, and a brief description. MathDeck is a component of the multi-institutional MathSeer project, which RIT's Richard Zanibbi said aims "to produce new technologies to provide 'math search for the masses.'"

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Algorithm Enables Quadcopters to Perform Acrobatic Maneuvers Autonomously
Daily Mail (U.K.)
Jonathan Chadwick
June 24, 2020

Researchers at Switzerland's University of Zurich and Intel have created a navigation algorithm that enables autonomous flying drones to perform challenging acrobatic maneuvers autonomously, based on onboard sensor measurements. The heart of the algorithm is an artificial neural network that integrates input from the quadcopter's onboard camera and sensors, and directly translates this data into control commands. The network is trained via simulated acrobatic maneuvers, which makes demonstrations by human pilots unnecessary, and enables training to scale to a large number of maneuvers without posing physical risks to the drone. The algorithm abstracts the sensory input from the simulations and transfers it to the physical world, and drones require just a few hours of training. Zurich's Davide Scaramuzza said, "This navigation is another step towards integrating autonomous drones in our daily lives."

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A VR sword-carrying character. Getting Real with Immersive Sword Fights
University of Bath
June 23, 2020

Computer scientists at the U.K.'s University of Bath and game development studio Ninja Theory have devised a solution to the challenge of creating realistic sword fights in virtual reality. Touche, a data-driven computer model founded on machine learning, boosts sword fight realism by producing responsive animations against attacks and removing non-reactive behavior from characters. The framework streamlines technical effort, eliminating the need for game designers to add layers of detail when programming how a character should move in a particular situation. Touche instead constructs a model of motion-captured sword-fighting movements by actors, with virtual versions able to react to different situations in a similar manner to actual fighters. Bath's Christof Lutteroth said, "I'm convinced this framework is the future for games—not only for sword fighting, but also for other types of interaction between game characters. It will save developers a lot of time."

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