Welcome to the July 15, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

Editor's Note: In Friday's edition of ACM TechNews, in "ACM U.S. Technology Policy Committee Urges Supreme Court to Narrowly Interpret Computer Fraud Act," we inadvertently omitted a word that changed the meaning of an entire sentence. It should have read, "The USTPC brief said the high court should not interpret the statute as deeming data scraping (computer scientists' use of tools to find and amass data from online sources) a form of illegal "unauthorized access." We regret the omission.

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ACM SIGHPC Announces Doctoral Dissertation Award Winner
July 13, 2020

The ACM Special Interest Group on High Performance Computing (SIGHPC) has named Google software engineer Patrick Flick to receive the 2020 SIGHPC Doctoral Dissertation Award for exceptional contributions to the design and analysis of parallel string algorithms on distributed-memory parallel computers, with applications to computational biology. In his dissertation, Flick presented a distributed-memory parallel algorithm for building a distributed representation of suffix trees, which provides superior theoretical complexity and improved practical performance compared with previous algorithms. SIGHPC’s Jeff Hollingsworth said Flick’s work “exemplifies the best of the HPC community, and helps to raise the standards of the profession.”

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Tech Sector Job Interviews Assess Anxiety, Not Skills
NC State University News
July 14, 2020

Researchers at North Carolina State University (NC State) and Microsoft found that technical interviews for many software engineering positions do not focus on whether the candidate is competent at coding, but whether they suffer from performance anxiety. These interviews often involve requiring candidates to write out a solution in code on a whiteboard while explaining each step to an interviewer. The researchers conducted technical interviews of 48 computer science undergraduates and graduate students, with half given a conventional technical interview and the other half required to solve a problem on a whiteboard in a private room. Said NC State's Chris Parnin, "In short, the findings suggest that companies are missing out on really good programmers because those programmers aren't good at writing on a whiteboard and explaining their work out loud while coding."

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Power of DNA to Store Information Gets an Upgrade
UT News
July 14, 2020

A team of interdisciplinary researchers at the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) used intertwined DNA strands to store an Esperanto translation of "The Wizard of Oz" with unprecedented accuracy. UT Austin's Ilya Finkelstein said, "The key breakthrough is an encoding algorithm that allows accurate retrieval of the information even when the DNA strands are partially damaged during storage." Previous DNA storage methods required repeating the stored data 10 to 15 times, with repetitions compared to remove any insertions or deletions when reading the information. UT Austin's Stephen Jones said the new technique encodes information in a lattice-like arrangement, requiring data to be read just once; the coding language also avoids sections of DNA that are error-prone or difficult to read.

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A director giving instructions to the cast and crew. The Data-Driven Tech Engine at the Heart of Hollywood's Content Factories
The Wall Street Journal
Christopher Mims
July 11, 2020

A new breed of film-industry technology companies are developing data-driven tools to help producers generate and refine content in the hope of capturing and retaining audiences. One such firm is audience-research software startup Pilotly, which streams content to people in their homes. Bryon Schafer at music-video distributor Vevo said this capability ensures a larger test audience size, and enables more granular queries to audiences by creatives and marketers. Other systems like MarketCast passively collect information as audiences watch content, gathering biometric data like facial expressions to measure responses. Pilotly's James Norman said the industry relies on a continuous feedback loop of recommendation algorithms, viewing-habit trackers, and studio production teams to sustain audience interest by keeping content fresh; Pilotly replicates those loops across a wide array of audiences by applying the expertise of the company's diverse workforce.

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A surfer amid the waves. Surfers Are Riding a Wave of Technologies to Their Olympic Debut
Popular Science
Bonnie Tsui
July 10, 2020

U.S. surfing coaches are developing Olympic training regimens that involve team members undergoing cognitive analysis, establishing baseline biometrics, and utilizing tracking analytics to improve performance. Surfers also are using pressure-sensing booties to gain insights into board control, and GPS-equipped motion trackers to improve their paddling techniques. This effort to create "high-performance" surfers takes cues from other major sports. The technologies are used to measure and potentially improve athletes’ strength and conditioning, nutrition, and mental health. Said surfer Caroline Marks, "I'd never done reaction time testing, or the balance of your right foot versus your left foot. It's amazing to have these tests show you that what you felt like is not always the reality. And the more information you know about your body, the better, I think."

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Parasite Infestations Revealed by Tiny Chicken Backpacks
UC Riverside News (CA)
Jules Bernstein
July 13, 2020

A team of entomologists, computer scientists, and biologists at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) has designed a wearable insect detection system that spots livestock mite infestations in poultry. Creating the "Fitbits for chickens" system began by identifying three chicken activities related to their well-being (pecking, preening, and dustbathing), of which the latter two hypothetically would increase among poultry infected by fowl mites. The researchers outfitted the chickens with motion sensors in tiny backpacks, then translated the resulting data into algorithms that could be sensed as behaviors. UCR's Alireza Abdoli said, "Our approach ... increases the accuracy of the data so much and is key to making good decisions about the chickens' health."

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NASA's Dragonfly octocopter drone lands, then goes to work. AI Seeks ET: Machine Learning Powers Hunt for Life in the Solar System
IEEE Spectrum
Mark Anderson
July 10, 2020

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is testing a pilot artificial intelligence (AI) system for use on a future Mars mission to help scientists decide how to test soil samples and extract the most meaningful data regarding microbial life. The machine learning AI will be used on Earth to analyze data collected by the ExoMars rover; if successful, a later mission to Saturn's moon Titan could advance the technology to fly a drone through its atmosphere and drill for signs of life. The Titan mission, scheduled to launch in 2026, will situate probes in hostile environments with less opportunity for sending data back and forth to Earth, necessitating automated astrobiological exploration. Machine learning AI will be required to make scientific instruments more intelligent for these missions.

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Scaling Up the Quantum Chip
MIT News
Becky Ham
July 8, 2020

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) engineers have taken a step toward scalable quantum chip fabrication with a process for manufacturing and integrating artificial atoms, generated by atomic-scale defects in extremely thin slices of diamond, with photonic circuitry. This hybrid process involves depositing carefully selected "quantum micro chiplets" containing multiple diamond-based quantum bits (qubits) on an aluminum nitride photonic integrated circuit. The qubits can be prodded with visible light and microwaves to discharge photons conveying quantum information. The team used this process to build a 128-qubit platform—the largest integrated artificial atom-photonics processor yet. MIT's Noel H. Wan said, "This is a proof of concept that solid-state qubit emitters are very scalable quantum technologies.”

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A man putting on protective gear. Virus-Tracing Apps Are Rife with Problems. Governments Are Rushing to Fix Them
The New York Times
Natasha Singer; Aaron Krolik
July 8, 2020

Governments are scrambling to fix coronavirus contact-tracking applications riddled with privacy and security flaws, which human rights groups and technologists warned could place hundreds of millions of people at risk for stalking, scams, identity theft, or government surveillance. For example, in June Britain ditched a virus-tracing app it was developing in favor of software from Apple and Google promoted as more "privacy preserving." Analysis by the Guardsquare mobile app security company determined that "the vast majority" of government-used virus-tracing apps are inadequately secure, and can be exploited by hackers easily. Location-tracking apps, which some countries are using to alert people of possible virus exposure or to enforce quarantines, are drawing heightened scrutiny because some continuously collect data on users' health, exact whereabouts, and social interactions. Some digital rights groups said these app launches are designed mainly to assure the public that the government is taking action.

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Building a Better Battery—Faster
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Susan Bauer
July 9, 2020

The U.S. Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) has developed machine learning software that can help universities, small businesses, and corporate developers rapidly design batteries that store more energy. The Li-Batt Design App aids battery researchers and commercial developers in the engineering of lithium-metal pouch cells—prototypes of battery cells—that can be adjusted in size to suit different applications. The software helps users custom-design a battery based on currently available lithium-metal anodes (or anode-free), cathodes, and cell accessories. Developers also can input any new cathode material, along with data on required voltage and capacity, with the resulting mathematical solution based on those parameters.

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A 3D printer. Future of 3D Printing Is in U.S., Europe Patenting
Susan Decker; Ryan Beene
July 14, 2020

A study by the European Patent Office (EPO) found that the U.S. and Europe are spearheading innovation in three-dimensional (3D) printing, which is the fastest-growing technology field. The agency determined that established multinationals like General Electric, Airbus, Johnson & Johnson, and Procter & Gamble are producing the majority of 3D printing-related patents. However, 20% of new 3D printing-related European patents are owned by small companies, and another 10% by universities; top patent recipients among research institutions include Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of California. EPO's Antonio Campino said the boom in 3D printing reflects the rapid growth of digital technologies overall.

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VR System for Small Animals Based on Raspberry Pi
July 14, 2020

The University of California, Santa Barbara's David Tadres and Matthieu Louis designed a virtual reality (VR) system for presenting environments to small, freely moving animals like flies and fish larvae during optogenetic experiments. The customizable Raspberry Pi VR system (PiVR) combines a behavioral environment, a camera, a Raspberry Pi microcomputer, a light-emitting diode (LED) controller, and a touchscreen display. The researchers employed the system to explore sensory navigation in response to gradients of chemicals and light in various animals. Said Tadres and Louis, "Our goal has been to make virtual reality paradigms accessible to everyone, from professional scientists to high-school students. PiVR should help democratize cutting-edge technology to study behavior and brain functions."

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No Masks, No Coughs: Robots Can Be Just What the Doctor Ordered in Time of Social Distancing
The Washington Post
Simon Denyer; Akiko Kashiwagi; Min Joo Kim
July 8, 2020

In Japan, a country with a long fascination with robots, automated assistants have offered their services as bartenders, security guards, deliverymen, and more, since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Japan's Avatarin developed the "newme" robot to allow people to be present while maintaining social distancing during the pandemic. The telepresence robot is essentially a tablet on a wheeled stand with the user's face on the screen, whose location and direction can be controlled via laptop or tablet. Doctors have used the newme robot to communicate with patients in a coronavirus ward, while university students in Tokyo used it to remotely attend a graduation ceremony. The company is working on prototypes that will allow users to control the robot through virtual reality headsets, and gloves that would permit users to lift, touch, and feel objects through a remote robotic hand.

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Concurrency:  The Works of Leslie Lamport
ACM Digital Threats: Research and Practice

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