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

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Dor Minzer leading a seminar. Tel Aviv University Graduate Receives ACM Doctoral Dissertation Award
ACM Media Center
July 16, 2020

ACM has named Tel Aviv University graduate Dor Minzer to receive the 2019 ACM Doctoral Dissertation Award for his dissertation, which settles the complexity of testing monotonicity of Boolean functions. His thesis also significantly advances toward the resolution of the Unique Games Conjecture (UGC), a core problem in approximation algorithms and complexity theory. In the first part of his dissertation, Minzer settled a famous open problem in the field by unveiling an optimal property tester that checks whether a given Boolean function—a voting scheme—is monotonic. In the second part of his thesis, Minzer went halfway toward establishing the UGC, and nullified the strongest known evidence against the conjecture.

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E.U.-U.S. Privacy Shield for Data Struck Down by Court
BBC News
July 16, 2020

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has struck down an agreement overseeing the transfer of European Union (E.U.) citizens' data to the U.S. The E.U.-U.S. Privacy Shield allows companies to commit to higher privacy standards before transferring data from Europe to the U.S., but Austrian privacy proponent Max Schrems claimed American national security laws did not guard E.U. citizens against government surveillance of their data. European statutes stipulate that data can only be transferred out of the bloc if appropriate safeguards are deployed, but the ECJ determined personal data is insufficiently protected from U.S. surveillance programs. The court also said, "The requirements of U.S. national security, public interest, and law enforcement have primacy, thus condoning interference with the fundamental rights of persons whose data are transferred."

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The Twitter logo bird illustrated as a picked lock. A Hacker Used Twitter's Own 'Admin' Tool to Spread Cryptocurrency Scam
Zack Whittaker
July 15, 2020

A hacker this week accessed an "admin" tool on Twitter to commandeer prominent Twitter accounts to spread a cryptocurrency scam, according to a person with direct knowledge of the incident. This person said the hacker ("Kirk") generated more than $100,000 in just hours by using the tool to reset the email addresses of targeted accounts so account-holders had more difficulty regaining control; the scam claimed whatever funds a victim sent "will be sent back double." The person theorized that Kirk accessed the tool by hijacking a Twitter employee's corporate account. Twitter verified that it suffered "a coordinated social engineering attack by people who successfully targeted some of our employees with access to internal systems and tools." Twitter briefly suspended certain account actions, and prevented verified users from tweeting, to stem the exploits.

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A closeup of the chewing robot Robot Jaws Show Medicated Chewing Gum Could Be the Future
University of Bristol News (U.K.)
July 14, 2020

A study by researchers at the University of Bristol in the U.K. found that the use of a chewing robot with built-in humanoid jaws could help pharmaceutical companies develop medicated chewing gum. The robot contained artificial saliva and closely replicated the human chewing motion in a closed environment. This allowed the researchers to compare the amount of xylitol remaining in the gum after chewing by the robot and by human study participants; both categories of participants had similar xylitol release rates. Said Bristol Dental School's Nicola West, "The most convenient drug administration route to patients is through oral delivery methods. This research, utilizing a novel humanoid artificial oral environment, has the potential to revolutionize investigation into oral drug release and delivery."

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Latex rubber parts printed at 100-micron resolution. Innovations Lead to 3D-Printed Latex Rubber Breakthrough
Virginia Tech News
July 13, 2020

Researchers at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) have created a process to three-dimensionally (3D) print latex rubber, which could pave the way for printing elastic materials in complex geometric shapes for applications such as soft robotics, medical devices, and shock absorbers. The researchers chemically modified liquid latexes to make them printable, and built a custom 3D printer with an embedded computer vision system. Because liquid latex is extremely fragile and difficult to alter, the researchers built a scaffold around the latex particles to keep the structure in place, allowing for the addition of photoinitiators and other compounds to enable 3D printing with ultraviolet (UV) light. A camera embedded in the printer allows the machine to see the interaction of UV light on the latex resin surface and automatically adjusts printing parameters to reduce resin scattering.

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AI Predicts Which Planetary Systems Will Survive
Princeton University
Liz Fuller-Wright
July 13, 2020

Princeton University researchers have developed an artificial intelligence that works with simplified models of planets' dynamical interactions to speed up calculations of orbital stability, a key measurement of planetary systems' likelihood of survival. Princeton's Daniel Tamayo and colleagues created the Stability of Planetary Orbital Configurations Klassifier (SPOCK) model to simulate planetary systems for 10,000 orbits, rather than for 1 billion orbits as traditional calculations require. From this, the researchers calculated 10 summary metrics that captured the system's resonant dynamics, then trained a machine learning algorithm to predict from these metrics whether the configuration's stability would persist if it continued to 1 billion orbits. Princeton's Michael Strauss said, "With this, we can hope to understand in detail the full range of solar system architectures that nature allows."

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Black-and-white pinwheel pattern hidden around the corner. On right is what the camera sees looking at the polarized light reflected off the wall. Engineering Researchers Develop Camera System to See Around Corners
UCLA Samueli Newsroom
July 14, 2020

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the Nara Institute of Science and Technology in Japan have developed a camera that can see around corners using the same phenomenon one observes when looking through polarized sunglasses. The researchers set in front of the camera lens a polarizer that only allows certain oscillation states to reach the lens. They also developed a novel algorithm that rearranges the polarization of light off a wall to show objects hidden around a corner. Said UCLA's Achuta Kadambi, "If the technology can be successfully applied to cameras enabling them to see around corners, it could help autonomous cars avoid accidents at blind spots, or allow biomedical engineers to create endoscopes that can help doctors see around organs."

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An artist’s depiction of highly compressed saltwater at high temperatures. UChicago Scientists Model How Saltwater Behaves Deep Below Earth's Surface
UChicago News
Emily Ayshford
July 14, 2020

University of Chicago (UChicago) Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering researchers, working with colleagues at the University of California, Davis, developed complex computer simulations to improve their understanding of the properties of salt in water deep beneath the Earth's surface. The team created a model of saltwater based on quantum mechanical calculations, and used it to identify key molecular changes relative to ambient conditions. Said UChicago's Giulia Galli, "Our simulations represent the first study of the free energy of salts in water under pressure. That lays the foundation to understand the influence of salt present in water at high pressure and temperature, such as the conditions of the Earth's mantle."

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LeakyPick, a device that monitors a network that has an Amazon Echo connected. This Device Keeps Voice Assistants From Snooping on You
Ars Technica
Dan Goodin
July 14, 2020

A team of researchers from Germany's Darmstadt University, France's University of Paris Saclay, and North Carolina State University has developed a Raspberry Pi-based device that eventually may be able to warn users when Amazon's Alexa and other voice assistants are snooping on people. The researcher said the $40-prototype LeakyPick tool detects the presence of devices that stream nearby audio to the Internet with 94% accuracy. LeakyPick periodically emits sounds and monitors subsequent network traffic to identify audio transmissions, triggering an alert whenever the identified devices are confirmed as streaming ambient sounds. LeakyPick also tests devices for words that incorrectly trigger the assistants, having to date found 89 words that prompt Alexa to send audio to Amazon.

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Three-dimensional renderings of simulated multi-bolus delivery to various brain structures. COMMANDing Drug Delivery
MIT News
Sabbi Lall
July 10, 2020

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers are using a computational approach to help deliver drugs that treat brain disorders more effectively. The new COMMAND (computational mapping algorithms for neural drug delivery) approach takes into account the irregular shape of the target brain region, which could facilitate a more specific form of drug delivery using a single catheter. The system aims to maximize on-target and minimize off-target drug delivery. Using computational simulations, the researchers were able to deliver drugs to both compact brain structures and to broader, more irregular regions. Said MIT's Ashvin Bashyam, "COMMAND applies a simple principle when determining where to place the drug: Maximize the amount of drug falling within the target brain structure and minimize tissues exposed beyond the target region."

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Japanese Robot to Clock In at Convenience Store
Tim Kelly; Kevin Buckland
July 15, 2020

In August, a robot from Japanese developer Telexistence will prepare food at a FamilyMart convenience store, with plans to expand its deployment to about 20 outlets in Tokyo by 2022. Human operators initially will operate the Model T robots remotely with virtual reality goggles and motion-sensor controls until their artificial intelligence can learn to mimic human movements. Telexistence uses human operators to train its robots, which is far less expensive than complex programming. The Model T vaguely resembles a kangaroo, a design choice meant to put shoppers at ease by avoiding a more unsettling humanlike appearance.

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Google, Amazon, J&J Join WHO to Fight Covid-Era Smoking
Tiffany Kary
July 10, 2020

Google, Amazon, and Johnson & Johnson have joined the World Health Organization (WHO)'s effort to combat the global Covid-19 pandemic's threat to smokers, partly with artificial intelligence (AI). The joint Access Initiative for Quitting Tobacco program includes nicotine patches and AI-driven support to help smokers quit at once. New Zealand technology company Soul Machines contributed to the program "Florence," an AI-powered digital health worker persona that helps with mental aspects of addiction. Soul Machines' Greg Cross said Florence can be accessed worldwide via WHO's website, and he credits its effectiveness to its elimination of fear of human judgment among users. WHO said the program will launch with a pilot in Jordan, which has some of the highest tobacco use rates in the world, followed by an eventual rollout to other countries.

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2020 ACM Transactions on Internet of Things (TIOT)
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