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Welcome to the July 20, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Twitter + Covid symbols in front of a globe. Study Says Twitter Effectively Communicates Pediatric Critical Care Info During a Pandemic
Johns Hopkins Medicine Newsroom
July 14, 2020

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine have determined that Twitter is an effective tool for communicating pediatric critical care information during a pandemic. The researchers looked at how effectively the hashtag #PedsICU, with or without a corresponding Covid-19 hashtag, spread the word about Covid-19 to pediatric intensive care units worldwide. From Feb. 1 to May 2, they counted 49,865 tweets with #PedsICU, 21,538 (43%) of which also included a Covid-19 hashtag. They found that users who tweeted the tandem hashtags were located on six continents, most from North America and Australia. The most popular tweets during this period were links to medical literature, reviews, educational videos, and other open-access resources.

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Siri, Alexa Targeted as E.U. Probes Internet of Things
Aoife White; Natalia Drozdiak; Chris Elser
July 16, 2020

The European Commission announced an antitrust investigation into the Internet of Things, targeting voice assistants such as Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa. The probe concerns how Silicon Valley uses data to dominate growing markets, and European Union (E.U.) Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said voice assistants are central because they control how users interact with things. Such products give technology firms access to sensitive data about consumers at a time when they continue to collect information, worrying regulators this could quash competition. The E.U. said companies favoring their own products or setting strict terms on industry standards could impel dominant digital ecosystems and gatekeepers. For example, voice requests to buy products could circumvent competitors by immediately directing purchases to a single shopping website, like Amazon.

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A road in Utah. Utah, Georgia Install Tech That Lets Roads Talk
The Wall Street Journal
Scott Calvert
July 17, 2020

Utah and Georgia are testing vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technology installed in roads to alert drivers to hazards. V2X involves equipping cars with radios that constantly emit anonymized data like speed, tire traction level, and windshield-wiper status up to 10 times a second. Roadside sensors ingest this data for analysis to determine what is happening with individual vehicles and on the road overall, then issue alerts to dashboard screens or smartphones in time for drivers to take action. Panasonic has partnered with both states’ Departments of Transportation on projects to demonstrate V2X capability on its Cirrus cloud computing platform. Panasonic's Chris Armstrong said V2X can transmit alerts for specific cars and diagnose recurrent problems on stretches of road "so that we can then predict it and prevent it."

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The system uses a pair of soft robotic grippers with high-resolution tactile sensors to manipulate freely moving cables. Letting Robots Manipulate Cables
MIT News
Rachel Gordon
July 13, 2020

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory have developed a system that enables robots to manipulate freely moving cables using a pair of soft robotic grippers with high-resolution tactile sensors. The system could one day allow robots to help humans with tasks like tying knots, wire shaping, and surgical suturing. The researchers built a two-fingered gripper that, in combination with a second gripper, enabled the robot to follow a USB cable using a hand-over-hand motion. The robot also was able to manipulate cables of different materials and thicknesses, and even to plug earbuds into a jack.

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AI Agents Can Learn to Communicate Effectively
Chalmers University of Technology (Sweden)
Monica Havstrom; Anneli Andersson
July 16, 2020

Researchers from Sweden's Chalmers University of Technology and University of Gothenburg developed a framework to study the evolution of language as a tool for describing mental concepts, by enabling artificial intelligence agents to effectively communicate. The team trained the agents with reinforcement learning, teaching them to communicate through feedback on how successfully they communicated mental concepts. The process involved a referential game with a sender and a listener, with the sender seeing and describing a color by uttering a word from a glossary to the listener, which attempts to reconstruct the color. Both agents received a shared reward according to the reconstruction's precision, and the agents had to agree on the meaning of the words during multiple rounds of gameplay. Gothenburg's Asad Sayeed said, "This research provides the fundamental principles to develop conversational agents such as Siri and Alexa that communicate with human language."

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The heat map at right shows computer manipulation of the image at left. Deepfake Used to Attack Activist Couple Shows New Disinformation Frontier
Raphael Satter
July 15, 2020

A student at the U.K.'s University of Birmingham has been unmasked as fictional by state-of-the-art forensic analysis programs from Israel-based startup Cyabra, which determined his online profile photo is a deepfake—a hyper-realistic digital forgery. Reuters investigated one "Oliver Taylor" after he accused London academic Mazen Masri and his wife, Palestinian rights activist Ryvka Barnard, of being "known terrorist sympathizers." Six experts identified background distortions and inconsistencies, glitches around the neck and collar, and other features in Taylor's online image as deepfake telltales. Cyabra founder Dan Brahmy said personas like Taylor, a rare example of deepfakes integrated with disinformation, are dangerous because they can construct "a totally untraceable identity." Publications including the Times of Israel published articles Taylor authored, and Times of Israel opinion editor Miriam Herschlag said such deepfake personas could distort public discourse, and make editors less willing to publish unknown writers.

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Researchers 3D-Print Working Heart Pump with Real Human Cells
University of Minnesota Twin Cities
July 15, 2020

Researchers at the universities of Minnesota (UMN) and Alabama three-dimensionally (3D) printed a functioning human heart pump in a laboratory. After failed attempts to print actual heart muscle cells, the team optimized specialized ink constituted from extracellular matrix proteins, blended it with human stem cells, and used these to print the chambered structure. The stem cells were initially expanded to high cell densities in the structure, then differentiated into heart muscle cells. The researchers successfully realized high cell density within less than a month to allow the cells to beat together, as in a human heart. UMN's Brenda Ogle said, "We now have a model to track and trace what is happening at the cell and molecular level in pump structure that begins to approximate the human heart."

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Machine Learning Helps Robot Swarms Coordinate
Caltech News
July 13, 2020

California Institute of Technology (Caltech) engineers have designed a machine learning technique to govern the coordinated movement of flying robot swarms in order to avoid collisions. The method incorporates the Global-to-Local Safe Autonomy Synthesis (GLAS) algorithm that mimics a complete-information planner with local information, and Neural-Swarm, an enhanced swarm-tracking controller that learns complex aerodynamic interactions in close-proximity flight. These components eliminate the need for robots to obtain a complete image of their environment, or of their fellow robots' intended path; instead, they learn on-the-fly navigation, incorporating new data as they enter a "learned model" for movement. Tests with quadcopter swarms showed GLAS and Neural-Swarm outperformed state-of-the-art controllers. Caltech's Yisong Yue said, "These projects demonstrate the potential of integrating modern machine-learning methods into multi-agent planning and control, and also reveal exciting new directions for machine-learning research."

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Microsoft Urges Patching Severe-Impact, Wormable Server Vulnerability
Ars Technica
Dan Goodin
July 14, 2020

Researchers at the security firm Check Point discovered a vulnerability that resides in Windows DNS and allows attackers to assume control of entire networks with no user interaction. The SigRed vulnerability is "wormable," meaning it can spread quickly from computer to computer. SigRed does not apply to client versions of Windows but is present in 2003-2019 server versions. Check Point researchers said it does not appear the vulnerability is actively under exploit, but that likely will change. Said Check Point's Sagi Tzadik, "Successful exploitation of this vulnerability would have a severe impact, as you can often find unpatched Windows Domain environments, especially Domain Controllers. In addition, some Internet service providers may even have set up their public DNS servers as WinDNS." Microsoft has issued a fix as part of this month's Update Tuesday and is urging Windows server customers to install the patch as soon as possible.

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Neuroscientists Identify Brain Cells That Help Humans Adapt to Change
Vanderbilt University
Marissa Shapiro
July 15, 2020

Vanderbilt University researchers used computer simulation to help identify the location of the small number of neurons in the human brain that handle cognitive flexibility. The discovery is important in understanding and treating mental illnesses rooted in cognitive flexibility, the ability to adjust to new environments and concepts. The group of brain cells was discovered below the outer cortical mantle in the basal ganglia. The researchers identified them by measuring the activity of brain cells during computer-simulated real-work tasks. The simulation was developed in collaboration with scientists from the Centre for Vision Research at York University in Canada. Said Vanderbilt's Lisa Monteggia, "The ability to use technology to control a single cell with molecular and genetic tools can only work when scientists know where to look."

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Technology Speeds Up Organic Data Transfer
Newcastle University (UK)
July 17, 2020

An international research team including experts from the U.K.'s Newcastle University has developed a visible light communication (VLC) system that transfers data at 2.2 megabytes per second (Mbps) via a new class of far-red/near-infrared, solution-processed organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs). The setup's 2.2Mbps data rate is sufficiently high to support an indoor point-to-point link, with the potential for use in Internet of Things applications. The lack of toxic heavy metals in the active layer of the polymer OLEDs also adds to the VLC setup's promise for the integration of portable, wearable, or implantable organic biosensors with visible/near-invisible optical communication connections.

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scholarship Google Announces 100,000 Scholarships for Online Certificates in Data Analytics, Project Management, UX
Abigail Hess
July 13, 2020

Google has launched new online certificate programs in data analytics, project management, and user experience design, through the online learning platform Coursera. The courses will be taught by Google employees, do not require a college degree, and can be completed in three to six months. The search giant said it will consider these certificates equivalent to a four-year college degree for related roles at the company. Google will fund 100,000 need-based scholarships for individuals enrolled in the programs and provide more than $10 million in grants to YWCA, NPower, and JFF, which partner with the company on workforce development opportunities for women, veterans, and underrepresented Americans.

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Using AI to Enhance Complex Systems
EPFL (Switzerland)
Sarah Perrin
July 16, 2020

Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) have created a method for automatically determining what data must be fed into a complex system in order to achieve a desired result. Their algorithm worked out the necessary data to be input into a fiber-optic network, as demonstrated via an image projection system. The system was a maze-like network of lasers, in which data-conveying beams passed from one magnifying glass to the next and from one fiber to the next, with information decoded on a screen as a series of green images. EPFL's Babak Rahmani said, "Without our algorithm, the information needed to create each image would have to be recalculated each time. But with our algorithm, the system learns how to do that automatically."

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The Handbook of Multimodal-Multisensor Interfaces - Volume III
2020 ACM Transactions on Computing for Healthcare (HEALTH)

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