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Welcome to the July 29, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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A 3D bioprinter extruding a “bioink” with suspended human cells to create a trilayer tissue structure. A Possible Weapon Against the Pandemic: Printing Human Tissue
The New York Times
Ellen Rosen
July 27, 2020

Researchers at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) and elsewhere are three-dimensionally (3D) printing human tissue or organoids to test drugs to fight Covid-19. WFIRM's organoids form from a cellular-hydrogel "bioink" layered onto a biodegradable scaffold, while Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute scientists are printing skin using fibroblast cells, collagen scaffolds, and human endothelial and pericyte cells to form blood vessels. WFIRM's Anthony Atala said organoids allow researchers to analyze a medication's effects without complications from a patient's metabolism. The organoids represent organs in their purest form, and can generate data that clinical trials might not produce. Texas A&M University's Akhilesh Gaharwar said, "The 3D models can circumvent animal testing and make the pathway stronger from the lab to the clinic."

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The Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Technology Infuses Ancient Hajj Rites Tailored for Pandemic
Associated Press
Aya Batrawy
July 29, 2020

A small number of devout Muslims are being allowed to participate in the pilgrimage (hajj) to Mecca this year, tailored for the coronavirus pandemic with the latest technology. The Saudi health ministry provides electronic wristbands to pilgrims before they enter Mecca, in order to monitor their movements and ensure the quarantine is observed, while thermal scanners track their temperatures. During the prayer and repentance ritual on Mount Arafat, pilgrims will wear high-tech identity cards that connect to an application on their phones, which in addition to enabling government monitoring, allows pilgrims to contact their group leaders and request special meals. Pilgrims also have special apparel impregnated with silver nano technology that helps kill bacteria and makes clothing water-resistant.

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A Cyberattack on Garmin Disrupted More Than Workouts
Lily Hay Newman
July 27, 2020

The navigation and fitness firm Garmin last week was hit by a ransomware attack that took down numerous services. In addition to affecting Garmin Connect, the cloud platform that syncs user activity data, and portions of, the hack resulted in days-long outages for the flyGarmin and Garmin Pilot app, impacting flight-planning mechanisms and the ability to update mandatory Federal Aviation Administration aeronautical databases. The hack highlights the threat that ransomware poses across industries. The Front Range Flight School in Colorado said the hack temporarily grounded one plane due to the inability to update the databases for the Garmin 430, which is used for navigation. Although tablet apps are used by pilots as backups to flight plan and navigation systems, those using Garmin Pilot did not have access to that failsafe.

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Black Tech Professionals Still Paid Less Than Their White Colleagues
IEEE Spectrum
Tekla S. Perry
July 28, 2020

Job search firm Hired estimated that black technology professionals last year were offered an average yearly wage of $10,000 less than white workers, a minor improvement over the 2018 gap of $11,000. Hispanic tech professionals currently earn $3,000 less than whites compared to $7,000 in 2019, while Asian professionals earn slightly more than their white peers. Tech professionals in each racial group identifying as female received lower average salary offers than men. Tech salaries in the San Francisco Bay Area topped the list, averaging $155,000 for a 7% year-over-year gain; tech workers in Austin, TX, and Toronto, Canada, experienced the highest boost in salary offers, at 10% over 2018. Although Hired's findings that tech salaries in 2019 increased in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. were promising, closures and mass layoffs due to the coronavirus pandemic have created widescale uncertainty.

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UNSW Scientists Up Coherence Time of Spin-Orbit Quantum Computing Qubit in Silicon
Asha Barbaschow
July 21, 2020

Scientists at Australia's University of New South Wales (UNSW) said they have significantly boosted the coherence time of a spin-orbit quantum bit (qubit) in silicon, extending the preservation of quantum information 10,000-fold. In spin-orbit qubits, data is stored on the spin of the electron as well as its motion, with stability determined by the coupling between the two spins. Former UNSW researcher Takashi Kobayashi said in their model, "The information is stored in the orientation of the spin and orbit of the electron, not just the spin. The circular orbit of the charged electron and the spin are locked together like gears due to the very strong attraction in the spin-orbit coupling."

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Boston Dynamics’ Spot dog-like robot. Ford to Use Boston Dynamics Robots to Map Manufacturing Facilities
Darrell Etherington
July 27, 2020

Ford will use two of Boston Dynamics' Spot robots to help the automaker update the original engineering plans of a transmission manufacturing plant, as a pilot program. The four-legged, dog-like robots will employ onboard laser scanners and cameras to generate detailed maps that engineers can use to upgrade and overhaul the facility. The Spot dogs continuously rove and scan, which should cut mapping time by up to 50%. The robots also can operate for up to two hours at a speed of about 3 mph, and their small size and nimble navigation enables them to map areas that may be inaccessible to people.

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New York state Sen. Luis Sepúlveda, one of nine co-sponsors on a state senate bill to ban geofence warrants. Police Requests for Google Users' Location Histories Face New Scrutiny
The Wall Street Journal
David Uberti
July 27, 2020

Police use of "geofence" warrants is being disputed by criminal defendants in Virginia and San Francisco, and could be banned by lawmakers in New York in what are considered the tactic's first legal and political challenges. These warrants involve scanning geographic areas and time periods for suspects through user location histories stored by tech companies. In both legal cases, police used data from Google. To maintain as much user privacy as possible, Google searches its entire database of accounts with location history enabled to determine which users passed through the general area during the specified time period and compiles the information into an anonymized data set for police. However, authorities may try to compel Google to de-anonymize account data to identify specific users. If Google complies, privacy advocates are worried police will seek similar data from fitness trackers, ride-share apps, and other companies.

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How AI Systems Use Mad Libs to Teach Themselves Grammar
Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence
Edmund L. Andrews
July 23, 2020

Artificial intelligence (AI) researchers at Stanford University determined that advanced AI systems can work out linguistic principles like grammar by themselves, by essentially playing billions of fill-in-the-blank games similar to Mad Libs. The systems gradually produce their own models of word interrelationships, becoming increasingly better at predicting missing words. In one study, researchers used Google's BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) language-processing model, and observed that it was learning sentence structure to identify nouns and verbs as well as subjects, objects, and predicates. This enhanced its ability to extract the true meaning of sentences that might otherwise be confusing. A second study using BERT found that the model apparently could infer universal grammatical relationships that apply to many different languages, which should make it easier for systems that learn one language to learn more, even if they appear to have few commonalities.

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Ant Algorithms Help Fleet Operators Halve Emissions
The Engineer (U.K.)
July 27, 2020

Researchers at Aston University in the U.K. have developed software that imitates how ants share knowledge, in an effort to help cities and towns reduce emissions and achieve clean air targets. The researchers found that ants can keep a record of the best solutions to problems and update their knowledge similarly to how computer algorithms do so. The researchers were able to improve these ant algorithms to reduce the number of decisions they make and apply that knowledge to city-scale fleet-routing problems. Said Aston's Darren Chitty, "Algorithms based on the foraging behavior of ants have long been used to solve vehicle routing problems, but now we have found how to scale these up to city-size fleets operating over several weeks in much less time than before. It means much larger fleet optimization problems can be tackled within reasonable timescales using software a user can put on their laptop."

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Technology Makes Homes More Energy Independent, Helps Divert Power During Blackouts
Texas A&M University Engineering
Vandana Suresh
July 23, 2020

Researchers from Texas A&M University, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and utility Dominion Energy have designed a smart technology to help utilities better serve communities struck by outages. Their power electronics intelligence at the network edge (PINE) device enhances energy delivery between residential solar-power systems and the electrical grid. Installed outside the home, PINE features three main connections: one entering the home, one connecting to the grid, and a third to solar panels and batteries. PINE regulates the flow of electricity in any of these directions, and is programmable to allow authorized external control over how much grid electricity reaches solar-powered homes. Texas A&M's Le Xie said, "During power outages, PINE allows homes to be self-sufficient and use their solar power efficiently," and "also allows the utility company to wirelessly instruct PINE systems to limit the grid current to solar-powered homes and redirect it to other affected areas."

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Vanderbilt Develops Computational Method to Explore Evolution's Influence on Preterm Birth
Vanderbilt News Service
Marissa Shapiro
July 24, 2020

Researchers from Vanderbilt University and the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center created a computational technique to show how spontaneous preterm birth (sPTB) is influenced by multiple evolutionary forces. Vanderbilt's Tony Capra said, "Our approach integrates techniques developed in labs from all over the world to quantify how natural selection has influenced genomic regions involved with complex diseases. We hypothesized that parts of our genome involved in disease might experience contrasting evolutionary pressures due to their involvement in multiple and different traits." The researchers applied the computational method to a genome-wide association study on sPTB, and determined that genomic regions associated with the disorder have undergone multiple types of natural selection. The outcomes suggest that such regions have experienced diverse evolutionary forces, offering insights into the biological functions of some of these regions.

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A woman wearing a mask. Face Masks Thwarting Facial Recognition Tech
Popular Mechanics
Courtney Linder
July 28, 2020

A preliminary study by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) determined that 89 commercially available facial-recognition algorithms could not identify people wearing digital face masks between 5% and 50% of the time, compared to images of the same people without masks. The NIST researchers arranged "one-to-one" matching experiments, in which the algorithms must match one photo of a person with a different photo of the same individual. The results indicated that the presence of a mask is more likely to induce a failure to enroll or template error, thwarting comparison to another photo. Masks that covered the subject's nose more also led to more errors. NIST will test the accuracy of algorithms intentionally designed with masked faces in mind, and will execute one-to-many verification tests to assess facial-recognition systems' performance in matching a masked individual to a database.

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UVA Pioneers Study of Genetic Diseases with Quantum Computers
UVA Health Newsroom
July 22, 2020

Scientists at the University of Virginia (UVA) School of Medicine have developed an algorithm to enable investigation of genetic diseases with quantum computers. UVA's Stefan Bekiranov said the genetic sample classifier is designed to run on an actual IBM quantum computer, and was built on pioneering quantum machine learning algorithms developed by Maria Schuld, whom Bekiranov described as “a pioneer in developing implementable, near-term, quantum machine learning algorithms.” The algorithm can ascertain whether a test sample originates from a disease or control sample exponentially faster than a conventional computer. The algorithm will help scientists mine vast datasets required for genetic research, and also serves as a proof-of-concept of the technology's utility for such research.

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