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Welcome to the July 31, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover launch. NASA Launched Its New Perseverance Rover to Mars
Daniel Oberhaus
July 30, 2020

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on Thursday launched its new Mars rover, Perseverance, whose primary mission is to find and sample possible signs of ancient life in the Martian soil for return to Earth by a future robotic mission. Perseverance also is equipped with the first microphone on Mars to record its descent, a zoomable camera, and a lightweight helicopter drone. During descent, cameras will feed images to machine vision algorithms running on a dedicated computer, which will divert Perseverance to a different landing site if it goes off course. After landing, the rover will detach the autonomous helicopter, Ingenuity, from its belly to collect data that will guide the design of larger aircraft for future Mars missions.

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A scientist in his lab. Potential Covid-19 Vaccines Get Boost From Machine Learning
Rachel Gordon
July 27, 2020

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory have developed a machine learning system that selects peptides predicted to provide high population coverage for a vaccine. The OptiVax system first identifies and scores all possible peptide fragments from viral or tumor proteins that would be good vaccine candidates, based on their ability to elicit an immune response. The system then designs a vaccine to maximize population coverage in different geographical regions, and from the number of peptides displayed per individual to improve the odds of conferring immunity. The researchers used OptiVax to assess a common vaccine design based on the spike protein for Covid-19 that is currently undergoing clinical trials, and devised an enhancement to improve its population coverage with additional peptides.

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Volunteer Hacker Army Boosts U.S. Election Cybersecurity
NBC News
Kevin Collier
July 30, 2020

A University of Chicago program aims to strengthen U.S. election security by enlisting qualified experts to aid local election officials who may otherwise lack access to cybersecurity services and qualified specialists. The Election Cyber Surge initiative will allow election officials to select areas of concern, then choose from a list of professionals willing to help via phone or video chat. The initiative will start with about 50 vetted volunteers, most of whom were identified through a university database of trusted cybersecurity professionals, and who have at least 10 years of field experience. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has been warning since last fall that voter registration systems and county governments are especially vulnerable to ransomware, and criminal gangs regularly target local government networks with unpatched bugs.

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IBM Q System One. IBM Partners with Japanese Business, Academia in Quantum Computing
Sam Nussey
July 30, 2020

IBM has launched a research partnership with Japanese industry and academia to expedite quantum computing innovations. The Quantum Innovation Initiative Consortium, which includes Toshiba and Hitachi, will have access to IBM's U.S. quantum computers via the cloud, as well as to the IBM Q System One slated for deployment in Japan next year. Other members of the consortium, which will be based at the University of Tokyo, include Toyota Motor, as well as Japanese financial institutions and chemical manufacturers. The partnership aims to boost Japan's quantum skill base and help companies develop quantum computing applications. "We're trying to build a quantum industry," said IBM Research’s Dario Gil.

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A U.S. Army cadet and intern with the JUDI interface. Army Research Enables Conversations Between Soldiers, Robots
U.S. Army Research Laboratory
July 27, 2020

Researchers from the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command's Army Research Laboratory (ARL) and the University of Southern California's Institute for Creative Technologies have developed the Joint Understanding and Dialogue Interface (JUDI) capability, enabling conversations between soldiers and autonomous systems. ARL's Matthew Marge said JUDI enables interactions in tactical operations in which verbal task instructions can be employed for command and control of a mobile robot, and allows such a robot to request clarification or provide status updates as tasks are completed. Said Marge, "JUDI's ability to leverage natural language will reduce the learning curve for soldiers who will need to control or team with robots, some of which may contribute different capabilities to a mission, like scouting or delivery of supplies."

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The air button on car dashboard, illustration Pandemic Drives Boom in 'Air Button' Technologies
Financial Times
Siddarth Venkataramakrishnan
July 26, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic is fueling an explosion in air button technologies, which allow users to operate devices without physical contact. One example is automaker Jaguar Land Rover, which is testing a "predictive touch" contactless movement-tracking system for its dashboard control panel, developed with the U.K.'s University of Cambridge. The system tracks and combines users' hand movements with data like eye movement to interpret which option users wish to select. Other companies are deploying "mid-air haptics" designed to mimic tactile sensation via ultrasound radiation. Through a deal with the U.S.-based CEN media group, mid-air haptics company UltraLeap's hand-tracking and ultrasonic technology will be installed atop existing advertising display and digital poster systems to allow customers to interact with media on screens without touching them.

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Developer, Data Science Jobs: U.S. Tech Is Taking a Worse Hit Than Other Sectors
Liam Tung
July 30, 2020

U.S. job-search platform Indeed said technology job postings over the past few weeks are down about 36% compared to the same period last year, trending lower than other sectors. New tech job postings started lagging other sectors in mid-May and have continued to decelerate, while overall job postings are down 21% year on year. Despite increased developer interest in coding languages R and Python, new data science job postings have fared worse versus the overall tech sector. Programming language popularity rater Tiobe thinks more searches for topics about R and Python could be driven by their increasing use by universities and healthcare to research coronavirus vaccines. New data scientist and information technology manager postings are down 43% and 45% respectively, according to Indeed, which also said software development jobs are down 35%, with artificial intelligence and machine learning job openings 29% below 2019 levels.

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AR Tool Shown to Help Surgeons Remotely Guide First Responders in Battlefield-Like Scenarios
Purdue University News
Kayla Wiles
July 27, 2020

Researchers from Purdue University and the Indiana University School of Medicine have developed and tested an augmented reality (AR) headset that helps surgeons remotely guide medics through performing surgery in simulated war zones. The System for Telementoring with Augmented Reality (STAR) transmits a recorded view of the operating environment to the surgeon, who employs a touchscreen to annotate the recording with drawings of how to complete a surgical procedure. First responders can see the surgeon's instructions directly on their view through the headset. Tests evaluated first responders performing cricothyroidotomies to open a blocked airway on a patient simulator in both indoor and outdoor settings, with battlefield-like visual and audio distractions; even those with little to no experience beforehand operated successfully after receiving instructions from surgeons through the system.

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NIH to Invest $58M to Catalyze Data Science, Health Research Innovation in Africa
U.S. National Institutes of Health
July 27, 2020

The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) has rolled out a five-year, $58-million initiative that aims to develop solutions for the most pressing clinical and public health problems in Africa by leveraging existing data and technologies. NIH’s Francis S. Collins said the Harnessing Data Science for Health Discovery and Innovation in Africa (DS-I Africa) initiative could "transform the field [of data science] and pay huge dividends — such as deploying low-cost technologies to improve health care in remote areas, and developing skilled scientists who can mine vast data collections to make discoveries that improve health for us all." The initiative intends to bring together data specialists, computer scientists, and engineers with biomedical researchers, clinicians, and other health experts to foster a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, in the hope that will result in new software solutions and technologies.

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A double screen full of text and code. Programming Language, Tool Ensure Code Will Compute as Intended
Carnegie Mellon University CyLab Security and Privacy Institute
Daniel Tkacik
July 29, 2020

A multi-institutional team of researchers led by Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) published Armada, a coding language and tool for high-performance concurrent programs that ensure code is mathematically proven to compute as intended. Concurrent programming requires complex coordination of multiple simultaneous executables to avoid interference, which can be a buggy process. CMU's Bryan Parno said, "From payroll systems to hospital records to any kind of e-commerce—they are all backed by databases, and databases are always going to be backed by concurrent software. Aside from simple programs, these days almost everything has some sort of concurrency to it." Armada has the flexibility to let users write code however they desire to run as fast as possible, while still ensuring it is provably correct.

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An infographic depicts connecting memory spread across a datacenter. 'Hiding' Network Latency for Fast Memory in Datacenters
The Michigan Engineer News Center
July 28, 2020

Leap, developed by University of Michigan (UMich) researchers, is a memory disaggregation solution that "hides" network latency for fast memory in datacenters. Latency is a problem in practical memory disaggregation due to a speed difference between local and remote memory access, with overheads introduced by the operating system compound the problem. UMich's Hasan Al Maruf and Mosharaf Chowdhury designed Leap to mask latency sources by prefetching pages wherever possible, and using more efficient data paths to jettison irrelevant disk-access features. Said Maruf, “This prefetching solution helps to hide the network latency, and the data path makes sure the operating system has no overhead.”

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A photo of a zebra finch perch on a branch. AI Model Developed to Identify Individual Birds Without Tagging
The Guardian (U.K.)
Patrick Barkham
July 27, 2020

Researchers from France's Center for Functional and Evolutionary Ecology (CEFE-CNRS), Germany's Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior, and institutes in Portugal and South Africa have developed an artificial intelligence (AI) model for identifying individual birds without tagging. The investigators used AI models developed to recognize individual birds from a photo of their backs while they were building nests. They built feeders with camera traps and sensors, which drew birds that already had tags, while antennae read their identity from the tags and activated the cameras. The AI models were trained on the images; when tested with images of individuals in different contexts, the models were over 90% accurate in identifying wild great tits and sociable weavers, and 87% for captive zebra finches. Said CEFE-CNRS' Andre Ferreira, "It removes the need for the human to be a data collector so researchers can spend more time thinking about the questions instead of collecting the data."

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The Czinger 21C has a 3D-printed aluminum chassis. 3D Printing, a Boon for Racers, Inches Closer for Carmakers
The New York Times
Roy Furchgott
July 30, 2020

Three-dimensional (3D) printing, of significant benefit to racers, is making gradual inroads into mainstream car manufacturing. Also known as additive manufacturing, 3D printing allows fabricators to build customized parts that were previously impossible to obtain, as well as creating new alloys beyond the capabilities of other types of manufacturing. Racing teams have used computer-aided design to construct digital blueprints of parts that can be 3D-printed in just days without expensive tooling, and tested on actual vehicles. Improvements in glue-based binder printing have produced durable metal parts better than laser sintering, which has encouraged Volkswagen (VW) to incrementally incorporate 3D printing into its manufacturing process, starting with customized trim and continuing to chassis parts on production vehicles by 2023.

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