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Welcome to the August 3, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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In the Wake of Overnight Digital Transformation, Demand for Technology Skills Training Surges
Joe McKendrick
August 1, 2020

A survey of 937 professionals by the Netwrix software company found the Covid-19 pandemic has forced organizations to digitally transform their operations virtually overnight, resulting in exploding demand for information technology (IT) skills training. The percentage of CIOs and IT directors planning to invest in IT education has nearly doubled from 20% in late 2019 to 38% today. Meanwhile, with hiring freezes imposed at many organizations, 31% of respondents view educating their current IT workforce as an excellent solution to the skills shortage. A just-issued report from the U.S. Congress Bipartisan Policy Center also highlighted the need for more artificial intelligence (AI) education and training, so public and private-sector organizations can keep up in the global economy. Professionals hoping to build their AI skills can avail themselves of a wealth of free or low-cost resources from top universities worldwide.

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Australian Watchdog Accuses Google of Privacy Breaches
Associated Press
Rod McGuirk
July 27, 2020

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has filed suit against Google for allegedly misleading millions of Australian account holders about the use of their personal data. In 2016, Google began combining users' personal Google account information with information from their activity on non-Google sites that used Google technology to display ads; the ACCC alleges Google "did not obtain explicit consent from customers" to do so. Said ACCC's Rod Sims, "Consumers effectively pay for Google's services with their data, so this change introduced by Google increased the 'price' of Google's services, without consumers' knowledge." Google argues account holders were asked to "consent via prominent and easy-to-understand notifications." The court action comes as ACCC plans to issue draft rules for global digital platforms, like Facebook, to pay fair compensation for the journalistic content they use amid declining advertising revenue for legacy media due to the pandemic.

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High-Capacity Embedded Memories Use Half as Much Silicon
EPFL (Switzerland)
Cecilia Carron
July 31, 2020

Researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) and Israel's Bar Ilan University have designed embedded memories that halve the amount of silicon needed for a given storage capacity, while lowering power requirements. The GC-eDRAM memory requires just two or three transistors to store one bit, versus six or eight in conventional static random-access memory (SRAM). This opens space on chips to add more memory, or to shrink them to make room for other components while requiring less power to process a given amount of data. Working with leading semiconductor manufacturers, the team tested the GC-eDRAM on 16-nanometer to 180-nanometer chips containing about a dozen integrated circuits, with an embedded memory capacity of up to 1 megabyte. "Manufacturers can replace the existing memory on their chips with ours, without having to change anything else," said EPFL's Andreas Burg.

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SAP logo at SAP headquarters SAP, Deutsche Telekom to Build Corona App Gateway for European Commission
Busvine. Douglas
July 31, 2020

The European Commission (EC) has signed a contract under which Germany's SAP and Deutsche Telekom will build a cross-border software platform to enable communication between coronavirus contact-tracing applications. The gateway's objective is to help slow Covid-19 by logging encounters between people traveling abroad and issuing push warnings should one become infected. This roaming function would be an add-on to Bluetooth-based smartphone tracker apps, which currently only operate within national borders. SAP and Deutsche Telekom, which designed Germany's Corona-Warn-App, proposed the gateway in June, when European Union countries agreed on a framework to make the apps interoperable. EC spokesperson Johannes Bahrke said it should be possible to launch a pilot gateway in three to four weeks.

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Ultra-Low-Power Brain Implants Find Meaningful Signal in Gray Matter Noise
University of Michigan News
July 27, 2020

University of Michigan (UMich) researchers have reduced the power requirements of neural interfaces by an estimated 90% and enhanced their accuracy in identifying intention by designing an ultra-low-power brain implant. The team compressed brain signals by exclusively monitoring spiking-band power (SBP), an integrated set of frequencies from multiple neurons ranging from 300 Hz to 1,000 Hz. This facilitated highly accurate prediction of behavior with dramatically reduced power needs. The method is as accurate as transcutaneous systems while requiring only a tenth as many signals, and can predict neuron firing more accurately, even amid gray matter noise. UMich's Samuel Nason said this achievement opens up many existing devices to brain-machine interface applications.

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Engineer and researcher William English testing the first computer mouse. William English, Who Helped Build the Computer Mouse, Dies at 91
The New York Times
Cade Metz
July 31, 2020

William English, who helped build the first computer mouse, has died at the age of 91. English and fellow engineer Douglas Engelbart created the mouse at the Stanford Research Institute (now SRI International) in the mid-1960s, and demonstrated in 1968 that it could navigate a screen faster than any other device developed at the institute. Contained within a pinewood case, the mouse consisted of two potentiometers that tracked the movement of two wheels as they moved across a desktop. The mouse was part of the experimental oNLine System (NLS) computer, which also demonstrated early forms of online text editing, videoconferencing, and hypertext. English later joined the fledgling Palo Alto Research Center, and helped adapt many NLS concepts for the Alto system, which became a model for the Apple Macintosh.

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Mentoring Program Aims to Create Israel's Next Leading Cyber Experts
The Jerusalem Post
Tobias Siegal
July 30, 2020

A national mentoring program in Israel aims to encourage young girls currently enrolled in technologically oriented classes in school to pursue positions in the field during and after their military service. The program stems from a partnership between Cybereason, a leading cyber company in Israel, and 'At', an initiative that works to empower high school girls and encourage technological leadership. The students will be mentored by notable Israeli women from various technological fields, including cyber experts, engineers, software developers, technical infrastructure managers, and product managers. 'At' will receive support from Cybereason to create a designated cyber program as part of its offerings, which aim to provide girls with tools to achieve mental, economic, and personal independence. Said Cybereason's Rinat Kapuza, "Today, more than 30% of Cybereason employees are women, mostly working in our technological departments. The aim is of course reaching 50%, the ratio of women in the general population."

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Lillian Kay Petersen, a 17-year old from Los Alamos, N.M., was named winner of the 2020 Regeneron Science Talent Search. High School Senior's Tool to End Food Insecurity Wins National Competition
Reena Advani
July 30, 2020

Lillian Kay Petersen, a high school senior from Los Alamos, NM, developed a scientific model that aims to reduce food insecurity by predicting crop yields. Her project won first place and $250,000 in the Regeneron Science Talent Search science and math competition for high school seniors. Petersen analyzed daily satellite imagery on known domestic crop data, applied the data to countries in Africa, and accurately predicted crop yields. She began monitoring droughts in Africa during her sophomore year, then published her first paper on the subject in a peer-reviewed journal less than two years later. Petersen, who plans to attend Harvard University in the fall, recently met with the International Food Policy Research Institute to discuss the impact of the global pandemic on crop production in Africa.

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Intel AI System Rates Similarity of 2 Pieces of Code
Kyle Wiggers
July 29, 2020

Intel scientists collaborating with Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Georgia Institute of Technology researchers said they have created an automated engine that determines when two pieces of code perform similar tasks, even if they utilize different structures and algorithms. Machine Inferred Code Similarity (MISIM) employs a context-aware semantic structure (CASS) that deduces the purpose of a given piece of source code using artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms. Once the code's structure is integrated with CASS, algorithms assign similarity scores according to the tasks the code is designed to execute. If two pieces of code seem distinct but perform the same function, the models rate them as similar, and vice versa. MISIM performs up to 40 times better than current state-of-the-art systems, and shows potential for use on applications ranging from code recommendation to automated debugging.

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Some 3D-printed bricks. Scientists Engineer 3D-Printed Bricks That Aid in Bone, Soft Tissue Repair
Interesting Engineering
Loukia Papadopoulos
July 25, 2020

Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University have built three-dimensionally printed bricks that can be used to heal broken bones and damaged soft tissue. Measuring 0.06 inches cubed, the Lego-inspired bricks act as scaffolding on which both hard and soft tissue can regrow, with small amounts of gel containing various growth factors inserted into the hollow blocks and placed where needed most. The cubes also function like "microcages" and can be stacked in thousands of different configurations to repair complex bone fractures. The study found that in rat bones, the blocks resulted in three times more blood vessel growth than conventional scaffolding material.

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Steampunk Venus Rover Ideas Win NASA Contest to 'Explore Hell' With Clockwork Robots
Elizabeth Howell
July 27, 2020

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) received 572 entries from 82 countries in a contest to generate ideas for replacing traditional spacecraft sensors in its future Venus rover. Based on these ideas, "rollers and fenders" could replace the sensors, which would not last long on a hot planet like Venus, whose environment has destroyed other spacecraft within minutes of landing. The new rover would rely less on computers and advanced equipment, instead featuring a steampunk-like design that depends on a small wind turbine and springs for movement. Said JPL's Jonathan Sauder, "There were so many great ideas and well-developed concepts that in addition to first, second, and third place, we decided to add two finalists and another 10 honorable mentions in recognition of the amazing work people put into this project."

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A prostate biopsy with cancer probability. AI Identifies Prostate Cancer With Near-Perfect Accuracy
July 27, 2020

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) trained an artificial intelligence (AI) program to recognize and characterize prostate cancer, achieving the highest accuracy rate to date. The researchers used images from more than 1 million parts of stained tissue slides taken from patient biopsies to train the AI, then tested the algorithm on a set of 1,600 slides from 100 consecutive patients seen for suspected prostate cancer. The AI demonstrated 98% sensitivity and 97% specificity at detecting prostate cancer. The algorithm also is the first to achieve high performance for tumor grading, sizing, and invasion of the surrounding nerves. Said UPMC's Rajiv Dhir, "Algorithms like this are especially useful in lesions that are atypical. A nonspecialized person may not be able to make the correct assessment." Dhir added that new algorithms will need to be trained to detect other types of cancer.

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Hardness of Approximation Between P and NP
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