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Welcome to the August 12, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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A classroom. Back to School? Look Out for Covid-Tracking Surveillance Tech
The Wall Street Journal
Julie Jargon
August 11, 2020

Surveillance technology deployed in schools to prevent or contain coronavirus infection raises issues about its effectiveness, as well as its post-pandemic applications. Some technologies, like Motorola Solutions' security and communications systems, are part of existing school security, modified to identify students on camera not wearing masks and tell how far apart they are, for example. Motorola Solutions' Mahesh Saptharishi said his company also offers software that can help with contact tracing by detecting physical characteristics like height or shirt color. Meanwhile, Raptor Technologies has enhanced its automated visitor and volunteer management systems by adding customizable health-screening questions to check-in kiosks. University of Washington law professor Ryan Calo expressed concern over whether such measures will be employed for potentially invasive uses like truancy detection after the Covid-19 crisis passes. "Often when measures are introduced for a specific purpose, they linger on because people become acclimated," said Calo.

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U.K. Court Says Face Recognition Violates Human Rights
Associated Press
Danica Kirka
August 11, 2020

The U.K. Court of Appeal ruled Tuesday that British police's use of facial recognition technology violates human rights and data protection laws. The court agreed with civil rights campaigner Ed Bridges' claim that South Wales Police caused him "distress" by scanning his face while shopping in 2017, and again when attending a peaceful anti-arms rally the following year. The judges determined the system was being used during tests in an unlawful manner, and based their decision on who is captured in the video surveillance and where. They said, "In relation to both of those questions, too much discretion is currently left to individual police officers." Although there was no clear evidence that the software was sexually or racially biased, the court directed law enforcement to take all reasonable measures to ensure it is free of such discrimination.

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A woman holding a baby. 3D Images From Ultrasounds Allow Blind Parents to Feel Their Infant's Face
The Washington Post
Debra Bruno
August 9, 2020

Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore can provide blind parents with three-dimensional (3D) models of their baby's face so they can "see" them before they are born, much like parents with sight get to see babies pre-birth via ultrasound imaging. The idea came out of a procedure developed at the hospital several years ago for fetuses with spina bifida, in which 3D printing was used to give surgeons a clear image of the spines of babies who needed surgery in utero, and provide them with 3D models the surgical team could use to practice the minimally invasive surgery ahead of time. John Hopkins Center for Fetal Therapy's Jena Miller said each print of a baby’s face takes about 3.5 hours and uses about $1.40 in materials.

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Quantum Computing Breakthrough as Scientists Find Possible Solution to Technology's Biggest Hurdle
The Independent (UK)
Andrew Griffin
August 10, 2020

A study by scientists at Australia's University of Sydney and Canada's University of Waterloo led to a possible solution to the biggest challenge in the development of large-scale quantum computers: controlling and eliminating "noise" or errors introduced by manipulation of quantum bits (qubits). The researchers designed algorithms that can function in larger-scale quantum computing devices. When applied to the IBM Quantum Experience platform, the algorithms successfully diagnosed noise, and uncovered previously undetected issues. The University of Sydney's Robin Harper said, "The results are the first implementation of provably rigorous and scalable diagnostic algorithms capable of being run on current quantum devices and beyond."

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A small swarm of aerial drones. Army Advances Learning Capabilities of Drone Swarms
U.S. Army Research Laboratory
August 10, 2020

Researchers at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command's Army Research Laboratory (ARL) and North Carolina State and Oklahoma State universities developed a reinforcement learning technique to enable swarms of unmanned drones to carry out missions while minimizing performance uncertainty. The Hierarchical Reinforcement Learning (HRL) approach breaks down a global control objective into hierarchies, including multiple small group-level microscopic control and broad swarm-level macroscopic control. Each hierarchy exhibits a unique learning loop with its own local and global reward functions, and running these loops in parallel significantly compresses learning time. Compared to centralized reinforcement learning, HRL shortened learning time by the swarm by 80%, and limited loss of optimality (the point at which the difference between benefits and costs is maximized) to 5%.

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Scientists Build Ultra-High-Speed Terahertz Wireless Chip
Nanyang Technological University (Singapore)
August 5, 2020

Scientists at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) and Japan's Osaka University have constructed an ultra-high-speed terahertz (THz) wireless chip using photonic topological insulators (PTIs). This enabled an 11 gigabits-per-second (Gbps) data rate, which can support real-time streaming of 4K high-definition video. The PTIs avoid the material defects and transmission error rates of conventional waveguides by directing light waves along the surface and edges of the insulators. Light waves are "topologically protected" via a small silicon chip with rows of triangular holes, with smaller triangles oriented opposite to larger triangles. NTU's Ranjan Singh said, "THz technology ... can potentially boost intra-chip and inter-chip communication to support artificial intelligence and cloud-based technologies, such as interconnected self-driving cars, which will need to transmit data quickly to other nearby cars and infrastructure to navigate better and also to avoid accidents."

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Cisco Challenge Winners Use AI, IoT to Tackle Global Problems
Network World
Zeus Kerravala
August 5, 2020

Cisco awarded the top prize in its Global Problem Solver Challenge to an Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled system for transporting dairy products. The challenge, one of Cisco's corporate social responsibility initiatives, awards entrepreneurial companies using technology to solve the world's biggest problems, with $100,000 going to the first-place winner. There were entries from 524 teams this year. Savanna Circuit Tech from the University of Nairobi in Kenya won first prize for the MaziwaPlus Prechiller, a solar-powered milk chiller that, among other things, uses IoT sensors to monitor temperature, and 3G/4G-connected shielding to enable data to be logged into a centralized system at each dairy. The first runner-up in the challenge was a start-up launched by the Tunis Business School in Tunisia, which used IoT, artificial intelligence, and three-dimensional printing to create custom prosthetics.

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For Robots, It's a Time to Shine (and Maybe Disinfect)
The New York Times
Lisa Prevost
August 4, 2020

Demand for reliable cleaning and disinfecting technology has soared amid the current pandemic, and firms are promoting robots as cost-effective, compliant, labor-saving devices. Canadian startup Avidbots sells the Neo robot floor scrubber, which generates maps of a facility after being walked through it once, and clients then organize cleaning plans with the company. The Neo also uses artificial intelligence to avoid obstacles, and incorporates them into its maps if they appear the next day on its rounds. Other companies are devising more sophisticated cleaning robots, with designer Boston Dynamics developing a disinfecting solution that can be mounted atop its four-legged Spot robot. Meanwhile, the startup Somatic is engineering a robot to clean bathrooms using spray technology.

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Computational Model Could Improve Success in Translating Drugs From Animal Studies to Humans
Purdue University News
Kayla Wiles
August 4, 2020

Researchers from Purdue University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology created a computational model to help translate drug development from animal studies to people. The TransComp-R model consolidates thousands of measurements from an animal model to a small number of data coordinates for human comparison, highlighting the most relevant sources of biological divergence; scientists could then train other models to anticipate human response to treatment. The researchers used TransComp-R to find an overlooked biological mechanism that may underpin human resistance to the inflammatory bowel disease drug infliximab. Purdue's Doug Brubaker said, "The modeling framework itself can be repurposed to different kinds of animals, different disease areas, and different questions. Figuring out when what we see in animals doesn't track with what's happening in humans could save a lot of time, cost, and effort in the drug development process overall."

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A traffic signal. Dutch Hackers Found a Simple Way to Mess With Traffic Lights
Andy Greenberg
August 5, 2020

At the Defcon hacker conference last week, researchers from Dutch security research firm Zolder were scheduled to present their findings about vulnerabilities in an "intelligent transport" system that would enable them to hack traffic lights in at least 10 cities in the Netherlands. The hack involves faking bicycles approaching an intersection, with the traffic system automatically giving them a green light; other vehicles seeking to cross in a perpendicular direction would be given a red light. Said Zolder's Wesley Neelen, "We could do the same trick at a lot of traffic lights at the same time, from my home, and it would allow you to interrupt the traffic flow across a city." The researchers tested apps that share a bike rider's location with traffic systems and give them green lights whenever possible as they approach an intersection; they found the same spoofing vulnerability in two of the apps they tested.

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The star with the lowest oxygen abundance. Surprisingly Recent Galaxy Discovered Using Machine Learning
July 31, 2020

Scientists at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan and the University of Tokyo used machine learning on big data captured by the Subaru Telescope in Hawaii to discover a galaxy with a record-breaking low oxygen abundance, suggesting the recent formation of most of its stars. Finding galaxies in the early formation stage from a vast amount of wide-field telescopic data required a novel machine learning method in which a computer repeatedly learned galactic colors expected from theoretical models, and then selected only early-stage galaxies. The researchers conducted follow-up observations to ascertain the elemental abundance ratios of four of 27 computer-selected candidates, and a galaxy in the constellation Hercules had the lowest values ever reported. This finding potentially indicates the newborn galaxy may be the last-generation galaxy in cosmic history.

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Has Summit Cracked Covid's Code?
IEEE Spectrum
Mark Anderson
August 2, 2020

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory may have uncovered how the novel coronavirus causes disease, as well as identifying new potential therapies. The supercomputer-powered genetic study of Covid-19 patients found a common pattern of gene activity in the lungs of symptomatic patients. Lung fluid samples from Covid-19 patients found an over-expression of genes that produce bradykinin (a compound that controls blood pressure) and an under-expression of genes that would inhibit or break down the compound. Oak Ridge's Summit and Rhea supercomputers also found an increase in hyaluronic acid in the lung due to down-regulated genes that might otherwise have kept levels of this gelatin-like substance in check. The researchers identified 10 therapies developed for other conditions that could potentially address these issues.

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Smart Locks Opened With a MAC Address
Charlie Osborne
August 6, 2020

Researchers at cybersecurity solutions vendor Tripwire found that attackers could open a smart lock sold by major U.S. retailers with just a MAC address. A misconfiguration error and other security issues with U-Tec's UltraLoq, which have since been resolved, enabled attackers to determine the device's MAC address and steal unlock tokens. The MAC address was leaked via MQTT, a publish-subscribe protocol found in Internet of Things (IoT) devices to exchange data between nodes, and made available via radio broadcast to anyone within range. This vulnerability allowed attackers to steal unlock tokens in bulk or from specific devices. In response, U-Tec has closed an open port, added rules to prevent non-authenticated users from subscribing to services, turned off non-authenticated user access, and implemented user isolation protocols.

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Semantic Web For The Working Ontologist, Third Edition: Effective Modeling In RDFs And Owl
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