Welcome to the August 24, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers with MIT, Boston Dynamics Team Up on Robot for Remote Covid-19 Vital Sign Measurement
Darrell Etherington
August 19, 2020

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston Dynamics, and other collaborators have developed a robot designed to remotely measure vital signs in patients for Covid-19 with contactless equipment. Dubbed Dr. Spot, the robot is a customized version of Boston Dynamics' four-legged robot, outfitted with a tablet to enable medical staff to conduct "face-to-face" interviews with patients while they perform exams. The robot can measure multiple vital signs like skin temperature, respiratory rate, heart rate, and blood oxygen saturation at once. Dr. Spot was deployed in a hospital as a test study to offer proof of the technology's potential application.

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AI Automatic Tuning Delivers Step Forward in Quantum Computing
University of Oxford (U.K.)
August 18, 2020

Researchers at the U.K.'s Oxford and Lancaster universities, Switzerland's University of Basel, and Google's DeepMind artificial intelligence laboratory have developed a machine learning algorithm able to automatically engage with and tune a quantum device faster than human experts can, without human input. This "Minecraft explorer for quantum devices" takes an approach modeled after Minecraft gameplay, searching for the right operating conditions for a quantum device by exploring the space of parameters defined by voltages. Oxford's Natalia Ares said, "Our ultimate goal is to fully automate the control of large quantum circuits, opening the path to completely new technologies which harness the particularities of quantum physics."

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A building in Dubai created through three-dimensional printing. Scientists Create 3D-Printed Buildings From Soil
The Guardian
Alex Mistlin
August 21, 2020

Texas A&M University researchers have come up with a technique for using a three-dimensional (3D) printer to build greener buildings from soil. The method, which could serve as a sustainable alternative to the use of concrete in construction, can be used to 3D-print entire architectural facades. Said Texas A&M's Sarbajit Banerjee, "[W]e envision a new paradigm of construction that uses naturally sourced materials ... as a means of providing dignified habitats to some of the neediest populations across the world." Banerjee said researchers "are making excellent progress" in their efforts to improve soil's load-bearing capabilities, which is necessary for the method to replace concrete.

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Security Researchers Found Way to Pick Locks Using Only the Sound of the Key
David Nield
August 21, 2020

Security researchers at the National University of Singapore suggest the sound of a key sliding into a lock should be sufficient to create a copy that opens the lock. Their proof-of-concept simulation demonstrated that a key's shape can be inferred by mapping the clicks produced by its ridges as they shift the lock mechanism's pins up and down. The SpiKey system produces candidate keys—most often three, one of which will fit the lock. The team's calculations and models indicate that of 586,584 possible key combinations for a six-pin lock, about 56% are vulnerable to a SpiKey breach, and 94% of combinations in that subset can be reduced to less than 10 candidate keys. Said the researchers, "SpiKey inherently provides many advantages over lock-picking attacks, including lowering attacker effort to enable a layperson to launch an attack without raising suspicion."

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A small drone above a green field. Army Researchers Develop Sensors for Small Drones
U.S. Army Research Laboratory
August 19, 2020

Researchers at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command's Army Research Laboratory (ARL) have developed a novel sensor and software application to keep unmanned aerial systems (UASs) away from active power lines. ARL's David Hull used a combination of field and three-dimensional sensors with low-power processing. Drones can use these sensors to detect the location and Poynting vector of nearby power lines, in order to autonomously avoid or navigate alongside them. Said Hull, "Commercialization of our power line detection methods could have a significant impact on the development of autonomous UASs that operate near power lines."

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UCL Engineers Set World Record Internet Speed
UCL News
August 19, 2020

Engineers at the U.K.'s University College London, in collaboration with colleagues at fiber-optic technology provider Xtera and Japan's KDDI Research institute, have achieved the world's fastest data transmission rate of 178 terabits a second. This rate is twice the capacity of any currently deployed system and 20% faster than the previous Japanese record, facilitated by transmitting data through a much wider range of wavelengths than optical fiber typically employs. The researchers combined different amplifier technologies to increase signal power over this wider bandwidth and maximized speed via new Geometric Shaping constellations, tuning the properties of each individual wavelength. They said this method can be implemented on current infrastructure by upgrading amplifiers located on fiber-optic routes at 40-kilometer (24-mile) to 100-kilometer (62-mile) intervals.

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A team of NUS researchers with the InfinityGlove. NUS Researchers Develop Smart Gaming Glove
National University of Singapore
August 20, 2020

Researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS) have created a smart glove that allows video gamers to use simple hand gestures as various in-game controls. The InfinityGlove has five ultra-thin, highly sensitive microfiber sensors woven into the glove, each the thickness of a strand of hair and filled with a conductive liquid metal. The network of sensors interfaces with the game software to generate accurate three-dimensional positions of a moving hand, which can be mapped to specific inputs found on a standard game controller. The glove could be used for rehabilitation, allowing patients to perform hand exercises through immersive play while tracking the progress of their joint movements. Said NUS's Lim Chwee Teck, "We envision that gesture-based control using our lightweight smart gloves can bring us one step closer to a truly immersive interface between humans and machines."

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AI-Based Traffic Management Gets Green Light
Greg Nichols
August 17, 2020

The NoTraffic autonomous traffic management company has deployed an artificial intelligence (AI)-driven traffic management system in Phoenix, AZ, switching traffic-light coordination from a timer-based model to one based on demand. The goal is to improve traffic flow and cut vehicle and pedestrian delays at intersections, and the system has reduced vehicle delays by up to 40% in some instances. The NoTraffic platform monitors road assets as they approach an intersection and calculates optimal service for the intersection in real time, autonomously changing signals accordingly. Phoenix Street Transportation director Kini Knudson said, "We are now seeing the convergence of technology-enabled automobiles and traffic management systems working together to move vehicles more effectively through busy corridors."

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Researchers Propose Using 'Rare Word' Dictionaries to Bolster Unsupervised Language Model Training
Venture Beat
Kyle Wiggers
August 13, 2020

Researchers at Microsoft and China’s Peking and Nankai universities collaborated on a method to increase the efficiency of unsupervised language model pretraining. Taking Notes on the Fly (TNF), inspired by human note-taking, features a note dictionary that saves a rare word's contextual information when the rare word occurs and uses that information to enhance a sentence's semantics when the rare word occurs again. Because the note dictionary is updated on the fly, TNF involves little computational overhead at pretraining, and the note dictionary is discarded when pretraining is complete. The researchers found that TNF accelerates models based on Google’s Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT) technique throughout the pretraining process; one model reached BERT performance within two days, compared to nearly six days for a TNF-free BERT model. Said the researchers, "If trained with the same number of updates, TNF outperforms original BERT pre-training by a large margin in downstream tasks."

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A magnetic resonance imaging scan of the human brain. Future Mental Health Care May Include Diagnosis via Brain Scan, Computer Algorithm
University of Tokyo (Japan)
August 17, 2020

Researchers at Japan's University of Tokyo are combining machine learning and brain imaging to redefine the standard for mental illness diagnosis, with one team having designed algorithms that distinguish between multiple psychiatric diagnoses. The researchers trained six algorithms on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans of 206 adults, including those pre-diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or schizophrenia, those who had just experienced their first psychotic episode, and individuals with no mental health issues. One algorithm learned to connect different psychiatric diagnoses with variable thickness, surface area, or volume of brain regions in MRI scans. When tested on brain scans from another 43 patients, the algorithm's diagnosis matched that of psychiatrists with up to 85% accuracy. The algorithm also could differentiate between non-patients, those with ASD, and those with either schizophrenia or schizophrenia risk factors.

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U.S. Agency Takes Part in Simulated Cyberattack on Critical Systems
The Hill
Maggie Miller
August 14, 2020

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) successfully completed a biannual simulated cyberattack on critical systems designed to prepare the country and its partners against an actual attack. The three-day Cyber Storm exercise involved 2,000 participants from private industry, the federal government, and international groups. CISA's Brian Harrell said Cyber Storm simulated an "all-out attack on different sectors" modeled after the capabilities of real-world foes; such an exercise is crucial for boosting coordination between all potential groups, which collaborated remotely. Harrell was confident this year's exercise demonstrated clear progress. He said, "Each Cyber Storm our coordination and capabilities get better, and this year was no different."

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Making Databases Work: The Pragmatic Wisdom of Michael Stonebraker
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