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Welcome to the September 2, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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The Covidwise exposure notification app produced by state health authorities. Apple, Google Expand Coronavirus Warning Software
The Washington Post
Reed Albergotti
September 1, 2020

Apple and Google have announced an expansion of their coronavirus warning software in order to enable state health agencies to participate without needing customized applications. The software is built into the operating systems on Google's Android phones and Apple's iPhones, and employs Bluetooth to determine if people have spent significant time near each other; the software may alert a participant's close contacts if that person tests positive for the virus. The new exposure notifications express option could expedite adoption by relieving states of the need to design their own contact-tracing apps. Users in participating states may receive a pop-up opt-in notification, and they can share their Bluetooth data and receive alerts when they come in contact with positive-testing participants.

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Data Science Institute Includes Focus on Ethics, Algorithms
UC Santa Cruz
Tim Stephens
September 1, 2020

The University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) is working with the universities of Washington, Wisconsin-Madison, and Chicago to form the transdisciplinary Institute for Foundations of Data Science (IFDC), with funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation. The Institute’s mission is to develop an ethical approach to the analysis of ever-expanding, increasingly complex, and potentially biased datasets used in industry, government, and academia. The hope is that the Institute’s work will result in techniques that are more computationally efficient, resistant to error, and more responsive and actionable in fluid environments than current techniques. Said UCSC’s Lise Getoor, "We want to be sure that while we're looking at optimization methods in data science, we connect that with issues of fairness, bias, and privacy."

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A satellite view of Hurricane Laura. Hurricane Laura Predictions More Accurate with Better Modeling, Faster Computers
ABC News
Meredith Fore
August 30, 2020

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) forecasts tropical storms like Hurricane Laura with greater accuracy through better modeling and faster computers. NHC's John Cangialosi cited the enhanced ability to predict intensity by accounting for tiny variables. Tropical cyclone models have improved dramatically in the past decade. Increased incorporation of observational data also makes a difference, with models becoming more dynamic and able to adjust forecasts to incoming data. Experts believe accurate forecasts will be increasingly critical as climate change contributes to increased hurricane frequency and intensity.

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AI, Cloud Aim to Enhance U.S. Open Fan Experience
The Wall Street Journal
James Rundle
August 31, 2020

The U.S. Tennis Association (USTA) is working with IBM to utilize cloud computing and artificial intelligence (AI) to augment the fan experience of this week’s U.S. Open tennis tournament. Teams at USTA and IBM employed natural language processing and other AI-based methods to create new platforms for audience engagement, partly because the association expects viewership to increase this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Through the Open Questions platform, AI searches unstructured data for answers to plain-text debate questions from fans; similar protocols are being used to generate factsheets before matches by querying a cache of structured data. IBM's Jason McGee said a complete transition to a hybrid private-public cloud infrastructure was necessary, with on-site systems now hosted in a private cloud and the fan experience supported in a public cloud.

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Quantum Operating System Trial Successful
Financial Times
Siddarth Venkataramakrishnan
August 31, 2020

A spin-off of the U.K.'s University of Cambridge has completed a successful trial of a quantum universal operating system, just months after obtaining a 7.6-million-pound ($10.1-million) grant to deploy it on the country's quantum computers. Steve Brierley with quantum software company Riverlane said, "We have solved a really important problem in quantum computing: how hardware and software interact whilst teasing the highest possible performance out of a quantum computer." Added Riverlane's Leonie Mueck, What we’ve managed to demonstrate is that our operating system can talk to quantum hardware and that it is portable across different technologies.” Christopher Ballance at quantum hardware firm Oxford Ionics said Deltaflow's universal applicability enables software developers to write applications for different types of quantum hardware, intensifying competition in the quantum sector.

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Amazon Wins FAA Approval for Prime Air Drone Delivery Fleet
Annie Palmer
August 31, 2020

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has granted approval to Amazon to operate its fleet of Prime Air delivery drones for unmanned package delivery. The agency said the approval authorizes Amazon to "safely and efficiently deliver packages to customers" under Part 135 of FAA regulations, which empowers the company to convey property on small drones "beyond the visual line of sight" of the operator. Amazon said it will use the new certification to start testing customer drone deliveries. Prime Air's David Carbon said, "We will continue to develop and refine our technology to fully integrate delivery drones into the airspace, and work closely with the FAA and other regulators around the world to realize our vision of 30-minute delivery."

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Battalion chief Michael Giannini points out details on screens showing images from cameras looking for wildfires at Marin County Fire Department headquarters. Wildfire Spotting Goes High Tech: Can Silicon Valley Save Northern California?
The San Francisco Chronicle
Carolyn Said
August 29, 2020

High-technology implementations in Northern California are making fire spotters and firefighters more adaptive to changing conditions while improving their safety. The technology is also democratizing fire spotting, enabling anyone to go online to view satellite and camera imagery, while interactive maps visualize fire locations. The system is a network of roughly 550 cameras in California, which capture a still image every second to generate time-lapse videos, and use near-infrared technology for nighttime viewing. The network lets authorized personnel rotate, pan and zoom, and focus on suspicious smoke plumes; advanced satellite systems also provide finer spatial resolution and data processing. Pacific Gas & Electric's Scott Strenfel said, "We can use this information to understand where fires are spreading, where they're most active, and to get rapid alerts for wildfires."

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Managing Data Flow to Boost Cyber-Physical System Performance
North Carolina State University
September 1, 2020

Algorithms developed by researchers at North Carolina State University (NC State) can improve the performance of cyber-physical systems by balancing each component's data needs with how fast data can be sent and received. These systems integrate sensors, devices, and communication tools that share information and coordinate activities, but routing and queuing delays arise due to the large volume of data moving through the network. Said NC State's Aranya Chakrabortty, "[T]here's so much data, being passed through so many links, that a system may not be able to accomplish its established goals; the lag time is just too long." The new algorithms lower the number of data requests from each node in such a system, while ensuring each node quickly receives sufficient information to achieve system goals.

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Machines Rival Expert Analysis of Stored Red Blood Cell Quality
Ryerson University News
August 24, 2020

A three-year, multi-institutional study by 19 researchers at 12 institutions in five countries has yielded artificial intelligence (AI) models that can automate evaluations of stored red blood cell (RBC) quality that match or surpass expert assessment. The investigators used 40,900 cell images to teach neural networks to classify RBCs into six categories; a fully-supervised machine learning algorithm agreed with human experts’ assessments 77% of the time (even human experts only agree 83% of the time). Ryerson University's Michael Kolios calls this achievement "a testament to how technology and science are now interconnecting to solve today's biomedical problems."

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Modeling blood flow to analyze the physics behind circulating tumor cell behaviour. Research Team Pairs 3D Bioprinting, Computer Modeling to Examine Cancer Spread in Blood Vessels
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
August 26, 2020

Scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and Duke University combined three-dimensionally (3D)-bioprinted human brain vasculature with computational flow models to better understand tumor cells' binding to vascular endothelium. After injecting the bioprinted vasculature with tumor cells, LLNL's Claire Robertson mapped more than 6,000 cells that attached to vessel walls and compared them to local biophysics. The team then compared the results to 3D computational simulations replicating geometries collected from the maps to reproduce the geometry of the bioprinted vessels. Researchers used an algorithm called HARVEY to reproduce blood flow and cancer cells, validating the code on micro-vessels and incorporating explicit cancer cells simulated in the geometry. Said LLNL's Monica Moya, "There is more to these tissue constructs than just glorified in vitro studies—you can actually get useful information and start to acknowledge the role of physics in biology."

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This robot help reduce the risk to healthcare workers posed by Covid-19. Robot Takes Contact-Free Measurements of Patients' Vital Signs
MIT News
Anne Trafton
August 31, 2020

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Brigham and Women's Hospital are using dog-like robots from Boston Dynamics to remotely measure patients' vital signs. The robots, equipped with four cameras and a tablet, can measure a person’s vital signs from a distance of 2 meters. Algorithms enable an infrared camera to measure elevated skin temperature and breathing rate while accounting for ambient temperature and the distance between the camera and the patient. Measurements from three monochrome cameras that each filter a different wavelength of light are used to calculate pulse rate and blood oxygen saturation. Said MIT's Henwei Huang, "We didn't really develop new technology to do the measurements. What we did is integrate them together very specifically for the Covid application, to analyze different vital signs at the same time."

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Programming Languages: Julia Users Most Likely to Defect to Python for Data Science
Liam Tung
August 26, 2020

According to the 2020 annual user survey from the open source project behind Julia, a programming language for data scientists, Julia developers likely would turn to Python if they no longer needed Julia. In the survey of 2,565 Julia users and developers, 76% of respondents said they would use Python if they were not using Julia, up from 73% in 2019. Python's popularity appears to be driven by data scientists, rising demand for machine-learning applications, and numerous Python modules that expand its use into various fields. However, said Julia co-creator Viral Shah, "The more experience people gain with Julia, the less they want to use anything else.” Users indicated they find Julia faster than Python and R for big-data analysis.

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AI Identifies 50 New Planets From Old NASA Data
Jessie Yeung
August 26, 2020

Machine learning artificial intelligence (AI) developed by astronomers and computer scientists at the U.K.'s University of Warwick found 50 new planets by mining old data from the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The researchers educated the algorithm on data collected by the Kepler Space Telescope, teaching it to differentiate real planets from false positives. The AI was then tasked to analyze old datasets of planetary candidates, in which it discovered the 50 previously unknown exoplanets. Warwick's David Armstrong said this is the first time machine learning has been used to rank planetary candidates in a probabilistic framework, and the research suggests the AI could "validate thousands of unseen candidates in seconds."

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The Continuing Arms Race: Code-Reuse Attacks and Defenses
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