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Welcome to the September 9, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

Correction: In the Friday, September 4 edition of ACM TechNews, in the abstract of the article "Developers: These Are the Programming Languages that Pay the Most," we wrote that Apple wants developers to replace Swift with Objective-C. Actually, Apple wants developers to use Swift in place of Objective-C. We regret the error.

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Charlette N'Guessan is CEO of Ghana-based software company BACE Group. 26-Year-Old is First Woman to Win Africa Prize for Innovation
Aisha Salaudeen
September 7, 2020

BACE Group CEO Charlette N'Guessan, 26, is the first woman named to receive the 2020 Royal Academy of Engineering's Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, for her team's BACE API digital verification system. The system combines artificial intelligence and facial recognition to verify the identities of Africans remotely and in real time, by matching users' live images to photos on passports or identity cards. Websites and online applications can use BACE API to confirm user identities via webcams. Said N'Guessan, "I will be happy if people are inspired by my story, being the first woman to win the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation and by my work as a woman in tech."

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Social distancing in Massachusetts. Public Webcams Are Telling Us Whether People Are Social Distancing
New Scientist
Chris Stokel-Walker
September 4, 2020

Since April, computer scientists at Purdue University have been using an online database of public cameras to track compliance with social-distancing guidelines, collecting roughly 0.5 terabytes of data each week. The team has processed more than 10.4 million webcam images through deep learning neural networks that automatically detect objects and distinguish them from people. The algorithms draw bounding boxes around people, then calculate their distance from one another and whether they are practicing social distancing. These observations showed that such practices are being followed to a degree, with both crowd densities and distancing lower after authorities imposed lockdowns, and higher when those restrictions were relaxed. Purdue's Isha Ghodgaonkar thinks monitoring movements via cameras is more effective than using location-tracking data from Google and Apple, as "location tracking might be slightly biased because it's dependent on people opting in."

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Programming Language C++ About to Get This Huge Update
Liam Tung
September 8, 2020

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO)'s C++ group, Working Group 21 (WG21), has settled on a finalized version of C++20, the first major update to the programming language in three years. WG21’s Herb Sutter said the update will be more extensive than any of the three previous updates, as well as the first C++ version to be standardized. The language is widely used in computer games development due to its utility in instructing hardware, and the C++20 update's most important features include modules and coroutines. Modules stand in for header files and help contain the impact of macros while supporting larger builds. Coroutines are a function generalization, described by contributors as able to "suspend the execution to be resumed later at the point where they were left off."

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A fence is removed from a picture of a tiger. AI Removes Unwanted Objects From Photos
New Scientist
Chris Stokel-Walker
August 28, 2020

Researchers at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University developed an algorithm that uses artificial intelligence to digitally remove unwanted objects in photos. The neural network analyzes several frames in a motion photo taken by a smartphone, identifies various objects in the image, and calculates the distance to each object. It then separates the objects into different layers, removing the foreground layer to provide an unobstructed view of the objects behind. The neural network automatically identifies distracting objects, including reflections, in the foreground of the image during the process of learning. The algorithm works faster than prior methods, taking just three minutes to decipher a 1,296-by-864-pixel image.

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Natural Radiation Can Interfere With Quantum Computers
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Karyn Hede
August 26, 2020

A multidisciplinary research team at the U.S. Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that low-level ionizing radiation in the environment can degrade the performance of superconducting quantum bits, or qubits. The researchers found natural radiation in the form of X-rays, beta rays, cosmic rays, and gamma rays can penetrate a superconducting qubit and interfere with quantum coherence. Said PNNL's Brent VanDevender, "Without mitigation, radiation will limit the coherence time of superconducting qubits to a few milliseconds, which is insufficient for practical quantum computing." The researchers suggest materials that emit radiation should not be used to construct quantum computers, and experimental quantum computers should be shielded from natural radiation in the atmosphere.

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Chinese Scientists Say Their Neuromorphic Computer Darwin Mouse Has the Same Number of Neurons as a Real Mouse
South China Morning Post
Masha Borak
September 3, 2020

Scientists at China's Zhejiang University and Zhejiang Laboratory said they have created the world's largest neuromorphic computer, which reportedly hosts 120 million artificial neurons and 100 billion synapses, equivalent to those in the brain of an actual mouse. The Darwin Mouse computer uses 769 Darwin 2 Neural Processing Units, with each processor supporting up to 150,000 neurons. The team also developed the computer's DarwinOS neuromorphic operating system. Zhejiang University's Pan Gang said, "We hope we'll be able to continue developing the Darwin series of brain-like computers in the direction of human intelligence, just like biological evolution, and provide stronger artificial intelligence with ultra-low power consumption."

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Artist’s conception of a robot standing on a podium. Robot Cleaners Are Coming, This Time to Wipe Up Your Coronavirus Germs
The Washington Post
Rachel Lerman
September 8, 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic is accelerating automation across the U.S. economy, especially in airports, stadiums, and public transportation systems, for the purpose of disinfection and limiting human contact. At least two companies are modifying drones to fly inside sports arenas and disperse disinfectant onto seats. Meanwhile, the wheeled LightStrike robot from Xenex deployed at a San Diego hospital reportedly can disinfect 99.99% of the coronavirus in less than five minutes. New York City's Metropolitan Transportation Authority is testing automated disinfection via ultraviolet (UV) lights from Puro to kill the virus on trains and buses, while Puro is developing robotic UV lights that map and navigate spaces on their own. However, experts see drawbacks, including the significant time commitment required to train robots properly, as well as fears about retail and custodial workers losing their jobs to automation.

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ML Approach Can Indicate Health Risks in Future Pregnancies
Emily Henderson
September 3, 2020

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center have developed a machine learning technique for examining slides of placenta samples taken after women have given birth, in order to inform more women about potential health risks in future pregnancies. The algorithm helps pathologists determine which slides require greatest scrutiny by identifying the potential for decidual vasculopathy (DV) by scanning an image, pinpointing blood vessels, and identifying any telltale DV patterns. Scientists trained the algorithm by feeding placenta images to a computer, and indicating whether the placenta is diseased or healthy. The computer learned to spot disease lesions on its own, while the algorithm considers pregnancy features like gestational age, birth weight, and any conditions the mother might have. CMU's Daniel Clymer said, "This type of algorithm might be able to help speed up the process by flagging regions of the image where the pathologist should take a closer look."

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WhatsApp Reveals 6 Previously Undisclosed Vulnerabilities
Tech Crunch
Zack Whittaker; Sarah Perez
September 3, 2020

WhatsApp has reported six previously undisclosed vulnerabilities on a new dedicated security advisory website. The Facebook-owned messaging app said it had fixed all of the vulnerabilities and found no evidence hackers had actively exploited any of them. About a third of the new vulnerabilities were reported through WhatsApp's Bug Bounty Program, while the others were detected in routine code reviews and through automated systems. The website, rolled out as part of the company's efforts to be more transparent and to respond to user feedback, will provide a comprehensive list of WhatsApp security updates and associated Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE). The new site will be updated monthly (or more frequently if users must be warned of an active attack), and will feature an archive of past CVEs dating back to 2018.

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Swiss Official Airs Concerns About Data Privacy in U.S.
Associated Press
Jamey Keaten
September 8, 2020

Switzerland's Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner Adrian Lobsiger on Tuesday said a U.S.-Swiss program for shielding personal information shared between the two nations is inadequate, and has downgraded the U.S.'s data-protection ranking as a result. Lobsiger advised Swiss companies or government organizations to report personal data to the U.S. only if protections are implemented to guard their members from inquisitive U.S. authorities. These recommendations follow similar issues raised by European Union (EU) authorities, which in July ruled the U.S.-EU Privacy Shield program was invalid because the American government can spy on people's data. Lobsiger's recommendations do not have the force of law, but could affect decisions by corporate chiefs or government officials on sharing private information about Swiss residents and citizens.

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Near-Optimal Chip-Based Photon Source Developed for Quantum Computing
The Optical Society
September 3, 2020

A new CMOS-compatible silicon photonics photon source developed by researchers at the University of Bristol in the U.K. meets all the requirements for large-scale photonic quantum computing. The new single-photon source is based on inter-modal spontaneous four-wave mixing in a multi-mode silicon waveguide. The researchers tested the new design using single-photon devices on standard silicon-on-insulator using CMOS-compatible lithography processes on a commercial wafer. They found that transmission losses were reduced substantially by the multi-mode waveguides, resulting in an intrinsic heralding efficiency of the source of approximately 90%. Said the University of Bristol's Stefano Paesani, "The techniques developed in this work could speed up the development of mass-manufacturable chip-scale quantum technologies by several years."

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Stanford Launches AI-Powered TV News Analyzer
Stanford News
August 27, 2020

Researchers at Stanford University's Brown Institute for Media Innovation have launched an interactive tool powered by artificial intelligence (AI) that enables the public to search cable TV news transcripts and compute the screen time of public figures. The Stanford Cable TV News Analyzer boosts the transparency surrounding broadcasters' editorial decisions with modern AI techniques to automatically quantify who is on the news and the content of their speech. The tool employs computer vision to analyze news coverage patterns. Transcripts are synchronized with video content and compared across dates, times of day, and programs. Stanford's Maneesh Agrawala said, "By letting researchers, journalists, and the public quantitatively measure who and what is in the news, the tool can help identify biases and trends in cable TV news coverage."

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Scientists in Switzerland developed a hot-wire cutting robot that guides highly flexible tools extremely precisely. Robot Controls Highly Flexible Tools
ETH Zurich (Switzerland)
Daniel Meierhans
September 9, 2020

At ETH Zurich in Switzerland, researchers have developed a hot-wire cutter robot that can create more complex shapes in fewer cuts than previous systems. The RoboCut features a flexible wire that can cut the shape of a sitting rabbit out of a polystyrene block in just 10 cuts. The robot could be used to produce building blocks for mortar-free structures. ETH's Simon Dünser said, "The complex optimization calculations are what make RoboCut special. These are needed to find the most efficient tool paths possible while melting the desired shape from the polystyrene block as precisely as possible."

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