Seton Hall M.S. in Data Science
Welcome to the February 1, 2021 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Study Provides First Real-World Evidence of Covid-19 Contact Tracing App Effectiveness
Queen Mary University of London (U.K.)
January 26, 2021

A collaboration of U.K., U.S., and Spanish scientists revealed new insights on the use of digital contact tracing (DCT) to control Covid-19. The team evaluated Spain's Radar Covid DCT application following a four-week experiment in the Canary Islands last summer. Through simulated infections, the authors learned that over 30% of the populace used the mobile phone app, which could detect about 6.3 close-contacts per infected individual, nearly double the national average detected with manual contact tracing. Queen Mary University of London's Lucas Lacasa said, "Overall our results were positive and show that the technology works and if accompanied by appropriate communications campaigns, it should reach the levels of adoption and compliance needed to support other non-pharmaceutical interventions to contain outbreaks." However, he also said the app's privacy-preserving design "severely limits the amount of data that we could collect to accurately assess its performance."

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A group of quantum computing experts is raising ethical concerns about the technology’s potential to accelerate human DNA manipulation. Quantum Computing Scientists Call for Ethical Guidelines
The Wall Street Journal
Sara Castellanos
February 1, 2021

Six quantum computing experts are raising ethical issues about the technology's potential to create new weapons and ramp up human genetic manipulation. They are featured in a video released on YouTube and free online news source The Quantum Daily, designed to spur dialogue with other quantum computing industry leaders about the technology's ethical ramifications. Ilyas Khan of Cambridge Quantum Computing said the technology could be abused to create harmful materials, or harmfully manipulate the human genome. Experts are already preparing for the ethical challenges of quantum computing, which include its ability to crack widespread cryptographic measures. The Quantum Daily's Matt Swayne plans to establish an expert advisory group to discuss quantum ethics; he said the video is a first step.

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Holographic Display Improvements Poised to Enhance Virtual, Augmented Reality
January 28, 2021

An approach developed by researchers at NVIDIA and Stanford University can improve image quality and contrast for holographic displays. The new approach, labeled Michelson holography, uses two phase-only spatial light modulators (SLMs). Said researcher Jonghyun Kim, "The core idea of Michelson holography is to destructively interfere with the diffracted light of one SLM using the undiffracted light of the other. This allows the undiffracted light to contribute to forming the image rather than creating speckle and other artifacts." This was combined with a modified camera-in-the-loop (CITL) optimization procedure, which allowed researchers to correct small misalignments of the optical system. Said Kim, "Once the computer model is trained, it can be used to precisely figure out what a captured image would look like without physically capturing it. This means that the entire optical setup can be simulated in the cloud to perform real-time inference of computationally heavy problems with parallel computing."

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Mira's Last Journey: Exploring the Dark Universe
Argonne National Laboratory
Savannah Mitchem
January 27, 2021

Physicists and computer scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) recently executed the Last Journey, a massive cosmological simulation, on the Mira supercomputer, concluding the system's seven-year operational lifetime. The model tracks the distribution of mass across the universe over time, detailing gravity's effect on dark matter to aggregate into halos within which galaxies form. ANL scientists used the Hardware/Hybrid Accelerated Cosmology Code and its CosmoTools analysis framework to facilitate incremental extraction of relevant data while the simulation was running. ANL's Adrian Pope said, "When preparing for simulations on exascale machines and a new decade of progress, we are refining our code and analysis tools, and we get to ask ourselves what we weren't doing because of the limitations we have had until now."

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Shutter, a robot photographer designed by Yale’s Marynel Vazquez and her team. 'Bleep-Bloop-Bleep! Say "Cheese," Human'
William Weir
January 26, 2021

Yale University's Marynel Vazquez and colleagues have built a robot photographer called Shutter, designed to put humans at ease. Said Vazquez, "We're looking at what the robot photographer can do to get more positive reactions from people. Now that we have a social agent that can engage people and change what they're doing, we can ask, 'What opportunities does that open for taking photos?'" The team is focusing on making Shutter humorous, in order to elicit smiles and shoot better photos. Yale's Tim Adamson programmed Shutter to display a wide range of humor, like a GIF of a dog sticking its head outside a car window at high speeds, audio samples of children laughing, and a meme of a man mugging at the camera with a humorous quote.

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Researchers Simplify the Study of Gene-Environment Interactions
Weill Cornell Medicine Newsroom
January 26, 2021

A computational technique developed by Weill Cornell Medicine and Cornell University researchers can be used to analyze genetic and environmental interactions and their influence on disease risk. The new method prioritizes and evaluates a smaller population of genomic variants for gene-environment interactions. Weill Cornell's Andrew Marderstein said, "We condensed a problem with analyzing 10 million different genetic variants to essentially analyze only tens of variants in different regions of the genome." The team assessed which variants were associated with individuals being more likely to have a higher or lower body mass index (BMI); DNA segments linked to variance in a human characteristic, or a variance quantitative trait locus (vQTL), could identify interactions more readily, and vQTLs associated with BMI also were more likely to be affiliated with diseases with large environmental influences. Marderstein said the method might help determine an individual's response to a specific drug based on gene-environment interactions.

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Crafting Common Sense Into AI Models Through Gameplay
USC Viterbi School of Engineering
Rene Van Steenbergen
January 25, 2021

A gameplay-mediated training process for artificial intelligence (AI) models developed by researchers at the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering (USC Viterbi) tested AI's ability to master decision-making in various settings and contexts. USC Viterbi's Jon May and colleagues applied deep reinforcement learning to teach the AI text-based games that followed a "choose-your-own-adventure" structure. The team used cooking games to train Google's Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT) language-processing model, which eventually learns which decisions are beneficial and which are undesirable, but lacks common sense. The researchers trained BERT to make decisions for achieving desirable outcomes on unseen cooking games, and to generalize these skill sets to novel games in an unseen treasure-hunting domain.

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Cell Bones Mystery Solved with Supercomputers
Texas Advanced Computing Center
Jorge Salazar
January 27, 2021

University of Chicago (UChicago) researchers used simulations on supercomputers to solve the conundrum of polymerization of actin filaments in cells. UChicago's Vilmos Zsolnay designed an all-atom molecular dynamics model with fellow scientist Gregory Voth's team on the university's Midway2 computing cluster. He used GROMACS (GROningen MAchine for Chemical Simulations) and NAMD (Nanoscale Molecular Dynamic) software to probe equilibrium conformations of the subunits at the filament ends. The U.S. National Science Foundation's Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment then granted the researchers allocations on the Texas Advanced Computing Center's Stampede2 supercomputer clusters, which Zsolnay said "were able to reach the time and length scales in our simulations that we were interested in." The models exposed distinct equilibrium conformations between the filament's barbed end and the pointed end subunits, which could help further design of self-repairing biomimetic materials.

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First Commercial Autonomous Bus Services Hit Singapore Roads
Eileen Yu
January 25, 2021

Singapore has launched its first commercial autonomous bus services, which will run routes at Singapore Science Park 2 and Jurong Island during a three-month pilot to evaluate the viability of the on-demand service, including its reliability, efficiency, and impact on passenger safety. The project was spearheaded by the Alliance for Action (AfA) on Robotics, while the buses were built by engineering company ST Engineering; mapping provider GPS Lands supplied the mapping algorithm for navigation. Said the AfA, "In order to gain more data and insights that will be valuable to the development of future urban mobility services, the two routes differ in physical conditions, commuter and partner mix, service and vehicle type, as well as operation concepts."

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While large organizations often have sophisticated defense, individuals are largely left to fend for themselves. 'Cyber Trauma' Leaves Online Victims With Psychological Scars
Financial Times
Antonia Cundy
January 25, 2021

The U.K. Office for National Statistics found that incidents of fraud and computer misuse in England and Wales jumped from 4.84 million in June 2019 to 5.94 million in June 2020. Many online crimes involve cyberstalking and online harassment in addition to financial losses, resulting in lasting psychological scars to victims. Law enforcement often is unable to help these victims, either due to a lack of resources or the electronic trail falling outside national jurisdiction. Said The Cyber Helpline's Rory Innes, "There's a shortage of cybersecurity professionals in the U.K. and the global market. And the pace of change [of cybercrimes] has been really fast ... It's relatively difficult to take a police officer or someone non-technical and make them understand this space."

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A 3D fingerprint sensor. 3D Fingerprint Sensors Get Under Your Skin
IEEE Spectrum
Michelle Hampson
January 29, 2021

A method of mapping unique fingerprint patterns and the blood vessels that flow underneath them developed by North Carolina State University (NCSU) researchers could enhance identity authentication. NCSU's Xiaoning Jiang said, "Compared with the existing [two-dimensional] fingerprint recognition technologies, 3D [three-dimensional] recognition that captures the finger vessel pattern within a user's finger will be ideal for preventing spoofing attacks and be much more secure." The team designed a pressure sensor that detects high-frequency ultrasound pulses; the amplitudes of reflecting soundwaves can be used to ascertain the person's fingerprint and blood vessel patterns. Said NCSU's Chang Peng, "We envision this 3D fingerprint recognition approach can be adopted as a highly secure bio-recognition technique for broad applications including consumer electronics, law enforcement, banking, and finance, as well as smart homes."

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A robot assembles a power tool in a manufacturing facility in Virginia Beach, VA. The Spread of Covid-19 Led to Surge in Orders for Factory Robots
Thomas Black
January 28, 2021

Orders for factory robots in North America spiked at the end of 2020 as manufacturers sought to avoid danger for employees amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The Association for Advancing Automation estimated companies ordered 9,972 robots in the fourth quarter, a 64% year-over-year gain that raised the annual total 3.5% to 31,044 units. Mike Cicco at Japanese robot maker Fanuc said, "The pandemic has created a sense of urgency for manufacturing companies to invest in automation like never before." Robot orders in food and consumer goods, life sciences, and plastics and rubber sectors climbed more than 50% last year, while innovations like enhanced vision, mobility, and end-of-arm tools for grabbing objects broadened automation applications.

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AI Can Tell What Song You Are Listening to From Your Brainwaves
New Scientist
Matthew Sparkes
January 26, 2021

Artificial intelligence (AI) developed by researchers at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands can identify the songs a person is listening to by examining their brainwaves. The researchers used an electroencephalography (EEG) cap that detects the brain’s electrical activity to record the brainwaves of 20 test subjects as they listened to 12 songs through headphones while blindfolded in a dimly lit room. The AI was trained using short segments of each person's EEG readings along with the matching music clip to identify patterns, and identified the songs with 85% accuracy in tests on unseen portions of the data. However, accuracy fell below 10% when the AI was trained on EEG data from one person and then sought to identify a song when a different person listened to it. Said Delft's Derek Lomas, music is "just voltage fluctuations. And it's the same with the EEG."

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Computing and the National Science Foundation, 1950-2016: Building a Foundation for Modern Computing
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