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

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Kade Crockford, an activist at the ACLU of Massachusetts. How One State Managed to Actually Write Rules on Facial Recognition
The New York Times
Kashmir Hill
February 27, 2021

Massachusetts has struck a balance on facial recognition technology, allowing law enforcement to tap its benefits while embedding protections to hopefully prevent false arrests. A police reform bill to be enacted in July requires police to obtain a judge's permission before running a facial recognition search, which must be conducted by someone from the state police, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, or the Registry of Motor Vehicles. The ordinance also establishes a commission to examine policies and make recommendations, such as whether a criminal defendant should be informed they were identified via facial recognition. Rep. Dave Rogers (D-MA) said the technology's inconsistent use by cities and towns demonstrated the need for a statewide standard. The ACLU of Massachusetts' Kade Crockford said although a statewide ban on facial recognition is a political impossibility, additional guidelines should help deter abuse and false arrests.

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The GameStop and Reddit logos. Bots Hyped GameStop on Major Social Media Platforms, Analysis Finds
Michelle Price
February 26, 2021

Analysis by cybersecurity company PiiQ Media determined that bots on major social media platforms have been hyping up GameStop and other meme stocks, suggesting foreign actors' participation in the trading frenzy fueled by social news aggregation, Web content rating, and discussion website Reddit. PiiQ said it examined patterns of keywords like "Hold the Line" and GameStop's stock symbol (GME) across conversations and profiles from before the Jan. 28 trading frenzy through Feb. 18. Also identified were similar daily start-and-stop patterns in GameStop-related posts, with activity starting at the onset of the trading day, followed by a big spike at the close; PiiQ's Aaron Barr said such patterns are bot signatures. PiiQ estimated tens of thousands of bot accounts hyped GameStop, meme stocks, and the Dogecoin cryptocurrency; Barr expects to find a similar activity pattern on Reddit.

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AI Predicts if Storms Will Cause Blackouts Many Days in Advance
Aalto University (Finland)
February 24, 2021

A new model developed by researchers at Finland's Aalto University and the Finnish Meteorological Institute leverages artificial intelligence and machine learning to predict storms with the potential to cause blackouts days in advance. The resulting model categorizes large low-pressure storms as no damage, low damage (with the potential for 1-140 damaged transformers), or high damage (the possibility of more than 140 damaged transformers). The model can predict a storm's location to within 15 km, and its timing to within three hours, with a 60% accuracy rate in predicting the category of a storm, and an 80% accuracy rate in predicting the amount of damage resulting from a storm. Power grid operators already using the team's previous model are experimenting with the new tool.

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A Maui dolphin, a species found only on the west coast of New Zealand’s northern island Drones Join Fight to Save New Zealand’s Rarest Dolphin
The Guardian (U.K.)
Eleanor de Jong
February 25, 2021

The nonprofit MAUI63 organization hopes to preserve New Zealand's endangered Maui dolphin with an aerial drone designed to locate and track the dolphins in the wild and supply "unparalleled" data at far less cost than more traditional measures. The drone can fly and film with a 50x optical zoom camera for up to six hours. Initial tests demonstrated that the drone's artificial intelligence system can distinguish Maui dolphins from other species with more than 90% accuracy. Once compiled, the data gathered by the drone will be released publicly, and will be used to inform decisions by major seafood companies to reduce the risk to Maui and other dolphin species.

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Bioinformatics Tool Accurately Tracks Synthetic DNA
Rice University News
February 26, 2021

Researchers at Rice University have developed a bioinformatics approach that analyzes DNA sequences to determine the source of engineered plasmids of interest. The open source software, dubbed PlasmidHawk, matches unknown strings of code from genome data sets to pan-genomic regions common or unique to synthetic biology research labs. The researchers found that PlasmidHawk predicted unknown sequences' depositing labs with 76% accuracy, with the correct lab in the top 10 candidates 85% of the time. PlasmidHawk outperformed a recurrent neural network deep learning technique, which in a different study predicted the single lab of origin with 70% accuracy. PlasmidHawk could help track potentially harmful engineered sequences, while also protecting intellectual property.

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Sub-Diffraction Optical Writing Information Bits: Towards High-Capacity Optical Disk for Big Data
University of Shanghai for Science and Technology
February 26, 2021

Researchers at China's University of Shanghai for Science and Technology, Australia's Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, and the National University of Singapore have engineered the means to overcome a key bottleneck in the storage capacity of optical disks. The investigators combined earth-rich lanthanide-doped upconversion nanoparticles and graphene oxide flakes into a composite platform that facilitates low-power optical writing of nanoscale information bits. The platform enables data density for an estimated storage capacity of 700 terabytes on a 12-centimeter optical disk, comparable to the current storage capacity of 28,000 Blu-ray disks. The sub-diffraction optical writing technology's use of inexpensive continuous-wave lasers also lowers operating costs compared to traditional optical writing methods that utilize pulsed lasers.

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Google Uses Underwater Fiber-Optic Cable to Detect Earthquakes
New Scientist
Priti Parikh
February 25, 2021

A submarine fiber-optic cable owned by Google was used by researchers at the search engine giant and California Institute of Technology (Caltech) to detect earthquakes and ocean waves generated by storms. The investigators measured changes in pressure and strain using traffic data from the 10,000-kilometer (6,213-mile)-long cable on the floor of the Pacific Ocean, recording about 30 ocean storm swell events and roughly 20 quakes exceeding magnitude 5 over nine months. Caltech's Zhongwen Zhan described this approach as more flexible and scalable than other attempts to deploy fiber-optic sensors, as new infrastructure is unnecessary. Anthony Sladen at the University Côte d’Azur in France says the study constitutes “a major step in exploiting the benefits of existing cables.”

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Rethinking Microchips' Design Pushes Computing to the Edge
Princeton Engineering News
John Sullivan
February 24, 2021

Princeton University researchers are developing co-designed hardware and software that will enable designers to incorporate specialized artificial intelligence (AI) systems within applications. Princeton's Naveen Verma said, "To make AI accessible to the real-time and often personal process all around us, we need to address latency and privacy by moving the computation itself to the edge. And that requires both energy efficiency and performance." The researchers engineered a new microchip to enhance neural-network performance, which outperformed other advanced chips 10- to 100-fold; the team then refined the chip and designed software that would allow AI systems to leverage its speed and efficiency. The software is designed to seamlessly combine digital and analog systems, which Verma said complement each other.

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Two cows with smart tags affixed to their ears. 'Farms Are Going to Need Different Kinds of Robots'
BBC News
Bernd Debusmann Jr.
February 28, 2021

Farmers worldwide are using new precision-farming technologies to address agricultural issues, ranging from autonomous harvesting robots to crop-spraying drones to artificial intelligence. For example, Irish company Moocall makes a smartphone-linked sensor that fits to the tail of a pregnant cow, which sends texts to the farmer when calving is imminent. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC)'s Girish Chowdhary believes largely autonomous farms are close to reality, and UIUC's Distributed Autonomous Systems Laboratory is testing many emerging technologies, including crop-monitoring robots. Chowdhary envisions farms using different kinds of robots, with an autonomous system coordinating their various operations.

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Microsoft president Brad Smith. SolarWinds Hack Pits Microsoft Against Dell, IBM Over How Companies Store Data
The Wall Street Journal
Aaron Tilley
February 27, 2021

Major technology companies are debating the safest data storage measures for customers following the SolarWinds hack, which compromised many U.S. government and corporate networks. Microsoft's argument that clients should use cloud computing systems is up against Dell Technologies and IBM's contention that a hybrid-cloud system is more secure. Government and industry experts think the suspected Russia-led exploit was conducted via networking company SolarWinds; Microsoft's Brad Smith backed the cloud migration solution in last week's House committee hearing, claiming his company identified on-premises systems as targets in the breach. Meanwhile, Paul Cormier at IBM subsidiary Red Hat said it is impractical to expect companies to move all their data to the cloud, as many must retain data on-premises for security or regulatory reasons. Dell's Deepak Patil added that "the reality is, look at a majority of customers, their workloads are running on-prem."

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AI Can Write a Passing College Paper in 20 Minutes
Greg Nichols
February 24, 2021

Researchers at Education Reference Desk (EduRef), a resource for current and prospective students, found that an artificial intelligence (AI) tool can write a college term paper in three to 20 minutes and achieve a passing grade. Humans, in contrast, took three days on average to complete the same assignment. The researchers had a panel of professors grade anonymous submissions to writing prompts from recent graduates and undergraduate-level writers and Open AI's GPT-3, a deep learning language prediction model. The professors gave GPT-3 an average grade of "C" in four subjects, and it failed just one assignment. Said the researchers, "Even without being augmented by human interference, GPT-3's assignments received more or less the same feedback as the human writers."

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Novel Soft Tactile Sensor with Skin-Comparable Characteristics for Robots
Asia Research News
March 1, 2021

A team of researchers from the City University of Hong Kong (CityU), Carnegie Mellon University, and China's Southern University of Science and Technology have developed a soft tactile sensor with skin-comparable properties. The device features a flexible, magnetized 0.55-millimeter-thick top layer, and application of an external force induces the sensor to detect magnetic-field changes via the layer's deformation. The sensor also can decouple external force automatically into normal and shear force, yielding accurate measurement of both forces. Tactile super-resolution also enables the device to pinpoint the stimuli's position with maximum accuracy. The team mounted the sensor on the fingertip of a robotic gripper, and demonstrated that it could stably grasp fragile objects while an external force tried to drag it away.

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Intelligent Computing for Interactive System Design
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