Seton Hall M.S. in Data Science
Welcome to the March 5, 2021 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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A college student walking through athermal sensor. Colleges That Require Virus-Screening Tech Struggle to Say Whether It Works
The New York Times
Natasha Singer; Kellen Browning
March 5, 2021

Hundreds of U.S. colleges and universities have adopted new Covid screening technologies, but difficulties containing the virus have raised doubts about their effectiveness. Schools including the University of Missouri are using the free CampusClear application from startup, which queries users about possible symptoms like high temperature or loss of the sense of smell; those reporting no symptoms are cleared to enter campus buildings.'s Jason Fife said the company does not track individual CampusClear users who report symptoms and later test positive for Covid, due to privacy issues. Meanwhile, Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts deployed location-tracking tools to log students' whereabouts by having them swipe ID cards to enter campus buildings, or scan bar codes at certain campus sites. However, some experts said schools lack sufficient information to make more informed decisions on health screening.

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Illustration of a brain image on a computer chip. In Battle with U.S., China to Focus on 7 'Frontier' Technologies From Chips to Brain-Computer Fusion
Arjun Kharpal
March 5, 2021

China has highlighted seven "frontier" technologies on which it will concentrate research, including artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing, in its race with the U.S. for technological supremacy. Beijing said its latest five-year development plan will make "science and technology self-reliance and self-improvement a strategic pillar for national development." China's AI push will include specialized chip development, open source algorithms, and machine learning in decision-making and similar areas. China also will invest in quantum information, and pursue research and development in integrated circuit design tools, key equipment, and key materials; the latter effort will attempt to eliminate China's reliance on foreign companies for semiconductor-making assets. Another planned research area is brain-inspired computing and brain-computer fusion technology, whose American equivalent is implantable brain-chip interfaces that link humans and computers.

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Google to Stop Tracking Users for Targeted Ads
The Hill
Rebecca Klar
March 3, 2021

Google will no longer track users across Internet searches to sell targeted advertising, and will not build alternative user-tracking models. The company in 2020 pledged to phase out the use of third-party cookies within two years, as part of its Privacy Sandbox initiative to develop standards to improve online privacy. Google's David Temkin said in Wednesday's announcement that Google products will be powered by "privacy-preserving [application programming interfaces] which prevent individual tracking while still delivering results for advertisers and publishers." He cited data Google issued in January demonstrating a method to "effectively" remove third-party cookies from advertising, by "clustering" communities with similar interests, rather than specific individuals.

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Trophies. Programming Language Rankings: JavaScript Still Rules, Python Holds Off Java
Liam Tung
March 3, 2021

RedMonk's Q1 2021 programming language popularity rankings put JavaScript, Python, and Java at the top of the list. The first-quarter rankings differ little from July 2020 rankings, but RedMonk's Stephen O'Grady said half of the top 20 languages "experienced a degree of movement, which is very unusual." O'Grady, citing Python's rapid ascent to the No. 2 spot last July, said its "ability to defend its new high ranking is notable." The rankings are based on data like pull requests in various languages on GitHub, and discussions on the developer info-sharing site Stack Overflow. O'Grady said that based on the growing number of pull requests, JavaScript is a "force of nature like no other within the industry."

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Cybersecurity Researchers Build Better 'Canary Trap'
Dartmouth News
David Hirsch
March 1, 2021

The WE-FORGE data protection system developed by Dartmouth College cybersecurity researchers uses an artificial intelligence version of the "canary trap," in which multiple false documents are distributed to conceal secrets. The system uses natural language processing to automatically generate false documents to protect intellectual property. WE-FORGE also adds an element of randomness, to keep adversaries from easily identifying actual documents. The algorithm computes similarities between concepts in a document, analyzes each word's relevance, then sorts concepts into "bins" and computes a feasible candidate for each group. Dartmouth's V.S. Subrahmanian said, "The system produces documents that are sufficiently similar to the original to be plausible, but sufficiently different to be incorrect."

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From left, Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology's Kyung-Jun Park, Yongsoon Eun, and Sangjun Kim Cutting Off Stealthy Interlopers: A Framework for Secure Cyber-Physical Systems
Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology (South Korea)
February 25, 2021

Researchers at South Korea's Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology (DGIST) engineered a cyber-physical system (CPS) framework incorporating real-time cyberattack detection and recovery capabilities. The framework counters pole-dynamics attacks, in which hackers connect to a node in the CPS network and feed it false sensor data, which can cause physical actuators to misbehave. The DGIST team applied software-defined networking (SDN) to make the CPS network more dynamic by distributing signal relays via controllable SDN switches; an attack-detection algorithm in the switches can alert the centralized network manager if false sensor data is being injected. The compromised nodes are severed after the network manager is flagged, and a new safe path for sensor data deployed.

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A silicone rubber robot that can withstand the pressures of the ocean’s deepest abyss. Submersible Soft Robot Survives Pressure of Mariana Trench
New Scientist
Matthew Sparkes
March 3, 2021

A silicone rubber submersible robot engineered by researchers at China's Zhejiang University successfully withstood the immense pressures in the Mariana trench, the deepest oceanic trench on Earth, reaching a depth of 10,900 meters (6.77 miles) below the surface of the Pacific Ocean. The team modeled the robot after snailfish, with electronic components spread throughout its body and wired together so high pressure was less stressful on the hardware. The vehicle is propelled by two flapping wings driven by artificial muscles made of a conductive polymer that contracts in response to an electrical current. Tethered to a traditional submarine, the robot maintained this flapping motion for 45 minutes in the Mariana trench. During untethered tests at a depth of 3,224 meters (2 miles) in the South China Sea, the robot achieved speeds of more than 5 centimeters per second.

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An arrow pointing upwards cut from a U.S. dollar bill. Silicon Valley Stays on Top as Tech Salaries Climb Across U.S.
IEEE Spectrum
Tekla S. Perry
March 3, 2021

The 2021 State of Software Engineers Report from online employment site Hired found that the pandemic put a damper on the demand for software engineers, based on a falling number of interview requests. However, it found that almost all tech jobs in all major technology hubs saw salaries rise last year. Meanwhile, a report from job search platform Dice found that Charlotte, NC, saw tech salaries increase the most, though Silicon Valley remains at the top in terms of absolute dollar figures. The Dice report showed a 3.6% gain in the average salary of a U.S. tech professional from last year, to $97,859.

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Novel System Improves AI Testing
Northwestern McCormick School of Engineering
Brian Sandalow
March 2, 2021

Artificial intelligence (AI)'s common sense can be tested by a novel system for automatically writing and testing large sets of questions developed by researchers at Northwestern University and the Allen Institute for AI. The Generative Data AUGmentation for Commonsense Reasoning (G-DAUGc) tool can produce extra training data for commonsense models, and improve accuracy without additional annotation. G-DAUGc's assessment of three commonsense reasoning datasets enhanced detection of the models' sensitivity to minor perturbations. Datasets can be costly and time-consuming to compile, while subtle irregularities in how questions are written can complicate evaluation. Northwestern's Douglas Downey said, "We can help address both of these problems by automatically generating large datasets of questions, and using those to train systems. This made the systems more accurate and robust in our experiments."

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Cata visualization techniques used in social media posts to argue against public health precautions. When More Covid-19 Data Doesn't Equal More Understanding
MIT News
Daniel Ackerman
March 4, 2021

Coronavirus skeptics are deploying data visualizations like graphs and charts to counter content used to promote facts about Covid-19, according to a study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers. MIT's Crystal Lee said, "An initial hypothesis was that if we had more data visualizations, from data collected in a systematic way, then people would be better informed." Her team computationally scraped about 500,000 tweets that referred to both "Covid-19" and "data," and generated a network graph visualizing likes and retweets; anti-mask groups were creating and sharing data visualizations as much as, if not more than, other communities. Traditional ethnographic methods determined that the anti-maskers' counterarguments were surprisingly nuanced. From these observations, the MIT researchers concluded visualizations are insufficient for communicating the urgency of the pandemic, as even the clearest graphs can be interpreted through different belief systems.

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How a 10-Second Video Clip Sold for $6.6 Million
Elizabeth Howcroft; Ritvik Carvalho
March 1, 2021

In October, Miami-based art collector Pablo Rodriguez-Fraile bought a 10-second video clip by a digital artist for $67,000, even though it was freely available to watch; he recently sold it for $6.6 million. Blockchain technology publicly authenticated the clip as unique, and its sale highlights the booming appeal of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) during the Covid-19 pandemic, as collectors spend vast sums on purely digital assets. Non-fungible applies to items that cannot be exchanged on a like-for-like basis, as each one is novel. NFTs' popularity could be fueled by the hype surrounding cryptocurrencies and blockchain, along with virtual reality's potential to create online worlds. However, as with any emerging niche market, NFTs could suffer major losses if the hype dissipates, while there could be lucrative opportunities for fraud because many participants use aliases.

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A person working on a laptop computer. Research Highlights Impact of Digital Divide
University of Houston News
March 2, 2021

Researchers at the University of Houston, Rutgers University, and Temple University found that people with basic IT skills are more likely to be employed, even if their jobs are not explicitly associated with those skills. In addition, the researchers found that people with more advanced IT skills tend to earn higher salaries. The researchers said, "Workers who possess relevant IT skills might have an edge in an increasingly digital economy." The University of Houston's Paul A. Pavlou said the study highlights the need for strong public policy to enable people more likely to deal with employment discrimination, like women and older workers, to obtain basic IT skills. Pavlou said, "Workers are expected to obtain these IT skills themselves, in order to get a job in the first place. And the less-privileged population they are, the harder time they have obtaining these skills that require computer equipment and Internet access."

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CVS, Walgreens Look for Big Data Reward From Covid-19 Vaccinations
The Wall Street Journal
Sharon Terlep
March 2, 2021

Pharmacy chains including CVS Health, Walmart, and Walgreens-Boots Alliance are collecting data from customers as they sign up for coronavirus vaccinations by enrolling them in patient systems and having them complete profiles in the pharmacies’ customer systems. For example, anyone receiving a vaccine at Walmart must create a profile in the company's online system, while visitors to Walgreens' website must sign up for a Walgreens account to search for open appointments. The companies said this data is used to promote their stores and services, customize marketing campaigns, keep consumer communication lines open, and streamline vaccinations and enhance record-keeping, while ensuring that only eligible persons will be immunized. Being able to connect digitally and compile data on people who would not otherwise patronize the chains can benefit the companies, which are unlikely to profit financially from vaccinating Americans against Covid-19.

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