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Welcome to the March 31, 2021 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Jeffrey Ullman (left) and Alfred Aho. Turing Award Goes to Creators of Computer Programming Building Blocks
The New York Times
Cade Metz
March 31, 2021

ACM announced Jeffrey Ullman and Alfred Aho will be the recipients of this year's A.M. Turing Award for their work on the fundamental concepts that undergird computer programming languages. The scientists helped refine the compiler that efficiently translates human-written software programs into something computers can understand, and which today allows practically anyone to program computers to perform new tasks. Ullman and Aho also authored many textbooks, and taught generations of students as they distinguished software development from fields like electrical engineering or math. Columbia University's Krysta Svore said her work on quantum computers at Microsoft builds on Ullman and Aho's computing language concepts, as quantum systems require their own programming languages.

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A researcher at the Utah State University worked with the Texas Advanced Computing Center’s Frontera supercomputer to model the way virus particles disperse in a room. U.S. Covid-19 Supercomputing Group Evaluates Year-Long Effort
The Wall Street Journal
Sara Castellanos
March 24, 2021

The Covid-19 High-Performance Computing Consortium gave researchers free access to the world's most powerful computers over the past year. Courtesy of the consortium—whose 43 members include the U.S. Department of Energy's national laboratories and technology companies like IBM, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google—researchers across the globe were given access to more than 600 petaflops of computing capacity, more than 6.8 million compute nodes, and more than 50,000 graphics-processing units. Members of the consortium recently spoke on the progress of their initiative and advocated for a formal organization in charge of making computing resources available in the event of future pandemics, hurricanes, oil spills, wildfires, and other natural disasters. “The consortium is proof we were able to act fast and act together,” said IBM’s Dario Gil, who helped create the consortium.

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Robot Lizard Can Quickly Climb a Wall, Just Like the Real Thing
New Scientist
Ibrahim Sawal
March 31, 2021

A robot built by researchers at Australia's University of the Sunshine Coast has legs and feet programmed to mimic the gait of climbing lizards. Tested against common house geckos and Australian water dragons in climbing up a carpeted wall, the robot had a 50% chance of falling when climbing at more than 70% or less than 40% of its maximum speed, and so maintained its grip by staying between those speeds. The robot held fast with total success with forelimbs rotated outwards 20 degrees and hind limbs 100 degrees, and when its limbs were rotated inwards at the same angles. Sunshine Coast's Christofer Clemente said the work proves that "if we want to build more efficient robots, the first place we should be looking is nature."

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Auto-Updating Websites When Facts Change
MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory
March 29, 2021

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed models to reduce the amount of incorrect or outdated information online and dynamically adjust to recent changes. The researchers used deep learning models to rank an initial set of about 200 million revisions to popular English-language Wikipedia pages. Annotators found about a third of the top 300,000 revisions included a factual difference. The researchers created a model to mimic the filtering performed by human annotators, which can detect nearly 85% of revisions that include a factual change. They also created a model to automatically revise texts and suggest edits to other articles, as well as a robust fact verification model. MIT's Tal Schuster said, "Instead of teaching the model that the population of a certain city is this and this, we teach it to read the current sentence from Wikipedia and find the answer that it needs."

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The logos of LinkedIn and Microsoft. Microsoft Targets 50,000 Jobs with LinkedIn 'Re-skilling' Effort
Stephen Nellis
March 30, 2021

Microsoft announced its intent to hire 50,000 people for jobs requiring technology skills over the next three years, as part of a broader campaign with professional networking site LinkedIn to re-skill workers affected by the pandemic for new fields. Microsoft said the placements will be within its "ecosystem" of companies that utilize or help sell its products. The push began late last year as pandemic-related business closures had a greater impact on service workers than on technology and other white-collar employees who could work from home. LinkedIn offered many paid digital skills training courses for free, ranging from software development to data analysis to financial analysis. The site said it will extend the free courses until year's end, while Microsoft and LinkedIn estimate that total enrollees have reached 30.7 million, up from an expected 25 million.

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The new system can find and track flowing blood cells in a beating heart. Researchers Use AI to Show Multidimensional Imaging of Biological Processes
UCLA Samueli School of Engineering
March 29, 2021

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), China's Huazhong University, and Canada's University of Toronto designed a high-resolution dynamic imaging microscopy system enhanced with artificial intelligence. The team combined light-field microscopy for three-dimensional imaging with a deep learning neural network. The system was able to facilitate volumetric imaging at 200 cubic frames per second, exposing the transient processes within a cell volume smaller than a grain of salt. UCLA's Tzung Hsiai said, "This new system allows us to see biological events live in what is essentially five dimensions—the three dimensions of space, plus time and the molecular level dynamics as highlighted by color spectra."

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Partisan Media Sites May Not Sway Opinions, but Erode Trust in Mainstream Press
University of Illinois News Bureau
Sharita Forrest
March 29, 2021

Greater exposure to partisan media websites may not change readers' political views, but undermines their trust in the mainstream press, according to a multi-institutional analysis led by University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) researchers. The team studied 1,037 Internet users during the 2018-2019 U.S. midterm election, monitored by passive metering software. Data was compiled on more than 19 million study participants' site visits, as well as their Twitter posts and follows. UIUC's JungHwan Yang said the team applied a "nudgelike" strategy to boost participants' exposure to two partisan websites (Fox News and HuffPost), while a control group that received no such “nudges” did not change its online behavior. Yang said the researchers observed among partisan site visitors "a lowering in their overall trust of the media, and that can promote polarization by making people less receptive to information that challenges their beliefs."

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Tool Strips Manipulative 'Dark Patterns' From Mobile Apps
IEEE Spectrum
Edd Gent
March 30, 2021

Researchers at the U.K.'s University of Oxford have developed the user-friendly GreaseDroid tool to eliminate "dark pattern" design features from popular mobile applications. Such features aim to subtly manipulate users' online behavior to profit app makers, but may significantly harm user autonomy, privacy, well-being, and choice. GreaseDroid lets users implement patches to edit app code, and remove or alter features supporting dark patterns, through a Web portal. Users choose the app to be modified, then browse a library of patches that each target different dark patterns; following selection, the GreaseDroid software deploys the alterations and supplies a link to download a bespoke version of the app. Purdue University's Colin Gray said GreaseDroid highlights "the use of what might be considered ethical 'hacking' to allow consumers to respond to addictive and manipulative threats that are present in apps on their smart devices."

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Getting the Inside Track on Street Design
KAUST Discovery (Saudi Arabia)
March 29, 2021

Researchers at Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) and Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology used anonymous phone data to measure the influence of building density and street design on pedestrian behavior in London, Amsterdam, and Stockholm. Previous research determined that built density and street type correlated with pedestrian flow intensity and flow variations. KAUST's David Bolin said, "We took advantage of the power of large-scale data collection to determine if these same variables [density and street type] could explain both the full-day counts in different streets and the variations in flow over the day.” They found built density, street type, and attraction variables like local markets affected total pedestrian counts; built density, unlike street type, explained shifts in flow throughout the day, and the model forecast pedestrian flow for some areas of the cities better than others.

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An iPhone. Android Sends 20x More Data to Google Than iOS Sends to Apple, Study Says
Ars Technica
Dan Goodin
March 30, 2021

Douglas Leith at Ireland's Trinity College suggests the Android operating system (OS) transmits about 20 times more information from smartphone handsets to Google than iOS sends to Apple, even when the devices appear idle, are just opened, or users have opted out. At startup, Android devices transmit about 1 MB of data versus iOS's 42 KB; idle, Android transmits approximately 1 MB every 12 hours, compared to iOS's roughly 52 KB. Both OSes also send data to their parent companies when users perform tasks like inserting a subscriber identification module card or browsing the handset settings screen. Even when not in use, each device links to its back-end server on average every 4.5 minutes. Leith also found pre-installed applications or services made network connections even when the handset is unopened or unused, and said these findings are worrisome, because "currently there are few, if any, realistic options for preventing this data sharing."

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