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Welcome to the April 21, 2021 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Facial Recognition, Other 'Risky' AI Set for Constraints in EU
Natalia Drozdiak
April 21, 2021

The European Commission has proposed new rules constraining the use of facial recognition and other artificial intelligence applications, and threatening fines for companies that fail to comply. The rules would apply to companies that, among other things, exploit vulnerable groups, deploy subliminal techniques, or score people’s social behavior. The use of real-time remote biometric identification systems by law enforcement also would be prohibited unless used specifically to prevent a terror attack, find missing children, or for other public security emergencies. Other high-risk applications, including for self-driving cars and in employment or asylum decisions, would have to undergo checks of their systems before deployment. The proposed rules need to be approved by the European Parliament and by individual member-states before they could become law.

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An N95 respirator mask sitting on an eviction notice. Modeling Shows Pandemic Eviction Bans Protect Entire Communities From Covid-19 Spread
Johns Hopkins Medicine Newsroom
April 19, 2021

Researchers at institutions including Johns Hopkins University and the University of Pennsylvania used computer modeling to determine that eviction bans during the Covid-19 pandemic lowered infection rates, shielding entire communities from the virus. The scientists said they used simulations to predict additional virus infections in major U.S. cities if bans were not authorized in fall 2020. The team initially calibrated its model to reproduce the most common epidemic patterns observed in major cities last year, accounting for infection-rate changes due to public health measures. Another iteration factored in the lifting of eviction bans, determining that people who are evicted or who live in a household that hosts evictees are 1.5 to 2.5 times more likely to become infected than with such bans in place.

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U.S. President Joe Biden delivering remarks on Russia, April 15, 2021. U.S. Takes Steps to Protect Electric System From Cyberattack
April 20, 2021

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced Monday a 100-day initiative that aims to protect the nation's electric system from cyberattacks. The initiative calls on owners and operators of power plants and electric utilities to follow concrete milestones to implement technologies that allow for real-time intrusion detection and response. In addition, DOE is requesting feedback from electric utilities, energy companies, government agencies, and others on how to safeguard the energy system supply chain. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said the U.S. "faces a well-documented and increasing cyber threat from malicious actors seeking to disrupt the electricity Americans rely on to power our homes and businesses."

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Color-Changing Beetle Inspires Algorithm for Efficient Engineering
New Scientist
Matthew Sparkes
April 20, 2021

An algorithm inspired by the way the golden tortoise beetle changes color can address engineering challenges faster than other approaches, according to researchers at Iran's University of Tabriz. The male beetle's ability to change its wing casings' hue to attract females and ward off predators spurred Tabriz's Omid Tarkhaneh and colleagues to generate a virtual landscape that represents all potential solutions to a given problem; a population of virtual beetles inhabits this space, with each beetle's location signaling a possible solution. For each algorithm iteration, the quality of each solution is tested and the color of each virtual beetle changes to represent its viability, with the simulated attraction dynamic causing some or all of the beetles to converge on a position that represents the optimum solution. In applying this algorithm to two common engineering problems, the researchers found it more efficient at finding solutions than five existing nature-inspired evolutionary algorithms.

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U.S. Banks Deploy AI to Monitor Customers, Workers Amid Tech Backlash
Paresh Dave; Jeffrey Dastin
April 19, 2021

Several U.S. banks, including City National Bank of Florida, JPMorgan Chase & Co., and Wells Fargo & Co. are rolling out artificial intelligence systems to analyze customer preferences, monitor employees, and detect suspicious activity near ATMs. City National will commence facial recognition trials in early 2022, with the goal of replacing less-secure authentication systems. JPMorgan is testing video analytic technology at some Ohio branches, and Wells Fargo uses the technology in an effort to prevent fraud. Concerns about the use of such technology range from errors in facial matches and the loss of privacy to disproportionate use of monitoring systems in lower-income and non-white communities. Florida-based Brannen Bank's Walter Connors said, "Anybody walking into a branch expects to be recorded. But when you're talking about face recognition, that's a larger conversation."

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A Microsoft store. Microsoft's Nuance Gambit Shows Healthcare Shaping Up as Next Tech Battleground
The Wall Street Journal
Rolfe Winkler; Aaron Tilley
April 14, 2021

Microsoft's $16-billion acquisition of Nuance Communications Inc. comes as the pandemic highlights the healthcare industry's potential as a growth area for technology companies. Analysts say the deal will enable Microsoft to use the speech-recognition software provider as a way to sell more lucrative products and services to its healthcare customers. In addition, Microsoft will be able to integrate the understanding of medical terminology in Nuance's language-processing engine into products like Teams. The Nuance deal follows Amazon’s announcement of plans to roll out telehealth services nationwide. Meanwhile, Apple is selling its iPhone and Apple Watch devices to healthcare providers, and Google is working with two medical systems to make health records searchable. Gartner Inc.'s Gregg Pessin said, "The pandemic response by the healthcare industry has proven the value of technology to healthcare delivery. All the digital giants are paying attention."

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Brain-on-a-Chip Would Need Little Training
KAUST Discovery (Saudi Arabia)
April 20, 2021

Researchers at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia used a spiking neural network (SNN) on a microchip as a foundation for developing more efficient hardware-based artificial intelligence systems. KAUST's Wenzhe Guo said SNNs mimic the biological nervous system and can process information faster and more efficiently than artificial neural networks. The researchers created a brain-on-a-chip using a standard FPGA microchip and a spike-timing-dependent plasticity model, which allowed the neuromorphic computing system to learn real-world data patterns without training. Compared to other neural network platforms, the brain-on-a-chip was more than 20 times faster and 200 times more energy efficient. Guo said, "Our ultimate goal is to build a compact, fast and low-energy brain-like hardware computing system."

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U.K. Regulator Gives Green Light to Delivery Drone Trials
Financial Times
Philip Georgiadis
April 19, 2021

The U.K. Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has authorized a trial in which drone company will operate regular drone flights beyond the pilot's line of sight at three remote industrial sites. Remote pilots will fly the drones using only cameras and sensors. If they are successful, the trials could enable drone flights to be rolled out at scale throughout the logistics sector.'s John McKenna believes autonomous drones likely will be used initially in industrial settings to monitor rail and road infrastructure or nuclear power plants. He said drone delivery of Amazon packages or pizzas is "still a long way off."

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This DNA Robots Designed in Minutes Instead of Days
Ohio State News
Jeff Grabmeier
April 19, 2021

Software developed by researchers at Ohio State University can help combine tiny DNA strands into robots that potentially could be used to deliver drugs inside the body, detect deadly pathogens, or develop even smaller electronics. The MagicDNA software can develop nanodevices in just minutes, compared to several days when done manually. It also can create more complex nanodevices with up to 20 components that are easier to control, compared with about six components connected with joints and hinges built using traditional processes. The software allows for an entirely three-dimensional design process, with researchers able to build DNA structures "bottom up," in which they decide how to organize individual DNA strands into the desired structure, or "top down," in which they determine the device shape and then automate the organization of the DNA strands. The software also simulates real-world movement and operation of the devices.

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Robotic tails can make orientation tasks easier for mobile robots. Tailing New Ideas
Carnegie Mellon University College of Engineering News
Madison Brewer
April 16, 2021

Researchers at Carnegie Mellow University (CMU) and South Africa's University of Cape Town developed an aerodynamic drag tail that could improve a robot's agility when navigating natural terrain. The tail was inspired by the tail of the cheetah, which helps the animal achieve precision and maneuverability at high speeds while retaining low inertia. The aerodynamic drag tail can help robots recover from foot slips and minimize damage during falls. CMU's Joseph Norby said, "Robotic tails have historically relied on high inertia tails because of their simplicity, but nature has already figured out that there are better ways to stabilize agile motions. This research suggests that following nature's inspiration results in equally capable tails for a fraction of the weight cost."

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A Hacker's Nightmare: Programmable Chips Secured by Chaos
IEEE Spectrum
Payal Dhar
April 19, 2021

Ohio State University (OSU) scientists demonstrated a method of using physically unclonable functions (PUFs)—technology for generating unique signatures for programmable chips—to thwart hackers. OSU's Noeloikeau Charlot said, "Because there's so many possible fingerprints, even if [hackers] have access to your device, it would still take longer than the lifetime of the universe for them to actually record all possible combinations." OSU's Daniel Gauthier said current PUFs contain a limited number of secrets, which when numbering in the tens, hundreds of thousands, or even 1 million, gives properly equipped hackers enough knowledge to crack those secrets. The team built a network in the PUFs of randomly interconnected logic gates in order to create "deterministic chaos," which machine learning exploits could not decipher.

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A Tool for Navigating Complex Computer Instructions
MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory
Rachel Gordon
April 16, 2021

A new tool developed by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign automatically generates compiler plugins that can handle more complex instructions. The tool, VeGen, could help eliminate the need for software developers to manually write assembly code for new Intel computer chips. The compiler plugins generated by VeGen allow for the exploitation of non-Single Instruction Multiple Data (SIMD), which allows multiple operations, like addition and subtraction, to be performed simultaneously. CSAIL's Yishen Chen said, "The long-term goal is that, whenever you add new features on your hardware, we can automatically figure out a way—without having to rewrite your code—to use those hardware accelerators."

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Algorithm Uses Online Learning for Massive Cell Datasets
Michigan Medicine
Kelly Malcolm
April 19, 2021

An algorithm developed by University of Michigan (U of M) researchers employs online learning to accelerate the analysis of enormous cell datasets, using the amount of memory found on a standard laptop computer. The algorithm enables new datasets to be added to existing ones without reprocessing the older datasets, and allows researchers to segment datasets into mini-batches so less memory is required for processing. U of M's Joshua Welch said, "Our technique allows anyone with a computer to perform analyses at the scale of an entire organism. That's really what the field is moving towards."

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