Ph.D. in Computer Science
Welcome to the October 22, 2021 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Berna Gomez wearing the eyeglasses equipped with a miniature video camera that permit her to see. Scientists Enable Blind Woman to See Simple Shapes Using Brain Implant
University of Utah
October 21, 2021

Scientists at the University of Utah (UoU) and Spain's Miguel Hernandez University have given artificial vision to a blind woman through a brain implant. Surgeons implanted the Utah Electrode Array (UEA) into Berna Gómez's visual cortex; she wore eyeglasses with a video camera, and software encoded and transmitted the camera's visual data to the UEA. The array stimulated neurons to generate phosphenes, seen as white points of light, to produce an image. Gómez successfully identified lines, shapes, and simple letters evoked by different stimulation patterns. UoU's Dr. Eduardo Fernández said, “These results are very exciting because they demonstrate both safety and efficacy.” Fernández added, “We have taken a significant step forward, showing the potential of these types of devices to restore functional vision for people who have lost their vision.”

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Illustration of an umbrella/smartphone with an ‘uplock’ button. Imagine if Your Therapist Could Access Data From Your Smartphone
The Wall Street Journal
Laura Landro
October 20, 2021

Scientists are designing and testing applications that collect smartphone data to enhance psychiatric therapy and help therapists make more timely interventions. Researchers at the Harvard University-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center have developed an app called mindLAMP designed to provide therapists with an overview of patient behavior and mental status. It uses smartphone sensors to collect behavioral data like screen time and sleep, and information from patients through surveys and cognitive tests; doctors review the data to evaluate patients' mental states and to tailor therapy regimens with them. Boston University researchers created the Motivation and Skills Support app to deliver targeted social-goal assistance to patients based on location, movement, and audio data continuously collected by their phones. University of Washington scientists are exploring the use of online search-history data to better understand suicide risk and design methods to detect and prevent it.

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Illustration of optical circuit switching Ultrafast Optical Switching Can Save Overwhelmed Data Centers
EPFL (Switzerland)
October 20, 2021

Researchers at Switzerland's École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and Microsoft Research used a chip-based soliton comb laser and a passive diffraction grating device to achieve ultrafast optical circuit switching. The architecture allows optical microcombs to serve as a multi-wavelength source providing coherent carriers. A chip-scale silicon nitride microresonator generates the microcomb sources through nonlinear frequency-conversion. Ultrafast switching between different microcomb carriers is performed by chip-scale indium phosphide-based optical amplifiers, which switch between different colors of light at sub-nanosecond timescales. The researchers demonstrated data transmission with packet-by-packet switching. EPFL's Tobias J. Kippenberg said, "The potential use of microcombs in datacenters to meet future bandwidth requirements and reduce power consumption further consolidate the importance of this platform for scientific and technological applications."

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A hovering Wing drone. Walgreens Testing Drone Deliveries in Texas
The Hill
Lexi Lonas
October 20, 2021

Retail pharmacy chain Walgreens and Google affiliate Wing will test drone deliveries in Texas next week in the city of Frisco and the town of Little Elm. Walgreens said 100 store items, including medicines, will be available for delivery via drone. Walgreens personnel will load the drones for each delivery, and Wing personnel will manage the actual delivery. Wing's Jonathan Bass said the flight system performs millions of simulations to optimize routing, so “it can navigate to a very specific location." The companies said the service has been tested in other parts of the world, and in Virginia.

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Smile for the camera, please. How Just 10 News Photos Can Predict Global Daily Stock Market Returns
Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (Australia)
October 19, 2021

Researchers at Australia’s Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT University) and Swinburne University of Technology have trained an algorithm to predict daily stock market returns by analyzing the "top lists" of editorial pictures on stock image website Getty. The algorithm generates a daily score based on the types of photos featured in global news reports. Said RMIT's Angel Zhong, "You can get a snapshot of global investment mood by looking at the 10 most popular photos, rather than reading hundreds of news articles." The algorithm can predict stock returns in 37 countries, overcoming language barriers. Zhong explained, "If you only look at the text of news articles, you often miss out capturing non-English speaking markets. Analyzing images removes that problem."

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One Giant Leap for the Mini Cheetah
MIT News
Adam Zewe
October 20, 2021

A team of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Arizona State University, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst developed a new control system that enhances the speed and agility of legged robots as they leap across gaps. The control system algorithmically processes and translates real-time forefront video input into instructions for bodily movement. The researchers combined the best elements of controllers that do not incorporate vision into a separate module that handles vision in real time, and trained the controller through reinforcement learning. Tests of the system when installed into MIT's mini cheetah robot found it outperformed other systems that use a single controller, enabling it to successfully cross 90% of physical terrains.

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The silhouette of an purported hacker in a hoodie holding a laptop. China-Linked Hacking Group Accessing Calling Records Worldwide
Joseph Menn
October 19, 2021

U.S. cybersecurity company CrowdStrike said a suspected China-linked hacking gang has infiltrated mobile telephone networks and used specialized tools to access calling records and texts from telecommunication carriers worldwide. The group, which CrowdStrike calls LightBasin, has been active since at least 2016. CrowdStrike's Adam Meyers said the company culled information about the group by responding to incidents in multiple nations. He said LightBasin's programs could capture specific data without attracting attention, noting, "I've never seen this degree of purpose-built tools." Meyers said evidence of the group’s associations with China include cryptography reliant on Pinyin phonetic versions of Chinese-language characters, as well as the use of methods the Chinese government has used in previous attacks.

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A novel proof that certain quantum convolutional networks can be trained. Breakthrough Proof Clears Path for Quantum AI
Los Alamos National Laboratory News
October 15, 2021

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) have devised a proof that convolutional neural networks can always be trained on quantum computers, avoiding the threat of "barren plateaus" in optimization problems. LANL's Marco Cerezo said while a barren plateau eliminates any possibility of quantum speedup or advantage, "We proved the absence of barren plateaus for a special type of quantum neural network. Our work provides trainability guarantees for this architecture, meaning that one can generically train its parameters." LANL's Patrick Coles said, "With this guarantee in hand, researchers will now be able to sift through quantum-computer data about quantum systems and use that information for studying material properties or discovering new materials, among other applications."

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Facial Recognition Cameras Arrive in U.K. School Canteens
Financial Times
Cynthia O'Murchu
October 17, 2021

Nine schools in the U.K.'s North Ayrshire region now use facial recognition cameras to accept cashless payments by scanning pupils' faces in cafeterias/canteens. David Swanston at education systems vendor CRB Cunninghams, which installed the cameras, said they verify facial images against encrypted faceprint templates stored on school servers. Many U.K. schools have adopted biometric payment systems, but privacy advocates say normalizing facial recognition technology is hardly necessary. Said Silkie Carlo with campaign group Big Brother Watch of the new system, "It’s normalizing biometric identity checks for something that is mundane. You don't need to resort to airport style [technology] for children getting their lunch."

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A map of the U.S. on a large screen. Computer Model to Aid Planning During Epidemics
New York University
James Devitt
October 19, 2021

The EpiPolicy software system developed by researchers at New York University (NYU) and the non-profit Ecohealth Alliance can be used to model epidemics while balancing economic and human health factors. EpiPolicy reproduces the "what-if" analysis that public-health and other professionals conduct when planning cost-effective policies. The model concurrently simulates each proposed intervention's impact on disease spread and economic cost, and captures different scenarios for pandemics like COVID-19. EpiPolicy also employs Monte Carlo and reinforcement learning methods to formulate intervention schemes automatically, and factors in risk and uncertainty in making predictions. NYU's Dennis Shasha said EpiPolicy was designed to support policymaking "in a way that can potentially simplify the calculations that need to be made under shifting conditions and that is broadly applicable."

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A red carpet preview. The Fickleness of Fame
Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (Switzerland)
October 21, 2021

Scientists at Switzerland's Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and Stanford University tracked mentions of more than 2,000 people who died between 2009 and 2014, to gauge how long recently deceased public figures remain in the collective memory. The researchers algorithmically analyzed the daily frequency of mentions of each deceased person in mainstream news and on Twitter in the year before and after they passed away. What they found were four prototypical patterns of postmortem memory: blip, silence, rise, and decline. EPFL's Robert West said about half of all people studied produced few mentions before dying, then received a small blip after they die before reverting to pre-mortem levels of mentions. Another 25% got basically no mentions, while a further 12.5% spiked when they died before mentions settled at levels higher than when they lived—usually politicians or athletes who are no longer active. Artists who created long-lasting cultural legacies tended to receive the largest average long-term attention boost following their deaths.

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A Pacman-like skeleton head. Gaming-Related Malware on the Rise on Mobile, PCs
IEEE Spectrum
Charles Q. Choi
October 21, 2021

Analysts at cybersecurity firm Proofpoint's Cloudmark mobile and email security division warn that popular online games are helping to spread malware on PCs and mobile devices. Data from virtual private network (VPN) service Atlas VPN indicated more than 303,000 PCs were infiltrated by such malware, adware, and spyware between July 1, 2020, and June 30, 2021, while another 50,000 users had attempted to download files masquerading as the 10 most-played mobile games. Cloudmark's Jacinta Tobin said games often are connected with online spaces where hackers prowl, like YouTube channels. Cloudmark also expressed concern about mobile-device exploits, such as the just-discovered TangleBot malware targeting Android devices in North America, which spreads through texts.

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