ACM TechNews

Welcome to the August 17, 2022, edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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A sperm whale traverses the ocean. Detection System Could Save Sperm Whales from Ship Strikes
Claudia Geib
August 15, 2022

A team led by researchers at Greece's Foundation for Research and Technology–Hellas developed a detection system that can identify the location of sperm whales in an effort to prevent ship strikes. The goal is for the System for the Avoidance of Ship-Strikes with Endangered Whales (SAvEWhales) to give ships enough notice to change direction or slow down when a whale is nearby. The researchers attached three hydrophones to buoys positioned in a triangle 1 to 2 kilometers apart and developed a computer program to measure how long it took for each hydrophone to pick up the sound of a sperm whale clicking in order to triangulate its position. The algorithm also can calculate the depth of the clicking whale using the reflections of the sound bouncing off the ocean's surface. The SAvEWhales system can detect a whale up to 900 meters deep within 10 kilometers of the buoys.

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Researchers Bin Yan (left) and Nikolai Sinitsyn (right) write out an analytical proof on a chalk board. Quantum Annealing Can Beat Classical Computing in Limited Cases
Los Alamos National Laboratory
August 16, 2022

Quantum annealing computers can run algorithms faster than classical computers in certain instances, but typically not when time is limited. Nikolai Sinitsyn and Bin Yan at the U.S. Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory designed a purely analytical strategy to demonstrate a simple untuned process that solves any computational problem considered by a quantum annealing system, with computational accuracy characterized at any point during runtime. However, this accuracy is rarely superior to classical algorithmic performance because efficient quantum computing depends on quantum effects, while many quantum histories interfere to magnify the useful information in the final state. Fine-tuning ensures proper interference, although the existence of exceptions leaves open a path toward superior quantum computing.

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Gaming for Science: How Video Games Are Making Research Fun
Nathaniel Scharping
August 15, 2022

Video games paired with citizen science increasingly are being used by researchers to make data collection and analysis fun and rewarding. One study found that volunteers playing the Stall Catchers citizen science game processed 50 times as much data as researchers working alone. Another study found that volunteers playing Cell Slider classified tumor images with over 90% accuracy, nearly on par with trained pathologists. Jay Halderman of BALANCED Media|Technology, which has developed multiple citizen science video games, said, "The concept is for the player, without actually knowing the background of the problem, without knowing the science of the problem, to be able to do something that helps solve the problem." Added Olivier Morin of Germany's Max Planck Institute for Geoanthropology, "We need creative players who want to push the boundaries of the game and create unique kinds of data we could never gather in an experiment."

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The Photon Ring: A Black Hole Ready for Its Close-Up
University of Waterloo (Canada)
August 16, 2022

Scientists led by a University of Waterloo researcher used algorithms to "remaster" the imagery of a photon ring that was part of a supermassive black hole at the center of the M87 galaxy. The researchers used an algorithm within the THEMIS Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) analysis framework to separate and extract the ring from the original back hole observations, as well as to highlight the presence of a jet blasting outward. "The approach we took involved leveraging our theoretical understanding of how these black holes look to build a customized model for the EHT data," said Dominic Pesce at the Center for Astrophysics Harvard & Smithsonian. "This model decomposes the reconstructed image into the two pieces that we care most about, so we can study both pieces individually rather than blended together." The findings verify theoretical predictions and provide new avenues to explore black holes.

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Thinking Like a Cyber-Attacker to Protect User Data
MIT News
Adam Zewe
August 11, 2022

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the Texas Advanced Computing Center have demonstrated that hackers can exploit computer processors' on-chip interconnect to launch side-channel attacks. The researchers formulated such attacks by reverse-engineering the on-chip interconnect to build an analytical model of traffic flow between the processor cores, then developed two mitigation strategies. One strategy would have the system administrator apply the model to identify the most vulnerable cores, then schedule sensitive software to run on less susceptible cores. The second strategy involves the administrator reserving cores located around a vulnerable program, and running only trusted software on those cores. Neither strategy demands altering the physical hardware, says MIT’s Miles Dai.

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AI Model Recommends Personalized Fonts to Improve Digital Reading, Accessibility
University of Central Florida
Cara Cannon
August 11, 2022

Researchers at the University of Central Florida (UCF) and Adobe found that Adobe's FontMART machine learning model can expand digital information accessibility and improve individual reading experiences. The model offers personalized font recommendations that can improve reading speed by matching reader characteristics, such as font familiarity and age, with specific font characteristics, such as heavier weight. The researchers determined that when recommending a font, the reader's age plays a significant role, as older adults with weaker and variable eyesight generally find thicker font strokes easier to read. Said UCF's Ben Sawyer, "The future of readability is a device watching humans read and using their performance to tailor the format so that they read at their best. We look forward to the day when you can pick up a device, read, and receive information in a way that uniquely suits your needs."

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A woman uses her fingers to hold her eyes open wide. Did a Robot Help Create That Ad? The Answer, Increasingly, Is Yes
The Wall Street Journal
Patrick Coffee
August 10, 2022

Companies increasingly are turning to artificial intelligence (AI) to inform their marketing strategies. The travel search company Kayak, for instance, turned to Supernatural Development LLC, which uses an internal AI platform to generate ideas for advertising copy and other marketing materials. The platform takes into consideration answers to questions about the business, consumer social media data, and market research. Meanwhile, Dollar Shave Club is working with Addition Technologies Inc., which has an AI platform capable of analyzing millions of social media posts to suggest potential marketing themes. Said Dollar Shave Club's Matt Orser, "It's like having a machine hive mind that you can just keep asking questions because it has completely consumed all comments on the subject." Although there are concerns that AI could eliminate entry-level marketing jobs, Babson College's Tom Davenport said humans will still be required to assess content for public consumption and help avoid controversies.

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A fixed-wing drone sits on a runway. Florida Utility's Drone Can Speed Hurricane Recovery
Associated Press
Cody Jackson
August 15, 2022

Florida Power and Light (FPL), the Sunshine State’s main energy provider, plans to deploy a fixed-wing drone to speed up electricity restoration following severe weather. The remotely operated FPLAir One can fly up to 1,000 miles at a time, and into tropical-storm-force winds, to assess damage on top of power poles. The drone can stay airborne for 22 hours without refueling. It also can fly over a storm's path and collect data to determine where ground crews are needed. Said FPL's Eric Silagy, "Rather than going out and try to figure out what's going on, we're able to save hours and days on getting the lights on." The company used a small drone following Hurricane Irma in 2017 to help it restore power within 24 hours to over two million customers.

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Deepfakes Expose Vulnerabilities in Facial Recognition Technology
Pennsylvania State University
Jessica Hallman
August 11, 2022

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University and China's Shandong and Zhejiang universities found most application programming interfaces (APIs) using the facial liveness verification detection feature of facial recognition technology do not always identify deepfakes, and those that can are less effective than claimed at detecting deepfakes. The researchers created and used the LiveBugger deepfake-powered attack framework to evaluate six commercial facial liveness verification APIs. LiveBugger tried to deceive the APIs using deepfake images and videos from two separate datasets, and easily bypassed the four most common verification methods. The researchers proposed strengthening the technology's security by eliminating verification that only analyzes a static image of a user's face, and by matching lip movements to a user's voice in dual audio-video analysis schemes.

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Anti-Tracking Tool Checks If You're Being Followed Anti-Tracking Tool Checks If You're Being Followed
Matt Burgess
August 11, 2022

U.S. Department of Homeland Security agent Matt Edmondson built a Raspberry Pi-powered anti-tracking tool to determine if someone is being tailed. The system scans for nearby wireless devices and alerts the user if it detects the same phone multiple times within a certain period. The tool is protected by a waterproof case, and consists of a Raspberry Pi 3, a device-scanning Wi-Fi card, a portable charger, and a touchscreen to display alerts. The device's Kismet software can detect surrounding smartphones and tablets that are searching for Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connections, and Edmondson wrote code in Python to compile lists of what it detects over time. The tool flashes an onscreen alert if the same device appears twice in the past five to 10 minutes, 10-to-15 minutes, and 15-to-20 minutes.

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Sniffing Out Cancer with Insect Olfactory Neural Circuits
News-Medical Life Sciences
Liji Thomas
August 11, 2022

Scientists paired an insect's olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs) with an electrophysiological monitoring platform to examine the volatile organic compound (VOC) composition of human oral cancers, analyzed by computational modeling. The neurons respond to more than one VOC based on chemical type, and uses a combinatorial coding process of identification which gives as few as 50 ORNs the ability to detect several trillions of odorant molecules. The researchers connected a live locust brain and antennae to the antennae’s chemical sensors, which had been exposed to cancer-associated VOCs. They induced the locust's antennal lobe neurons to respond to various odorants, then recorded and used the responses to detect mixed VOCs from three types of oral cancer cells. The system can facilitate accurate and reliable detection of VOCs separate from background chemicals.

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CMU Hacking Team Wins Super Bowl of Hacking for Sixth Time
Carnegie Mellon University
Ryan Noone
August 15, 2022

Students at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) won the DEF CON hacking conference's Capture the Flag competition for the sixth time. The 72-hour hacking spree, known as the "Super Bowl of hacking," involves teams from across the globe attempting to break into each other's systems to steal virtual flags and accumulate points while also working to protect their own systems. Said CMU's David Brumley, the team's faculty advisor, "If you're wondering who the best and brightest security experts in the world are, look no further than the Capture the Flag room at DEF CON."

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An underwater robot autonomously scans the seabed. Underwater Robot Scans Seabed to Seek Out Most Harmful Pollution
New Scientist
Matthew Sparkes
August 10, 2022

An underwater robot developed by researchers at Norway's Skarv Technologies leverages artificial intelligence (AI) image recognition to scan the seabed for debris. In addition to stereo cameras, the 45-kilogram robot is outfitted with a spectrometer developed by researchers at Norway's Ecotone, which can identify materials in murky waters. Trained on 28,000 images of underwater debris and their descriptive tags, the AI model can classify the images and GPS data collected by the robot during its underwater survey and generate color-coordinated maps. The researchers tested the system in a bay in Bergen, Norway, where it detected 3,894 objects and classified them as bottles, plastics, metal, or other items. The technology could be used to concentrate clean-up efforts on hazardous materials.

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Concurrency:  The Works of Leslie Lamport
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