Welcome to the March 16, 2018 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Robot tortoise named Shelly, developed by Naver Labs Robotic Tortoise Helps Kids to Learn That Robot Abuse Is a Bad Thing
IEEE Spectrum
Evan Ackerman
May 14, 2018

Researchers from Naver Labs, the Korean Advanced Institute for Science and Technology, and Seoul National University in South Korea demonstrated how they used a tortoise-shaped robot to teach children not to abuse robots at the ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human Robot Interaction (HRI) in Chicago, IL. When smacked, the robot hides within its shell, a response designed to reduce or eliminate aggressive behaviors. Results revealed that the robot's hiding method significantly cut down on children's abusive behavior, relative to how they acted when the robot did not hide at all. The researchers determined abuse increased when they reduced the hiding length from 14 seconds to seven, because the hiding behavior itself was seen as a reward. A longer hiding period of 28 seconds caused the children to become bored and leave. Also intriguing was the finding that part of the experiment's effectiveness stems from the fact that in groups, children will mutually restrain inappropriate behaviors.

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Does Mosquito Air-Gapped Computer Exploit Lack Real-World Bite?
SC Magazine (UK)
Davey Winder
March 15, 2018

Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) in Israel have demonstrated that air-gapped computer security can be circumvented using covert speaker-to-speaker communication. They also say the "Mosquito" hack can enable this communication between microphone-free headphones. The team notes the method is founded on the capability of malware to leverage a specific audio chip feature to reverse the connected speakers from output devices into input devices. The technique is similar to a hack enabling malware to secretly reconfigure a headphone jack from a line out into a microphone jack, allowing a connected output device to act as a recording device. The BGU researchers acknowledge the Mosquito approach is currently only theoretical, and cannot work unless both air-gapped computers are infiltrated with malware, the speakers or headphones are passive and unpowered, and the headphones are within a maximum of three meters of each other.

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38-Year-Old Code Writing Tool Released for General Use
University of Adelaide
March 14, 2018

Researchers at the University of Adelaide in Australia have released for free use a 38-year-old computer software editor called Ludwig, originally created to enable development on the university's first Virtual Address eXtension interactive computers. When Ludwig was first introduced in 1980, "The ability to host 20 to 30 simultaneous users, all editing and developing programs, plus many more users running programs, on a machine boasting a scant 1 million instructions per second and four megabytes of memory, was world-beating," says Adelaide professor Chris Barter. "Ludwig was also easy to learn and use and had significant power--it was taken up by users throughout Australia and worldwide." The university has released Ludwig and its source code under the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Open Source License to enable further Ludwig developments to be consolidated and made generally and freely available. "Open-sourcing Ludwig will help attract a broader community of contributing developers and end users," predicts Open Source Industry Australia director Jack Burton.

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Close-up on a woman’s smile New AI Can Tell If a Person Is Male or Female by Reading Their Smile
The Daily Mail
Maggie O'Neill
March 14, 2018

Researchers at the University of Bradford in the U.K. have developed an artificial intelligence (AI) system that identifies gender by reading a person's smiles. The team mapped 49 facial landmarks, mostly around the eyes, down the nose, and close to the mouth. They employed the landmarks to evaluate how the face changes as people smile due to underlying muscle movements, including both changes in distances between the different points and the "flow" of the smile. The next step was analyzing whether or not there were differences between women's and men's smiles. "Anecdotally, women are thought to be more expressive in how they smile, and our research has borne this out," says Bradford professor Hassan Ugail. "Women definitely have broader smiles, expanding their mouth and lip area far more than men." An algorithm was tested using video of more than 100 people smiling, and the AI ascertained gender correctly 86 percent of the time.

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Harvard-MIT's Broad Institute Powers Genomic Research in the Cloud
The Wall Street Journal
Steven Norton
March 12, 2018

The Broad Institute, launched in 2004 to improve human health through the use of genomics by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, is migrating its genomic research to the cloud. Broad Institute CIO William Mayo says a more scalable and accessible computing infrastructure is more helpful to scientists and innovation. Mayo notes cloud computing enables large-scale data processing, making it easier for researchers to share data securely. One of the Institute's cloud initiatives is the Genomic Analysis ToolKit, an open source software package used by about 55,000 researchers to help them find genome variants and perform genome analytics. The fourth iteration of the ToolKit employs machine learning and neural networks to enhance accuracy and operates across multiple clouds. Broad handles about 70 petabytes of data, about half of which resides in the public cloud, while the other half is on-premise.

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4G LTE icon in the corner of a smartphone screen Attacks on 4G LTE Networks Could Send Fake Emergency Alerts
Purdue University News
Kayla Zacharias
March 14, 2018

Researchers at Purdue University and the University of Iowa have identified several new vulnerabilities in 4G Long-Term Evolution (LTE) wireless networks that could enable hackers to forge the location of a mobile device and fabricate messages. The researchers highlighted 10 new and nine prior attacks, including the authentication relay attack, which enables a bad actor to connect to core networks without the necessary credentials, letting the perpetrator impersonate and fake the location of a victim device. Another attack enables adversaries to obtain a user's location information and perform denial-of-service attacks. The researchers say these and other attacks occur within three critical procedures of the 4G LTE protocol--attach, detach, and paging, which enable a user to connect to the network, disconnect from the network, and receive calls and messages. The team exposed the vulnerabilities using an approach known as "LTEInspector," which combines the power of a symbolic model checker and a protocol verifier.

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'Body on a Chip' Could Improve Drug Evaluation
MIT News
Anne Trafton
March 14, 2018

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) employed a microfluidic platform linking engineered tissues from multiple human organs to precisely replicate organ-drug interactions for weeks at a time so the medications' effects on different parts of the body can be more accurately modeled. Their "physiome on a chip" system connected up to 10 organ types directly from patient samples, comprised of clusters of 1 million to 2 million cells. The team was able to measure where the drugs went, their effects on different tissues, and how the drugs were absorbed. MIT professor Linda Griffith thinks the technology's most immediate applications involve modeling multiple organs. Her lab is developing a model system for Parkinson's disease that includes brain, liver, and gastrointestinal tissue, which she plans to use to test the theory that bacteria inhabiting the gut can play a significant role in the development of the disease.

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U.S. Army's Brain-Like Computers Moving Closer To Cracking Codes
ECN Magazine
March 14, 2018

Researchers at the U.S. Army Researcher Laboratory (ARL) have discovered a way to leverage brain-like computer architectures for integer factorization. The new method involves mimicking in computing the brain functions of mammals, which opens up new solution spaces that move away from traditional computing architectures and toward devices that are able to operate within extreme size-, weight-, and power-constrained environments. The ARL researchers were able to demonstrate how brain-like computers can speed up the best-known algorithms for factoring integers. The team developed a way to factor large composite integers by harnessing the massive parallelism of novel computer architectures that mimic the functionality of the mammalian brain. This breakthrough can be attributed to the formulation of a method for integer factorization with the help of a neuromorphic co-processor. This research also allows for new areas of study involving emerging computer architectures.

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Two Southern white rhinos on an undisclosed protected area Using Artificial Intelligence to Investigate Illegal Wildlife Trade on Social Media
March 12, 2018

Researchers at the University of Helsinki in Finland say artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to help monitor illegal wildlife trade on social media. Enrico Di Minin, a conservation scientist at the university, leads an interdisciplinary research group that uses AI approaches to investigate the supply chain of the illegal wildlife trade. Di Minin says efforts to reduce illegal wildlife trade are hindered by the dearth of tools available for monitoring high-volume social media data. Project researchers are applying AI methods such as machine-learning algorithms to identify content pertaining to illegal wildlife trade on social media. Helsinki professor Tuomo Hiippala notes natural language processing can be used to process the language of social media posts. "Most importantly, machine learning algorithms can process combinations of verbal, visual and audio-visual content," Hiippala says.

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Your Next Computer Could Improve With Age
MIT Technology Review
Will Knight
March 12, 2018

Google researchers have published a paper reporting on how they used deep learning to improve the prefetching process, in which computers forecast which information is likely to be needed and pull it in advance. Although the researchers have not shown how much this improvement speeds things up for the computer, the boost could be considerable. Heiner Litz of the University of California, Santa Cruz, a visiting researcher on the project, believes it should be possible to apply machine learning to every part of a computer. Such advances would be timely, as chip designs have not changed significantly in recent years.

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3-D docking pose of potential GalU inhibitor Computers Discover Compounds That Could Reduce Listeria's Virulence
North Carolina State University
Tracey Peake
March 12, 2018

Researchers at North Carolina State University (NC State) have conducted a proof-of-concept study identifying new compounds to contain the virulence of Listeria, a bacterium that causes severe food poisoning and even death. The researchers used computing and cheminformatics methods to characterize, analyze, and virtually screen more than 88,000 compounds with the potential to inhibit a particular enzyme of Listeria, known as glucose-1-phosphate uridylyltransferase (GalU). Computer models found 37 compounds that were promising enough to be tested in vitro, three of which were deemed effective enough to warrant further study. "We can derive several predictive structure-activity relationships based on those 37 compounds and these relationships will help us design even more effective GalU inhibiting compounds," says NC State professor Denis Fourches. "We plan to use our computers to virtually generate thousands of new analogs, virtually screen them, and select another batch of up to 50 molecules to be tested experimentally in the future."

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Mapping Battery Materials With Atomic Precision
Berkeley Lab News Center
Glenn Jr. Roberts
March 7, 2018

Researchers from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and their international colleagues have demonstrated how the ratio of materials that make up a lithium-ion battery electrode impacts its structure at the atomic level, and how the surface differs from the rest of the material. The research is expected to advance future studies on cathode transformations and possibly to enable new battery materials. The researchers demonstrated it was possible to optimize battery performance in relation to capacity by using a lower ratio of lithium to other metals. The most unexpected finding was that the surface structure of an unused cathode is very different from the cathode's interior. A thin layer of material on the surface with a different structure was found in all of the experiments, while several previous studies had overlooked that this layer might be present on both new and used cathodes.

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Researchers Computationally Find the Needle in a Haystack to Treat Rare Diseases
Louisiana State University
Alison Satake
March 13, 2018

Researchers in the Louisiana State University (LSU) Computational Systems Biology Group say they have developed a new method for identifying existing drugs that can be repositioned to treat rare diseases or conditions. The team enhanced a computer-assisted drug repositioning process that can save time and money in helping patients receive effective treatment. In order to systematize drug repurposing, the researchers combined eMatchSite software with virtual screening to match U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs and proteins that are involved in rare diseases. The team employed LSU-based supercomputers to test millions of possibilities that would have cost billions of dollars to test in a laboratory setting. "We developed a way to computationally find matches between rare disease protein structures and functions and existing drug interactions that can help treat patients with some of these orphan diseases," says LSU's Misagh Naderi.

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