Welcome to the September 28, 2018 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Man using a voting machine Voting Machine Used in Half of U.S. Is Vulnerable to Attack, Report Finds
The Wall Street Journal
Robert McMillan; Dustin Volz
September 27, 2018

Election machines used in more than half of U.S. states contain a decade-old flaw that makes them vulnerable to a cyberattack, according to a report based on research conducted last month at the Def Con hacker conference, which was released Thursday. The vulnerability was found in the Model 650 high-speed ballot-counting machine from Election Systems & Software (ES&S), and is one of about seven security issues identified in several models of voting equipment described in the report. The Model 650 machine does not have the advanced security features of more-modern systems, but ES&S says its security is “strong enough to make it extraordinarily difficult to hack in a real-world environment." Many of the flaws cited in the report can be exploited only through physical access to the machines, but hackers could exploit others via remote access. The company has said it considers cybersecurity a top priority, and has never experienced a breach.

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Silkworm and silk cocoons on leaves A Swarm of Robots Weaves Giant Cocoons Using Fiberglass Thread
New Scientist
Yvaine Ye
September 26, 2018

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed a swarm of silkworm-inspired robots that could be used to help future construction projects. Each Fiberbot is a 30-centimeter-tall cylinder with a thin arm sticking out from the top. The robot's arm winds fiberglass thread around its body, creating an eight-centimeter long segment, and then crawls forward to build the next section of tubing. The researchers created 22 Fiberbots that could work as a swarm to test the technique at scale. The team preprogrammed each robot with unique information about the length and curvature of the final products, and installed an algorithm to prevent collisions. Over a 12-hour period, the swarm was able to build a selection of different curved tubes with heights ranging from 2.5 to 4.1 meters. MIT's Neri Oxman says in the future, "We will see fibers appearing everywhere, across scales and applications, including carrying and transferring data between bodies, buildings, and environments."

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Virtual Singapore Project Could Be Testbed for Planners—and Plotters
John Geddie; Aradhana Aravindan
September 27, 2018

The Virtual Singapore project will offer state agencies and, eventually, the public access to a three-dimensional (3D) model of the city. Developed as a testbed for urban planning, disaster mitigation, and other operations to improve the lives of citizens, critics are concerned the resource could be exploited by malefactors. Virtual Singapore will be limited to government computers that are not linked to the World Wide Web during its launch in the months ahead. The model could forecast the spread of flash floods in the city, or simulate how microwaves propagate through high-density areas and certain building materials to help detect dark spots in cellular network coverage. Said Alexandre Parilusyan of Dassault Systemes, a French software firm working on the project, “When you look at what Singapore is doing today, you are already looking to the future in the crystal ball.”

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A self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover. Software Finds the Best Way to Stick a Mars Landing
MIT News
Jennifer Chu
September 26, 2018

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed software that could inform the selection of landing sites for scientific expeditions to Mars. The tool automatically generates maps of favorable sites based on available geology and terrain data, along with a list of scientific priorities and engineering limitations that users specify. MIT's Victor Pankratius and Guillaume Rongier created the software, and found it identified Mars landing sites that have been considered in the past, as well as highlighting other promising sites that were seldom suggested. The program depends on a probability-based, non-binary fuzzy logic scheme, and the team employs related algorithms to plot out initial favorability maps of possible sites gridded into individual cells. For each cell, the software calculates the probability that the site is favorable, producing a color-graded map and then applying a fast marching algorithm to chart paths a rover can take over a given terrain after landing.

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Europe's Greenest Supercomputer: Why Energy-Efficient HPC Is on the Rise
Anna Solana
September 26, 2018

The Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC) in Spain is making strides toward exascale computing with the MareNostrum 4 Power9 cluster supercomputer, currently ranked ninth in the Green500 index. The system can execute 11.865 x 109 floating-point operations for each watt of consumed energy, making it Europe's most energy-efficient supercomputer to date. The top three positions in the Green500 ranking are held by Japanese supercomputers based on the ZettaScaler-2.2 architecture using PEZY-SC2 accelerators, while the U.S. DGX SaturnV Volta and Summit systems rank fourth and fifth, respectively, on the Green500 list.

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How to Win Friends: It's Not Which Groups You Join, but How Many
Rice News
Jade Boyd
September 26, 2018

Two researchers at Rice University have determined the cultivation of online friendships is mainly influenced by how many groups and organizations a person joins, as opposed to the types of groups. Rice's Anshumali Shrivastava says, "If a person is looking for friends, they should basically be active in as many communities as possible. And if they want to become friends with a specific person, they should try to be a part of all the groups that person is a part of." The researchers analyzed six online social networks with millions of members. Shrivastava's team used hashing to model a simple explanation of friendship formulation. He explained, "The more subcommunities you have, the more they overlap, and the more likely it is that individual members will have more close friendships throughout the organization."

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Mozilla, NSF Hand Out $1.6M to Wireless Challenge Winners
IEEE Spectrum
Tekla S. Perry
September 26, 2018

Mozilla and the U.S. National Science Foundation have awarded $1.6 million in prizes to development teams participating in the Wireless Innovation for a Networked Society challenge. Top honors, and $400,000 each, were awarded to the High-frequency Emergency and Rural Multimedia Exchange System (HERMES) project from Philadelphia-based Rhizomatica, and the Southern Connected Communities Network (SCCN) from the Highlander Research and Education Center in New Market, TN. HERMES is a communications network designed to fill in when traditional networks are down by using 2G GSM to link to users, and a shortwave radio system with a telescoping antenna as a backhaul. SCCN uses line-of-sight connections in the unlicensed wireless spectrum to connect to an Internet access point and to homes up to 25 miles away.

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AI can easily miss a stop sign if it’s been messed with. Stupid AI: How Humans Can Stop Machines From Falling for Visual Tricks
New Scientist
Douglas Heaven
September 21, 2018

Research at Johns Hopkins University (JHU) suggests new ways to prevent artificial intelligence (AI) from being visually deceived. Experiments by JHU’s Zhenglong Zhou and Chaz Firestone involved showing people a broad range of adversarial images and having them select which object AIs would wrongly claim to identify from a list of up to 48 options. Across six different image types, 81% to 98% of participants correctly picked the correct wrong image at above-chance rates. Auburn University's Anh Nguyen says this "suggests that humans are able to decipher these images in the same way as the poor victim machines do." Nguyen believes people could help computers better cope with adversarial images better by training AIs to emulate human visual perception and use this model as a defense mechanism, sifting out anything that does not conform with what the human model sees.

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Denver, Colorado skyline with City Park in the foreground Better Data Management Is Key to Denver's Smart City Aspirations
Dave Nyczepir
September 26, 2018

City officials in Denver, CO, are implementing a cloud-based enterprise data management (EDM) system to help manage a constant stream of data from smart city sensors. Denver smart city project manager Emily Silverman says the goal is to enable a "system of systems" to enhance public safety, mobility, equity, and health. Denver chief information officer Dave Edinger says the EDM project stresses four critical values—maintaining local control of data and outsourcing only if it will not impede innovation; basing everything on open source software for sharing; building in conformance with federal standards; and ensuring interoperability among proliferating smart devices.

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Facebook Teams With Sphero to Bring Computer Science to More Schools
Marrian Zhou
September 25, 2018

Facebook has announced a partnership with connected toy maker Sphero to launch CodeFWD by Facebook, a free online program for educators and organizations designed to spur underrepresented and female students toward the study of computer science. CodeFWD is offered in English and Spanish, and calibrated for fourth- through eighth-grade computer programming students. The program introduces fundamentals to teachers and allows them to instruct the students, enabling the students to follow up by practicing coding exercises on their own. The partners will choose applicants from CodeFWD and provide them with a free Sphero BOLT Power Pack equipped with 15 Sphero BOLT application-enabled robots and accessories to help educators and students gain hands-on coding experience. Facebook's Todd Breasseale says, "We are working with underserved students so that the next generation of tech innovators better reflects who we all are, incorporating diversity and building a future that benefits us all."

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