Welcome to the February 4, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Digital Design, QB Investments Could Aid Football Helmets
Associated Press
Barry Wilner
February 1, 2019

Major football helmet manufacturers such as Riddell are funding and refining new, digitally designed models with enhanced safety features. New Riddell football helmets designed in collaboration with three-dimensional (3D) printing tech company Carbon feature a 3D-printed liner contoured precisely to the wearer's head. This liner is comprised of 140,000 individual struts that absorb forces from linear and rotational impacts. Riddell uses a database of more than 5 million impacts to tailor the tuning of the struts to adjust helmet structures. Such helmets will be tested this year by the National Football League. Riddell’s Thad Ide said, “I could see in the next two to three years having these (for specific positions), with instrumentation in them. It will be difficult to make a helmet that will not have this technology. It is very much a leap forward in technology.”

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Bitcoin for Biological Literature
Douglas Heaven
February 4, 2019

Biology researchers are opting for platforms like the ScienceMatters open-access publishing platform, which is developing a peer review process based on bitcoin blockchain technology. A blockchain database is shared across a network of computers that is computationally difficult to update, making the database relatively tamper-proof, and ensuring trustworthy records without outside adjudication. The University of Pennsylvania's Daniel Himmelstein has authored Manubot, an open source program that automates the process of collating, formatting, and publishing scientific papers; whenever an author creates a version of the manuscript, the software logs that event on the bitcoin blockchain, establishing definitive claims of precedence. ScienceMatters aims to employ blockchain to promote scientific transparency, by offering its triple-blind peer-review process via the Eureka publishing platform, which uses the Ethereum blockchain. Authors and reviewers will be anonymous to each other, while their activities and reviews will be logged for all to see.

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Peering through the scope and seeing lines and shapes Putting Neural Networks Under the Microscope
MIT News
Rob Matheson
February 1, 2019

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Qatar Computer Research Institute have developed a method that identifies individual nodes, or "neurons," in neural networks that capture specific linguistic features. The researchers also designed a toolkit to analyze and manipulate how networks translate text for various purposes, like offsetting classification biases in the training data. For example, the system can pinpoint neurons used to classify gendered words, past and present tenses, numbers at the beginning or middle of sentences, and plural and singular words; the researchers also demonstrated how some tasks require many neurons, while others require only a few. The new technique combines all the embeddings captured from different layers into a single embedding. As the network classifies a given word, the model learns weights for every neuron activated during each classification process, and assigns a weight to each neuron in each word embedding that fired for a certain part of the classification. Said MIT’s Yonatan Belinkov, “This work is about gaining a more fine-grained understanding of neural networks and having better control of how these models behave.”

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IBM, University of Chicago Collaborate to Advance Quantum Computing
January 29, 2019

IBM and the University of Chicago (UChicago) have partnered to share research tools and train next-generation quantum computer scientists. The UChicago-led Enabling Practical-Scale Quantum Computing (EPiQC) project will expedite development of practical quantum computing by targeting software to specific technologies. EPiQC will work with the IBM Q initiative on new software to optimize IBM's superconducting quantum technology; EPiQC researchers will have priority access to IBM Q technology and performance data to develop and test new quantum software systems. Said UChicago's Fred Chong, "Quantum software will be critical to efficiently using that technology and realizing the potential of quantum approaches in chemistry, physics, and other fields." The partners have already co-developed full-stack software infrastructure included within IBM Q's quantum information science kit, and future efforts will use testbed access to IBM quantum machines and data to devise software systems that optimize quantum apps that run on fewer quantum bits.

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The Holy Graille: China Designs Tool for Blind to 'See' Pictures
Guo Ying; Sun Qi
February 1, 2019

Researchers at Tsinghua University in China have developed a prototype tactile display system that allows the visually impaired to handle visual information more efficiently than conventional technologies. The "Graille" system includes a computer and a display made up of a pin-matrix with 7,200 tactile dots that can be raised and retracted; the computer controls the pin-matrix to show graphic information in tactile dots, which can be read by touch. The refreshable display also has a self-lock feature, so the raised pattern can be locked into place for reading. Graille uses a touch guidance interface, which offers a multichannel interactive experience by introducing both haptic and audio experience. The researchers set up a field study on 242 tactile images featuring common objects, and examined whether designs were suitable for visually impaired people's tactile cognition. They used machine learning to analyze a large amount of feedback and summarized 22 features that may cause difficulty in tactile recognition. Tsinghua professor Xu Yingqing said of the system, "We have applied for patents and hope it can be commercialized soon.”

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A US Department of Justice seal is displayed on a podium DoJ Discloses Government Hack to Expose Reach of North Korean Cyberattack
David Shortell
January 30, 2019

The U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) has detailed a joint U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)-U.S. Air Force hacking operation to map the scope of a North Korean device infection campaign. The investigators measured the breadth of the so-called Joanap botnet by modifying computer servers, to alert U.S.-based victims of the alleged attack. After securing federal search warrants and orders, FBI computers in California mimicked a malware-infected server to communicate with actual infected devices, or peers. These peers will be coaxed into disclosing their own lists of other known peers, and pass addresses of the FBI Internet protocols to other peers in the network. DoJ assistant attorney general John Demers said, "Through this operation, we are working to eradicate the threat that North Korea state hackers pose to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data."

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Computational Algorithm to Reduce Electromagnetic Noise in Electronic Circuits
Osaka University
January 30, 2019

Researchers at Osaka University in Japan have developed an algorithm for numerical calculation of electromagnetic (EM) interference in electric circuits, for computer simulations of electric circuits in which transmission lines are connected with lumped element models. The researchers used the algorithm to demonstrate that EM interference could be reduced, using the symmetric three-line configuration of the circuit. The calculation method is for one-dimensional multi-conductor transmission lines, but the researchers also developed a calculation algorithm in two- and three-dimensional multi-conductor transmission lines. The method also can be developed into a calculation technique for reducing effects of EM noise, which are generally difficult to measure via conventional computer simulations. Said Osaka's Masayuki Abe, "In addition to improving device performance, we'd like to realize a society in which people can use high value-added equipment, such as equipment with ultra-low power consumption and ultra-low waste heat."

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Most People Overlook AI Despite Flawless Advice
U.S. Army Research Laboratory
January 30, 2019

U.S. Army researchers and colleagues at the University of California, Santa Barbara have found a persistent gap in basic knowledge about the use of artificial intelligence (AI), and it is unknown which AI aspects will or will not help military decision-making. The researchers developed an online game in which players obtained points by making good decisions in each round; an AI was used to generate advice in each round, which was shown alongside the game interface. The AI also made suggestions about which decisions players should make, which they were free to accept or ignore. About 66% of human decisions disagreed with the AI, regardless of the number of errors in the suggestions. The researchers concluded these findings present a catch-22 for system designers: incompetent users need AI the most, but are least likely to be swayed by their rational justifications.

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A woman holding an iPhone Apple Was Slow to Act on FaceTime Bug That Allows Spying on iPhones
The New York Times
Nicole Perlroth
January 29, 2019

On Jan. 19, 14-year-old Grant Thompson discovered he could eavesdrop on his friend's phone using FaceTime, Apple's video chatting software, before his friend had even answered the call. His mother, Michele, sent a video of the hack to Apple Support, warning the company of a "major security flaw" that exposed millions of iPhone users to eavesdropping. She also emailed and faxed Apple's security team, and posted to Twitter and Facebook about the vulnerability; however, it was not until more than a week after Ms. Thompson first notified Apple of the problem that the company disabled Group FaceTime and started working on a fix. The bug, and Apple's slow response to patching it, have renewed concerns about the company's commitment to security, despite the fact it regularly advertises its bug reward program and brags about the safety of its products. Said Patrick Wardle of Digita Security, “If these kinds of bugs are slipping through, you have to wonder if there are other problematic bugs that other hackers are exploiting that should have been caught.”

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A flying drone Drones Help Rid Galapagos Island of Rats
IEEE Spectrum
Evan Ackerman
January 29, 2019

The Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPG), in cooperation with Island Conservation, flew drones over the island of North Seymour to drop rat poison as quickly and inexpensively as possible in an effort to eliminate invasive black and brown rats. Each drone carries 20 kilograms of poison at a time and flies for about 15 minutes; two drones were able to cover 52% of North Seymour before being grounded by mechanical difficulties. It took a group of more than 30 park rangers equipped with masks, goggles, and protective clothing to cover the rest of the island. It will likely take another application of rat poison to completely wipe out the invasive species, and GNPG will monitor the island for at least two years before it can be declared rat-free.

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Amazon’s delivery robot Amazon Scout Robots Take to Pavements in Washington State
BBC News
January 24, 2019

Amazon is pilot-testing a wheeled, electric robot that travels on pavements to deliver packages to customers in Snohomish County, WA. Said Amazon's Sean Scott, "We developed Amazon Scout at our research and development lab in Seattle, ensuring the devices can safely and efficiently navigate around pets, pedestrians, and anything else in their path." Six Scouts have been dispatched for the trial, which is one of several conducted by various companies as an alternative to road delivery. Meanwhile, Starship Technologies recently dispatched 24 autonomous pavement robots to deliver coffee and pizza to students at George Mason University in Virginia. Delivery robots also have been operating on San Francisco streets for several years, but legislation limits their use, allowing them to function only within certain neighborhoods, while also requiring constant accompaniment by humans.

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This Video Game Tournament Will Test the Wits of Computers
Jonathan Vanian
January 28, 2019

Unity Technologies has announced the Obstacle Tower game and challenge, a video game tournament intended to contribute to artificial intelligence (AI) research. The goal is to encourage researchers to use the game to test the capabilities of AI technologies like deep learning, which could be used to improve self-driving cars or state-of-the-art robots. Obstacle Tower is similar to a first-person video game in which the heroine must navigate a maze of corridors to climb up the tower. On each tower floor, the heroine must find a key that will unlock the correct door in order to move on to the next level. The programs that participate in the challenge will use reinforcement learning to navigate the game. Unity Technologies’ Danny Lange said, “Gaming is just a fantastic equivalent for nature, and if nature evolved intelligence, why wouldn’t games do the same?”

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Here's to Ron, Adi & Len for Giving us RSA Public-Key Cryptography

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