Welcome to the February 27, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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A quantum scientist walks across the IBM Q computation center Mercedes Enlists Quantum Computing to Build a Better Electric Vehicle Battery
The Wall Street Journal
Sara Castellanos
February 25, 2019

The research and development division of Mercedes-Benz is exploring how quantum computers could be used to discover new materials for advanced batteries in electric cars within the next 10 years. Said Mercedes-Benz's Benjamin Boeser, "We could simulate the actual behavior of a battery with a quantum computer, which is currently not possible with existing computer power." The automaker is working with IBM’s quantum-computing division to develop ways to utilize applications based on quantum computing, and hopes to deploy next-generation computing power in certain use cases. Through the IBM Q Network program, Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler will access IBM's early-stage quantum computing systems via the cloud. Boeser said a quantum computer could help the automaker identify new materials or combinations of materials that could yield improved electrochemical performance and longer life cycles. Some of those advances could include safer, more energy-efficient organic batteries.

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A child with a prosthetic arm Your Bionic Hand Is Now at Risk From Hackers
Charlie Osborne
February 26, 2019

Kaspersky Lab researchers disclosed at Mobile World Congress 2019 in Spain that bionic hand prostheses from Moscow-based Motorica are vulnerable to hacking. These prostheses can be equipped with a range of smart features, like in-built displays, a near-field communication (NFC) chip for contactless payments, a GSM module, activity tracking, and smartwatch tasks. These functions require cloud access, which could potentially open such devices to attacks. The Kaspersky researchers said the "experimental" remote cloud system for controlling one Motorica prosthesis contained diverse zero-day vulnerabilities, which could "enable a third party to access, manipulate, steal, or delete the private data of device users." Reported bugs included an insecure HTTP link, incorrect account operations, and insufficient input validation, which hackers could leverage to target the moment the prosthesis sends data to the cloud.

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Which Colleges Are Best and Worst at Enrolling and Graduating Women in Computer Science and Engineering?
The Chronicle of Higher Education
February 24, 2019

Analysis of U.S. Department of Education data by The Chronicle of Higher Education found only four colleges with at least 50 bachelor's degree recipients in computer science (CS) in 2016-2017 awarded more than 50% of such degrees to women, and one institution was a women's college. Only three colleges with at least 50 bachelor's degree recipients in engineering in the same period awarded more than half of those degrees to women. The percentage of female bachelor's degree recipients was generally higher in engineering than in CS. The top four-year public institution in terms of bachelor's degrees awarded to women in CS was Maryland’s Salisbury University, where women received 35.9% of 92 granted CS degrees. The top four-year private nonprofit institution was Wellesley College, where 100% of its 52 CS bachelor's degrees were awarded to women.

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Machines Whisper Our Secrets
UC Riverside News (CA)
Holly Ober
February 22, 2019

Researchers at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) and the University of California, Riverside have developed a method for reverse-engineering how laboratory instruments are being used by recording the sounds they produce. The researchers tested their hypothesis to differentiate the sounds made by a DNA synthesizer as it manufactured specific sequences of adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C), and thymine (T), the four constituent bases of nucleic acids. Said UCI's Sina Faezi, "Through a careful feature engineering and bespoke machine learning algorithm written in our lab, we were able to pinpoint those differences," and easily distinguish each time the machine generated A, G, C, or T. When the researchers used software to analyze the AGCT patterns they obtained through the recordings, they identified the correct type of DNA with 86% accuracy, then boosted accuracy to nearly 100% by running it through additional DNA sequencing software.

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A fingerprint Google Looks to Leave Passwords Behind for a Billion Android Devices
Alfred Ng
February 25, 2019

Google and the Fast Identity Online (FIDO) Alliance announced at Mobile World Congress 2019 that Android is now FIDO2-certified, meaning Android device users can log in to their accounts with fingerprints and security keys instead of passwords. Only devices running Android 7 and up will require updates to incorporate FIDO Authentication capabilities. This development will make security features accessible to any Android developer, enabling password-free logins on the operating system's mobile browser and apps. Fingerprints and security keys are less prone to online theft than passwords, and the FIDO2 standard also shields against phishing attacks. The standard checks when someone logs in to authenticate a Web page against spoofing.

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Researchers Create Method to Ensure Integrity of Clinical Trials Data With Blockchain
James Ives
February 23, 2019

University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) researchers have developed a proof-of-concept method for ensuring the integrity of clinical trials data, using blockchain. The prototype system produces an inflexible audit trail in which tampering can be easily flagged. The system is designed to run through a Web portal, so every time new data is entered on a given trial participant, the sender, receiver, timestamp, and file attachment containing the data, as well as the hash of the previous block of data relating to the patient, are recorded onto a new block with its own unique signature. A regulator with centralized authority must operate the portal, register all parties, and maintain a ledger of the blockchain's hashes. Real-time reporting of data to the regulator could augment the safety and effectiveness of clinical trials. Said UCSF's Atul Butte, "We think it could someday be useful for pharma companies running clinical trials."

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Tega the robot next to a child Smart, Fluffy Storytelling Robot to Be Trialed in U.S. Classrooms
New Scientist
Donna Lu
February 20, 2019

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a cute, fluffy robot that can help boost language skills in young children. The Tega robot sounds like a child, animates its body and face while storytelling, and illustrates its tales on a screen. During an eight-week trial, Tega read picture books to 67 children four to six years old in weekly one-on-one sessions lasting an hour. During the meetings, Tega asked questions to gauge the listener's opinion and comprehension, testing them on a word's meaning, or getting them to draw conclusions about a specific character. Tega also recorded the facial expressions and body positions of each child to determine how engaged they were. Following the last sessions, the researchers found that all the children who played with Tega had improved their vocabularies. Next, the team will pilot Tega in schools in Atlanta and Boston, hoping to address early gaps in language skills.

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The GitHub Octocat on the floor of the company’s headquarters After Paying Out $250,000 in 2018, GitHub Plans to Boost Bug Bounty Bonuses
Tom Krazit
February 19, 2019

GitHub is increasing the rewards it pays out to security researchers who find bugs in the platform's code, saying it will pay up to $30,000 to those who identify "critical" security flaws. In addition, the company is expanding legal protections for researchers that report security flaws, and plans to make it easier to report bugs while reducing the length of time needed to respond to bug finders. The Web-based hosting service says it will expand its bug reward program to cover any "first-party services" under the GitHub umbrella, including GitHub Education and GitHub Enterprise Cloud. This move mirrors a trend occurring across the industry as an increasing number of big technology companies are embracing the concept of bug bounties.

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Part of the HPE space display display at MWC HPE Computers Stranded in Space
BBC News
Zoe Kleinman
February 27, 2019

Two Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) servers sent to the International Space Station in an experiment remain marooned in Earth orbit, three months after their intended return was delayed indefinitely. The servers were sent to the space station to assess their durability in space, with minimal specialist treatment. The servers together comprise the Linux-based Spaceborne Computer, and they continue to be operational after 530 days in space. The servers had required some bespoke modification, given their air cooling system would not function in space. HPE is collaborating with Space X and the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to be "computer-ready" for the first flight to Mars, estimated to take place around 2030.

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Amazon to Create 1,000 U.K. Apprenticeships in ML and Robotics
Dale Walker
February 26, 2019

Amazon plans to create more than 1,000 apprenticeships in the U.K. over the next two years, many of which will be based in the company's software development and machine learning (ML) units. The effort will include nine programs running across the country that will last between 13 months and four years, aimed at workers of all experience levels interested in jobs in IT, software engineering, robotics, and general technology roles, as well as in human resources, leadership, and safety. Successful apprenticeship graduates will have the opportunity to join Amazon in the U.K. The company says 20% of the new apprenticeships will be offered to current Amazon employees. Said Doug Gurr, Amazon’s U.K. country manager, "Our fully-funded apprenticeship program, from entry level through to degree level, will provide an exciting path to becoming Amazon's future team leaders, engineers, and innovation drivers."

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Bringing 3D Imaging to Kidney Patients
University of Melbourne
Andrew Trounson
February 24, 2019

Researchers at the University of Melbourne in Australia have developed a method of using simple microscopes to identify and track kidney damage caused by diabetes. The new technique works with accuracy similar to that of a Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM), which beams subatomic particles through a specimen in order to image it. The new three-dimensional (3D) reconstruction method is accurate, less operator-dependent, and less time-consuming than the TEM method. Traditional light microscopy examines only a few one- to two-micron-thick slices of a biopsy, with each slice just one or two microns thick, allowing for only a two-dimensional (2D) analysis. However, state-of-the-art 3D imaging software can examine about 50 slices and reconstruct them into a complete 3D image. Said University of Melbourne researcher Niloufar Torkamani, "The whole traditional 2D side of medicine will be phased out very soon, because it just won’t be seen as practical anymore. It’s like playing a computer game in 2D, when you can be in 3D or even virtual reality."

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