Welcome to the May 3, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Speeding Up Blockchain to Meet Real-World Speeds and Needs
University of Waterloo News
May 2, 2019

Researchers at the University of Waterloo in Canada are exploring the fundamentals of blockchain technology and how they could be applied to sectors like energy, finance, accounting, and health. The researchers altered the Linux Foundation's open source Hyperledger Fabric project to accelerate the permissioned blockchain system. Permissioned blockchains, unlike their permission-less counterparts, do not require proof of work—like computing cryptographic hashes—which limits transaction processing to only tens of thousands of transactions a second. The current version of Hyperledger Fabric is constrained to about 3,000 transactions a second. Waterloo's Christian Gorenflo said, "We rewrote parts of Fabric's source code using optimization techniques known from traditional database systems such as aggressive caching and efficient data structures to make the blockchain faster." This facilitated a nearly seven-fold boost in Hyperledger Fabric's throughput to 20,000 transactions a second.

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Computer Scientists Develop Software to Smartly Balance Data Processing Load in Supercomputers
Virginia Tech News
Lindsey Haugh
May 1, 2019

Computer scientists at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) used machine learning to properly distribute, or load balance, data processing tasks across the thousands of servers that make up a supercomputer, a breakthrough that will help supercomputers work more efficiently. The team built a novel end-to-end control plane that combined the application-centric strengths of client-side approaches with the system-centric strengths of server-side approaches. The new technique gave the researchers the ability to monitor the system and allowed the data storage system to learn and predict when the load may become too great for one server. Said Virginia Tech researcher Bharti Wadhwa, "This study was a giant leap in managing supercomputing systems. What we’ve done has given supercomputing a performance boost and proven these systems can be managed smartly in a cost-effective way through machine learning.”

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Pedigree and Productivity
Inside Higher Ed
Colleen Flaherty
May 2, 2019

University of Colorado, Boulder researchers said computer scientists' productivity is driven more by the prominence of their current work environment than by the environment in which they were educated. In contrast, the prominence of their research is driven by past and present locations. The researchers analyzed data on productivity and prominence of more than 2,400 tenure-line faculty members in 205 Ph.D.-granting computer science departments, based on a matched-pairs experimental model; the faculty collectively had produced more than 200,000 publications and 7.4 million citations. Doctorate holders from more prestigious programs usually persisted in collecting citations from their research as trainees, although the programs' prestige had little bearing on the number of papers they wrote following faculty placements. The researchers said the study has "direct implications for research on the science of science, which often assumes...that meritocratic principles or mechanisms govern the production of knowledge."

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Student having a tough time in class. Early Warning System Predicts Risk of Online Students Dropping Out
IEEE Spectrum
Michelle Hampson
April 29, 2019

Researchers in Spain have developed a predictive modeling system for personalized student dropout rates. The Dropout Prevention System was trained on data from more than 11,000 students enrolled in online programs at Madrid Open University (UDIMA) over a five-year period. The system uses machine learning to analyze students' personal, economic, behavioral, and administrative data, as well as academic results and early/late enrollment information. The system may feed up to 120 factors into a risk profile for every student, represented as an overall percentage. Susan Therriault, a managing researcher at the American Institutes for Research, cautioned, “One of the things that’s pretty clear is that predictive analytics demonstrates symptoms and not the problems, and you can’t necessary diagnose [those problems] with the symptom information. You usually have to dig deeper.”

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Be Wary of Robot Emotions
Associated Press
Rachel Lerman
April 26, 2019

Despite the fact that robots are not alive, humans often anthropomorphize them, which designers concede can be exploited for both connection and manipulation. The way robots are designed can shape this tendency, especially if their face or body resembles those of humans or animals, or if they appear self-directed. Accenture's Julie Carpenter said, "Even if you know a robot has very little autonomy, when something moves in your space and it seems to have a sense of purpose, we associate that with something having an inner awareness or goals." Although this design factor is practical for making robots more easily accepted, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sherry Turkle warns of cues fooling people into ascribing emotions to robots. Said Turkle, "Simulated thinking might be thinking, but simulated feeling is never feeling. Simulated love is never love."

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The Palestinian and Israeli flags. How Tech is Bringing Israelis, Palestinians Together
BBC News
Melissa Jun Rowley
April 30, 2019

Young Israelis and Palestinians are attempting to bridge their differences via new technology partnerships, like Tech2Peace. The initiative is led by students and volunteers, who help Israelis and Palestinians learn technology life skills like three-dimensional modeling and graphic design, website production, and app development, as well as helping them practice conflict resolution. Palestinian entrepreneur Adnan Awni Jaber said, "I believe that technology can break walls between any two sides of the conflict because it's borderless." According to Israeli-American entrepreneur and Palestinian Internship Program (PIP) founder Yadin Kaufmann, closer collaboration via technology programs is commercially sensible. Kaufmann said, "For most Palestinians, being a part of PIP is the first time they've encountered an Israeli other than at a checkpoint. For most Israelis, it's the first time they're able to speak with a Palestinian and work with them on a professional level."

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50,000 Companies Exposed to Hacks of 'Business Critical' SAP Systems
Jack Stubbs
May 2, 2019

Security researchers have published new exploits of unprotected SAP software, which could threaten the "business-critical" systems of as many as 50,000 companies. Although SAP reportedly released proper security setting configuration guidance in 2009 and 2013, security firm Onapsis estimated that 90% of vulnerable SAP systems lack adequate safeguards. Said Onapsis CEO Mariano Nunez, "With these exploits, a hacker could steal anything that sits on a company's SAP systems and also modify any information there—so he can perform financial fraud, withdraw money, or just plainly sabotage and disrupt the systems." Sogeti security consultant Mathieu Geli warned the exploits take advantage of how SAP's apps communicate with each other within a company; incorrectly configured security settings would let hackers masquerade as SAP products, fooling the apps into granting them full access without logging in.

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A satellite-to-Earth link between quantum satellite Micius and a quantum teleportation experiment. Chinese Quantum Prize Rewards International Stars of the Field
David Cyranoski
April 29, 2019

China's Micius Foundation named 12 scientists to receive its 2018 and 2019 Micius Quantum Prizes, which honor breakthroughs in quantum computation and quantum communication. Quantum physicist Artur Ekert of the U.K.'s University of Oxford, a 2019 prize recipient for his theoretical work in quantum cryptography, said, "The prize symbolizes China's growing ambition, but also research accomplishments in quantum technologies." Oxford's David Deutsch and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Peter Shor were named to receive awards for their research into quantum algorithms. The University of Science and Technology of China physicist Pan Jian-Wei was lauded as chief inventor of the world's first quantum communications space satellite, also named Micius. Said 2018 prize recipient Peter Zoller of the University of Innsbruck, Austria, "I see this prize as an effort to embrace and recognize an international quantum-physics community beyond national interests."

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Oregon’s a Testing Ground for Amazon’s Facial Recognition Policing, But What if Rekognition Gets it Wrong?
The Washington Post
Drew Harwell
April 30, 2019

Police in Washington County, OR, have used a facial-recognition algorithm from Amazon to publicly test new surveillance techniques for more than a year, accelerating criminal investigations based on video footage, but also intensifying debate about the tool's legal ramifications. Opponents warn police reliance on Amazon's face-scanning Rekognition software could lead to wrongful arrests of individuals who only faintly resemble video images, as well as threatening citizens’ civil liberties and safety. Rekognition's advantages include easy activation, no need for significant technical infrastructure, and affordability. Although Amazon advises police to use the algorithm's results only when matches have 99% confidence, Washington County deputies are not shown that metric when they employ Rekognition, receiving instead five possible matches for each search, even if the software's match confidence is much lower.

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A test of driving distractions Distracted by Tech While Driving? The Answer May Be More Tech
The New York Times
Paul Stenquist
May 2, 2019

Advanced driver-assistance technologies can help prevent accidents caused by distracted driving, by automatically halting the vehicle when a collision is looming, and by keeping the car between lane lines. Cellphones are a key cause of driver distraction, as are in-vehicle infotainment systems; despite the addition of voice activation to minimize manual interaction with the latter, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found such systems' cognitive and visual demands inconsistent, and in many cases forced drivers to focus on the task at hand rather than on driving. AAA's testing of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto products, which allow drivers to control cellphones via the infotainment system, determined they both distracted drivers less than built-in infotainment systems. However, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Bryan Reimer warned autonomous vehicle technology has the unintended effect of causing drivers to seek other forms of distraction.

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People all looking at their handsets. Patterns of Compulsive Smartphone Use Suggest How to Kick the Habit
University of Washington
Sarah McQuate
April 29, 2019

Researchers at the University of Washington conducted a study to determine why people compulsively check their phones, identifying a series of triggers, common across age groups, that start and end habitual smartphone use. The researchers also examined user-generated solutions to end undesirable phone use. The team interviewed three groups of smartphone users: high school students, college students, and college graduates. The researchers found four common triggers for the compulsively use of smartphones: unoccupied moments, like time spent waiting for a friend to show up; tedious and repetitive tasks; socially awkward situations, and when a message or notification is anticipated. The researchers also discovered common triggers that ended compulsive phone use, which include competing demands from the real world, realization of extended phone use, and repetitive content.

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Toyota to Invest $100 Million in Self-Driving, Robotic Technology Startups
Ashley Turner
May 2, 2019

Toyota has established a $100-million venture fund for autonomous driving and robotic technology startups. The automaker said its Toyota AI Ventures subsidiary intends to channel the funds into early-stage startups designing "disruptive" technologies in those disciplines. Toyota Research Institute CEO Gill Pratt said, "The growing interest in automated systems has created great opportunities to improve human lives using [artificial intelligence] and next-generation mobility technology." Pratt noted the fund should help "bridge the gap" between automakers and startups concentrating on autonomous driving. Toyota's AI venture fund has invested in 19 startups in the last two years, committing $200 million to driverless technology to date.

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Businesses' Adoption of AI Expected to Surge
The Wall Street Journal
John Murawski
April 25, 2019

Multinational professional services firm Deloitte predicts artificial intelligence (AI) will surge in business operations worldwide over the next two years, with 25% of 1,219 polled businesses having already deployed cognitive technologies like machine learning or AI. Deloitte forecast that 72% of businesses will either have deployed AI or be planning a deployment in two years, to improve core functions including marketing, sales, compliance, and fraud detection. These findings correspond with market intelligence and advisory firm International Data Corp. projections that global AI spending will reach $79.2 billion by 2022, with the growth attributed to the intersection of cloud computing, big data, and high-powered analytics for AI apps. Deloitte expects the life sciences/healthcare, consumer and industrial products, and technology/telecom/media industries will adopt AI most aggressively.

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