Welcome to the May 10, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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ACM Honors Computing Innovators Who Are Changing the World
May 10, 2019

ACM today announced technical awards for innovators who contributed to artificial intelligence (AI), economics, genomic research, geo-distributed systems, and software. Riverbed Technology's Gerald C. Combs was named to receive the ACM Software System Award for his open source Wireshark network protocol analyzer, which proved crucial for designing, implementing, analyzing, and troubleshooting Internet-binding network protocols. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Constantinos Daskalakis and Princeton University's Michael J. Freedman were chosen to receive the ACM Grace Murray Hopper Award, for respectively advancing computation and economics with relation to the Nash Equilibrium, and designing and deploying self-organizing geo-distributed systems. The University of California, San Diego's Pavel Pevzner will receive the ACM Paris Kanellakis Theory and Practice Award for creating algorithms for string reconstruction, and applying them to genome assembly. Finally, the University of Rochester's Henry Kautz's AI milestones were the basis for his being named to receive the ACM-AAAI Allen Newell Award.

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Hands holding an Amazon smart speaker Amazon Accused of Violating Kids' Privacy With Smart Speakers
The Wall Street Journal
Betsy Morris
May 9, 2019

Privacy and child-advocacy organizations have filed a complaint with federal regulators alleging Amazon has been illegally recording and retaining the conversations of child users of its Echo Dot Kids device. The complainants claimed the online retailer stores this information in the cloud, even after parents attempt to erase it. They have urged the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to investigate, citing the practice's violation of federal online privacy statutes protecting children. The voice-activated device was promoted as a variant of Amazon's Alexa smart speaker, equipped with parental control and family-oriented features; the tool collects transcripts of children's voice recordings, as well as their viewing and listening habits. Investigators learned parents could neither alter nor delete the device's stored data, while deleting a child's profile would deactivate its child-friendly features, and terminate access to a related content subscription service.

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U.K. Drones Map Chernobyl's 'Red Forest'
BBC News
Jonathan Amos
May 8, 2019

Researchers at the U.K.'s National Center for Nuclear Robotics (NCNR) have developed a drone-mapping system that allows scientists to investigate hazardous places from a safe distance. The researchers used the system to survey Chernobyl's "Red Forest," one of the most radioactive locations on Earth. The system uses fixed-wing aircraft to make a general radiation map by flying at about 40 mph just above the treetops in a grid pattern. Places of interest observed in that initial flyover are followed up by rotary-wing drones that can hover and acquire high-resolution, three-dimensional information. The survey confirmed the current understanding of the radiation distribution in the forest, but in much greater detail than had previously been possible.

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How to Create a Spotlight of Sound with LEGO-Like Bricks
University of Sussex (United Kingdom)
Neil Vowles
May 8, 2019

Researchers at the University of Sussex and the University of Bristol in the U.K. have demonstrated how the practical laws used to design optical systems can also be applied to sound through acoustic metamaterials. The researchers demonstrated the first dynamic metamaterial device with the zoom objective of a varifocal for sound. In addition, the team built a collimator, which can transmit sound as a directional beam from a standard speaker. Said University of Sussex researcher Jonathan Eccles, "Our prototypes, while simple, lower the access threshold to designing novel sound experiences: devices based on acoustic metamaterials will lead to new ways of delivering, experiencing and even thinking of sound."

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Picture of the Baltimore City Hall 'RobbinHood' Ransomware Takes Down Baltimore City Government Networks
Ars Technica
Sean Gallagher
May 8, 2019

A "RobbinHood" ransomware attack earlier this week crippled networks used by Baltimore's city government. Security researcher Vitali Kremez said RobbinHood appears to focus exclusively on files on a single system, apparently infecting individual computers through psexec and/or domain controller compromise. Kremez added that this suggests the attacker must have already secured administrative-level access to a system on the network, "due to the way the ransomware interacts with C:\Windows\Temp directory." RobbinHood also relies on having a public RSA key present on the targeted computer so it can encrypt files. Baltimore Mayor Bernard Young said Wednesday he was uncertain how long the city's systems would be offline. "There is a backup system with the IT department," Young said, "but we can't just go and restore because we don’t know how far back the virus goes.”

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World's Fastest Supercomputer Coming to U.S. in 2021
Stephen Shankland
May 7, 2019

In 2021, Oak Ridge National Laboratory will become home to Frontier, a $600-million exascale machine featuring Cray and AMD technology that could become the world's fastest supercomputer. Frontier should be able to reach 1.5 exaflops, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, which is about 10 times faster than the current system atop the Top500 supercomputer ranking—the IBM-built Summit supercomputer, also housed at Oak Ridge. However, there is no guarantee that the U.S. will win the race to exascale supercomputers, because China, Japan, and France each could have exascale machines in place in 2020. Currently, China is home to 227 of the supercomputers on the Top500 ranking, compared to 109 for the U.S.

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Brave New World of Computing in Schools Turns Out to Be False Dawn
Nick Morrison
May 8, 2019

A report from the University of Roehampton in the U.K. found the 2014 rollout of a curriculum that made computer coding education mandatory in U.K. schools did not pan out as hoped. The mandate required children to study programming from ages five to 14, but the Roehampton study observed declining numbers of students who continued to study coding beyond the compulsory age limit and took public exams in the discipline at 16. More students are taking computer science qualifications, but the population enrolling in computing or information and communications technology courses after age 14 has fallen 45%. Said Roehampton's Peter Kemp, "Young people are now less likely to access any computing education than they were before [the computer science curriculum] was introduced."

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Facebook’s new operations center in Dublin Facebook Opens Command Post to Thwart Election Meddling in Europe
The New York Times
Adam Satariano
May 5, 2019

Facebook's newly-opened operations center in Dublin, Ireland, employs workers to monitor and purge the social network of misinformation, bogus accounts, and other content that foreign actors could use to interfere with upcoming European parliamentary elections. Facebook is doing this in the wake of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election via its platform, and in response to European pressure on technology companies to police their products for extremist contest, hate speech, and misinformation. Facebook public policy manager Lexi Sturdy said an automated system alerts the Dublin team to problematic content or an increase in users flagging content. Depending on the language or country where the content comes from, an operator reviews the material and decides whether to recommend removal, with the final decision based on whether the material meets Facebook user guidelines.

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Nike’s shoe Nike Wants Your Sneakers to Fit Better, So It's Using AR
Peter Rubin
May 9, 2018

Starting in July, customers in any Nike retail store in the U.S. can have their feet scanned by an employee to learn exactly what shoe size they need, in any style Nike makes. In addition, customers shopping online will be able to complete the same process on their own using the Nike mobile app. Nike+ members using the Nike app can select "choose my size" for a sneaker they are considering. The app then displays a camera icon and the words "Try It," while offering a few quick guidelines and prompting the user to scan the room and his/her feet. A machine learning algorithm then identifies the ideal shoe size for those feet in a specific sneaker style. Stores in a few European countries will introduce the system in August, and Nike.com will integrate it as well.

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Robot moving on a balance beam. New Video Shows Humanoid Robot Crossing Balance Beam With Ease
The Washington Post
Peter Holley
May 8, 2019

Researchers at the Institute for Human & Machine Cognition (IHMC) in Florida have released a video detailing how they trained a 343-pound humanoid robot to walk across narrow ground via autonomous planning. The machine used control, perception, and planning algorithms to traverse a series of narrow cinder blocks and a balance beam. IHMC Robotics said the robot is "about 50% successful over this type of terrain." The robot perceived the terrain beneath it with LiDAR, and also employed a "path planning algorithm" to outline its path. IHMC Robotics' Jerry Pratt said a versatile, bipedal humanoid robot would find broad application in fields ranging from search and rescue to firefighting to extraterrestrial exploration and colonization.

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