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Welcome to the May 20, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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A ferry departing from Estonia's capital Tallinn Tech-Savvy Estonians Vote Online in European Elections
Associated Press
David Keyton
May 20, 2019

Estonia is currently the only country in the world that authorizes online voting for its entire electorate, due to confidence in its Internet voting (i-voting) system. Thousands of Estonians already have used the system to vote in the European Parliament elections. The system lets people cast multiple ballots, with only the final vote legitimate, to deter coercion. Estonia's electoral commission said i-voting boosts security for Estonians outside the country, as well as for voters located more than 30 minutes from polling stations. I-voting system designer Arne Ansper said the system confirms a voter's identify via digital signature, which is then deleted from the ballot, leaving an encrypted internal envelope to ensure vote secrecy; this is decrypted at the end of the election. Voters can verify their vote has been counted correctly, and a third-party system produces logs that are compared to the ballot-box results to flag any discrepancies.

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Driverless Cars Could Speed Up Traffic Flow, Journeys
The Telegraph (U.K.)
Sarah Knapton
May 20, 2019

Researchers at Cambridge University in the U.K. suggest driverless vehicles on roadways could accelerate traffic flow and shorten journeys by as much as 35%. The scientists programmed a 16-robot-car fleet to drive around a two-lane track, and demonstrated how non-cooperative driving led to congestion when one car stopped. Vehicles driving cooperatively were able to avoid this problem, leading to improved traffic flow and trip times. The researchers hope this experiment's findings will inform research into real-world communication and coordination between autonomous cars, as well as with human-driven vehicles. Downing College's Nicholas Hyldmar said, "If different automotive manufacturers are all developing their own autonomous cars with their own software, those cars all need to communicate with each other effectively."

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A woman taking a photo on the reflection of a man’s sunglasses 'Glimpses' Give AI Agent 360-Degree View
Marc Airhart
May 19, 2019

University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) researchers have developed an artificial intelligence (AI) system that can take a few quick glimpses of an area and infer its whole environment. The researchers used deep learning to train the AI agent on thousands of 360-degree images of different environments. When presented with a scene it has never seen before, the system uses its experience to choose a few glimpses that together add up to less than 20% of the full scene. Based on these glimpses, the agent infers what it would have seen if it had looked in all the other directions, reconstructing a full 360-degree image of its surroundings. Said UT Austin researcher Santhosh Ramakrishnan, "Using extra information that's present purely during training helps the [primary] agent learn faster."

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Three kids looking at code during class Newport Class Makes Astronomy Accessible to Visually Impaired
Los Angeles Times
Hillary Davis
May 17, 2019

In a recent class at St. James Episcopal Church in Newport Beach, CA, teens directed telescopes in Chile to capture images of asteroids using Quorum, a programming language designed for the visually impaired. The images the telescopes at the Chilean observatory capture using Quorum commands are run through Afterglow Access software, which converts the data points into sounds. The program accepts images as inputs and produces musical notes to represent the information for the visually impaired. The program can also create plastic tiles with images of heavenly bodies in relief, made with a three-dimensional (3D) printer, allowing users to "feel" spatial imagery. Astronomers, computer scientists, software engineers, high school students, and teachers are piloting Quorum and Afterglow Access to make typically visual astronomy applications accessible to the visually impaired through a nationwide project called Innovators Developing Accessible Tools for Astronomy (IDATA).

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A technician works at the Marlin Steel plant Factory Workers Become Coders as Companies Automate
The Wall Street Journal
Agam Shah
May 17, 2019

Some U.S. manufacturers are offering employees programming and robotics training, as automation sweeps through the industry. Wire-basket maker Marlin Steel Wire Products, for example, acquired $2 million worth of robots in the past 15 months, and is training workers to operate both the robots and laser-cutting software. Marlin Steel's employees write code so robots can fabricate parts to specifications, while others employ collaborative software to engage with clients on design revisions in real time. Said Marlin Steel Wire Products CEO Drew Greenblatt, “We’re not going to beat the competition because we are charging lower prices. We are going to beat the competition because of the technology. These are factory workers turning into coders to exploit the technologies.”

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Santa Clara County Redefines 'Street Smart'
Government Technology
Skip Descant
May 17, 2019

Santa Clara County, CA, has deployed a smart traffic management system, which provides real-time data to its Traffic Management Center, transmitting it to cloud computers for analysis and making appropriate modifications to signal timing. Approximately 500 video cameras on signal poles collect traffic count data, which is used to calibrate signal times for about 1.5 million vehicles each day. Santa Clara civil engineer Ananth Prasad said, "Now that we know how much traffic volume is on each of the roadways, we are able to put in different signal coordination plans, and those coordination plans vary depending on the level of traffic that is on the expressways." Pavement sensors can tell when vehicles pull up to an intersection, and tweak signal timing so cyclists have enough time to pass through.

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Energy-free Superfast Computing Using Light Pulses
Lancaster University
May 16, 2019

Researchers at Lancaster University in the U.K., Regensburg University in Germany, Radboud University in the Netherlands, and the Russian Academy of Sciences have developed a system that uses magnets to record computer data, consuming virtually zero energy in the process. This breakthrough solves the problem of how to create faster data processing speeds without the accompanying energy costs. The system replaces the electricity used in conventional computers with extremely short pulses of light—lasting about one trillionth of a second—concentrated by special antennas on top of a magnet. Said Lancaster University’s Rostislav Mikhaylovskiy, “The record-low energy loss makes this approach scalable. Future storage devices would also exploit the excellent spatial definition of antenna structures enabling practical magnetic memories with simultaneously maximal energy efficiency and speed.”

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A 3D hologram of a singer performs alongside a real person Your Robot Assistant Will Soon Be Able to Read Your Emotions
Bloomberg BusinessWeek
Sohee Kim
May 16, 2019

South Korea turned on its 5G telecom networks nationwide in April; businesses and organizations in that country now are counting on 5G to enable the delivery of artificial intelligence (AI)-based robots, three-dimensional (3D) content, and holograms that will someday be a part of people's everyday lives. For example, parts and service company Hyundai Mobis is building a car assistant that can drive a vehicle and interact with passengers; faster 5G networks will allow the technology to identify drivers' emotions through voice and facial recognition software. South Korean mobile phone carriers, meanwhile, are designing AI-powered speakers that can communicate with users, with bots appearing as holograms.

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Intel Flaw Lets Hackers Siphon Secrets From Millions of PCs
Andy Greenberg
May 14, 2019

Intel and an international coalition of security researchers have identified a new form of hackable vulnerability in Intel's chips which could result in the theft of sensitive data from central processing units (CPUs). The new set of Microarchitectural Data Sampling (MDS) attacks exploit security flaws in the speculative execution process, in which a chip guesses which operations and data it will be asked to carry out beforehand, to expedite performance. The researchers determined speculative execution could be used to fool processors into capturing sensitive data en route between chip components, by concentrating on buffers positioned between components. The malicious code can leak the data the processor has grabbed from the buffer through the chip's cache, which when repeated millions of times successively would enable attackers to siphon streams of all the data the CPU accesses in real time. Intel said it has issued patches for both hardware and software since its own researchers found the MDS bugs last year.

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A fungus known as a Dermocybe 'Wood Wide Web'—Underground Network of Microbes that Connects Trees—Mapped for First Time
Science Magazine
Gabriel Popkin
May 15, 2019

Researchers at ETH Zurich in Switzerland and Stanford University have developed the "wood wide web," a map of the organisms that live under the world's forests, using a database of more than 28,000 tree species living in more than 70 countries. In 2015, ETH Zurich researcher Thomas Crowther mapped trees' global distribution and reported that the Earth has about 3 trillion trees. Stanford University researcher Kabir Peay sought to conduct the same type of study for the underground organisms that connect forest trees. Some trees are surrounded by ectomycorrhizal (EM) fungi that create underground networks as they search for nutrients, while others are surrounded by arbuscular mycorrhizae (AM) bacteria that turn nitrogen from the atmosphere into usable plant food. The researchers developed an algorithm to search for correlations between the EM-, AM-, and nitrogen-fixer associated trees in the database, as well as local environmental factors such as temperature, precipitation, soil chemistry, and topography.

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Microsoft to Spend $100 Million on Kenya, Nigeria Tech Development Hub
May 14, 2019

Microsoft will invest $100 million over the next five years to open an Africa technology development center, with sites in Kenya and Nigeria. The company expects to hire over 100 local engineers as part of the initiative, to customize its applications and develop new ones for the African market. Engineers at the new center will build applications using artificial intelligence, mixed reality, and machine learning, according to Microsoft. A statement from the company cited potential applications in financial technology, farming technology, and off-grid energy.

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