Welcome to the July 1, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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A picture of RoboBee X-Wing Unleashed, Robo-Insect Takes Flight
The New York Times
Knvul Sheikh
June 26, 2019

Researchers at Harvard University have developed a robot capable of untethered flight. The RoboBee X-Wing robot is equipped with four tiny wings made of carbon fiber and polyester, and even smaller photovoltaic cells. In bright light, these solar cells generate about five volts of electricity, which a small transformer then boosts to the 200 volts necessary to allow the robot to take flight. When the higher voltage is applied to two piezoelectric actuators, they bend and contract, similar to how an insect's muscles would. This process drives the flapping motion of the RoboBee's wings. The researchers found the RoboBee can match the thrust efficiency of similarly sized insects, such as bees.

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Fitness tracking devices Wearable Technology Started by Tracking Steps. Soon, It May Allow Your Boss to Track Your Performance.
The Washington Post
Peter Holley
June 28, 2019

Wearable technology that gives users the ability to track their step count can also be used to track employee performance. Researchers at Dartmouth College designed a mobile-sensing system that they say can measure employee performance with 80% accuracy, by monitoring physical and emotional signals and using the data to create a performance profile designed to eliminate bias from evaluations. For the study, workers at two companies were fitted with a wearable fitness tracker that monitored heart functions, sleep, stress, weight, and calorie consumption, and a smartphone app tracked their physical activity, location, phone usage, and ambient light. Location beacons in homes and offices tracked time spent working and breaks. Said Dartmouth’s Andrew Campbell, “We want to use that information to empower workers to tell them whether they’re being influenced by levels of stress or sleep or other factors that may not be immediately obvious to them.”

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A diamond Scientists Teleport Information Inside a Diamond
Brooks Hays
June 28, 2019

Researchers at Japan's Yokohama National University (YNU) have teleported quantum information inside a diamond. A collection of symmetrical carbon atoms, diamonds are ideal for quantum teleportation, despite the fact that all diamonds have flaws. The researchers created an oscillating magnetic field around a diamond, triggering an entanglement between an electron anchored to the nanomagnet and the spinning nucleus of the adjacent carbon atom. They then had the electron absorb a photon holding quantum information, and saw the photon's polarization state transferred to the carbon. The carbon atom in effect memorizes the photon's polarization, enabling the transfer and storage of quantum information. Said YNU's Hideo Kosaka, "Our ultimate goal is to realize scalable quantum repeaters for long-haul quantum communications and distributed quantum computers for large-scale quantum computation."

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Search and rescue volunteers looking at a screen How Technology Has Improved Rescue Searches in the Wilderness
Associated Press
Audrey McAvoy
June 24, 2019

The rescue of Amanda Eller, who was found after 17 days lost in a forest in Hawaii, highlights the growing role technology is playing in rescue missions in the wilderness. Searchers used GPS data of the ground they covered, gathered from a phone app, and organizers put it on a specialized digital map to help better understand where to look next. GPS data revealed that searchers were covering the same areas repeatedly as heavy foliage and other natural barriers blocked their paths. When searchers ran into barriers, they placed digital pins on their maps. Experts, including drone pilots, were then sent to the area to search it. Organizers of the mission fed the GPS data to a remote team, which used specialized software to overlay it on topographical maps, allowing everyone to see which areas still needed to be checked.

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McDonald's Tests Robot Fryers, Voice-Activated Drive-Throughs
The Wall Street Journal
Heather Haddon
June 20, 2019

McDonald's is developing voice-activated drive-throughs and robotic deep-fryers, in an effort to improve its restaurants’ speed of service. Both systems are undergoing testing in Chicago, and company executive Mason Smoot said the technology is intended to help, not replace, McDonald's employees. The drive-through system uses voice-recognition software, as customers read off their orders and confirm them on a digital display. Competing fast-food franchises also are investing in technology, as Domino's Pizza tested voice-activated over-the-phone ordering last year.

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Teacher and student using video games to understand human behavior Video Game Helps Farmers Fight Disease
Voice of America News
Kerry Hensley
June 27, 2019

Researchers at the University of Vermont are using video games to address the problem of porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV), which has affected pig farms in Europe, Asia, and North America. In one game, players assume the role of pig farmers and try to complete tasks while keeping the animals from being infected by the contagious virus. The researchers incorporated real-world data on PEDV transmission into the game to track how the disease would spread and how best to contain it. The model showed that by pushing just 10% of risk-tolerant farmers away from risky behavior, they were able to decrease the number of PEDV cases by 19%. However, in order to substantially slow the spread of the virus, more than 40% of risk-tolerant farmers needed to change their behavior.

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Gettysburg Address Stored in DNA Using a Binary Code Made of Holes
New Scientist
Chris Baraniuk
June 28, 2019

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign researchers have developed a method of turning strands of E. coli DNA into the molecular equivalent of the classical punch card memory system used in early computers. The researchers made tiny cuts in the DNA strands at specific points every 25 base pairs along the sequence, with a cut represents a one and the absence of a cut representing a zero, creating a binary code "punched" into the DNA that can store any form of digital data. The team used such DNA punch cards to store the text of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, and a picture of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. The researchers then extracted both files with "perfect accuracy" by breaking up the DNA and sequencing the nick-severed strands.

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Dridex Malware Strain Avoids Antivirus Software Detection
Charlie Osborne
June 28, 2019

The Dridex banking Trojan, which in January 2018 was found to be targeting users through phishing campaigns as well as through compromised FTP websites, has been altered to be able to avoid detection by traditional antivirus products. The latest strain of the malware uses an Application Whitelisting technique to block elements of the Windows Script Host. In addition, the core functionality of Dridex has received an upgrade, according to cybersecurity firm eSentire. While the circumvention of detection by signature-based systems is a concern, as of June 27, the number of active detections has increased just over 25%.

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SimBlock: A Simulator for Testing Improvements to Blockchain Networks
Tokyo Tech News
June 27, 2019

Researchers at the Tokyo Tech Cybersecurity Research Center in Japan have developed a public blockchain simulator for use in testing blockchain performance and security. SimBlock allows users to simulate a blockchain network of about 10,000 nodes using a single conventional PC, and to modify behavior of those nodes to test the effects on performance and security. The software helps users test improvements on an existing or original blockchain, and can simulate malicious nodes and measure success rates of attack, before applying countermeasures to test their effects.

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Pictures with misleading labels New Set of Images That Fool AI Could Help Make It More Hacker-Proof
Technology Review
Karen Hao
June 21, 2019

The University of California, Berkeley's Dan Hendrycks has compiled an image dataset of "natural adversarial examples," capable of deceiving artificial intelligence (AI) systems into making erroneous decisions without special doctoring. Examples include a squirrel that systems commonly misidentify as a sea lion, and a dragonfly mislabeled as a manhole cover. Synthetic adversarial examples must be fully aware of an AI system's defenses to work, but Hendrycks said natural examples remain relatively effective, even when defenses shift. Hendrycks released about 6,000 such images for use as a benchmark to test image recognition systems. Said Hendrycks, "If people were to just train on this dataset, that's just memorizing these examples. That would be solving the dataset but not the task of being robust to new examples."

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Hate Speech on Twitter Predicts Frequency of Real-Life Hate Crimes
New York University
June 24, 2019

A New York University (NYU) study found that cities with a higher incidence of a certain kind of racist tweets reported more actual hate crimes related to race, ethnicity, and national origin. NYU researchers analyzed location and linguistic features of 532 million tweets published between 2011 and 2016; the team trained a machine learning model to identify and analyze targeted tweets that directly espouse discriminatory views, and self-narrative tweets that describe or comment on discriminatory remarks or acts. The researchers compared the prevalence of each type of discriminatory tweet to the number of actual hate crimes reported over the same period in the same cities. More targeted, discriminatory tweets posted in a city related to a higher number of hate crimes. Said NYU's Rumi Chunara, "This trend...confirms the need to more specifically study how different types of discriminatory speech online may contribute to consequences in the physical world."

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Finding Best Teaching Frame in Video
University of Michigan
Katherine McAlpine
June 20, 2019

University of Michigan researchers have developed software that improves a computer's ability to track an object through a video clip by 11%, on average. BubbleNets chooses the best frame for human annotation, and also could help improve computer vision for applications like driverless cars, drones, surveillance, and home robotics. The researchers started with 60 videos in which every frame had been annotated. The team designed BubbleNets to compare two frames at a time, predicting which frame, if selected for a human to annotate, would enable the segmentation software to stay truer to the object's boundaries; the technique produced nearly 745,000 pairs of frames with which to train the algorithm. Testing showed BubbleNets preferred frames that were not too near the beginning or end of the video, resembled other frames in the video, and showed a clear view of objects.

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Heterogeneous Computing - Hardware and Software Perspectives

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