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Welcome to the August 23, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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celestial explosion, illustration Link Layer Protocol Brings Quantum Internet Closer to Reality
Delft University of Technology
August 21, 2019

Researchers at the Netherlands’ QuTech (an advanced research center for Quantum Computing and Quantum Internet formed by the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) and the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO)), working with colleagues at TU Delft’s Kavli Institute of Nanoscience, have created a link layer protocol that brings the realization of a quantum Internet a step closer to reality. TU Delft's Stephanie Wehner said existing classical network-stack protocols cannot persistently retain quantum bits, an obstacle that the link layer protocol surmounts. TU Delft's Matthew Skrzypczyk added that the proposed quantum network stack and link layer protocol will enable future software written with the protocol to interoperate with various quantum hardware platforms.

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Russian FEDOR humanoid robot Russia Sends Its First Humanoid Robot into Space
Agence France-Presse
August 22, 2019

Russia dispatched an unmanned spacecraft containing a life-size humanoid robot to the International Space Station (ISS), where it will learn skills for assisting astronauts. The robot Fedor (Final Experimental Demonstration Object Research) communicates its activities and progress via Instagram and Twitter accounts, and it will test newly-acquired manual skills in the ISS' microgravity environment. The Roscosmos Russian space agency's Alexander Bloshenko said such skills include "connecting and disconnecting electric cables [and] using standard items, from a screwdriver and a spanner to a fire extinguisher." Fedor mimics human movements, which allows it to remotely assist astronauts, and people on Earth, in executing tasks.

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F-15 fighter jet on tarmac Ethical Hackers Sabotage F-15 Fighter Jet, Expose Serious Vulnerabilities
Jason Murdock
August 15, 2019

Hackers enlisted by U.S. Department of Defense partner company Synack reportedly identified serious cyber-vulnerabilities in the flight systems of F-15 fighter jets, which could be exploited to sabotage the device that collects sensor and video data from the aircraft while in flight. The U.S. Air Force's Will Roper said the exercise was designed "to bring [the hacker] community to bear on real weapons systems and real airplanes," to find and correct flaws "before we go into conflict." Roper added that ethical hackers will be increasingly necessary to stay ahead of threats from adversaries eager to exploit U.S. cybersecurity weaknesses. Defense Digital Service director Chris Lynch said, "Finding innovative ways to identify vulnerabilities and strengthen security has never been more important."

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A Battery-Free Sensor for Underwater Exploration
MIT News
Rob Matheson
August 20, 2019

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a battery-free underwater communication system that uses near-zero power to transmit sensor data. The system makes use of the piezoelectric effect, in which vibrations in certain materials generate an electric charge, along with backscatter, a communication technique that transmits data by reflecting modulated wireless signals off an RFID tag and back to a reader. In the MIT system, a transmitter sends acoustic waves through water toward a piezoelectric sensor that has stored data. When the wave hits the sensor, the material vibrates and stores the resulting electrical charge, which the sensor uses to reflect a wave back to a receiver for decoding. Said MIT’s Fadel Adib, “Basically, we can communicate with underwater sensors based solely on the incoming sound signals whose energy we are harvesting.”

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3D-printed reef Can We Print a New Set of Coral Reefs Before They're Gone?
Fast Company
Adele Peters
August 22, 2019

Scientists at three Israeli institutions are collaborating to restore dying coral reefs via three-dimensional (3D) printing. Researchers at Israel’s Technion–Israel Institute of Technology, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and Bar-Ilan University developed the system, which is being tested off the coast of the Israeli city of Eilat. The system includes a 3D-printed pole covered in donut-like attachments that "can create large variety and complexity," according to Technion-Israel’s Ezri Tarazi. The system uses a computer program to generate differences in the design of the replacement reef structure so each component can attract different kinds of fish. The components are printed from a local clay ceramic, which can be rapidly installed, then planted with coral.

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New Theory Describes How Hate Travels Across Social Media Platforms and Around the World
Lauren Feiner
August 21, 2019

George Washington University (GWU) and University of Miami scientists mapped interconnected networks of hate across social media platforms and regions, to try to explain why eliminating online concentrations of hate is so difficult. The team traced the spread of hate from these so-called hate clusters found on Facebook and its Central European equivalent VKontakte (VK) to adjacent groups linked by users. The researchers learned hate clusters often regenerate and proliferate across platforms, even when they are prohibited. The team is collaborating with a social media network on the issue, and also is developing software that governments and regulators can employ to identify such hate clusters. GWU's Neil Johnson and colleagues proposed social media platforms remove smaller clusters and individual members from the ecosystem to disrupt larger hate clusters.

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Judge Bars Georgia From Using Current Voting Technology in 2020
Laura Hautala
August 15, 2019

U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg has ordered Georgia not to use its paperless voting machines, election management software, or servers for the 2020 election, requiring the state to implement a new voting system in time for the presidential primaries. Georgia is currently acquiring new electronic voting machines and vote-counting software. The court order will prevent the state from relying on its paperless voting machines and election management software if the replacement infrastructure is not ready in time; should this happen, Georgia may have to fall back on paper ballots. Attorney David Cross said the order “is a big win for all Georgia voters and those working across the country to secure elections and protect the right to vote."

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An illustration of a speech bubble full of computer terms. Google to Enhance South Africa's Digital Skills Pipeline
Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
August 16, 2019

Google South Africa (SA) has pledged to teach computer science to more than 30,000 primary and high school students in that nation through the CS First program. An educator-created program designed to equip students with the fundamentals of computer science in a collaborative environment, CS First also is designed to make coding easy to teach and fun to learn, according to the search giant. Participants in the program are shown instructional videos and given experience in building projects in Scratch, a blocks-based programming language. Said Google SA’s Asha Patel, "By teaching our young learners coding from a young age, we are equipping them not only with the skills they need to be users of technology, but also developers of technology."

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EU Plans Sweeping Regulation of Facial Recognition
Financial Times
Mehreen Khan
August 22, 2019

The European Commission is planning regulation that will entitle European Union (EU) citizens to control the use of their facial recognition data. The effort is part of a wide-ranging update of the way Europe regulates artificial intelligence (AI). A senior official said the goal is to restrict "the indiscriminate use of facial recognition technology" by businesses and public authorities, by letting Europeans "know when [facial recognition] data is used," with exemptions "tightly circumscribed." This would strengthen citizens' protections over and above the current limitations in the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which bars collection of biometric data for identification.

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A screenshot from AnnoTree. Online Tool Will Help Researchers Make Genomic Discoveries
University of Waterloo News
August 19, 2019

Researchers at the University of Waterloo in Canada have developed a tool that allows users to wade through an interactive microbial tree of life. The AnnoTree tool integrates data across thousands of microbial genomes, and offers a Web-based interface allowing users to query any gene of interest. The presence or absence of that gene is "painted" into the microbial tree of life to highlight species that do or do not contain that gene. Users then can "zoom in" further and explore specific lineages of interest. Said Waterloo’s Andrew Doxey, “While previously this type of analysis could take a substantial amount of time and effort, with AnnoTree it takes minutes or seconds.”

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A photo of a young woman working on a computer. For Young Female Coders, Internship Interviews Can Be Toxic
Nitasha Tiku
August 22, 2019

A survey by the Girls Who Code nonprofit of more than 1,000 young women college-aged or older at 300 schools around the country found internship interviews discourage many young female programmers. More than 50% of respondents said they had a bad experience when applying for an engineering internship, or that they knew another woman who had such a negative experience. Participants cited instances of sexual harassment and discrimination by male interviewers, including 25% of respondents who said the interview process concentrated on their personal attributes, rather than their technical skills. Said Cornell Tech dean and vice provost Greg Morrisett, “There's this big bubble of women that are coming out, and then they're hitting the workforce, and finding out that's where the barrier is, whereas, 10 or 20 years ago, they were running into that when they entered the university.”

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A photo of a Stop button. Melbourne Researchers Uncover Privacy Lapses in Transport Dataset
Aaron Tan
August 15, 2019

Researchers at the University of Melbourne in Australia have developed a method to re-identify individuals in a public transport dataset released as part of a data science competition. The dataset was made up of several data points collected from 15 million transport cards used by commuters who had traveled on trains, trams, and buses in Melbourne and other parts of Victoria between 2015 and 2018. While the cards’ numbers were not included in the dataset, the researchers were able to identify themselves, a co-traveler, and a member of parliament in Victoria in the dataset, as well as uncovering details of their daily commutes. Said University of Melbourne researcher Chris Culnane, "With just a handful of pieces of information about where someone boards or exits public transport, it is possible to get an indication of where they live or work, their regular travel patterns, who they travel with, or if they travel alone."

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