Welcome to the January 24, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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recreational therapist assists veteran with VR headset VR Therapy is Taking Paralyzed Veterans to New Places
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Michele Munz
January 20, 2020

The St. Louis Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital has incorporated virtual reality (VR) into therapy for paralyzed patients, who wear goggles and use joysticks to engage with simulated three-dimensional environments. Participants navigate within a small setting with perceived barriers like walls or edges, and can virtually box, learn tai chi, shoot a bow and arrow, and fish. About 50 hospitals in the U.S. and Israel use VR-based therapy applications developed by four-year-old XRHealth. The programs can help patients manage pain, as well as measuring their reaction times, ranges of motion, and cognitive functioning, to ascertain their progress toward recovery. XRHealth CEO Eran Orr said, "We believe we should treat this technology as a medical device, not just another gaming or patient-experience tool."

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Can AI Put Humans Back in the Loop?
Tiernan Ray
January 21, 2020

Scientists at Germany's Technische Universitat Darmstadt have developed a process for having a human domain expert review an artificial intelligence model's inner mechanisms during training, in order to catch simple problems and correct errors. Such an expert would check the reasoning offered by a neural network, with the overall goal of building more trust in machine learning. The experimental explanatory interactive learning procedure involves a convolutional neural network classifying the phenotype of a plant as healthy or diseased by analyzing leaf images. The researchers visualize the features the network is using, then a plant biology specialist fixes any network errors.

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RISC-V chip on circuit board Open Source is Coming to the Chip Business
Ian King
January 22, 2020

The open source movement is poised to make inroads into the computer processor industry, as big technology firms consider using the free RISC-V hardware instruction set instead of their proprietary knowledge. The RISC-V open-source standard controls how software communicates with chips; a critical mass of companies adopting the standard could compete with Intel’s X86 instruction set as well as with ARM Holdings’ instruction set, the foundation of all major smartphone components. RISC-V supporters say the standard's instructions will help design better chips to enable driverless cars, speech recognition, and other artificial intelligence tasks. Others think the more collaborative design process afforded by RISC-V ultimately will cut the cost of developing chips, especially for datacenter operators and others that are increasingly designing their own processors.

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powerlines Clock is Ticking on Tackling Threat to Power Grid
WSU Insider
Siddarth Vodnala
January 22, 2020

Washington State University (WSU) researchers evaluated the threat presented by Internet-linked devices connected to the U.S. electric power grid. WSU's Adam Hahn and David Jonathan Sebastian-Cardenas simulated how smart devices and smart homes could be exploited to commandeer the grid and wreak havoc. The spread of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies could allow attackers to jeopardize power-grid operations by injecting malware into such devices, causing their power demand to wildly fluctuate and trigger load shocks and outages. Sebastian-Cardenas warned the future proliferation of large-load controllers and smart inverters could imperil grid functions due to their fast load-changing capabilities. “Utilities should require their users to install devices that satisfy a minimal set of security policies that prevent a large-scale attack on the power grid,” he said.

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Integrate Microchips for Electronic Skin
Leibniz Institute for Solid State and Materials Research (Germany)
January 22, 2020

German and Japanese researchers have developed an active-matrix magnetic sensor system in a step toward the creation of electronic skin. The system is comprised of a series of magnetic sensors, an organic bootstrap shift register as a control mechanism, and organic signal amplifiers. All the electronic elements are based on organic thin-film transistors and integrated within a single platform; the device exhibits high magnetic sensitivity and resilience against mechanical deformation, and can facilitate two-dimensional magnetic field distribution in real time. Said researchers Oliver G. Schmidt and Daniil Karnaushenko, "[The] ultra-compliant and flexible nature of these devices is [an] indispensable feature for modern and future applications such as soft-robotics, implants, and prosthetics.”

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user enters passcode into smartphone SIM Swapping, Poor Web Security Put Millions at Risk
New Scientist
Chris Stokel-Walker
January 22, 2020

Researchers at Princeton University have found that two-factor authentication (2FA)—a security measure recommended by many websites and apps—is easily hackable and could put millions of people at risk. If a bad actor can compromise a user's phone, that will give them access to that user's online accounts. "SIM swapping" attacks allow hackers to port phone numbers to new SIM cards. Mobile phone networks should have security measures in place to prevent this, but the Princeton researchers found that five major U.S. networks do not have sufficient protections in place. Once hackers have control of a phone, they can reset passwords to online accounts by redirecting the 2FA confirmation texts. The team also analyzed 140 websites for their vulnerability to SIM swapping, and found that 17 major websites were "doubly insecure," meaning they did not ever require a user to insert their password to gain access to accounts, asking only for a telephone number.

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Seattle-Area Election Puts Mobile Voting to a Test
The Wall Street Journal
Alexa Corse
January 22, 2020

A local election in the Seattle area is serving as a test of a mobile-voting system for roughly 1.2 million King County, WA, residents. Registered voters can cast ballots via their smartphones or computers by logging onto a portal, and verify their identities by providing their names, birth dates, and signatures, which are checked against King County's voter rolls. County officials said paper copies of electronically transmitted ballots are printed, in case a recount becomes necessary. Some computer security experts consider the system too vulnerable to tampering, while supporters expect the technology to boost convenience and participation.

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*May Require Paid Registration
Pitt Researchers Propose Solutions for Networking Lag in Massive IoT Devices
Pitt Swanson Engineering
Maggie Pavlick
January 21, 2020

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh's Swanson School of Engineering have developed a system that takes advantage of underutilized resources on a wireless channel to boost the potential for lag-free connections. The EasyPass process could alleviate traffic backups on networks with many wireless connections, such as those found in smart warehouses and automated factories. The method uses the existing signal-to-noise ratio margin as a dedicated side channel for Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Testing demonstrated a 90% reduction in data transmission delay in congested IoT networks, with a throughput of 2.5 Mbps over a narrowband wireless link that can be accessed by more than 100 IoT devices at once.

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A photo of a self-driving car sporting the Uber logo. Waymo Self-Driving Minivans Take to More U.S. Roads
Agence France-Presse
January 23, 2020

Alphabet's Waymo self-driving car project is expanding testing of its autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivans and long-haul trucks to roads in Texas and New Mexico, building on a project that started in Arizona in late 2018. Project participants can use a smartphone application to summon autonomous vehicles to travel in an area of about 100 square miles. Waymo expects businesses to be interested in using the technology to carry customers to and from shops. Waymo’s Eric Meyhofer said the company had no defined timetable for deploying the self-driving rideshare vehicles; for now, he said, the vehicles will carry only a driver and a data collection specialist.

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A doctor conferring with patient. Technique Reveals Whether Patient Risk Models Are Accurate
MIT News
Anne Trafton
January 23, 2020

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), IBM Research, and the University of Massachusetts Medical School have developed a technique for determining the accuracy of patient risk models. The method returns an unreliability score from 0 to 1 based on a comparison of the risk prediction produced by a model with the prediction generated by a different model trained on the same dataset; a higher score signals less reliability of the prediction. The technique yielded a formula that rates the degree of disagreement between two predictions, without requiring a totally new model based on the original dataset. MIT's Collin Stultz said, "We are trying to create a shift in the way that people think about these machine learning models. Thinking about when to apply a model is really important because the consequence of being wrong can be fatal."

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A scanning electron microscope micrograph of a rolled microinductor architecture. Researchers Expand Microchip Capability with 3D Inductor Technology
Illinois News Bureau
Lois Yoksoulian
January 23, 2020

An international study led by University of Illinois (U of I) engineers improved three-dimensional (3D) microchip inductors by up to three orders of magnitude. The inductors use self-rolling magnetic nanoparticle-filled tubes to guarantee condensed magnetic field distribution and energy storage in 3D space while maintaining a small footprint for chip integration. The upgrade enabled higher inductance by expanding the length of rolled wire membranes 10-fold at 1 centimeter, with a vapor rather than a liquid solution affording more control for engineering tighter and more even rolls. The researchers also added a solid iron core to the inductor so chips can operate at higher frequencies with reduced performance loss. U of I's Xiuling Li said, "The magnetic induction of these devices could be as large as hundreds to thousands of millitesla, making them useful in a wide range of applications including power electronics, magnetic resonance imaging, and communications."

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