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Welcome to the November 10, 2021 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Senators Launch Bipartisan Women in STEM Caucus
The Hill
Rebecca Klar
November 8, 2021

U.S. Senators Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) have launched a bipartisan caucus to unlock more opportunities for women and girls to participate in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers. The 2019 Census found women composed half the workforce, yet accounted for just 27% of STEM workers. Meanwhile, women represented only about 25% of computer workers and 15% of engineers. The senators said the caucus will offer a platform for lawmakers and industry leaders to discuss solutions for STEM's lack of diversity. The caucus will prioritize pathways for helping women return to the workforce, including those with STEM backgrounds and those interested in career changes.

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Traffic flows along Interstate 90 in Chicago as a Metra commuter train moves along an elevated track. Congress Mandates Technologies to Stop Drunken Driving
Associated Press
Hope Yen; Tom Krisher
November 9, 2021

The U.S. Congress is requiring automakers to develop in-car technologies that prevent drunk driving, as part of an auto safety push included in the $1-trillion infrastructure package. The measure requires automakers to build monitoring systems to stop the intoxicated from driving into new vehicles as soon as 2026, once the U.S. Transportation Department determines the best solution and automakers have had sufficient time to comply. The legislation specifies only that the systems must "passively monitor the performance of a driver of a motor vehicle to accurately identify whether that driver may be impaired." Sam Abuelsamid of market intelligence firm Guidehouse Insights said infrared cameras are the most likely solution, and companies including General Motors, BMW, and Nissan already use them to track driver attentiveness in partially automated driver-assist systems.

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The company Standard AI installed a network of 140 cameras in a Circle K convenience store in Tempe, AZ. How Data Is Reshaping Real Estate
The New York Times
Patrick Sisson
November 9, 2021

Tracking consumer activity in stores is part of an initiative to boost the efficiency of commercial real estate through data. "You have a system that understands where people are in real time, down to the centimeter. It's all about utilization of real estate," said Jordan Fisher at autonomous checkout developer Standard AI. Layered technologies like crowd-tracking cameras and smartphone-derived information in retail and entertainment venues aim to reproduce online data measurement and analysis. Technology companies say their systems protect privacy by limiting the data they collect and anonymizing the rest. Growing datasets on consumer and crowd behavior are increasing the interactivity of physical space for marketers, and industry experts envision crowd-counting solutions enhancing security and crowd flow at entertainment venues.

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Real guppies respond to the 3D-printed plastic Robofish as if it were a real fish. Scientists Use Robotic Animals to Learn About Real Ones
Bob Holmes
November 8, 2021

Scientists are using robots that realistically interact with animals, to gain insights into the animals’ social dynamics. The University of Rochester's Dora Biro said, "If you can build a robot that you can embed in a group of animals as a stooge, and they accept that robot as one of them, then you can make the robot do things and see how real animals respond." Researchers at Germany's Free University of Berlin built Robobee, a life-size bee replica that can mimic its real-world counterparts' movements and vibrations, and direct them to food sources. Investigators at Germany's Humboldt University of Berlin inserted a three-dimensionally-printed Robofish into a school of guppies, which responded to it as if it were a real fish.

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Proposed Illegal Image Detectors on Devices Are 'Easily Fooled'
Imperial College London (U.K.)
Caroline Brogan
November 9, 2021

Researchers at the U.K.'s Imperial College London tested proposed algorithms that would be used in built-in scanners to detect illegal images on phones, tablets, laptops, and other devices, and determined they can be fooled. The goal of these algorithms is to detect child sexual abuse material on devices. In a test of five similar perceptual hashing-based client-side scanning (PH-CSS) algorithms, the researchers found the algorithms did not flag such images 99.9% of the time when their unique "signatures" were altered. Imperial's Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye said, "By simply applying a specifically designed filter mostly imperceptible to the human eye, we misled the algorithm into thinking that two near-identical images were different. Importantly, our algorithm is able to generate a large number of diverse filters, making the development of countermeasures difficult. Our findings raise serious questions about the robustness of such invasive approaches."

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Walmart Using Fully Driverless Trucks to Ramp Up Online Grocery Business
Frank Holland
November 8, 2021

Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, is using fully driverless trucks for its online grocery business, with two autonomous box trucks operating without a safety driver on a seven-mile loop 12 hours a day since August. The trucks, developed by Silicon Valley startup Gatik, are loaded with online orders from a Walmart fulfillment center or "dark store," then transferred to a Walmart Neighborhood Market grocery in Bentonville, AR. Gatik's Gautam Narang said, "Taking the driver out is the holy grail of this technology." He said the technology is designed to cover repeated trips from fulfillment centers to pickup points, while Gatik's vehicles can lower logistics costs for a grocery business by up to 30%.

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Political Ads During 2020 Presidential Election Cycle Collected Personal Information, Spread Misleading Information
University of Washington News
Sarah McQuate; Rebecca Gourley
November 8, 2021

University of Washington (UW) researchers say online political ads during the 2020 U.S. presidential election often employed manipulative techniques, including spreading misinformation. The researchers scrolled through nearly 750 news sites with a Web crawler, and studied over 1 million ads between September 2020 and January 2021; natural language processing determined almost 56,000 ads were political. UW's Miranda Wei said fake poll ads harvested personal information like email addresses, and attempted to exploit people's political leanings, "then use that information to send spam, malware, or just general email newsletters." The most popular political ad was click-bait news that typically mentioned top politicians in sensationalist headlines, while the actual articles contained little of substance. The researchers advise Web surfers to be cautious about taking such content at face value, and to use ad blockers.

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Biodiversity 'Time Machine' Uses AI to Learn from the Past
University of Birmingham (U.K.)
November 9, 2021

An international, cross-disciplinary research team led by the U.K.'s University of Birmingham developed a "time machine framework" that uses artificial intelligence to inform future decisions about biodiversity management. Decision makers could use the framework to examine links between biodiversity, pollution events, and environmental change in the past, to assess their impact on ecosystems. The researchers looked at how the framework could be used to make decisions on climate change mitigation, food provisioning, and clean water. University of Birmingham's Niamh Eastwood said, "We are working with stakeholders to make this framework accessible to regulators and policymakers. This will support decision making in regulation and conservation practices."

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Want to Throw Off Your Chatbot? Use Figurative Language
UC San Diego News Center
Ioana Patringenaru
November 8, 2021

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego wrote a simple script that identifies figurative phrases and replaces them with their literal meaning, as a means of improving the performance of dialogue systems like chatbots. The researchers found performance declines 10% to 20% when such systems encounter dialogue that incorporates idioms or similes, but their partial remedy can boost the performance of dialogue systems by up to 15%. The script allows the systems to check dictionaries that translate figurative speech into literal speech, which the researchers found to be more efficient than retraining the systems to learn the complete content of the dictionaries. Said Harsh Jhamtani of Carnegie Mellon University, "We want to enable more natural conversations between people and dialogue systems."

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Chinese Computer Scientist Awarded Kyoto Prize for Work Playing 'Vital Role in Modern Society'
South China Morning Post (Hong Kong)
Holly Chik
November 10, 2021

Japan's Inamori Foundation named Chinese computer scientist Andrew Yao Chi-chih recipient of the international Kyoto Prize in advanced technology for "essential concepts and models that play a vital role in modern society." In 1982, Yao introduced the concept of secure multiparty computation (MPC), which facilitates computation on encrypted values. Said Yao, "If you use MPC, it's possible to have multiple databases do any joint computations without leaking its own data." Yao said MPC theory has advanced significantly in the last four decades, with ramifications for financial technology, data training, and drug discovery. The Inamori Foundation lauded Yao's quantum communication complexity concept for enabling "quantitative performance evaluation of quantum computing. These achievements have a great impact and ripple effect on the information science field."

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NC State University’s Will Reckling prepares to launch an aerial drone on Roan Mountain, NC. Keeping Track of Rare Mountaintop Plants with Drones
NC State Center for Geospatial Analytics News
Megan Skrip
November 5, 2021

North Carolina State University (NC State) researchers developed a technique to predict where rare mountain plants are likely to thrive, and are monitoring their growth with aerial drones. The researchers worked with colleagues at the U.S. Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife to devise a species distribution model that optimally targets drones to shoot photos with sufficiently high resolution to identify individual plants. The researchers tested the technique in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where the federally endangered plant spreading avens (Geum radiatum) grows at just 15 sites. "Targeted flight areas allow for faster data collection so that changing weather and lighting conditions do not affect the final imagery products," the researchers said.

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SSL Certificate Research Highlights Pitfalls for Company Data, Competition
Charlie Osborne
November 5, 2021

A new report from security research firm Detectify Labs researchers indicates that many companies do not realize their SSL (Secure Sockets Layer)/TLS (Transport Layer Security) certificates can leak confidential information and create entry points for hackers. The researchers analyzed more than 900 million SSL/TLS certificates and associated events generated by Google, Amazon, and other issuing organizations. Among other things, the researchers found the "overwhelming majority of newly certified domains" have been given descriptive names, which could enable competitors to undermine new companies or products if the certification is issued at the development stage. Detectify's Fredrik Nordberg Almroth added, "An attacker could see if a certificate is about to expire or has been signed using a weak signature algorithm. The latter can be exploited to listen in on Website traffic or create another certificate with the same signature—allowing an attacker to pose as the affected service."

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A Knightscope K5 security robot patrols Wall Street near the New York Stock Exchange. Rise of the Robots Speeds Up in Pandemic with U.S. Labor Scarce
Alexandre Tanzi
November 6, 2021

U.S. businesses are investing in automation amid pandemic-related worker shortages and rising wages. A U.S. Federal Reserve survey of chief financial officers found 33% of firms facing difficulty in hiring are deploying or considering automation. David A. Zapico at industrial automation equipment maker Ametek said the company's motion-tracker business is "firing on all cylinders," because "people want to remove labor from the processes." Robot developer Knightscope said it is attracting clients having trouble hiring workers to patrol sites like factory perimeters; its security robots will soon be monitoring parking lots at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). LAX's Heath Montgomery said, "They are supplementing what we have in place and are not replacing any human services."

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