Welcome to the June 6, 2018 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Vicki L. Hanson, who will take on the roles of executive director and CEO of ACM on July 1 World's Largest Computing Association Appoints First Woman CEO
Association for Computing Machinery
Jim Ormond
June 6, 2018

ACM President Vicki L. Hanson has been named executive director and CEO effective July 1. Hanson will rely on her experience as ACM's most senior staff member to work with the organization's volunteer community to provide strategic vision and develop sustainable business models to ensure the continued global growth of ACM's membership, publications, and revenue. "Having served ACM for many years in various volunteer capacities, Vicki's unique insights into the organization and how it serves the profession should serve us well to ensure a sustainable future for ACM," says ACM President-elect Cherri M. Pancake. Hanson has previously served ACM as President, Vice President, Secretary/Treasurer, and ACM SIG Governing Board Chair, among other positions. In addition, Hanson is a former Chair of ACM's Special Interest Group on Accessible Computing (SIGACCESS), and was co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of ACM Transactions on Accessible Computing (TACCESS). Hanson is currently Distinguished Professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, as well as Visiting Professor at the University of Dundee in the U.K.

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Professor Alfonso Ngan and Dr Kwan Kin-wa introduce the new actuating material powered by light Future Robots Need No Motors
The University of Hong Kong
May 31, 2018

A University of Hong Kong team has created the first-ever nickel-hydroxide actuating material powered by visible (Vis) light, electricity, or other stimuli. The material reacts to light almost instantly, exerting a force corresponding to about 3,000 times its own weight. Vis activation can be triggered at relatively low intensity to produce high stress and speed similar to mammalian skeletal muscles, while the capability for actuation via electricity means the material can be integrated into existing robotic technology. One such micro-robot application is a "mini arm" comprised of two hinges of actuating materials, which is capable of lifting an object that is 50 times heavier than itself. Moreover, the material system does not require additional fabrication processes, and changes in heat and humidity could potentially serve as stimuli, opening up the potential for use in autonomous machines that tap minuscule changes in environmental energy.

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Self-Learning Assistance System for Efficient Processes
June 1, 2018

The Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV in Germany is developing a self-learning assistance system called SAM to help machine operators correct errors while accruing experience and process knowledge. The SAM system monitors machine states and operator actions, retaining successful solution strategies. In one application, an operator with a tablet computer enters their solution and connects it to the current fault situation recorded by SAM. Should a given error happen multiple times, the system will recognize it and advise the operator on resolution strategies. The team is using machine learning algorithms to make SAM capable of learning fault scenarios, and thanks to intelligent feature extraction, the system's learning speed approaches that of humans. Fraunhofer IVV's Andre Schult says he wants SAM eventually to be utilized to enable machine operators to identify errors on their own, and to suggest their own remedies.

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Quantum Is Key to Securing Blockchain, Say Russian Researchers
Asia Research News
Alison Hadley
May 31, 2018

Russian researchers have used quantum key distribution (QKD) to address the issue of quantum blockchain security. Evgeniy Kiktenko of the Russian Quantum Center in Moscow says blockchain's reliance on digital signatures makes it susceptible to attacks by quantum computers, so his team has developed a blockchain platform that integrates original state-machine replication with QKD for authentication. "Each QKD communication session generates a large amount of shared secret data, part of which can be used for authentication in subsequent sessions," notes the Russian Quantum Center's Aleksey Fedorov. "Therefore, a small amount of 'seed' secret key that the parties share before their first QKD session ensures their secure authentication for all future communication. This means QKD can be used in lieu of classical digital signatures." The Russian Quantum Center's Alexander Lvovsky agrees the new protocol can "maintain transparency and integrity of transactions against attacks with quantum algorithms."

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Rutgers-Led Research Could Lead to More Efficient Electronics
Rutgers Today
Todd B. Bates
June 3, 2018

Rutgers University researchers led a team in demonstrating a way to conduct electricity between transistors without energy loss, which could lead to advances in low-power electronics and quantum computing. Development of the quantum anomalous Hall insulator was a collaboration among Rutgers researchers and colleagues at Tsinghua University and the Collaborative Innovation Center of Quantum Matter, both in Beijing, China. This new material uses a mix of materials with magnetic and insulator properties, with magnetic elements including chromium and vanadium, and an insulator made from bismuth, antimony, and tellurium. When electrons in the material are aligned in one direction, an electric current can only flow along its edges in one direction, meaning no energy is lost. This would allow electricity to flow between transistors within silicon chips used in computers and other electronics with maximum efficiency. The scientists demonstrated the uniform alignment of spinning electrons in the magnetic insulator, which conducts electricity without energy loss when the temperature is close to absolute zero.

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Person with face in shadow CSS Is So Overpowered It Can Deanonymize Facebook Users
Catalin Cimpanu
May 31, 2018

Recent additions to the Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) Web standard are so powerful that they can be misused to deanonymize visitors to a demo site and reveal their Facebook usernames, avatars, and information on specific Facebook "likes," according to Google's Ruslan Habalov and Cure53 penetration tester Dario Weißer. They warn information leaked via such an attack could help advertisers link Internet Protocol addresses or advertising profiles to real-life users, posing a serious threat to online privacy. The vulnerability is not specific to Facebook, as it affects all sites that permit content to be embedded on other sites via iframes. The vulnerability itself resides in the browser implementation of a CSS feature called mix-blend-mode, which lets Web developers stack Web components on top of each other and add effects to control how they interact. The researchers found an attacker could abuse CSS3 mix-blend-mode to leak information from other sites by luring users to a malicious page where the attacker embeds iframes to other sites.

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Uber Releases Geospatial Analysis App
Computer Business Review
Jamie Burton
June 3, 2018

Peer-to-peer ridesharing company Uber has released a free open source geospatial analysis application that does not require coding, and which the company's software engineers describe as "a data-agnostic, high-performance Web-based application for visual exploration of large-scale geolocation datasets." The app, kepler.gl, works when it is fed data, processing CSV and GeoJSON files. Uber notes the app can "render millions of points representing thousands of trips and perform spatial aggregations on the fly." The app's users can aggregate data according to averages, execute layer blending, and add filters to extract more visually contextual insights. Uber's goal with kepler.gl is to resolve a dearth of interoperability in systems for collating, processing, and visualizing geodata.

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Smartphone with thumbprint scanner Your Reaction to Pics of Leonardo DiCaprio, Animals Could Unlock Your Next Smartphone
University of Buffalo
Cory Nealon
June 5, 2018

Researchers at the University at Buffalo (UB) School of Engineering and Applied Sciences are developing a new type of password that "measures your brainwaves" in response to a series of pictures. The "brain password" would require users to wear a headset and could have potential applications in banking, law enforcement, airport security, and other areas. Says UB's Zhanpeng Jin, "To the best of our knowledge, this is the first in-depth research study on a truly cancelable brain biometric system." The group refers to the technology as "hard cancellation," meaning the original brain password can be reset without divulging the user's identity. The work is described in a study that will be presented next week at ACM SIGMOBILE’s MobiSys 2018 mobile computing conference in Germany.

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Firefox Tries Closing More Privacy Holes With New Network Tech
Stephen Shankland
June 1, 2018

Mozilla says it is testing a Firefox browser variant that uses a tool combining the Domain Name Service (DNS) with HTTPS, designed to prevent bad actors from determining what servers a user is attempting to reach and doctoring the results for nefarious purposes. The company says the DNS over HTTPS (DoH) solution seeks to improve DNS' security and privacy capabilities "by encrypting DNS queries and by testing a service that keeps DNS providers from collecting and sharing your browsing history." Mozilla will evaluate and compare both conventional DNS and DoH on the Firefox Nightly test browser to look for any problems. Meanwhile, Google is experimenting with a related tool called DNS over TLS, which will be embedded within its forthcoming Android P mobile phone software, and which is currently available for beta testing.

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Aerial Robot Can Morph in Flight
May 31, 2018

Researchers from the Étienne Jules Marey Institute of Movement Sciences, a joint research unit of the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and Aix-Marseille Université, have designed an aerial robot that can change its profile during flight. Called Quad-Morphing, the first-of-its kind robot can reorient its arms to shrink its wingspan and navigate through narrow spaces without intensive steering that would consume too much energy and require a robotic platform featuring a low-inertia robot. The new robot has two rotating arms, each of which has two propellers for helicopter-like flight. Elastic and rigid wires enable the robot to reorient its arms in flight so they are either perpendicular or parallel to its central axis. The Quad-Morphing autopilot mechanism activates arm reorientation when a three-dimensional localization system detects the robot is nearing a tight passage. The research could enable the development of large robots that can move through narrow passages for exploration, as well as for search and rescue missions.

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Graphene Layered With Magnetic Materials Could Drive Ultrathin Spintronics
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Glenn Jr. Roberts
May 28, 2018

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) combined graphene with thin layers of magnetic materials to cause unusual behavior in electrons that could be useful for next-generation computing applications. The work was a collaboration among researchers from institutions in several countries, including France’s Grenoble Alps and Paris-Sud universities, the University of California, Davis, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, among others. The researchers found the material's electronic and magnetic properties create swirling patterns where the layers meet, offering the potential to control the direction of these swirls for a form of spintronics applications known as "spin-orbitronics" in ultrathin materials. A next step will be to control nanoscale magnetic features called skyrmions, which can exhibit chirality. The strong electron spin effects of the new graphene-layered material can drive magnetic textures of opposite chirality in different directions as a result of the "spin Hall effect." Aligning that chirality universally across a material and reversing it in a controlled way would allow it to be used to process data. This could enable rapid, efficient storage and manipulation of data at very small scales with reduced power requirements.

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A new report outlines a method of algorithmic accountability Holding Algorithms Accountable
Government Computer News
Matt Leonard
May 24, 2018

A recent report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation's Center for Data Innovation outlines a method of "algorithmic accountability" to protect against undesirable outcomes. The study found prior efforts to combat bias fall into four categories, each of which has its own faults. The new algorithmic accountability method aims to promote desirable or beneficial outcomes and to protect against undesirable outcomes, as well as ensuring laws that apply to human decisions can be effectively applied to algorithmic decisions. The report’s authors say a governance framework should employ diverse controls to ensure operators can verify an algorithm works in accordance with the operator's intentions and identify and rectify harmful outcomes. The report concludes it would be reasonable to require public-sector agencies undergo an impact assessment process for any algorithms they plan to use.

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A Framework for Scientific Discovery Through Video Games
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