Welcome to the August 10, 2018 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Duke to Lead $15 Million Program to Create First Practical Quantum Computer
Duke Pratt School of Engineering
Ken Kingery
August 7, 2018

Duke University researchers will lead a seven-university, $15-million collaboration with the goal of building the world's first practical quantum computer. The Software-Tailored Architecture for Quantum co-design (STAQ) project aims to demonstrate the advantage of quantum computers over traditional computers using ion trap technology. The project will seek out new algorithms based on optimization and scientific computing problems, as well as pursuing ways to improve quantum computer hardware, and developing software tools that will optimize algorithm performance for the specific machine. The STAQ researchers will have four goals: developing a quantum computer with a sufficiently large number of quantum bits (qubits) to solve a challenging calculation; ensuring each qubit interacts with all other qubits in the system; integrating software, algorithms, devices, and systems engineering, and assembling input from computer scientists, experimentalists, theorists, and engineers. Said the National Science Foundation’s Fleming Crim, the project will provide “a cutting-edge approach that promises to dramatically advance U.S. leadership in quantum computing."

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Ford factory employee wearing exoskeleton Exoskeletons Debut at Ford Factories
Charlie Osborne
August 7, 2018

Ford plans to offer exoskeleton technology to its factory employees worldwide. The EksoVest exoskeleton is designed to elevate a worker's arms during overhead tasks, both allowing wearers to move their arms freely and also delivering 15 pounds of assistance and support for each arm; the higher a user reaches, the more support the exoskeleton offers. The automaker’s assembly line workers lift their arms during overhead tasks about one million times per year, creating substantial risk for fatigue and upper-body injuries. EksoVests will reduce the physical stress experienced by staff working on overhead tasks. Ford's Bruce Hettle says ergonomics research, assembly improvements, and lift-assist technologies have helped the company design safe and efficient assembly lines “while maintaining high vehicle quality for our customers.”

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Cramming Software With Thousands of Fake Bugs Could Make It More Secure
Samantha Cole
August 6, 2018

New York University (NYU) researchers found that dispersing non-exploitable decoy bugs in software to strain hackers' patience could improve software security. The researchers say their prototype, "which is already capable of creating several kinds of non-exploitable bug and injecting them in the thousands into large, real-world software, represents a new type of deceptive defense that wastes skilled attackers' most valuable resource: time." However, NYU's Brendan Dolan-Gavitt doubts this approach will be widely adopted any time soon because it can’t be used on open source software and requires absolute certainty that the so-called "chaff bugs" are innocuous. Nevertheless, he says the idea is "worth exploring, and it may find practical use in some environments."

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Navajo robotics team at the First Global Challenge Navajo Robotics Team Heads to International Competition
Associated Press
Lindsay Whitehurst
August 7, 2018

Navajo high school students from Utah are building robots to represent North America in this month’s FIRST Global Challenge in Mexico City, in which international teams will compete using robots they have designed for energy generation, particularly renewable power. Every robot entered in the competition must be able to feed power plants to scale and support an efficient transmission network. Team Naatsis'aan (Navajo for “Navajo Mountain”) will need to collaborate with other teams to score points. Team teacher Heather Anderson says the group is programming robots to conduct tasks such as moving boxes to specific locations on a playing field and turning a windmill.

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New ACM Breakthrough in Computing Award
I Programmer
Sue Gee
August 7, 2018

ACM has established a new biennial award for a surprising or disruptive breakthrough in computing concepts or technologies. The award is named in honor of Charles P. Thacker, 2009 recipient of the ACM A.M. Turing Award, who designed the Alto, the first modern personal computer with a mouse and graphical user interface, and played key roles in the development of Ethernet, the first laser printer, and the hardware of Microsoft's Tablet PC. ACM says the Charles P. Thacker Breakthrough in Computing Award, which includes a prize of $100,000 thanks to financial support provided by Microsoft, is open to "candidates who have made a surprising or disruptive leapfrog in computing ideas or technologies." Microsoft says the award is designed to honor "Thacker's pioneering contributions to computing, considered by the community to have propelled the world in the early 1970s from a visionary idea to the reality of modern personal computing, providing people with an early glimpse of how computing would deeply influence us all."

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News anchor Tucker Carlson’s face being replaced by Nicholas Cage’s face U.S. Defense Department Produces First Tools for Catching Deepfakes
Technology Review
Will Knight
August 7, 2018

U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) researchers say they have created the first forensics tools for catching fake videos, known as "deepfakes," created with artificial intelligence (AI). The team says the most common technique for generating deepfakes involves using machine learning to graft one person's face onto another person's body. Matthew Turek, who leads DARPA's Media Forensics program, says his team discovered subtle cues in current images and videos manipulated by generative adversarial networks, which allowed them to detect alteration. For example, the researchers realized that faces in deepfakes rarely blink, and when they do, the eye movement is unnatural. Turek says the agency will run contests “to ensure the technologies in development are able to detect the latest techniques.”

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Soft Multi-Functional Robots Get Really Small
Wyss Institute at Harvard
Benjamin Boettner
August 6, 2018

Researchers at Harvard University's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and Boston University have developed an integrated fabrication process enabling the design of soft robots on the millimeter scale with micrometer-scale features. The team demonstrated the technology by creating a soft robotic spider from a single elastic material with body-shaping, motion, and color features. The spider is an example of what the researchers call a Microfluidic Origami for Reconfigurable Pneumatic/Hydraulic (MORPH) device. Wyss Institute's Donald Ingber says, "The MORPH approach could open up the field of soft robotics to researchers who are more focused on medical applications where the smaller sizes and flexibility of these robots could enable an entirely new approach to endoscopy and microsurgery."

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Seagulls flying in front of a passenger plane Engineers Taught a Drone to Herd Birds Away From Airports
Caltech News
August 6, 2018

California Institute of Technology (Caltech) engineers have developed an algorithm that allows a single drone to herd flocks of birds away from the airspace of an airport. Caltech's Soon-Jo Chung says effective herding entails an external threat positioning itself in such a way that it encourages birds along the flock's fringes to adjust their course and then affects the birds in closest proximity, cascading throughout the entire flock. Caltech's Kyunam Kim says the herding algorithm was based on a mathematical model of flocking dynamics. Once they could generate a mathematical description of flocking behaviors, the team reverse-engineered it to see precisely how flocks would respond to approaching external threats. They then applied that data to build an algorithm that produces ideal flight paths for incoming drones to steer the flock away from a protected airspace without dispersing it.

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Decoding the Pipeline for Tech's 'Hidden Figures'
Suzanne Wilson
August 2, 2018

In a collaboration with the Kapor Center, the Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology at Arizona State University is working to acknowledge and understand what is known as the "double-bind" for women of color in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. A new data brief from the two organizations highlights that while women of color are a growing population in the U.S., they remain significantly underrepresented across the technology pipeline. For example, less than 7% of students taking Advanced Placement computer science classes in the U.S. are girls of color. In addition, women of color comprise less than 10% of those earning bachelor's degrees in computing, and less than 2% of the Silicon Valley technology workforce. The Kapor Center’s Allison Scott said, “We hope to call attention to the importance of understanding intersectionality and the unique experiences of women of color. At the same time, we want to develop and share strategies to increase the participation and success of women of color across the computing pipeline.”

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AI Meets Education at SDSU
San Diego State University
Ryan Schuler
August 2, 2018

San Diego State University (SDSU) researchers say they have developed an artificial intelligence platform that significantly reduces the time required to grade written tests, and provides students with immediate, personalized feedback. The Rosey platform allows for the recognition and evaluation of handwritten text, so users can scan tests into the system with a smartphone or other scanning device, and students can receive their grades on any smart device. SDSU's Scott Lindeneau says the platform "brings...interactivity and responsiveness to students for pen and paper tests." SDSU's Michael Green says technological advances have "recently gotten to the point where machine learning is effective enough to tackle some very difficult problems in vision, reasoning, and natural language processing."

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Cybersecurity Firm Finds Way to Alter WhatsApp Messages
The New York Times
Daisuke Wakabayashi
August 7, 2018

Check Point Software Technologies has found a bug in Facebook's WhatsApp messaging service that enables attackers to change the content, or the identity of the sender, of a previously delivered message. Check Point created a hacked version of WhatsApp in order to alter a "quote" to give the impression that someone sent a message they did not actually send. WhatsApp's Carl Woog says Check Point’s discovery had nothing to do with the end-to-end encryption the service provides, which ensures only a message’s sender and recipient can read messages. However, Check Point's Oded Vanunu says this vulnerability offers potential malefactors a powerful tool to spread misinformation that seems to originate from a trusted source. He says the bug is especially problematic in group chats, which can include up to 256 people, as multiple messages can come in simultaneously and one can easily lose track of what someone has said.

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Prototype of wristband developed by Rutgers engineers Smart Wristband With Wireless Link Could Monitor Health, Environmental Exposures
Rutgers Today
Todd B. Bates
August 5, 2018

Rutgers University–New Brunswick researchers say they have created a smart wristband with a wireless connection to smartphones that will enable a new era of personal health and environmental monitoring devices. The university’s Mehdi Javanmard said, “It's like a Fitbit but has a biosensor that can count particles, so that includes blood cells, bacteria, and organic or inorganic particles in the air.” The wristband includes a flexible circuit board and a biosensor, as well as a circuit to process electrical signals, a micro-controller for digitizing data, and a Bluetooth module to transmit data wirelessly. Information from the biosensor is sent to a smartphone, where an app processes and displays the data. Said Javanmard, "This would be really important for settings with lots of air pollutants and people want to measure the amount of tiny particles or dust they're exposed to day in and day out."

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Digital Threats: Research and Practice (DTRAP)
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