Welcome to the October 1, 2018 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Tim Berners-Lee Launched His Vision for an Alternative Web, and His Timing was Impeccable
Business Insider
Isobel Asher Hamilton
October 1, 2018

Web pioneer Tim Berners-Lee has developed Solid, an open-source project aiming to give Internet users more control over their data by allowing them to decide which of their apps can access it. Berners-Lee has been a vocal opponent of major technology companies abusing user data, calling for more regulation. Solid gives every user a choice about where data is stored, which specific people and groups can access specific elements, and which apps are used. Berners-Lee also recently launched Inrupt, a company designed to provide a commercial structure to push Solid forward. Inrupt's mission is "to provide commercial energy and an ecosystem to help protect the integrity and quality of the new Web built on Solid," Berners-Lee says.

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Dr Amol Choudhary (left) and Sydney Nano Director Professor Ben Eggleton in one of the photonics labs at the Sydney Nanoscience Hub Photonic Chips Harness Sound Waves to Speed Up Local Networks
University of Sydney
Marcus Strom
September 26, 2018

Researchers at the University of Sydney in Australia have developed a chip-based information recovery technique that eliminates the need for a separate laser-based local oscillator and complex digital signal processing system. The method uses interacting photons and acoustic waves to increase in signal capacity and speed, permitting the successful extraction and regeneration of the signal for electronic processing at very high speed. The incoming photonic signal is processed in a filter on a chip made from chalcogenide, a glass material that has acoustic properties that allow a photonic pulse to "capture" the incoming information and transport it on the chip to be processed into electronic information. This process eliminates the need for complicated laser oscillators and complex digital signal processing. The University of Sydney's Amol Choudhary said, "Our demonstration device using stimulated Brillouin scattering has produced a record-breaking narrowband of about 265 megahertz bandwidth for carrier signal extraction and regeneration."

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Study Demonstrates New Mechanism for Developing Electronic Devices
Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology
Ipsita Herlekar
September 26, 2018

Researchers at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) in Japan have demonstrated a new mechanism that can enable the control of electrons on the nanometer spatial scale and femtosecond temporal scales using light. The researchers used a physical phenomenon, called surface photovoltaic effect, to induce electric fields on the material surface, enabling them to direct electrons to flow in opposite directions. The team used a combination of femtosecond spectroscopy with electron microscopy techniques to make a movie of the flow of electrons on femtosecond timescales. Said OIST's E. Laine Wong, "The combination of these two methods with both high spatial and temporal resolutions has allowed us to record a movie of the electrons being directed to flow in opposite directions."

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Study Reveals Patterns in STEM Grades of Girls Versus Boys
University of New South Wales
Isabelle Dubach
September 26, 2018

University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia researchers have found that girls and boys perform very similarly in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) classes, based on an examination of patterns in academic grades of 1.6 million students. The analysis casts doubt on the view that there are fewer women in STEM-related jobs because they are not as capable in those subjects as men. The researchers compared gender differences in variations of academic grades from more than 1.6 million students aged six through college-age from all over the world, across 268 different schools and classrooms. The results show that on average, girls' grades were higher and less variable than boys' grades. UNSW Dean of Science's Emma Johnston said, "We absolutely need to change the structural barriers to gender equality in science, but we must also change the strong negative stereotypes and unconscious biases as well."

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Page of sheet music AI Created More Than 100,000 Pieces of Music After Analyzing Irish and English Folk Tunes
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology
David Callahan
September 24, 2018

A machine learning artificial intelligence (AI) system supervised by a researcher at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden has generated more than 100,000 folk tunes after analyzing Irish and English music. KTH's Bob Sturm said the project aimed to train computer models on folk music so they appear to have some musical intelligence, and then "devise methods to unravel what they are actually doing." The AI employs a recurrent neural network to predict what comes next based on observation of a website with transcribed tunes. Said Sturm, "The resulting computer models show some ability to repeat and vary patterns in ways that are characteristic of this kind of music. It was not programmed to do this using rules—it learned to do so because these patterns exist in the data we fed it." The research yielded an album in which 50% of the tunes are computer-generated.

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Glass of water Researchers Create Smartphone System to Test for Lead in Water
University of Houston News
Jeannie Kever
September 26, 2018

University of Houston researchers have developed a smartphone-based system that can detect dangerous levels of lead in tap water. The system, comprised of a smartphone and a lens made with an inkjet printer, combines nano-colorimetry with dark-field microscopy, integrated into the smartphone microscope platform to detect levels of lead below 15 parts per billion—the safety threshold set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The researchers used a smartphone equipped with an inkjet-printed lens and the dark-field imaging mode to produce a system that is both portable and easy to operate, and able to detect lead concentration at five parts per billion in tap water. The sensitivity reached 1.37 parts per billion in deionized water. The University of Houston's Wei-Chuan Shih said, "We wanted to be sure we could do something that would be useful from the standpoint of detecting lead at the EPA standard."

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Python Is a Hit With Hackers, Report Finds
Catalin Cimpanu
September 28, 2018

Web security company Imperva says more than 33% of daily attacks against websites the firm protects have come from a malicious or legitimate tool programmed in Python, and about 77% of all sites the company protects have been attacked by at least one Python-based tool. Imperva found more than 25% of the tools hackers used for their attacks were coded in Python. The company's researchers think hackers utilize Python because of its easy-to-learn syntax, wide range of online tutorials, and extensive collection of libraries and other ready-made tools. Many Python tools attackers use were originally created for use in legitimate applications, or to allow security researchers to test their own systems against various vulnerabilities. Based on Imperva's data, the most abused legitimate Python tools are the "requests" and "urllib" libraries, cornerstones of many Python Web apps.

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Creepy Robotic Dog Shown Fending Off Humans Who Try to Push It Over
Marta Subat
September 27, 2018

Researchers at the Robotic Systems Laboratory at ETH Zurich University in Switzerland have unveiled a four-limbed robot capable of moving uninterrupted after being pushed over by a human. The autonomous "Anymal" can move at a pace comparable to that of a person, as well as carrying a payload of up to 22 pounds. Anymal is equipped with sensors and cameras to autonomously navigate across various terrains, such as moving up and down stairs, climbing over obstacles, steps and gaps, and crawling into tight spaces. The sensors continuously scan surroundings for obstacles so the robot can find a safe path. ETH Zurich thinks the device would be ideal for inspecting oil and gas sites with the aid of an onboard camera in scenarios too hazardous for human inspectors. The researchers say, "Computer-vision algorithms interpret the images to read out the state of components such as analog gauges, liquid level meters, and valve lever positions."

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Supercomputers: EU to Develop High-Performance Data Infrastructures
Samuel Stolton
September 28, 2018

The European Union (EU) will increase its investment in the development of high-performance computers in an effort to help Europe keep pace with China and the U.S. in the field. Currently, the EU provides about 5% of supercomputing resources worldwide but consumes one-third of them. European scientists increasingly opt to process their data outside the EU due to a lack of resources, creating issues related to privacy, data protection, commercial trade secrets, and ownership of data for sensitive applications. The EU wants to assemble a long-term ecosystem for supercomputing in Europe, ensuring that European data is protected under European regulatory standards. The initiative will be partly funded from the EU's general budget, with significant underwriting from the Horizon 2020 framework program, the Connecting Europe Facility program, and from other contributions made by states involved in the joint undertaking.

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Sugar cubes and a spoon of sugar on blue background WSU Researchers Develop Sugar-Powered Sensor to Detect, Prevent Disease
Washington State University
Siddharth Vodnala
September 27, 2018

Washington State University (WSU) researchers have developed an implantable, biofuel-powered sensor that can monitor a body's biological signals to detect, prevent, and diagnose diseases. The sensor works by using the biofuel cell to harvest glucose from body fluids. The researchers demonstrated a unique integration of the biofuel cell with electronics to process physiological and biochemical signals with high sensitivity. The sensor's electronics rely on cutting-edge design and fabrication to consume only a few microwatts of power while being highly sensitive. In addition, the biofuel cell is completely non-toxic, and is more stable than conventional biofuel cells. The team has tested the sensor in the lab, and is working to improve and increase its power output. WSU's Subhanshu Gupta said the sensor "brings together the technology for making a biofuel cell with our sophisticated electronics."

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VR Motion Sickness May Be Predicted, Counteracted
University of Waterloo News
September 25, 2018

Researchers at the University of Waterloo in Canada have developed a system to predict whether an individual will experience motion sickness caused by virtual reality (VR), known as cybersickness, based on how much they sway in response to a moving visual field. The researchers collected several sensorimotor measures, including balance control and self-motion sensitivity, from 30 healthy volunteers aged 18 to 30. The team exposed the participants to VR with the goal of predicting the severity of cybersickness. Using a regression model, the researchers significantly predicted how much cybersickness participants experienced after being exposed to a zero-gravity space simulator in VR. Said Waterloo's Michael Barnett-Cowan, "Knowing who might suffer from cybersickness, and why, allows us to develop targeted interventions to help reduce, or even prevent, the onset of symptoms."

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Closeup of bird on a reed Alexa Can Be Hacked–By Chirping Birds
Fast Company
Jesus Diaz
September 28, 2018

Researchers at Ruhr-Universitat Bochum in Germany have developed a method to hide inaudible commands in audio files that can take control of voice assistants such as Alexa, Siri, or Cortana. The new "psychoacoustic hiding" method shows how hackers could manipulate any type of audio wave to include words that only the machine can hear, enabling them to give commands without nearby users noticing. For example, the attack could sound like a bird's call to human ears, but a voice assistant would "hear" something very different. The hack utilizes the "masking effect," a psychoacoustic model of hearing in which the brain cannot perceive quiet sounds at a certain frequency for a few milliseconds while it is busy processing a loud sound at the same frequency. The researchers say it is possible to hide any transcription in any audio file with a success rate of nearly 100%.

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Seeking Ways to Reduce Traffic Jams, USC Engineers Turn to AI
USC News
Alya Rehman
September 20, 2018

Researchers at the University of Southern California's Viterbi School of Engineering are adding a new type of artificial intelligence to speed-forecasting technology in an effort to reduce the amount congestion on America's roads. They say the new technology should give drivers predictive information for the fastest commute in every possible way, improving on other state-of-the-art technologies by up to 15%. The new system pulls from both historical and real-time data to process and predict future speeds along a road, and it can confirm and optimize those predictions by analyzing real-time data, boosting accuracy by learning which methods predict the most accurate speeds. The model also helps to improve the driving ability of autonomous vehicles, synthesizing information that sends self-driving cars the answers to various questions related to driving. This enables the vehicle to exhibit an "anticipation" characteristic, similar to a human driver.

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