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

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Blue checkbox on computer screen Voting Experts: Why the Heck Are People Still Voting Online?
Joseph Marks
October 10, 2018

Experts from the ACM U.S. Technology Policy Committee, Common Cause Education Fund, the National Election Defense Coalition, and the R Street Institute call online ballots a key weakness in the securing of U.S. election systems, with estimates that Americans cast at least 100,000 online ballots in the 2016 election. A study released today by those groups found 32 states permit some subgroup of residents to return ballots by email, fax, or an Internet portal, while Alaska and Hawaii offer electronic ballot return for all voters. The report lists online voting's cybersecurity challenges, including the hackability of emailed or faxed ballots at multiple points en route from the voter to the election office. The study authors advise states to dramatically curtail online voting before the 2020 election, while state and local election administrators should ensure segregation of systems that accept online ballots from other election systems and their operation on different Wi-Fi networks.

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Lockheed Martin engineer using AR headset to work on Orion spacecraft NASA Is Using HoloLens AR Headsets to Build Its New Spacecraft Faster
Technology Review
Erin Winick
October 9, 2018

Lockheed Martin engineers are using HoloLens augmented reality (AR) goggles to expedite the assembly of the Orion crew capsule to be used in the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Space Launch System. Lockheed Martin's Brian O'Connor says the technology removes the burden of poring through the thousand-page paper manuals on which the aerospace industry has long relied. The HoloLens headsets let workers view holograms displaying models generated by engineering design software. Models of parts and labels are overlaid on completed components, while assembly instructions can be displayed atop relevant surfaces. Color-coded virtual models of finished products also can be viewed. The use of AR has shortened the time workers need to get familiar with and prepare for a new task or to understand and perform processes.

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Jumping Robot Salto-1P Now Goes Where You Tell It To
IEEE Spectrum
Evan Ackerman
October 3, 2018

University of California, Berkeley researchers have upgraded a jumping robot with a new controller that provides much more control. The team says across a series of 95 random hops, the standard deviation of the Salto-1P's foot placement error was just 0.1 meters, which was three times better than the error rate of the original controller. In addition, 95% of the robot's touchdowns were within 0.3 meters of a targeted position. The researchers say this kind of reliable, targeted jumping enables the robot to hop on a chair, although anything much smaller than a chair is still a bit of a challenge for the system. The team has determined that optimal precision comes after a series of small jumps, while long-distance jumping is much more difficult to target.

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Social Media Data Used to Predict Retail Failure
University of Cambridge
Sarah Collins
October 9, 2018

An international team led by researchers at the University of Cambridge in the U.K. has developed a model based on social media and transport data that can predict with 80% accuracy whether a new business will fail within six months. The researchers used more than 74 million check-ins from the location-based social network Foursquare from Chicago, Helsinki, Jakarta, London, Los Angeles, New York, Paris, San Francisco, Singapore, and Tokyo, and data from 181 million taxi trips in New York and Singapore. They used this data to classify venues according to the properties of the neighborhoods in which they are located, the visit patterns at different times of day, and whether a neighborhood attracted visitors from other neighborhoods. The data shows venues in diverse neighborhoods with multiple types of businesses tend to survive longer. The researchers will present their findings at this week's ACM Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing (Ubicomp) in Singapore.

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Burned scroll from Diss Heywood Manor Cardiff University's New X-Ray Method Reveals Ancient Scroll
BBC News
October 3, 2018

Researchers at Cardiff University in the U.K. have developed an x-ray tomography technique to reveal hidden text inside damaged and unreadable scrolls. "Virtual unraveling" can create thousands of thin cross sections of the scroll, where ink appears as bright blobs. The team then uses computer algorithms to stitch together the cross sections and associated ink marks to form a flat representation of the scroll. They used the new method to reveal text inside a severely burnt 16th century scroll, which was found to contain detailed information on life in a manor. Said Cardiff University's Paul Rosin, "The method we've developed is heavily automated, opening up the possibility of exploring a larger range of documents and even other types of media, such as old and damaged camera films."

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Students in a classroom at D.C’s Digital Pioneers Academy Computer Science for Everyone
The Atlantic
Lola Fadulu
October 4, 2018

The Digital Pioneers Academy (DPA) is the first computer science (CS)-focused middle school in Washington, D.C. Located in the city’s Hillcrest neighborhood, DPA's objective is to close the CS gap in the nation's capital and to address income inequality and a lack of gender and racial diversity in the tech industry. Before its opening, DPA founder Mashea Ashton surveyed more than 200 of the community's families about what they were looking for in a school; 90% said they wanted their children to take a CS class. DPA rates its success on whether its students score a 3 on the Advanced Placement CS Principles exam in high school (indicating they are qualified to receive college credit for their CS knowledge), and on whether they are accepted into college. Ashton says, "We want our students to not just consume the digital economy, but to also be a part of creating it."

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Nanoscale Pillars as a Building Block for Future IT
Linkoping University
Karin Soderlund Leifler
October 5, 2018

Researchers at Linkoping University (LiU) and the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden have developed an efficient optoelectronic interface for information transfer using nanoscale pillars, which they view as a step toward future information technology. Said LiU's Weimin Chen, "This interface can not only maintain and even enhance the electron spin signals at room temperature, it can also convert these spin signals to corresponding chiral light signals travelling in a desired direction." The device incorporates very small disks of gallium nitrogen arsenide with minimal defects introduced into the material acting as spin filters. An important advantage of the nanopillar design is that light can be guided easily and more efficiently coupled in and out, according to LiU’s Shula Chen.

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Person in hood with their face hidden using laptop This College Dropout Wants to Help You Browse the Web in Disguise
The Boston Globe
Andy Rosen
October 3, 2018

Software engineer Greg Tseng is honing a program that lets him browse the Web in a fake persona to foil digital spies. With funding from the Thiel Foundation, Tseng aims to turn his program into a commercially available application called Diluvian, which uses artificial intelligence to visit websites that it thinks would fit the profile of a college-aged woman. Diluvian operates on a dedicated device and shields only the computers to which it is connected. To use the program on a smartphone, a user would load the mobile device with special networking software. Tseng says Diluvian's use of fake identities will deceive tracking algorithms more effectively than random browsing, adding that organized misinformation is more powerful than chaos in preventing exposure of the real user's profile.

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A Google Intern Built the AI Behind These Shockingly Good Fake Images
Fast Company
Katharine Schwab
October 2, 2018

Google researchers have developed an artificial intelligence (AI) system that generates incredibly realistic fake images. They say BigGAN is a generative adversarial network composed of two models: one that creates random images out of random numbers, and another that compares these images to real images and tells the generator how close it is to the real thing. Although BigGAN is similar to other generative adversarial networks, its main advantage is the sheer amount of computing power that the researchers used; by adding more nodes to increase the complexity of the neural network and showing the model more images than most researchers do, the team was able to create a system that more accurately understands and models textures. The researchers also used the "truncation trick," which lowers the random numbers that the generator uses to create its images.

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Heat-Seeking Drones Find Brisbane's Hiding Koalas
Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)
Tony Moore
October 3, 2018

Researchers at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia and the Brisbane City Council are using drones with heat-seeking sensors to tally Brisbane's koala population in spite of concealing foliage. The team thinks this could be a more cost-effective method of identifying and mapping koalas and other endangered species than hiking through bushland. QUT's Grant Hamilton and colleagues have developed a way of using computer algorithms to interpret data from the heat-seeking sensors. He says, "We feed that thermal imagery into an artificial intelligence algorithm and we use those algorithms to automatically determine the kind of organisms are using that system." Hamilton also says the system is returning information with 100% accuracy in certain environments.

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Sound Software for Fault Detection in Machinery
October 5, 2018

A European Union-funded research project has developed software based on the human auditory system that can analyze sound to determine if industrial machinery requires maintenance. The Horizon2020 neuronSW team integrated advanced algorithms, machine learning, and big data analysis to mimic the human auditory cortex and enable early detection and prediction of breakdowns. Said SME NeuronSW Ltd.'s Jiri Cermak, "The technology leverages machine learning, the cloud, and the Internet of Things to deliver a detection service which emulates human intuition about sound." The neuronSW solution lets manufacturers perform intelligent audio diagnostics and monitor key pieces of machinery by the sounds they generate. Cermak said, "The integrated hardware and software platform automatically gather the sound of machines in real time and continuously assesses the equipment's health."

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Researchers Develop 3D Printed Objects That Can Track and Store How They Are Used
UW News
Sarah McQuate
October 9, 2018

University of Washington (UW) researchers have developed three-dimensional (3D) printed prototype devices that can track and store their own utilization without using batteries or electronics. The system employs the backscatter technique, through which a device can share information by reflecting signals transmitted to it via antenna. The devices are printed from plastic, and the tracking component is designed for bidirectional motion with two antennas, one on top and one on bottom. Direction is specified by distinct sequencing encoded within the device's gears. The UW team will present their work next week at the ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology in Berlin, Germany.

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Honda's New Smart Intersection Technology Aims to Cut Crashes
Government Technology
Matt Sanctis
October 5, 2018

Honda recently demonstrated the effectiveness of its "smart intersection" technology in reducing or preventing serious auto crashes. The company has been conducting research in downtown Marysville, OH, because, Honda's Ted Klaus says, "We have to understand the behavior of all road users, both those inside the vehicles and outside the vehicles." Honda mounted cameras at the four corners of an intersection; based on that visual input, its software generates an image of vehicles and pedestrians in the area and transmits it to connected vehicles nearing the intersection. A connected vehicle's onboard computer can then supply warnings to drivers to avoid potential obstacles. Recent demonstrations included situations in which the driver of a sport utility vehicle received visual and audio alerts to avoid a pedestrian crossing a downtown street, and a second car that ran a red light. Another scenario notified the driver of an emergency vehicle passing through the intersection, enabling the connected vehicle to pull over to allow the emergency vehicle to pass.

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Enabling Quantum Computers to Better Solve Problems
R&D Magazine
October 9, 2018

Researchers at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands have embedded a graphene Josephson junction within a superconducting microwave circuit, shedding new light on the interaction of superconductivity and graphene and its potential as a material for quantum technologies. The team characterized its device in the direct current regime, demonstrating that the junction exhibits tunable ballistic supercurrent, which with application of a gate voltage prevents the device from heating up. Circuit excitation with microwave radiation causes Josephson inductance of the junction, which until then has not been directly accessible in graphene superconducting devices. The graphene junctions are suitable for building quantum bits, but they lack the coherence of conventional quantum microwave circuits based on aluminum oxide junctions. However, in applications that do not require high coherence, such as for amplifiers, gate tunability may be useful.

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