Welcome to the October 22, 2018 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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voting via smartphone, illustration A Tech Investor Brought Cellphone Voting to West Virginia, Igniting Debate About Access and Security
ABC News
Chris Good
October 19, 2018

Former political operative and Uber investor Bradley Tusk is funding an effort to allow West Virginians serving in the military or living abroad to cast absentee ballots via a cellphone app. Voters will download the Voatz app, using it to take snapshots of government-issued ID cards and confirm their identities by capturing selfies and letting the app match them to the faces on their cards. Voatz employs blockchain, which will store a record of a vote on multiple computers or servers at different locations, each checking the record against each other. Voatz has sparked a debate about whether using new technologies to expand voting access or shielding the integrity of votes from cyberattackers is more critical. Election security expert Lawrence Norden called the app “a horrific idea,” and suggested states should focus on enhancing cybersecurity rather than new voting methods. Jeremy Epstein, vice chair of the ACM Technology Policy Committee, said of Voatz, “They've done nothing to demonstrate in a public way why it's been secure.”

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The Next Tech Talent Shortage: Quantum Computing Researchers
The New York Times
Cade Metz
October 21, 2018

U.S. corporations and universities could face a major shortage of qualified quantum computing scientists unless immigration policies and priorities change. A study by the American Physical Society estimated the number of international students applying to physics doctoral programs in the U.S. declined an average 12% in 2018, and schools and technology companies are worried about the nation becoming less attractive to students. Quantum computers are expected to crack encryption, sparking concerns about large numbers of foreign experts and the need to cultivate more native-born talent. Compounding the issue is rival quantum computing efforts from China and Europe overtaking their U.S. peers, with a potential lessening of national security. Said the University of Illinois' Brian DeMarco, "I see the country at a crossroads with quantum information systems. I can see things not working out, where the balance is not good, and it derails our ability to compete."

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Pepper the robot at committee hearing in London Robot 'Talks' to MPs About Future of AI in the Classroom
BBC News
Jane Wakefield
October 16, 2018

A robot based at Middlesex University in the U.K. recently addressed Members of Parliament on the future role of artificial intelligence (AI) in British education. The robot said, "Robots will have an important role to play—but we will always need the soft skills that are unique to humans to sense, make, and drive value from technology." A parliamentary committee queried AI experts about the emphasis on advanced technology in education, with those who testified agreeing that the educational system required dramatic change to keep pace with technology. University College London's Rose Luckin said AI could be helpful in classrooms by handling mundane tasks such as data collection, assessment, administration, and lesson planning. Michael Wooldridge of Oxford University called the robot’s presentation an "embarrassing gimmick" which gave AI "a bad name."

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Electric Chewing Gum Zaps Your Tongue to Create a Virtual Flavor Hit
New Scientist
Timothy Revell
October 16, 2018

Researchers at Meiji University in Japan have developed a piece of chewing gum equipped with piezoelectric elements and electrodes that stimulates taste buds as long as it is chewed. The technology, called unlimited electric gum, produces a small electric current when it is chewed, which tricks the tongue into sensing different tastes. The gum currently produces a salty or bitter taste, and the researchers think that by varying the pattern and strength of the electric charge, they can induce all five of the basic tastes: bitter, salty, sour, sweet, and umami. The researchers presented the technology last week at the ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology in Berlin, Germany.

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smart home, illustration A Step Toward Personalized, Automated Smart Homes
MIT News
Rob Matheson
October 17, 2018

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have developed a system that uses reflected wireless signals to identify occupants within a home, even when they are not carrying mobile devices. The Duet system relies on algorithms that ping nearby mobile devices to predict individuals' identities, based on who last used the device and their anticipated movement trajectory. The researchers tested Duet in an apartment with four people and in an office with nine people; in those scenarios, Duet identified individuals with 96% accuracy and 94% accuracy, respectively. Duet utilizes a device-based localization system that uses a central node to calculate the time it takes wireless signals to hit a person's device and travel back; the researchers integrated Duet with a device-free tracking system that localizes people by measuring the reflections of wireless signals off their bodies. Microsoft researcher Ranveer Chandra said the system “takes a smart approach of combining the location of different devices and associating it to humans, and leverages device-free localization techniques for localizing humans.”

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Ramesh Sitaraman Sitaraman Receives Computer Networking Systems Award
UMass Amherst News
Kerry Shaw
October 18, 2018

University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass Amherst) professor Ramesh Sitaraman is part of a large team recently honored with the ACM SIGCOMM Networking Systems Award for work that has significantly impacted computer networking. Sitaraman and his colleagues built the Akamai content delivery network (CDN), the world's first major CDN, and pioneered Internet content delivery. Director of UMass Amherst's College of Information and Computer Science Laboratory for Internet-Scale Distributed Systems, Sitaraman said in the 20 years since the Akamai CDN was created, CDNs have transformed the Internet while also giving rise to an enormous business sector. He explained, "CDNs are what make your Web pages load faster, make your videos play continuously without freezes, and enable billions of people around the world to watch a live soccer game on the Internet."

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K-12 Computational Thinking Initiative Gets $1M Boost From NSF
Education Week
Lauraine Genota
October 17, 2018

The U.S. National Science Foundation has allocated a three-year, $1 million grant to Digital Promise Global to make computational education more accessible to public schools. The effort is a partnership between the nonprofit and members of its flagship network of public school districts. Digital Promise Global said the initiative aims to "design, study, and improve 12 school districts' computational thinking pathways," concentrating mainly on addressing access and establishing equitable learning experiences in computational education for underserved students. The project will involve three "core" districts in Iowa, Illinois, and Alabama, respectively focusing on boosting participation in computing among minority and English-language-learning students, improving achievement for low-income students, and enhancing performance among girls and low-income students. Digital Promise Global’s Jeremy Roschelle said the organization plans to share the results of the new project as an online toolkit for educators and districts to use.

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Associate professor Andrew Trapp and PhD student Narges Ahani are working to develop software to aid in refugee placement. Using Machine Learning and Optimization to Improve Refugee Integration
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Alison Duffy
October 18, 2018

Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) researchers are using a U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to further develop software designed to help humanitarian aid agencies match refugees with the best resettlement options. The Annie MOORE (Matching Outcome Optimization for Refugee Empowerment) software developed by WPI's Andrew C. Trapp with colleagues at the University of Oxford in the U.K. and Lund University in Switzerland predicts the probability of employment for each working-age refugee: these predictions are used to direct the search for the best way to match refugee families to host communities for resettlement workers. The team applied the software to data from 496 refugees resettled via manual matching in 2017 to optimize placement, and they determined more than 20% would have found a job in a standard 90-day time frame. Trapp and colleagues aim to use the NSF grant to adapt Annie to other humanitarian needs and applications.

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Army Researcher Minimizes Impact of Cyberattacks in Cloud Computing
Army Research Laboratory
October 15, 2018

Cloud computing users have virtual machines (VMs) to carry out their computations, and each VM runs on a central shared resource, known as the hypervisor. A cyberattack can target an unsecured VM, and once that VM is compromised, the attack can then target the hypervisor. A team of scientists, led by U.S. Army Research Laboratory engineer Charles Kamhoua, developed an algorithm that makes cyberattackers indifferent as to which hypervisor to attack by assigning virtual machines (VMs) to hypervisors according to game-theoretically-derived guidelines. The research reveals a novel VM allocation scheme that can provide the necessary incentive for a large organization with sensitive information to join the cloud. Said Kamhoua, "A quantitative approach to cloud computing security using game theory captures the strategic view of attackers and gains a precise characterization of the cyber threats facing the cloud."

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UA, Microsoft to Partner on New Cloud-Computing Center
Arizona Daily Star
David Wichner
October 17, 2018

The University of Arizona (UA) and Microsoft are collaborating on a new cloud computing research center to explore issues such as improving the energy efficiency and sustainability of data centers. UA's Robert Norwood said the Cloud Infrastructure Renewal Center will concentrate on new data center technologies, increase workforce development for data centers and cloud computing, and assist faculty. Said Norwood, "We're trying to solve the problem of scaling the cloud, essentially enabling more people to easily access their information, and doing that in a way that is sustainable." Scientists at the cloud center will include specialists in computer architecture, optical engineering, and material science, while Microsoft will contribute data center hardware to support expanded research, curriculum development, and training laboratories. Norwood said the facility will first strive to develop cloud computing curricula to allow students to earn certification in data center operations and a bachelor's degree in applied science engineering.

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Bette Korber, named R&D Magazine’s Scientist of the Year. Computational Biologist Korber Named 2018 Scientist of the Year
R & D
Laura Panjwani
October 16, 2018

Bette Korber, a computational biologist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico, has been named R&D Magazine's 2018 Scientist of the Year, an award honoring research and development (R&D) pioneers and their revolutionary ideas in science and technology. Among her other achievements, Korber organized LANL's HIV Database and Analysis Project, from which she designed the "mosaic" vaccine to overcome the extreme diversity of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Korber said the HIV Database is "an integrated database where we pull together the HIV immunology data and all the HIV sequence data, and we make computational tools to go between the two of them." The mosaic vaccine blends sets of proteins, combined from fragments of natural sequences via computational optimization, to maximize coverage efficiently. Said Korber, "What the mosaic does is it evolves sequences in a computer to solve a problem on how to—with just a couple of sequences—give the best immunological coverage you can."

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Participants sitting in VR simulators. Virtual Reality Can Boost Empathy
United Press International
Brooks Hayes
October 17, 2018

New research from Stanford University suggests that virtual reality (VR) can boost empathy, especially toward marginalized groups. To test this theory, the researchers enlisted 500 participants to learn about homelessness by either being immersed in a VR simulation, reading a narrative, or reading the narrative in conjunction with a two-dimensional (2D) interactive experience on a computer. Afterwards, participants were questioned about their empathy for homeless people and asked to sign a petition supporting homeless populations. Participants who experienced the narrative via VR were more likely to sign the petition than those who read the narrative or experienced a 2D simulation. Researcher Fernanda Herrera said the major finding of the research was that “taking the perspective of others in virtual reality, in this case the perspective of a homeless person, produces more empathy and pro-social behaviors immediately after the VR experience and better attitudes toward the homeless over the course of two months, when compared to a traditional perspective-taking task."

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