Welcome to the October 24, 2018 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

ACM TechNews mobile apps are available for Android phones and tablets (click here) and for iPhones (click here) and iPads (click here).

To view "Headlines At A Glance," hit the link labeled "Click here to view this online" found at the top of the page in the html version. The online version now has a button at the top labeled "Show Headlines."

China e-commerce, illustration China Is the World's Retail Laboratory
Bloomberg BusinessWeek
Rachel Chang
October 18, 2018

Chinese consumers eager for novelty are encouraging Alibaba, Tencent Holdings, and an array of startups to launch and pilot new technologies. One example is Smile to Pay from Alibaba's mobile payment branch, which employs facial-recognition systems and biometric data so diners at restaurants in the KPRO chain can order meals faster. Another Alibaba-powered technology lets diners at another restaurant chain order food on their smartphones or via a screen at the establishment's entrance, then pick up their meals from lockers connected to the kitchen. Meanwhile, the BingoBox startup has deployed a network of 300 automated convenience stores with radio-frequency identification (RFID) tag-outfitted merchandise to expedite checkout; shoppers gain access by scanning a quick response code displayed on the front of each store with the WeChat app. In March, the city of Guangzhou implemented a service allowing car shoppers to schedule test drives online, then pick up vehicles at an Alibaba-built auto vending machine.

Full Article
*May Require Paid Registration

nEUROn unmanned combat air vehicle Will There Be a Ban on Killer Robots?
The New York Times
Adam Satariano
October 19, 2018

The possibility of artificial intelligence (AI) making life-or-death decisions has galvanized a group of arms control advocates, humans rights groups, and technologists lobbying the United Nations to craft a global decree that bans autonomous weapons. U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said, "The prospect of machines with the discretion and power to take human life is morally repugnant." Twenty-six countries have urged an explicit ban on AI weapons, but this is unlikely with the U.S. and other influential nations refusing to impose limits while the technology is under development. Some opponents say a prohibition will stifle civilian research, but advocates like the Institute for European Studies' Maaike Verbruggen say safeguards are required to guarantee robots behave predictably. Some experts warn any international ban would be rendered pointless in the event of war.

Full Article
*May Require Paid Registration
Perfecting Crops With AI-Powered Indoor Farms
The Wall Street Journal
Howie Kahn
October 17, 2018

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Laboratory's Open Agriculture Initiative (OpenAg) has developed a self-contained indoor farm in which every variable—air temperature, humidity, pH and carbon dioxide levels, water circulation—is controlled and optimized by artificial intelligence (AI). For Italian confectionery group Ferrero, the maker of Nutella, OpenAg created a “hazelnut computer,” an indoor farm supporting up to 16 hazelnut trees. Once OpenAg’s algorithm determines an optimal recipe for growing hazelnuts, Ferrero will compare it with global climate and soil data as it looks for a new place to farm. In addition, OpenAg this month is releasing a smaller version of the indoor farm in the form of the Personal Food Computer (PFC), a 12-inch AI-controlled cube capable of growing four plants at a time. The first 60 PFCs will be piloted in 25 Boston-area public schools, and in January the system will be made available to the public. The PFC is expected to appeal to thousands of people on the OpenAg forum, and the technology could expand human knowledge of cultivation.

Full Article

President Trump The White House Is Wooing Tech Workers to Do Tours of Duty in Government
The Washington Post
Tony Romm
October 22, 2018

White House officials have met with technology giants including Amazon.com and IBM to persuade them to allow their employees to take leaves of absence to help modernize state and federal agencies. Said one official, "It's good for the country in the long term for technology professionals to have civil service in their career at some point." Attracting top tech talent remains a challenge for the federal government, with the Partnership for Public Service (PSP) estimating in September that fewer than 3% of full-time federal information technology professionals are younger than 30. PSP’s Max Stier said, “You can certainly have people who are older who are technologically sophisticated, but the reality is, in the tech arena, that much of the innovation, and much of the awareness of what's possible, skews to a younger demographic.” The possibility for conflicts of interest is a problem, as the government is one of the tech giants' biggest customers; to counter this, White House officials said they have created “guardrails” to guarantee workers do not work on issues related to their employers.

Full Article
*May Require Paid Registration
How Smartphone Apps Track Users and Share Data
Financial Times
Aliya Ram; Aleksandra Wisniewska; Joanna S. Kao
October 23, 2018; et al.

Researchers at Oxford University in the U.K. analyzed about 33% of the Android apps in Google's Play Store last year, and found almost nine out of 10 track smartphone data and transmit it back to Google. Oxford's Reuben Binns said data sharing is out of control since most apps have now migrated to a "freemium" model, where advertising rather than sales is the revenue generator. The team studied the app code indicating data is being transferred, and found that data often cascades to a small number of companies that include Google parent Alphabet. Binns said the data-transfer rights embedded within apps frequently extend outside crash reporting and other simple tasks because many apps request "special permissions" to transfer and hold information for analysis and resale. The researchers determined nearly 90% of apps could transfer data to third parties owned by Alphabet, while 5% could send data to third parties in China, and 3% to third parties in Russia.

Full Article
*May Require Paid Registration

Salaries skyrocketing, illustration Salaries for Blockchain Engineers Are Skyrocketing
Salvador Rodriguez
October 21, 2018

Blockchain engineers are making an average of between $150,000 and $175,000 per year, exceeding the $135,000 made by typical software engineers, according to Hired, a Silicon Valley-based company that helps clients recruit tech candidates. Hired’s analysis of data from its service found salaries for engineers with blockchain expertise are on par with developers who specialize in artificial intelligence, and are higher than salaries for any other specialized engineering roles. Demand for blockchain skills has grown as large companies have started work on projects that utilize the technology. Job postings that seek employees with blockchain as a desired skill have risen 400% since the end of 2017, when Hired first added blockchain as a sub-role in its service. Said Hired CEO Mehul Patel, "There's a ton of demand for blockchain. Software engineers are in very short supply, but this is even more acute and that's why salaries are even higher."

Full Article

Machine operator inspects automotive parts before feeding them to robots for sorting. Manufacturers Adopt Robots That Help Human Workers, Not Replace Them. For Now.
Chicago Tribune
Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz
October 18, 2018

Collaborative robots, or “cobots,” are becoming an increasingly popular automation tool for manufacturers looking to boost productivity. Cobots are designed to augment the capabilities of human workers, and to be safe for people in interact with, easy to program, and inexpensive to install. However, cobots' impact on employment may become an significant issue once the technology evolves beyond repetitive tasks and they become better at thinking and learning, warn some experts. Cobot manufacturers, meanwhile, insist the machines will free up human workers to do more interesting jobs. Universal Robots president Jurgen von Hollen describes cobots as “the big equalizer” that will help smaller manufacturers grow despite difficulties in hiring and retaining laborers, as well as helping them develop greater flexibility in production.

Full Article
New Technology Can Encode, Process Video Faster
Jacobs School of Engineering (UCSD)
October 23, 2018

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) researchers have developed a system for encoding, transforming, and editing video several orders of magnitude faster than the current state of the art. The Sprocket system deconstructs video files into very small segments, transferring them between thousands of servers every few thousandths of a second for processing in the cloud. The researchers say Sprocket can process two hours of video in 30 seconds at extremely low cost, while other techniques require far more time, typically in the tens of minutes. Said UCSD’s George Porter, “With cloud computing, anyone can have access to thousands of servers, for fractions of a second, for just a few dollars.” Sprocket was presented this month at the ACM Symposium on Cloud Computing (SoCC 2018) in Carlsbad, CA.

Full Article

Students sitting around a desk working. Data Science, the 'New Latin' for Students, in Demand in Silicon Valley
San Francisco Chronicle
Melia Russell
October 18, 2018

Universities are rushing to add data science programs to teach students how to use modeling and analysis of statistics and the programming and machine learning tools of computer science to find patterns and extract them from data. However, the allure of high-paying jobs has been insufficient to bring the needed number of employees into the field, especially around Silicon Valley. LinkedIn estimates a shortage of more than 36,000 people with data science skills in the Bay Area, up 33% from the start of this year. Adam Bennett of IT staffing company Robert Half Technology said his firm has been overwhelmed with requests by small and mid-size clients seeking data science employees this year. However, larger established firms can pay better, so small and mid-sized companies must compete for those potential employees in other ways, like selling prospective hires on the potential impact they can have.

Full Article

Photo of police flanking suspect in handcuffs Real-Time Social Media Location Data Used to Predict Crime
iTnews Australia
Matt Johnston
October 24, 2018

Researchers at RMIT University in Australia say they have developed algorithms that can sift through social media data to more accurately predict the time and locale for certain crimes. In trials, the approach, developed using data from Foursquare users in Brisbane and New York, was 16% more accurate at predicting assaults in Brisbane than current models and 6% more accurate at predicting unlawful entries; in New York, the system predicted drug, theft, and unlawful entry offenses 4% more accurately, and assaults 2% more accurately. Said RMIT’s Flora Salim, “Based on these positive results, this technology could allow police to design more effective patrol strategies with limited resources by sending officers to the places where crime is more likely.”

Full Article
Nigeria, Oracle Academy Partner on New Computing Education Pathways for Students
Emmanuel Elebeke
October 18, 2018

The Oracle Academy and the Federal Ministry of Education (FMoE) of Nigeria have signed an agreement to work on the creation of new computing education pathways for Nigerian students. As part of the collaboration, FMoE plans to integrate Oracle Academy computer science curricula and resources into 10,000 Nigerian academic institutions, reaching more than 1.5 million students. In addition, over the next three years, Oracle Academy will facilitate the training of 4,000 Nigerian educators at the secondary and higher education levels to teach computer science.

Full Article
3D-Printed Supercapacitor Electrode Breaks Records in Lab Tests
UC Santa Cruz
Tim Stephens
October 18, 2018

University of California, Santa Cruz (UC Santa Cruz) and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory researchers have developed new supercapacitor electrodes using a printable graphene aerogel to build a porous three-dimensional (3D) scaffold equipped with pseudocapacitive material. In tests, the researchers say, the technology achieved the highest areal capacitance ever reported for a supercapacitor, potentially leading to wider use of fast-charging energy storage devices and novel designs for electronic products. Said UC Santa Cruz's Yat Li, "The key innovation in this study is the use of 3D printing to fabricate a rationally designed structure providing a carbon scaffold to support the pseudocapacitive material. These findings validate a new approach to fabricating energy storage devices using 3D printing."

Full Article
ACM Open Access
ACM Online Books and Courses

Association for Computing Machinery

2 Penn Plaza, Suite 701
New York, NY 10121-0701

ACM Media Sales

If you are interested in advertising in ACM TechNews or other ACM publications, please contact ACM Media Sales or (212) 626-0686, or visit ACM Media for more information.

To submit feedback about ACM TechNews, contact: [email protected]