Welcome to the December 28, 2018 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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girl dancing with Toyota T-HR3 humanoid robot Toyota Wants to Put a Robot Friend in Every Home
Kevin Buckland
December 26, 2018

Toyota envisions robots becoming commonplace in homes as companions to senior citizens, as part of its new artificial intelligence (AI) research center headed by renowned inventor Gill Pratt. Toyota believes the pressing need for elder care will make household robots more attractive, and its Human Support Robot (HSR) could be one of the first products to gain mainstream acceptance. The HSR is essentially a retractable arm on wheels, with a video screen on top and camera eyes to give it the semblance of a face. Among its demonstrated capabilities is learning where books and other items should go on a shelf, and cleaning untidy rooms using sensor-eyes and a pincer. Toyota's Masanori Sugiyama said the HSR could be ready for deployment in hospitals and rest homes to perform simple tasks within three years.

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The Country's R&D Agenda Could Use a Shake-Up, Scientists Say
The Wall Street Journal
Bob Davis
December 22, 2018

Some scientists think U.S. research and development (R&D) efforts are well-served by being divided among various agencies and departments in a competition-promoting arrangement, while others cite the lack of a federal innovation roadmap. Experts said the U.S. will continue to lag behind China and other international rivals unless such an agenda is specified. The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation technology policy think tank has called on the Trump administration to establish a National Innovation Foundation to coordinate government-wide tech R&D. Said the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Matt Hourihan, "Apart from a few areas, [the White House] has done everything to scale back American investments in research." Areas where the administration is attempting to further R&D include a new quantum information science program, prioritized because of concerns about China using quantum tech to crack U.S. encryption and build hack-proof communications.

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faces in a crowd Spotting Faces in the Crowd
University of Delaware
Julie Stewart
December 18, 2018

University of Delaware (UD) researchers are using machine learning and deep learning with neural networks to identify the emotions of people in group photos, with the goal of automatically classifying images uploaded to websites. UD's Xin Guo said, "When people search, they would see the images they are looking for because the algorithm would run and label whether people are happy or not. It could be used to analyze the emotions of a group of people pictured at a protest, a party, a wedding, or a meeting, for example. This technology could also be developed to determine what kind of event a given image shows." Guo's team scored first place in the Group-level Emotion Recognition sub-challenge of the 6th Emotion Recognition in the Wild (EmotiW 2018) Challenge at the ACM International Conference on Multimodal Interaction 2018 in October, with an algorithm that accurately classified people in a set of images as happy, neutral, or negative.

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Julia co-creators Julia Language Co-Creators Win James H. Wilkinson Prize for Numerical Software
MIT News
Sandi Miller
December 26, 2018

Three scientists who co-created the Julia programming language at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have won the 2019 James H. Wilkinson Prize for Numerical Software. The award selection committee praised Julia as "an innovative environment for the creation of high-performance tools that enable the analysis and solution of computational science problems." Created in 2009 and released publicly in 2012, Julia has been downloaded more than 3 million times, and is used at more than 1,500 universities. Said MIT's Alan Edelman, "Julia is increasingly the language of instruction for scientific computing at MIT." The selection committee said Julia "allows researchers to write high-level code in an intuitive syntax and produce code with the speed of production programming languages. Julia has been widely adopted by the scientific computing community for application areas that include astronomy, economics, deep learning, energy optimization, and medicine."

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quantum internet, illustration Study Confirms: Global Quantum Internet Really Is Possible
David Nield
December 23, 2018

Researchers at the University of Padova in Italy successfully exchanged several carefully managed photons in infrared light pulses across 12,427 miles between Russian satellites and the Italian Space Agency's ground-based Space Geodesy Center. Padova's Giuseppe Vallone said, "Space quantum communications represent a promising way to guarantee unconditional security for satellite-to-ground and inter-satellite optical links, by using quantum information protocols as quantum key distribution." The researchers employed passive retro-reflectors on the satellites to maintain the light signals' integrity, topping the previous record distance for such quantum communications by 9,321 miles. Satellites orbiting at higher altitudes pass within sight of ground stations more regularly, potentially facilitating a hack-proof, global quantum network. One notion is that such an arrangement could function as a specialized, secure extension to the normal Internet, used by a small number of apps and devices.

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Think Your Smart Home Is Secure? William & Mary Computer Scientists Show That's Not the Case
The Virginian-Pilot
Tamara Dietrich
December 27, 2018

Researchers at the College of William & Mary have demonstrated that Internet-connected smart home devices are rife with hackable vulnerabilities that can be exploited to deactivate home security systems, or to commandeer devices to cause physical damage. With 20 billion smart home products expected to be operating within two years, the college's Denys Poshyvanyk said, "You can imagine the possible combinations of these kinds of attacks will obviously increase as we'll have more interconnected devices." Poshyvanyk and colleague Adwait Nadkarni tested attack scenarios on the Google Nest and Philips Hue platforms, which implement home automation "routines." One routine permits users to "chain together" various devices with a third-party app interface, and another employs a "centralized data store" for devices and apps to communicate with each other over the Internet; both routines could be hacked and give attackers access to all Internet-linked smart home devices.

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An autonomous paragliding drone gliding in the air. U.K. Army Tests Eagle-Inspired Paragliding Drone
New Scientist
Sam Wong
December 27, 2018

The U.K. Army has trialed an autonomous paraglider that could help resupply troops in dangerous places, or deliver humanitarian aid to disaster zones. The nature-inspired Stork glider can take off and land in tight spaces, and is able to fly to preprogrammed coordinates via either global positioning system (GPS) or vision-based navigation. The navigation component is influenced by animal behavior, like the way pigeons use ground-based features to orient themselves; the system avoids obstacles using the principle of optic flow, noting how fast objects in its field of view get larger to determine their distance. Stork's small, three-wheeled chassis features a propulsive motor, and one version of the glider weighs about 50 kg. (110 lbs.) and can carry a maximum 30 kg. (66 lbs.). A larger model, weighing 150 kg. (330 lbs.) and able to lift up to 100 kg. (220 lbs.), could be used to evacuate casualties.

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Athens, Greece, where evidence of human habitation dates back as far as 5,000 BC. High Tech in the Holy Land
U.S. News & World Report
Sara Toth Stub
December 24, 2018

Tourists visiting Israel can see what the region looked like during Jesus' time with global positioning system-based virtual reality (VR) walking tours from the Tower of David Innovation Lab in Jerusalem. The Step Into History tours use three-dimensional images drawn from extensive archaeological records and ancient texts by the Australian startup Lithodomos VR. Meanwhile, Holy City VR is developing VR experiences that allow visitors to experience Jerusalem's hard-to-access religious ceremonies, using holographic guides seen through VR glasses. The Tower of David Innovation Lab is part of a growing high-tech industry in Jerusalem, which now hosts about 600 high-tech and biomedical companies firms, versus 250 in 2012. The Jerusalem Development Authority in 2016 launched a five-year plan to encourage high-tech expansion with startup accelerators, training programs, and other efforts.

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Researchers Use 'Blacklist' Computing to Streamline Genetic Analysis
Mount Sinai Medical Center
December 24, 2018

Researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and Rockefeller University, both in New York City, are applying the "blacklisting" computational technique to filter out non-illness-inducing genetic variations in patient genomes and exomes in order to simplify identification of the causes of genetic disease. Blacklisting is commonly used for access or spam control, blocking unwanted files and messages. The researchers first probed and identified a large portion of non-pathogenic genetic variants, and from this generated their "blacklist." They then developed the ReFiNE algorithm, and a corresponding webserver that can be employed to automate the production of other blacklists. The Icahn School's Yuval Itan said, "Until now, there has been no viable published method for filtering out non-pathogenic variants that are common in human genomes and absent from current genomic databases. Using the blacklist, researchers will now be able to remove genetic 'noise' and focus on true disease-causing mutations."

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AI Can Easily Break Text CAPTCHA
December 24, 2018

Researchers from Northwest University and Peking University in China, and Lancaster University in the U.K., said they developed a machine learning algorithm that can crack most text-based CAPTCHAs within 0.05 seconds. Northwest University's Fang Dingyi said the algorithm exhibited a more than 50% success rate on decoding text-based CAPTCHA schemes used by 50 popular websites within that timeframe. The tool uses a generative adversarial network that teaches a CAPTCHA generator program to produce large numbers of CAPTCHAs to train a solver. Said Fang, "This research suggests one can easily launch an attack on a new CAPTCHA scheme using [artificial intelligence]. It means that this first defense of many websites is no longer reliable."

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Photo of the IBM sensor on a fingernail. IBM Research Develops Fingernail Sensor to Monitor Disease Progression
Frederic Lardinois
December 21, 2018

IBM Research has developed a small sensor that can help monitor the effectiveness of drugs used to combat the symptoms of a range of diseases, including Parkinson's disease, when applied to a person's fingernail. The sensor works with custom software to analyze how the nail warps as the user grips something. The sensor communicates with a smartwatch that runs machine learning models to detect tremors and other symptoms of Parkinson's disease. That model can detect what a wearer is doing, and is accurate enough to track when wearers write digits with their fingers. Going forward, the researchers aim to extend this prototype and the models that analyze the data to recognize other diseases well.

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A ScotRail train in a U.K. station. Rail Passengers to Benefit From New GPS Technology as Early as Next Month
The Telegraph (United Kingdom)
Hannah Boland
December 28, 2018

New global positioning system (GPS) technology is scheduled to be deployed on rail systems in the U.K. starting in January, to reduce delays and ensure passengers can find seats on crowded trains. The Rail Delivery Group said this will allow operators to better track trains. The GPS data also will be accessible to journey planning apps like CityMapper, making it easier to reroute passengers during disruptions. New image recognition technology also is being trialed by Arriva London Rail, and could offer better information on the number and order of train carriages so passengers have more choices when they travel. Industry organization Rail Delivery Group said these advances likely would be integrated with innovations like weighing technology on GTR's Thameslink line, to help customers see which seats are available.

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An egg timer. Wake-Up Timer Saves Power for IoT Sensors
December 27, 2018

Researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Politecnico di Torino in Italy have created a "battery-less" wake-up timer that substantially lowers the power consumption of silicon chips for Internet of Things (IoT) sensor nodes. NUS' Massimo Alioto said the timer is an on-chip circuit that "operates in the picowatt range, and cuts power consumption of rarely-active IoT sensor nodes by 1,000 times." The timer can operate without a voltage regulator because it is less sensitive to supply voltage, which suppresses the additional energy that peripheral always-on circuits conventionally consume. The device also can also continue operating without a battery and under scarce ambient power, as demonstrated by a miniaturized on-chip solar cell exposed to moonlight. Said NUS’ Orazio Aiello, this development “contributes towards realizing the ultimate vision of inexpensive, millimeter-scale and, eventually, battery-less sensor nodes.”

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