Welcome to the March 13, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Computer scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee. At Age 30, World Wide Web Is 'Not the Web We Wanted'
Associated Press
Jamey Keaten
March 12, 2019

Father of the World Wide Web Tim Berners-Lee took the occasion of his invention's 30-year anniversary to discuss how its intended purpose has come up short, from a space for progress-oriented collaboration to a place saturated with intrusive surveillance, disinformation, and corporate control. At a conference at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland, Berners-Lee said his World Wide Web Foundation hopes to recruit governments, companies, and citizens to play a bigger role in transforming the Web for good under principles outlined by its "Contract for the Web." The document calls on governments to ensure universal Internet connectivity, availability, and privacy, while companies would need to keep the Internet affordable and private, and develop technology to uphold the "public good." Citizens' responsibility is for creating, cooperating, and respecting "civil discourse." Berners-Lee said the main challenge is balancing out oversight and freedom.

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Cybersecurity System Offers Protection Against Hacking, Censorship
University of Waterloo News
March 8, 2019

Researchers at the University of Waterloo in Canada have developed a cybersecurity system that sets a new standard in the fight to protect users from malicious online attacks. Bitforest is one of the first systems to provide an efficient method of decentralized, online security in a way that is easy for the average person to use. The system converts more easily remembered names, such as usernames and domain names, into values like public keys needed for securely communicating with computer services and devices. The system offers two main features: policy enforcement, which offers greater control over who can input information into the naming system; and identity retention, which uses blockchain technology to prevent identity theft. Said University of Waterloo researcher Raouf Boutaba, "This particular system will extremely useful in the software updating process, which is when systems are most vulnerable, by providing greater oversight into how those updates can occur and by whom."

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Microsoft Moves Into Biological Computing With Station B
Financial Times
Clive Cookson
March 11, 2019

Microsoft has launched a platform allowing researchers to engineer living cells using machine learning and data analysis. Station B is a joint effort of Microsoft, Princeton University, U.K. gene and cell therapy developer Oxford BioMedica, and U.K. scientific software company Synthace. The platform is a set of combined algorithms that analyzes massive biomedical datasets, and advises scientists how best to conduct research. According to Oxford BioMedica's Jason Slingsby, Station B will help his firm find an optimal approach for producing "lentiviral vectors"—viruses used in gene therapy to deliver disease-correcting DNA to patients' cells—by combining cellular genetics and environmental conditions, lowering the costs and broadening the availability of such treatments. Synthace's Markus Gershater added that Station B will be used to gain insights into halting the accumulation of bacterial layers on surfaces, which contributes to both biological and industrial problems.

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University classroom with students engaging in a conversation Top Universities Join to Push ‘Public Interest Technology’
The New York Times
Natasha Singer
March 11, 2019

Twenty-one leading U.S. universities have formed the Public Interest Technology University Network, a group that aims to promote various programs designed to teach students how to handle the consequences of technology as it becomes increasingly pervasive in American society. The group of institutions—which includes Arizona State University, the City University of New York, Harvard University, Howard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, and the University of California, Berkeley—aims to train the next generation of software engineers, policymakers, civic leaders, and social justice advocates to develop, regulate, and use technology for the public good. Said Ford Foundation president Darren Walker, "If this new digital world, which is supposed to be so much better and supposed to help us all solve centuries-old challenges, actually compounds those problems, it will be in part because there’s not enough people fighting for the public interest."

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A cooler-sized robot on the street Tonight's Dinner? In a Cooler-Sized Robot That Knows Where You Live
The Wall Street Journal
Mike Colias; Marc Vartabedian
March 11, 2019

As a stop-gap measure on the road to driverless automobiles, venture-backed startups have dispatched several hundred cooler-sized robots in cities like Berkeley, CA, to deliver food and groceries to customers' doorsteps. Food companies hope this automation will reduce delivery costs and ease a driver shortage. According to venture capitalists, growing animus about the power and reach of technology in everyday life creates a challenge for startups to make their delivery robots appear innocuous, with curbside machines likely to face opposition from both regulators and ordinary people. For example, San Francisco has set up a permit system that allows only nine sidewalk delivery robots to operate in parts of the city. Meanwhile, Washington state lawmakers are pushing a bill to mandate monitoring of such robots by remote human operators.

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How Africa is Seizing an AI Opportunity
Fast Company
Jackie Snow
March 10, 2019

While the vast majority of cutting-edge artificial intelligence (AI) research is still done in places like Silicon Valley, London, and Shenzhen, the rest of the world is starting to notice the rich AI possibilities in Africa. For example, Google just opened an AI Research Lab in Accra, Ghana, and AI firm SingularityNET has an office in Ethiopia, a growing hotspot for AI research. Sixty percent of Africa's population is under the age of 25, and a growing number of students are exploring careers in computer science and machine learning. In South Africa, the Center for Artificial Intelligence Research operates a research network with nodes at five universities. Meanwhile, Strathmore University in Nairobi, Kenya, has established the @iLabAfrica Research Center with the goal of promoting cutting-edge research in AI and other emerging technologies. The University of Lagos in Nigeria recently opened an AI Hub that will focus on deep learning and tools to collect data.

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Cooler Screens' Display Cases Scan Your Face to Size Up Buying Habits
Boston Globe
Hiawatha Bray
March 10, 2019

Chicago-based Cooler Screens has developed a facial-profiling system that tries to guess what consumers will buy next based on how they appear. The doors on a Cooler Screens refrigerator are LCD video screens that display images of the items inside the case. In addition, the refrigerator doors are equipped with cameras that send images of each customer to a computer that predicts his or her sex and age. The system uses an iris tracker to detect exactly where in the case the customer is looking. The system instantly analyzes the data on each customer, then starts displaying advertisements on the screen. Drugstore chain Walgreens will test the technology at six of its U.S. locations.

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NatWest employee testing bank cards that lets customers use fingerprints for transactions U.K. Bank to Trial Fingerprint Technology for Card Payments
Anmar Frangoul
March 11, 2019

The NatWest bank in the U.K. will launch a pilot of biometric fingerprint technology for card payments with 200 bank customers. The system will enable participants to use their fingerprint to verify payments of more than £30 ($39.11). NatWest expects the technology to bolster security and make it easier for customers to make payments for goods and services at cash registers. Current contactless card users must enter personal identification numbers if making purchases over £30. The new NatWest card will contain a customer's fingerprint data and a sensor; users place their finger on the sensor to authorize transactions greater than £30. NatWest's David Crawford said the goal is "to make banking easier for our customers, and biometric fingerprint cards are one of the many technologies we are exploring further."

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Researchers Find Critical Backdoor in Swiss Online Voting System
Kim Zetter
March 12, 2019

An international research team warned of a critical backdoor flaw in Switzerland's new Internet voting system. The flaw exists in a part of the system for confirming all of the ballots and votes counted in an election are the same ones that voters cast; exploiters could swap out all of the legitimate ballots for fraudulent ones, evading detection. Voters authenticate themselves to the voting website using their birthdate and an initialization code they receive from the Swiss national postal service. After voters make their selections on screen, the votes are encrypted and sent to Swiss Post servers, where they are processed through a "mix network" that cryptographically shuffles the votes to ensure they cannot be matched to the voter, before decrypting and counting them. The flaw is in the zero-knowledge proof, used to demonstrate that ballots have not been swapped out during shuffling. Given its seriousness, the researchers said the voting system's rollout should be halted.

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Mozilla Releases Iodide Open Source Browser Tool for Publishing Dynamic Data Science
Kyle Wiggers
March 12, 2019

Mozilla has unveiled an open source, experimental browser tool to help scientists and engineers write and publish interactive documents using an iterative workflow. The Iodide platform, available in alpha on GitHub, lets users fill pages with their content, and employ tools to modify their contributions. Iodide's default Explore view features an editor for writing code, a console for viewing code output, a workspace viewer for examining created variables, and a report preview pane. The editor enables authors to break code into segments that can operate independently of one another. Following a report's finalization and publishing, a link to the interactive page can be shared with anyone online; documents update in real time, and recipients who want to review the underlying code can drop into the Explore view with a click.

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Singapore Invests S$200m to Upgrade Supercomputing Capabilities
Aaron Tan
March 12, 2019

Singapore's National Research Foundation will invest S$200 million (U.S.$147 million) to upgrade the country's supercomputing infrastructure, so research institutions and universities will have greater access to high-performance computing. Singapore finance minister Heng Swee Keat said the investment will deliver 15 to 20 petaflops of high-end computing performance, as well as enhancing network speeds to support the country's national research institutions, allowing them to tap into other research platforms via international partnerships. Said Heng, "As we embark on our journey as a smart nation and digitalize our economy, we must upgrade our supercomputing resources to keep up with our partners globally, and to solve complex national challenges more quickly, more effectively." Challenges Heng cited include climate change mitigation and improved urban planning.

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Study Shows Programmers Will Take the Easy Way Out and Not Implement Proper Password Security
Catalin Cimpanu
March 9, 2019

Researchers at the University of Bonn in Germany have found that developers tend to write code that stores user passwords in an unsafe manner, because that is easier than creating a more secure product. The researchers conducted an experiment involving 43 programmers hired via the Freelancer.com platform, and found that developers need to be explicitly told to write code that stores passwords in a safe, secure manner. The researchers asked the participants to use technologies such as Java, JSF, Hibernate, and PostgreSQL to create the user registration component of a website. Only 15 of the 43 developers chose to implement salting, a process through which the encrypted password stored inside an application's database is made harder to crack with the addition of a random data factor. In addition, 17 of the 43 developers copied their code from Internet sites, suggesting freelancers did not have the necessary skills to develop a secure system from scratch.

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Men on board the Floating Lab in Rotterdam harbor How Europe's Busiest Port is Helping Make Autonomous Ships a Reality
NBC News
Linda Givetash
March 12, 2019

Dutch startup Captain AI is developing autonomous ships to replace traditional crewed vessels. The company is engineering self-driving boats and ships using a high-tech port patrol ship, deep learning algorithms, and a computer simulator designed to train captains. In 2017, Captain AI successfully demonstrated a self-driving version of one of Rotterdam's popular water taxis. This summer, the company will send the Floating Lab Rotterdam, a port authority ship, out to sea without a skipper at the helm. The Floating Lab Rotterdam is equipped with a digital GPS system, which provides more accurate location readings than standard GPS, as well as sensors that monitor and control the engine and steering.

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