Welcome to the March 15, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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reverse hourglass Scientists 'Turn Back Time' With Quantum Computer
Brooks Hays
March 13, 2019

Researchers from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, along with physicists in the U.S. and Switzerland, say they have violated the second law of thermodynamics using a quantum computer. The second law of thermodynamics posits that an isolated system can only remain static or evolve toward a state of chaos. The researchers used a four-stage process for their experiment. The first stage featured an ordered state, with each qubit grounded at zero. During the second stage, an evolution program was used to trigger the degradation of order, causing the qubits to begin assuming an increasingly complex pattern of zeros and ones. In the third stage, another program was used to "reverse time," causing the qubits to evolve from chaos to order; that is, to reground themselves at zero. For stage four, the evolution program is relaunched from the second stage, causing the qubits to revert to their earlier state. When scientists used a two-qubit computer to conduct the experiment, they observed qubits moving from chaos to order every time; when they introduced a third qubit, the computer produced more errors.

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Human Support Robot delivers basket to woman in wheelchair Tokyo 2020 Unveils Robots to Help Wheelchair Users, Workers
Jack Tarrant
March 15, 2019

Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics organizers have rolled out an initiative to use robots to assist supporters, workers, and athletes at the Games in Japan next year. Two robots, Toyota's Human Support Robot (HSR) and Panasonic's Power Assist Suit, were unveiled to the public this week as part of the developers' Robot Project. The small white HSR is designed to assist wheelchair users at the Games; the battery-powered Power Assist Suit exoskeleton allows users to repetitively lift and carry objects without putting a strain on their backs. The Robot Project's Minoru Yamauchi said, "In terms of service, we will be offering stress-free entry and viewing, and the robot can also carry bags and other luggage items for the customers."

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Facebook's Daylong Malfunction Is Reminder of Internet's Fragility
The New York Times
Mike Isaac; Kate Conger; Adam Satariano
March 14, 2019

Facebook said it has corrected a technical error that caused a nearly 24-hour-long service interruption for Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger, and other Facebook properties this week. According to a Facebook spokesperson, a "server configuration change" had a cascading effect throughout the company's network, triggering a recurrent loop of problems that kept escalating. The incident serves as a reminder that the Internet can still be hobbled by human error. For years, Facebook has recruited engineers on the idea that, within weeks, they can release computer code that reaches billions of people, especially as the company devises a strategy to consolidate the infrastructure of its "family of apps." However, the outage demonstrated that the more tightly intertwined a network becomes, the more likely a small technical problem caused by a single employee can have far-reaching consequences.

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circuit cityscape, illustration China Is Catching Up to the U.S. in AI Research—Fast
Tom Simonite
March 13, 2019

China is on track to rival the U.S. in artificial intelligence (AI) technology, with the Allen Institute for AI suggesting the percentage of Chinese AI research papers among top AI publications is closing in on U.S. output. China also has published more AI papers than the U.S. each year since 2005. Allen Institute CEO Oren Etzioni said his organization’s findings suggest the U.S. government must better support AI research. The Center for a New American Security's Greg Allen published a study indicating the key role China's military and national security infrastructure play in the country's evolving AI strategy. Its defense ministry is investing deeply in AI innovation, by establishing two research facilities in Beijing, focused on AI and unmanned systems.

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Display Technologies Set to Transform Workspaces
The Wall Street Journal
Sara Castellanos
March 11, 2019

Within the next decade, new workspaces will emerge with multiple displays and larger, panoramic screens. This trend can be attributed to the fact that data is becoming a central focus in all industries, multitasking is necessary, and younger workers are demanding better-quality products at work. Separate screens could save time, increase worker productivity, and possible prevent workers from misremembering facts. In addition, transparent displays such as augmented reality headsets, which overlay computer-generated images on a user's view of the real world, could also become more prevalent in the workforce within five years. Global spending on augmented reality and virtual reality is expected to reach nearly $20.4 billion this year, up from an estimated $12.1 billion in 2018, according to International Data Corp.

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device using the conductive properties of the body Your Body Is Your Internet—and Now It Can't Be Hacked
Purdue University News
March 12, 2019

Purdue University engineers have developed technology to secure critical devices like pacemakers and insulin pumps by sending communication signals within the human body itself. Said Purdue's Shreyas Sen, "The challenge has not only been keeping this communication within the body so that no one can intercept it, but also getting higher bandwidth and less battery consumption." Body fluids conduct electrical signals, and "body area networks" have used Bluetooth technology to send electromagnetic transmissions on and around the body, which can be picked up within at least a 10-meter radius. Sen's team used a device that couples signals in the electro-quasistatic range, and is collaborating with government and industry to incorporate the device into a dust-sized integrated circuit. Sen said a prototype watch would allow a user to receive a signal from anywhere on the body, to facilitate tasks like reprogramming medical devices without surgery.

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A Google Employee Just Shattered Record for Pi Calculations
The Washington Post
Hamza Shaban
March 14, 2019

Google's Emma Haruka Iwao led a team that broke the Guinness world record for calculating the most digits of Pi, the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter. The team computed Pi to 31.4 trillion decimal places, breaking the previous record of 22.4 trillion digits. This achievement marked the first Pi calculation to use cloud technology, with Iwao employing more than 24 virtual machines to execute the calculation over approximately 121 days. Running the calculation on the cloud gave the researchers a major upgrade in convenience, Google said, since researchers who want to peer into large datasets can now access results remotely, rather than ship hard drives to one another.

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Future of StoryTelling Story Arcade Pop-Up. Future of StoryTelling's Story Arcade Pop-Up Brings New York City the Best of Stories, Technology
Jesse Damiani
March 13, 2019

New York City's Future of StoryTelling (FoST) festival running through late March includes a pop-up installation showcasing new interactive combinations of storytelling, art, and technology. One Story Arcade exhibit is the Algorithmic Perfumery, an integrated artificial intelligence/robotic experience in which users fill out a questionnaire, guiding an algorithm's production of uniquely tailored perfumes/colognes. Another piece is "Chained: A Victorian Nightmare," an immersive adaptation of "A Christmas Carol", where real-life actors inhabit the narrative via virtual reality. FoST founder Charles Melcher said, "Each one of these pieces was intentionally chosen because it represents some piece of this idea of the next generation of storytelling. Where it's multi-sensorial and participatory and personalized, where it's social and deeply immersive, where you're no longer the passive observer, but you're the active participant in the story."

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A drone Drones That Perch Like Birds Could Go on Much Longer Flights
Technology Review
Erin Winick
March 13, 2019

Yale University researchers have designed an observational drone designed to perch like a bird to save energy, using grippers to grab onto anything smaller than its opening width. The drone comes with three controllable fingers tipped with "contact modules," or attachments that function as the connecting point to objects. This allows the drone to switch off two rotors, consuming about 45% less energy. The vehicle also can grasp a rod and hang upside down, allowing all the rotors to be deactivated; the drone also can rest on a stick, using about 69% less power than hovering. Yale's Kaiyu Hang said, "Perching and resting can provide lower power consumption, better stability, and larger view ranges in many cases.”

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A series of heart diagrams showing the five key steps in the phantom design process. Advances in 3D-Printed Patient-Specific Models for Use With Diagnostic Software in Assessing Coronary Artery Disease
SPIE Newsroom
March 12, 2019

An international team of researchers announced critical innovations in the use of three-dimensionally (3D)-printed coronary phantoms (models) with diagnostic software, advancing a non-invasive diagnostic method for coronary artery disease (CAD) risk assessment. The new method expedites evaluation of intermediate-risk patients' fractional flow reserve (FFR) to grade CAD severity, while also expanding on current uses of 3D printing to further develop cardiac phantoms with structures closely emulating patient anatomies, enabling precise computed tomography (CT) imaging of coronary flow. The study found CT scans of the phantom cardiac models were accurate to within a 1-mm diameter of the patients' hearts, and this accuracy should get better with improved resolution of CT scanners and 3D printers. Said Duke University's Ehsan Samei, the research "provides a critical requirement to validate the CT-FFR calculation using a phantom, thus enabling an efficient mechanism to ascertain the accuracy and reliability of CT-FFR estimation methods."

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Laptops sitting on top of a car’s engine showing how hackers broke into the vehicles security apps. Security Holes Found in Big Brand Car Alarms
BBC News
Dan Simmons
March 8, 2019

Security researchers in the U.K. have found vulnerabilities in three popular smart car alarm apps, making vehicles susceptible to theft or hijacking. The apps—from the companies Clifford, Viper, and Pandora—control alarms in 3 million vehicles. For example, Pandora Alarms, which had hyped its system as "unhackable," was found to permit users to reset passwords for any account, enabling hackers to activate car alarms, unlock vehicle doors, and start engines. The researchers also determined Clifford's app had a bug that allowed them to use a legitimate account to access other users' profiles, then alter the passwords for those accounts and take control. Viper and Clifford parent firm Directed has corrected the bug, while Pandora also said it has upgraded security. Alan Woodward at the University of Surrey said it was "disappointing" that relatively simple vulnerabilities had been introduced by security companies.

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A man’s face showing measurement components. Facial Recognition's 'Dirty Little Secret': Millions of Online Photos Scraped Without Consent
NBC News
Olivia Solon
March 12, 2019

Legal experts warn people's online photos are being used without permission, to power facial-recognition technology that could eventually be used for surveillance. Said New York University School of Law's Jason Schultz, "This is the dirty little secret of [artificial intelligence] training sets. Researchers often just grab whatever images are available in the wild." IBM recently issued a set of nearly 1 million photos culled from the image-hosting site Flickr, and programmed to describe subjects' appearance, allegedly to help reduce bias in facial recognition; although IBM said Flickr users can opt out of the database, deleting photos is almost impossible. Some experts claim these projects not only infringe on personal privacy, but also raise concerns that law enforcement will use facial recognition to unfairly target minorities. Northeastern University's Woody Hartzog said, "Facial recognition can be incredibly harmful when it's inaccurate and incredibly oppressive the more accurate it gets."

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Squeezing More Data Through Less Fiber
IEEE Spectrum
Jeff Hecht
March 12, 2019

Researchers at Facebook and intelligent transport network solutions provider Infinera have developed transmitting and receiving equipment that could squeeze 26.2 terabits per second through the MAREA cable, which currently can carry up to 20 terabits per second on each of eight fiber pairs. While this is not a huge increase, it sets a record for the most bits per second squeezed through a limited fiber bandwidth. The new method, called 16QUAM (quadrature amplitude modulation), digitally modulates a four-bit code so it can have one of 16 values at every interval. This allowed the researchers to transmit a record 6.21 bits per second per hertz of bandwidth. This high-data-rate transmission pushed the cable close to the Shannon noise limit (the theoretical maximum information transfer rate of a channel for a particular noise level). In order to circumvent the Shannon limit, Facebook wants to increase the fiber count in cables, which will require redesigning cables so they can provide more electrical power for repeaters situated along their routes, and so the cables can fit more than 25 fiber pairs.

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2019 Interactions Editor-In-Chief Search
2019 Stanford University Frontier of AI-Assisted Care Scientific Symposium

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