Welcome to the March 29, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Wolfsburg Autostadt Volkswagen to Network Factories in the Cloud With Amazon
Associated Press
David McHugh
March 27, 2019

Volkswagen (VW) has announced a partnership with Amazon to develop cloud computing capacity, to upgrade efficiency and coordination across the car manufacturer's global manufacturing network. VW said combining data from its 122 plants will enable it to standardize production planning and inventory management, boosting efficiency and cutting costs. Amazon Web Services (AWS) will work with the automaker to design an industrial cloud as an open platform that other companies, including suppliers, could join. Said VW's Oliver Blume, "We want to create a growing industrial ecosystem, with transparency and efficiency bringing benefits to all concerned."

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Hackers Took Over Asus Updates to Send You Malware, Researchers Say
Alfred Ng
March 26, 2019

Researchers from Kaspersky Lab warned hackers have infected thousands of Asus computers with malware from the computer manufacturer's own update tool. The Operation ShadowHammer hack was conducted between June and November 2018, affecting more than 57,000 people using Asus products. The researchers uncovered the infection in January, when hackers hijacked the Asus Live Update Utility to quietly install malware on devices. The attackers infiltrated the devices without raising an alarm by using Asus' legitimate security certificate, which was hosted on the servers. Once the backdoor was installed, it checked the device's media access control address; if it matched one of the attacker's targets, it installed another set of malware. Kaspersky Labs' Vitaly Kamluk said, "The selected vendors are extremely attractive targets for APT [advanced persistent threat] groups that might want to take advantage of their vast customer base."

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Augmented Autonomous Driving Simulation system Chinese, U.S. Researchers Develop Simulator for Improving Self-Driving Car Safety Before Road Test
March 28, 2019

Researchers at China's Baidu Research, the University of Hong Kong, and the University of Maryland, have developed a system that could make self-driving technology easier to evaluate in the lab and ensure more reliable safety before expensive road testing. The new Augmented Autonomous Driving Simulation (AADS) system combines photos, videos, and LiDAR point clouds with real-world trajectory data for pedestrians, bicycles, and other cars. Those trajectories can be used to predict the driving behavior and future positions of other vehicles or pedestrians on the road for safer navigation. The researchers eliminated blind spots in real-world images by isolating the components in a street scene, turning them into individual elements that can be synthesized to create a multitude of photo-realistic driving scenarios. Said University of Maryland researcher Dinesh Manocha, "We extracted data about real trajectories from all the video we had available, and we modeled driving behaviors using social science methodologies."

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gender wage gap, illustration The Gender Wage Gap is Shrinking Among Computer Programmers, But Still Quite Large
Megan Rose Dickey
March 27, 2019

In the U.S., the unadjusted pay gap registers at 21.4%, meaning women make just $0.79 for every $1.00 men earn, according to Glassdoor's most recent gender pay gap data analysis. However, when controlling for variables like age, education, location, experience, occupation, and industry, the pay gap falls to 4.9%, meaning women make about $0.95 for every $1.00 men make, a slight improvement from three years ago. In the technology industry, there is an adjusted wage gap of 5.4%, down from 28.3% in 2016. Said Glassdoor’s Annie Pearl, "Combining knowledge with leveraging valuable resources is the next step to ensuring equal pay for equal work everywhere… We all have a part to play to close the pay gap."

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Study Awarded Top Paper of Past 50 Years
The Daily Illini
Daniel Renteria
March 29, 2019

The ACM Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education (SIGCSE) cited research by scientists from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), the University of California, San Diego, and Northern Iowa University as the top paper of the past 50 years at its Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education. The work stems from a project to develop a research assessment tool for determining the teaching methods that provide the best education for computer science students. UIUC's Geoffrey Herman said, "The focus (of this paper) was to document and understand and describe why students struggle to learn computing programming." Focal points included students' mistaken assumption that computers will perform any kind of interpretations on inputted code, as well as their difficulty in understanding computer memory. Herman suggested the paper received the award “because it's one of those early papers which said, 'hey, here is some theory, here is some science to help us make better decisions and inform our future efforts’."

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McDonald’s fries crosswalk McDonald's Bites on Big Data With $300 Million Acquisition
Brian Barrett
March 25, 2019

McDonald's has inked a more-than-$300-million deal to acquire Dynamic Yield, a start-up based in Tel Aviv that provides retailers with algorithmically driven "decision logic" technology. With the addition of Dynamic Yield, McDonald's is hoping to improve both its in-store ordering and online marketing. The chain will use Dynamic Yield's technology at its drive-through windows, where digital displays will change in real time based on such factors as weather and what the customer is ordering. Over the last several years, the fast-food chain made several significant, data-focused investments. Said McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook, “What we hadn’t done is begun to connect the technology together, and get the various pieces talking to each other. How do you transition from mass marketing to mass personalization? To do that, you’ve really got to unlock the data within that ecosystem in a way that’s useful to a customer.”

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Garbage dump The New Tech That Detects Deadly Slides on Rubbish Mountains
BBC News
Adrienne Bernhard
March 28, 2019

Australian researchers have developed software to predict landslides on mountains of garbage up to two weeks in advance, giving those who live in or near the rubbish piles time to evacuate. The artificial intelligence (AI) system uses applied mathematics to identify landslide precursors, including tiny cracks and subtle movements that herald violent downward cascades. The University of Melbourne's Antoinette Tordesillas said, "We have been studying data on movements in granular materials to understand their 'rhythm of failure.' What we discovered is a distinct rhythm in the stages preceding the collapse." The algorithms account for ground movement, the dynamics of failure, and known landslide triggers like rainfall, all of which could ultimately be used for slide predictions. Said Isaac Akinwumi at Nigeria's Covenant University, "If Professor Tordesillas' tool can provide early warning before waste slides occur, then it will be a vital tool for preventing landslide disaster."

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Our Software Is Biased Like We Are. Can New Laws Change That?
The Wall Street Journal
Christopher Mims
March 23, 2019

As governments and businesses look to algorithms to increase consistency, save money, or simply manage complicated processes, human reliance on them and their inherent biases is starting to worry politicians, activists, and technology researchers. In early 2018, New York City became the first government in the U.S. to pass a law designed to address bias in the algorithms used by the city, establishing a task force to study and make recommendations on the matter. Meanwhile, a bipartisan group in Washington state introduced a bill intended to ensure the fair, transparent, and accountable use of automated decision systems in state government by establishing guidelines for the procurement and use of such technology. Rashida Richardson at the nonprofit AI Now Institute said the panels that determine the biases of such systems should include not only data scientists and technologists, but also legal experts familiar with the history of laws and cases dealing with identifying and remedying bias.

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Single qubit trajectories IBM's Quantum Computation Technique Mitigates Noise, Improves Accuracy
Emil Protalinski
March 27, 2019

IBM researchers have developed a technique to mitigate the noise of quantum computations. The "zero-noise extrapolation" method repeats computation at varying noise levels to determine what a quantum system would calculate in the absence of noise. The microwave pulses used to execute quantum operations on the quantum bits are "stretched in time" to amplify noise. Zero-noise extrapolation ameliorates the effect of decoherence, and can support more complex and precise computations that benefit from greater circuit depth. The researchers said this technique can enhance the accuracy of any algorithm run on current IBM Q systems.

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A New Age of Warfare: How Internet Mercenaries Do Battle for Authoritarian Governments
The New York Times
Mark Mazzetti; Adam Goldman
March 21, 2019; et al.

Even the smallest countries in the world have the resources to buy digital espionage services, enabling them to conduct sophisticated operations like electronic eavesdropping or influence campaigns. In addition, corporations that want to understand competitors' secrets, or a wealthy individual with a vendetta against a rival, also can command intelligence operations for a price. The New York Times recently conducted a months-long examination that uncovered secret battles in the growing digital combat environment. The Middle East is the epicenter of this new era of privatized spying. For example, companies such as Israel-based NSO Group and United Arab Emirates-based DarkMatter have enabled governments to hack criminal elements like terrorist groups and drug cartels, while also targeting journalists and activists in some cases.

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Bees and fish. Robots Help Bees and Fish Communicate
United Press International
Brooks Hays
March 21, 2019

Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland (EPFL) have developed robots to translate and deliver signals between groups of bees and schools of fish. The robots exchanged signals internationally, with bees in Austria communicating with fish in Switzerland. In Austria, groups of bees swarmed around two robot terminals within a large container, and the team used the terminals and a fish "spy" robot to beam signals and influence the different groups' behavior. The terminals emitted vibrations, temperature variations, and air movements that caused the bees to swarm exclusively around one terminal or the other, and signals from the fish robot induced the school of fish to swim in different directions. EPFL's Francesco Mondada said, "The robots acted as if they were negotiators and interpreters in an international conference. Through the various information exchanges, the two groups of animals gradually came to a shared decision" and synchronized their movements.

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Open Source Software Helps Researchers Extract Insights From Sensor Datasets
R&D Magazine
March 25, 2019

At Germany’s Saarland University, researchers have released a free data processing tool that allows rapid evaluation of signals, pattern recognition, and data visualization when processing huge datasets. The MATLAB toolbox known as Dave enables very large volumes of data, such as those produced by modern sensor systems, to be processed, analyzed, and visually displayed so researchers can optimize their measurement systems interactively. Dave makes the calculations completely transparent, showing the user that when they alter a particular parameter, it has an identifiable consequence. Said Saarland University researcher Andreas Schutze, "Using Dave as a tool, we were able to rapidly achieve some widely acclaimed results in the field of condition monitoring in 'Industry 4.0' applications."

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Researchers Warn Open Sky Drone Policy Poses Cybercriminal Risk
Charlie Osborne
March 27, 2019

Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) in Israel and Fujitsu System Integration Laboratories in Japan warn of the potential for unregulated aerial drones to threaten citizens. The scientists analyzed more than 200 techniques and technologies to detect and disable drones, and determined cybersecurity countermeasures to be inadequate, which could lead to "cyberattacks, terrorism, crime, and threats to privacy." One exploit the researchers demonstrated would deliver hacking hardware and radio systems to targets, in the guise of a pizza delivery. BGU and Fujitsu suggested the biggest challenge facing vendors in terms of drones and their potential impact on privacy and security is learning a drone's purpose in a non-restricted area, or an "open sky policy." The researchers proposed drone identification systems and registration as a remedial starting point.

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A drone hovering over a farm How Smarter Technology Will Feed the Planet
Scientific American
Ayal Karmi
March 26, 2019

Technology solutions like artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics, and drones are being employed to enable more efficient and intelligent agriculture. For example, farmers use geographic information system software to monitor crops through heat maps, so fertilizers or insecticides can be administered more efficiently to improve crop growth; machine learning technology also is augmenting heat maps, which can visualize terrain in greater detail than before. Agriculture's future relies on real-time responses, as more and more agricultural technology companies compete to provide all-in-one platforms with on-the-go insights and prescriptions. Meanwhile, Internet of Things sensors and AI platforms are expected to help the farming industry tackle key challenges, ranging from meeting the needs of global population growth to coping with climate change, while curtailing food waste. Drones also should improve irrigation and crop management decision-making by supplying precise, detailed maps for soil and field analysis.

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