Welcome to the April 3, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Shwetak Patel Virtuoso of Mobile Sensing Technology Receives ACM Prize in Computing
ACM News Release
April 3, 2019

ACM has named the University of Washington's Shwetak Patel to receive the 2018 ACM Prize in Computing for contributions to creative and practical mobile sensing systems for sustainability and health. Prior to Patel's work, most systems for monitoring energy and health required costly and cumbersome specialized devices. Patel and his team developed creative ways to exploit existing infrastructure to practically realize affordable and accurate monitoring, which were turned into real-world deployments and commercialized. ACM president Cherri M. Pancake said, "The widespread adoption of systems where individuals can monitor their health with smartphones could revolutionize healthcare—especially in the developing world. Shwetak Patel certainly exemplifies the ACM Prize's goal of recognizing work with 'fundamental impact and broad implications'." Patel will formally receive the prize at ACM's annual awards banquet on June 15 in San Francisco.

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Google Announces AI Ethics Panel
BBC News
Dave Lee
March 26, 2019

Google has launched the Advanced Technology External Advisory Council (ATEAC), a global advisory council to offer guidance on ethical issues related to artificial intelligence (AI), automation, and related technologies. The panel is made up of eight individuals, including a former U.S. deputy Secretary of State, and a University of Bath associate professor of computer science. In June 2018, Google did not renew a contract it had with the Pentagon on Project Maven, which focused on the development of AI technology to control drones. Project Maven was unpopular among Google's staff and even prompted some resignations. In response to the employee backlash, Google published a set of AI "principles" it said would abide by, including pledges to be "socially beneficial" and "accountable to people." ATEAC will meet for the first time this month to discuss recommendations about how to use technology such as facial recognition.

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Employees handle packages at Qoo10 warehouse in Singapore. Singapore's Biggest Online Mall Fights Alibaba With Blockchain
Yoolim Lee
April 2, 2019

Entrepreneur Ku Young Bae, who founded Singapore's biggest e-commerce company, has launched a plan to bring blockchain efficiency to e-commerce. His Qoo10 online mall in January established a separate marketplace called QuuBe using the distributed ledger technology, which allows Ku to eliminate the fees he currently charges merchants to sell products on the site. Ku also is developing a blockchain-based payment system to draw new shoppers, in which buyers and sellers use tokens called Q*coins, which are stored in a digital wallet in the QuuBe app. The Q*coins are pegged to the U.S. dollar and are fully convertible with no extra fees, and Ku expects their value will appreciate as their circulation spreads. Said Ku, “This is my attempt to shift the paradigm and level the playing field. There hasn’t been any radical innovation in the e-commerce industry—with services largely resembling one another.”

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eye-tracking technology Eyes on the Road! (Your Car Is Watching)
The New York Times
John R. Quain
March 28, 2019

As more technology is integrated into cars to help drivers, more systems will be able to monitor them as well, necessitated by new safety concerns. Cameras that recognize facial expressions, sensors that detect heart rates, and software that assesses a driver's state of awareness are increasingly viewed as an inevitable part of driving’s future. Startups like the electric car company Byton and established auto manufacturers like Volvo are working on facial recognition, drowsy-driver alert systems and other features for monitoring the people behind the wheel. However, when truly autonomous vehicles finally arrive, automakers and their suppliers agree new methods will be needed to monitor driver and passenger safety.

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New Davis Cup Goes Virtual to Increase Sponsorship Revenue
Associated Press
Tales Azzoni
April 1, 2019

The Davis Cup tennis tournament is being revamped to incorporate virtual replacement advertising during broadcasts at the inaugural game in Madrid, Spain, so sponsors' logos and banners will be superimposed digitally on the courts. This approach will permit organizers to sell different sponsorship packages globally, opening up revenue channels via deals with multiple companies. Digital board replacement (DBR) allows the superimposition of customized images anywhere on the field, without being affected by camera movement or the position of players. DBR is often used on sideline boards and the three-dimensional carpets near goals in soccer matches. Kosmos Tennis aims to support at least three separate regions with specific feeds in this inaugural season, expanding it to more territories and new sponsors in coming years.

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WISHI co-founder Clea O’Hana Some Startup Founders Leave Silicon Valley 'Bubble' and Head East
The Wall Street Journal
Kate King
March 25, 2019

Some Silicon Valley technology entrepreneurs are relocating to New York City, lured by increased availability of venture capital, skilled professionals, and affordable office space. New York City Economic Development Corp. president James Patchett cites the growth of venture capital funding as the biggest benefit for New York's technology industry. He also said worries about a dearth of skilled computer programmers and engineers outside of Silicon Valley have subsided in recent years. Will Sealy, whose online startup Summer helps student-loan borrowers find more affordable repayment options, said he opted to remain on the East Coast following graduation from Yale University partly because Boston and New York City's office space is more affordable than the Bay Area's. He also said a key selling point has been the "exceptional" quality of engineers on the East Coast.

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Grassroots Tech Group Takes Startup Approach to Fight Brexit
The Washington Post
Kelvin Chan
March 26, 2019

A grassroots group of volunteer software engineers and technology industry entrepreneurs and product managers, collectively called Tech for U.K., is developing a series of websites to try to prevent Brexit. The group hopes to put public pressure on politicians to give U.K. citizens a second vote on the issue. Since its launch last year, Tech for U.K. has rolled out a dozen mobile-friendly websites designed to help users automatically send anti-Brexit messages by postcard or voicemail to their politicians. The websites also highlight the EU's benefits to Britain. Said Eloise Todd, CEO of anti-Brexit campaign group Best For Britain, which helps fund Tech for U.K. “One of the reasons that we lost in 2016 was that (the pro-Brexit camp’s) digital game was far superior to the people fighting to stay in. We’re playing catch-up.”

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An illustration of Caulobacter crescentus is a harmless bacterium living in fresh water First Bacterial Genome Created Entirely With a Computer
ETH Zurich
Fabio Bergamin
April 1, 2019

Researchers at ETH Zurich in Switzerland have developed a technique that significantly streamlines production of large DNA molecules containing hundreds of genes, applying it to assemble the first genome of a bacterium designed entirely by a computer algorithm. ETH Zurich brothers Beat Christen and Matthias Christen radically modified the bacterium's genome sequence via algorithm to make genomes simpler to generate, as well as addressing fundamental issues of biology. Their algorithm harnessed the inherent redundancy of genetic information storage, enabling the Christens to compute the ideal DNA sequence for genome synthesis and construction. The researchers planted many small alterations into the minimal genome, replacing more than a sixth of the 800,000 DNA protein components. Said Beat Christen, “Our method is a litmus test to see whether we biologists have correctly understood genetics, and it allows us to highlight possible gaps in our knowledge.”

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AU$3.4 Million to Be Spent on Getting Australian Women to Take Up STEM
Asha McLean
April 1, 2019

Australia's government has allocated AU$3.4 million (nearly US$2.5 million) in funding to encourage more women to follow careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), in order to improve "STEM equity" in the country. Said Minister for Industry, Science, and Technology Karen Andrews, "In order to have the widest talent pool possible we need to ensure all Australians are supported to participate in STEM activities and careers. We know that STEM is the engine of technology, innovation, and wealth—and gender-diverse teams are better problem solvers." Of the new funding, AU$1.8 million (US$1.28 million) will be allocated to the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) initiative, to be channeled into higher education and research sectors to enhance gender equity policies and practices. Also to receive funding will be a project to raise national digital awareness, which Andrews said will "heighten the visibility of girls and women in STEM and showcase the diverse opportunities STEM study and careers can provide."

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Previously Unknown Flaw in Intel Chips Could Allow Hackers to Steal Private Data From Your Computer
The Daily Mail (U.K.)
James Pero
April 1, 2019

Security analysts from Positive Technologies revealed at a Black Hat conference in Singapore last month that they have discovered a previously unknown vulnerability within Intel hardware that could enable the interception of private data inside one's computer. The analysts warned that hackers could exploit the Visualization of Internal Signals Architecture (VISA), used to test chips before public release, to monitor information within the computer's controller hub chipset. Positive Technologies' Maxim Goryachy said, "We found out that it is possible to access Intel VISA on ordinary motherboards, with no specific equipment needed." Although VISA is deactivated by default on all Intel commercial systems, it can turned on remotely by exploiting a flaw Positive Technologies uncovered in 2017; once accessed, VISA also lets hackers create tailored rule sets for the computer, giving them potentially dangerous levels of control over system data. Intel has issued a firmware patch to correct the flaw, but those who have not received it from their motherboard or laptop maker remain vulnerable.

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Department of Energy to Provide $40 Million to Develop Quantum Computing Software
U.S. Department of Energy
April 2, 2019

The U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) has announced a plan to allocate $40 million for research to develop new quantum computing software and algorithms. DoE Secretary Rick Perry said, "Continued investments in quantum computing will focus the intellectual prowess of our scientists and engineers on the development of technologies that the private sector can convert into commercial applications to improve the lives and security of all Americans." The plan includes setting up multidisciplinary teams, with some concentrating on basic algorithms and others on standard software tools specifically enabled for quantum computing. The end goal is software that can be adapted to various quantum computing systems, as well as a range of potential applications. Universities, national laboratories, industry, and nonprofits can apply for funding under the program; awards will be decided through peer review of applications.

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An illustrative model of the cryo-EM reconstruction. Supercomputers Help Supercharge Protein Assembly
Texas Advanced Computing Center
Jorge Salazar
March 29, 2019

A team of researchers used the Stampede2 supercomputer at the Texas Advanced Computing Center, and the Comet supercomputer at the San Diego Supercomputing Center, to develop "supercharged protein assembly," a strategy that allows them to design proteins that self-assemble and resemble life-giving molecules like hemoglobin. The researchers supercharged proteins, giving them an artificially high positive or negative charge, then assembled them a complex 16-protein structure composed of two stacked octamers. The team used supercomputer simulations to validate and inform these experimental results. Said study co-author Anna Simon, "We showed that there doesn't need to be a very specific, pre-distinguished set of plans and interactions for these structures to form.”

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The Tesla Theo model. Tesla Cars Keep More Data Than You Think
Kate Fazzini; Lora Kolodny
March 29, 2019

Two "white hat hackers" discovered that crashed Tesla vehicles sent to salvage contain unencrypted personal data, including information from drivers' paired mobile devices. This appears to contradict Tesla's cybersecurity policy, which stipulates owners must buy cables and download a software kit to extract limited information from their vehicles via "event data recorders," should they need that data for legal, insurance, or other purposes. The hackers procured a wrecked Tesla Model 3, which was owned by a construction company in Boston, and used by employees. The hackers determined the car's computers had stored unencrypted data from at least 17 different devices, and mobile phones or tablets had paired to the car about 170 times. Overall, the vehicle had 11 phonebooks' worth of contact information from drivers or passengers who had paired their devices, as well as calendar entries with descriptions of planned appointments, and email addresses of those invited.

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A silhouetted speaker in front of a screen showing the Amazon logo. Amazon's Role in Co-Sponsoring Research on Fairness in AI Draws Mixed Reaction
The Seattle Times
Benjamin Romano
March 31, 2019

Amazon has teamed with the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) to fund basic research into fairness in artificial intelligence (AI) systems. The stated purpose of the initiative is to support research into "transparency, explainability, accountability, potential adverse biases and effects, mitigation strategies, validation of fairness, and considerations of inclusivity" in AI systems, enabling "broadened acceptance" of the technology. The program would distribute up to $7.6 million over three years, with half supplied by Amazon, for up to nine projects. Some scientists are concerned that Amazon's participation raises potential conflicts of interest. Said the University of Washington's Nicholas Weber, "These corporate co-sponsors are more or less piggybacking on the thorough and unique system of peer review that NSF organizes."

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