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Welcome to the October 2, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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AI Helps Basketball Coaches Outmaneuver Opposing Team
Edd Gent
September 27, 2019

An artificial intelligence (AI)-powered computer program could allow basketball coaches to view potential maneuvers by opposing teams on a top-down virtual tactic board on the computer. Coaches sketch plays on the board, with different-colored dots representing the teams, then drag the dots representing virtual players to signal movements and passes. The AI program, trained on player movements from the National Basketball Association, renders the sketches as realistic models of offensive and defensive players' movements. The program employs a generative adversarial network in which two AI programs vie against each other, with one attempting to produce realistic player movements, as the other provides feedback on how closely these movements match actual data—with increasingly realistic plays emerging over time.

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EPFL Researchers Invent Low-Cost Alternative to Bitcoin
Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
Celia Luterbacher
September 30, 2019

Researchers in the Distributed Computing Lab of the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland have developed a system that represents a new, low-cost way to think about cryptocurrencies. The traditional Bitcoin model relies on "consensus" to guarantee the security of transactions; everyone in a distributed system must agree on the validity of all transactions to prevent malicious users from cheating. In contrast, the new Byzantine Reliable Broadcast system takes a minimalist approach to security. Explained EPFL's Rachid Guerraoui, "We realize that players don’t need to reach consensus; they just need to prevent malicious behavior when it manifests.” If a malicious player wants to make a payment, the system would not allow anyone to accept money from that player until a randomly chosen sample has confirmed the player has not sent money to anyone else. The system can achieve safe cryptocurrency transactions on a large scale with an energy cost “roughly equivalent to that of exchanging emails,” Guerraoui said.

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An old phone Decades-Old Code Putting Millions of Critical Devices at Risk
Lily Hay Newman
October 1, 2019

U.S. federal agencies, the Armis enterprise security firm, and real-time operating system (RTO) and device companies warn of just-discovered vulnerabilities in a nearly 20-year-old industry standard network protocol from Interpeak that could potentially make millions of devices exploitable. The Urgent/11 series of bugs may affect the security of patient monitors, insulin pumps, routers, security cameras, and other products across dozens of manufacturers, making them susceptible to service attacks or even hijacking. Many RTOs employed in always-on devices incorporate the Interpeak code, including at least seven RTOs that operate in industrial Internet of Things devices. The bugs' long persistence is rooted in the same deployment of network protocols comprising the device/network connection-enabling TCP/IP stack. Armis is issuing an open source tool to detect potentially vulnerable devices on their network and determine possible defensive strategies.

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3D-Printed Lattice Designs Defy Conventional Wisdom on Metamaterials
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Jeremy Thomas
September 27, 2019

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) researchers have created three-dimensional (3D)-printed lattice structures integrating lightness of weight and high rigidity, defying conventional assumptions about metamaterials. The scientists used topology optimization software to produce two novel unit cell designs comprised of micro-architected trusses. The trusses seemed to contradict the Maxwell criterion theory of structural rigidity, which assumes that stiffness in efficient load-bearing structures scales linearly with density, to facilitate generation of extremely lightweight, super-rigid mechanical metamaterials. Wen Chen, who worked on the research while a postdoc at LLNL, said the research "shows you can use this computational tool to design the structure to meet your target performance—this opens up a new design modus for architectured materials."

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AdaSky’s Viper cameras High-Tech Sensors May Be Key to Autonomous Cars
The New York Times
John R. Quain
September 26, 2019

Autonomous vehicle developers' standard vehicle perception approach is to combine video cameras, radar, ultrasonic sensors, and LiDAR, yet driverless cars' ability to safely maneuver in traffic and see ahead clearly in all weather conditions remains limited. Some companies are considering the use of high-tech sensors to address this issue, like "far infrared" cameras that detect thermal wavelengths below the visible spectrum, to perceive people and objects in low-visibility conditions. Another technology under consideration is ground-penetrating radar facilitated by sensors on a vehicle's underbelly, which generate a digital signature to ascertain the car's location at any time. Meanwhile, companies like Luminar and Blackmore Sensors and Analytics are trying to upgrade LiDAR to detect higher wavelengths, and widen the range and perceptive ability of longer-range systems that can see through light rain and snow.

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Trevor Henderson in the record library at WMBR Using Math to Blend Musical Notes Seamlessly
MIT News
Rob Matheson
September 27, 2019

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) student Trevor Henderson has developed an algorithm that produces a portamento effect (the gliding of a note at one pitch into a note of lower or higher pitch) between any two audio signals in real-time. In experiments, Henderson found that the algorithm seamlessly merged various audio clips, such as a piano note gliding into a human voice, as well as one song blending into another. The algorithm relies on "optimal transport," a geometric framework that determines the most efficient ways to move objects between multiple origin and destination configurations. Henderson already has used the algorithm to build equipment that seamlessly transitions between songs on his show on MIT’s WMBR radio station.

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Your Video Can ID You Through Walls
The Current (UC Santa Barbara)
Sonia Fernandez
September 30, 2019

Researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara have developed a method for determining whether a person behind a wall is the same individual who appears in given video footage by comparing how they walk. Gait characteristics garnered from a Wi-Fi transmitter and Wi-Fi receiver placed outside a room where a person is walking are compared to separate video footage of a person. A human mesh recovery algorithm extracts the three-dimensional mesh describing the outer surface of the human body as a function of time in the video footage. Electromagnetic wave approximation is then used to simulate the radio frequency signal that would have been generated if this person were walking in a Wi-Fi area. The researchers then employ a time-frequency processing approach to compare key gait features from both the Wi-Fi signal and the video-based simulated signal to determine whether the same person is in both.

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UPS Drones Win FAA Milestone Permission to Take Off Shackles
Thomas Black; Alan Levin
October 1, 2019

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) granted United Parcel Service (UPS) permission to fly delivery drones under regulations similar to airline rules, with few restrictions. The courier can use the drones at hospital, university, and corporate campuses, including allowances to fly after dark and above people. UPS said it has made more than 1,000 drone test flights at the WakeMed hospital campus in North Carolina, including the first flight outside the operator's line of sight. UPS CEO David Abney said the company eventually will use drones for residential deliveries, most likely in rural and suburban regions. The FAA certification stipulates use of manuals, training routines, maintenance plans, and a safety program, and it can ease acquisition of exemptions at sites other than campuses.

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Workers on computers Hottest Job in China's Hinterlands: Teaching AI to Tell a Truck from a Turtle
The Washington Post
Jeanne Whalen; Yuan Wang
September 26, 2019

Large technology companies, banks, and other organizations in China are trying to use artificial intelligence (AI) to improve their products and services. While many of these companies are clustered in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai, the lower-tech labeling business of AI programs is spreading out to smaller towns, providing jobs beyond agriculture and manufacturing. However, the technology is controversial in China, where the ruling Communist Party is using AI to help it identify and track people in mass-surveillance programs. In addition, facial-recognition screens are starting to appear in retail stores across China, allowing customers to pay by having their faces scanned. There is concern among human rights activists that the proliferation of facial recognition for commercial use could give the Chinese government more pools of data to access for public surveillance.

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Expanding the Scale of Dangerous Weather Prediction
KAUST Discovery
September 29, 2019

Researchers at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia have developed a statistical model that better defines the fluid nature of extreme weather systems over larger areas, which could aid in catastrophic weather forecasting. KAUST's Raphael Huser and Daniela Castro-Camilo used a dependence structure to describe the degree and manner in which data at several locations is interrelated. This enabled accurate prediction of the frequency and magnitude of an extreme weather event across a region. With this model, dependence structure can be calculated from each measurement station and efficiently interpolated between stations over a spatial grid via highly parallelized computation. The researchers used KAUST's Shaheen II supercomputer to analyze for extreme events in rainfall data across the U.S.; observations showed the rainfall's governing dynamics exhibited strong regional variation, detecting areas where concurrent dangerous precipitation levels occurred more often.

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Zi Wang working in an optics laboratory Compute at the Speed of Light
UDaily (DE)
Julie Stewart
September 25, 2019

University of Delaware researchers have developed a new technique for integrated photonics, using an integrated platform with a one-dimensional metalens and metasurfaces that limit data loss. The team fashioned the metalens on a silicon-based chip programmed with minuscule air slots to facilitate parallel optical signal processing, and to support signal transmission with less than one decibel loss over a 200-nanometer bandwidth. Three metasurfaces layered together enabled Fourier transformation and differentiation. The device is lighter, smaller, and more robust and scalable than typical free-space optics platforms, because it does not require manual lens alignment. The platform's potential uses range from imaging to sensing to quantum information processing, including on-chip transformation optics, mathematical operations, and spectrometers.

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PDFex Attack Can Exfiltrate Data from Encrypted PDF Files
Catalin Cimpanu
September 30, 2019

Researchers at Ruhr-University Bochum and Münster University in Germany have developed a new attack that can extract and steal data from encrypted Portable Document Format (PDF) files, sometimes without user interaction. The attack, called PDFex, comes in two variations and was successfully tested against 27 desktop and web PDF viewers. The attacks target the encryption schemes supported by the PDF standard, rather than the encryption applied to a PDF document by external software. The first variation, called direct exfiltration, takes advantage of the fact that PDF apps do not encrypt the entirety of a PDF file, leaving some parts unencrypted. The second variation targets the parts of a PDF file that are encrypted using CBC gadgets, which are pieces of code that run against encrypted content and modify the plaintext data at its source. The researchers notified all affected PDF software makers; all have released updates to protect against PDFex attacks.

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Ready, Set, Algorithms! Teams Learn AI by Racing Cars
The Wall Street Journal
Sara Castellanos
October 1, 2019

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has developed the DeepRacer League, a competition designed to teach a branch of artificial intelligence (AI) known as reinforcement learning, in which algorithms learn the correct way to perform an action based on trial and error, and observations. As part of the DeepRacer League, teams or individuals build and train AI algorithms using Amazon SageMaker software, then deploy them to self-driving model cars measuring about 10 inches long, which they race around a track roughly 17 feet by 26 feet. Morningstar is one of the companies participating in the DeepRacer League, and thanks to the training, the company expects to have dozens of projects based on reinforcement learning and other machine learning techniques in deployment by the end of 2020. AWS developed the DeepRacer program in an effort to teach software developers about machine learning in a more engaging way than reading scientific articles.

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