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Welcome to the October 4, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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facial recognition illustration France Set to Roll Out Nationwide Facial Recognition ID Program
Helene Fouquet
October 3, 2019

France is set to become the first European country to use facial recognition technology to provide its citizens secure digital identities. The French government is moving forward with plans to roll out an ID program called Alicem in November, with the goal of making the state more efficient. However, a privacy group is challenging the initiative in France's highest administrative court, and the country's data regulator says the program breaches the European rule of consent. In addition, a hacker was able to break into a "secure" government messaging app earlier this year, raising concerns about the state's security standards. French officials claim the ID system will not be used to monitor residents, and will not integrate facial recognition biometric data into citizens' identity databases.

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Emergency Room entrance Ransomware Forces Hospitals to Turn Away All but Most Critical Patients
Ars Technica
Dan Goodin
October 1, 2019

Ransomware has crippled 10 hospitals in Alabama and Australia, blocking admission for all but the most critical new patients. The malware hobbled the computer systems at three facilities in Alabama's DCH Health System, with the perpetrator having yet to demand a specific sum to restore access. DCH representatives said, "Our hospitals have implemented our emergency procedures to ensure safe and efficient operations in the event technology dependent on computers is not available." Seven Australian hospitals also have been hit by ransomware, which hospital officials said "has blocked access to several systems ... including financial management. Hospitals have isolated and disconnected a number of systems ... to quarantine the infection." There is so far no apparent connection between the attacks in Alabama and Australia.

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Knocker-enabled smartphone demo Object Identification, Interaction with a Smartphone Knock
October 2, 2019

Researchers at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) in South Korea have developed technology for identifying objects and carrying out actions, simply by knocking on objects with a smartphone. The Knocker solution combines the sound and motion sensors in smartphones with software that executes directions according to sounds and vibrations. These capabilities are maintained even in low-light settings, without the use of cameras or other specialized hardware. Knocker harnesses the smartphone's built-in sensors, and machine learning identifies objects the device is knocked on by analyzing the responses generated when a smartphone is knocked against an object. Knocker was able to identify 23 everyday objects in noisy environments with 83% accuracy, and with 98% accuracy in quiet indoor environments.

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Two Out of Three U.K. Business Leaders Think Tech Skills Matter More Than Math, Science
Vicky McKeever
September 30, 2019

A study by U.K. jobs board CWJobs of 502 U.K. business leaders found 68% value workers with technology skills more than those with traditional skills in subjects like math and science. Moreover, 53% of respondents felt children are not receiving enough specialized technology training in school. According to the study, 73% of employers believe tech education should be provided at either the primary or secondary-school levels. The study report referenced a Deloitte survey that found 62% of U.K. business executives said their tech talent pool lacked the capability to support a digital strategy. The most in-demand tech specialty cited by U.K. business leaders in the CWJobs study was cybersecurity (79%), although cloud computing was most frequently cited as among workers' existing tech talents (44%). CWJobs' Dominic Harvey said, "The entire U.K. workforce needs to be embracing [tech skills] if the country is to remain competitive on the world stage."

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Language-Based Software's Accurate Predictions Translate to Benefits for Chemists
Chemistry World
Alexander Whiteside
September 30, 2019

Researchers at the University of Cambridge in the U.K. have developed a software program that can predict chemical reaction outcomes and retrosynthetic steps. The Molecular Transformer software uses a new type of neural network that is easier to train and more accurate than those that powered earlier translation-based approaches to chemistry. The Molecular Transformer is built around a neural network with a transformer architecture. Neural networks based on transformer architecture makes heavy use of a mechanism called attention, which allows them to learn which parts of the input are relevant to each part of the output, regardless of their positions. This reduces the amount of training needed and improves the resulting language models' accuracy. The team found that the Molecular Transformer outperformed other language-based approaches, predicting the correct reaction outcome 90% of the time.

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A Driven autonomous vehicle driving through Stratford, East London. 'It's Going to be a Revolution': Driverless Cars in New London Trial
The Guardian
Gwyn Topham
October 3, 2019

Driverless cars completed their first major street test in London this week, as a fleet of Ford Mondeos equipped with autonomous technology from U.K.-based Oxbotica operated on public roads around the former Olympic Park in Stratford. Officials with the Driven program, a partially government-funded effort, said the demonstration had "exceeded their initial plan" and was a significant step in confirming autonomous vehicles could operate in a complex urban environment. The Driven program has been conducting trials in Oxford to study the "ecosystem" around autonomous vehicles, such as potential problems with hackers, communications technology, and the legal framework. Said Oxbotica's Paul Newman, “There is no doubt we're not going to be sitting behind wheels in the future. But there will be different jobs around the technology. It is going to be a revolution."

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An algorithm developed at MIT takes MRI images of placentas (top) and flattens them to me more easily analyzed. Using Algorithms to Build Map of the Placenta
MIT News
Adam Conner-Simons
October 2, 2019

Researchers in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have developed an algorithm that flattens magnetic resonance imaging scans of the placenta for more accurate visualizations. CSAIL's Mazdak Abulnaga said the objective is to assess the health of the organ while the placenta is still in utero. CSAIL's Polina Golland said the algorithm also has potential for detecting biomarkers associated with poor placental health, which could help radiologists find problems without having to analyze many cross-sections of the organ. The algorithm simulates placenta configuration by subdividing the image into thousands of tetrahedra, then arranges these tetrahedra into a blueprint resembling a placenta's unfolded shape after delivery.

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Volatile Compounds? 3D Printing Has Serious Safety Problem
Greg Nichols
October 1, 2019

A study by researchers at UL Chemical Safety and the Georgia Institute of Technology warns of a pervasive safety hazard related to three-dimensional (3D) printing, especially in non-industrial applications. The team found 3D printers discharge airborne nanoparticles and volatile organic compounds that can induce cardiovascular and pulmonary damage, detecting more than 200 such compounds—including irritants and carcinogens—in environments where a 3D printer is in operation. The use of high-efficiency particulate air filters does not address this danger, and non-industrial users are increasingly likely to look for certified safe printers as the emissions issue gains credence. The RIZE additive manufacturing company recently became the first enterprise to acquire UL 2904 Certification for its RIZE One Industrial 3D printer and accompanying filament (print medium). A RIZE spokesperson said, "The certification ushers in a new era of safety and sustainability that will expand the adoption of additive manufacturing."

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A photo of wallet, keys, glasses, handbag left on a table. Where Have I Left My Wallet? This Smart Camera Can Remind You
New Scientist
Donna Lu
September 30, 2019

Researchers at the University of Toronto in Canada have developed a smartphone app that records daily interactions with household objects. The system involves bar code-like markers that the user sticks to the objects to be tracked. The smartphone must be worn around the user's neck, allowing the app to automatically record short video clips when preselected objects come into view. Each video is saved and grouped based on object type. The app can help users track the state of objects as well as routine actions, such as the last time they watered a plant or took their medication. The app successfully captures about 75% of interactions, but only works for fixed objects.

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U.S. Steps Up Scrutiny of Airplane Cybersecurity
The Wall Street Journal
Robert McMillan; Dustin Volz
September 29, 2019

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has revived a program to identify cybersecurity vulnerabilities in aviation, in conjunction with the Pentagon and the U.S. Department of Transportation. The Aviation Information Sharing and Analysis Center's Jeffrey Troy said, "It's very important to be looking at the whole [aviation] ecosystem and identifying key points where a digital system, if it were to malfunction, could cause a bad day for a lot of people." Air Force official Will Roper said the service needs to more rigorously search for cybersecurity weaknesses, and the University of California, San Diego's Stefan Savage is urging more outside scrutiny of aviation cybersecurity, since aircraft manufacturers are not always willing to admit problems.

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A job applicant being interviewed online shows a grid overlay on face. AI Used in U.K. Job Interviews to Find Best Applicants
The Telegraph (U.K.)
Charles Hymas
September 27, 2019

Consumer goods giant Unilever is among those using artificial intelligence and facial expression technology during job interviews in the U.K. to help identify the best candidates. The companies are using the technologies to analyze the language, tone, and facial expressions of candidates when they are asked a set of identical job questions which are filmed on a mobile phone or laptop. Algorithms identify the best applicants by assessing their performances in the videos against about 25,000 facial and linguistic data points compiled from previous interviews of those who have proven to be good at the job. Hirevue, the company that developed the interview system, claims it enables hiring firms to interview more candidates in the initial stage of hiring, rather than just relying on resumes.

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Young man working on a laptop in the dark. People Are Overconfident About Identifying Phishing Emails
Missouri S&T News
Sarah Potter
September 26, 2019

A study by Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) and Carnegie Mellon University scientists suggests that people may be overconfident in their ability to identify email phishing scams. Study subjects viewed a series of legitimate and phishing emails, and answered questions to rate their differentiation skills; the investigators then had them rate their own confidence in making those calls. Participants who were 90% to 99% confident they had correctly identified an email in fact only identified phishing emails correctly about 56% of the time. Missouri S&T's Casey Canfield said the computers of subjects with better metacognition usually were better protected, which implies that sending more phishing emails could potentially improve their ability to distinguish scams from authentic emails. Canfield thinks employers could improve workers' savvy in identifying phishing by regularly sending them bogus emails and providing feedback.

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Ph.D. Student Leads Research on Tool That Lets Programmers Pick Up Work on Mobile Devices
University of Waterloo News
October 2, 2019

Researchers at Canada's University of Waterloo, the University of Michigan, and Microsoft Research have developed a tool that lets coders engage with their work via mobile devices. The team developed the Mercury prototype tool under the leadership of Waterloo computer science Ph.D. student Alex Williams. Mercury scans users' current source code in real time, and automatically produces a series of microtasks programmers can immediately pick up when they want to; once users return to their desktops, revisions from the completed microtasks are integrated into their work. Mercury's design was based on inquiries that determined how coders use mobile devices for work, and what other tasks they would like done. Williams said Mercury could ease the mental challenge of resuming work after time away.

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