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Welcome to the November 25, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Tech Companies Step Up Fight Against 'Deepfakes'
The Wall Street Journal
Betsy Morris
November 22, 2019

Companies such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google are working to slow the spread of maliciously doctored content, known as deepfakes, ahead of the 2020 election. The tools used to create deepfake content are improving so quickly that soon it will be difficult to detect deepfakes. Google recently issued an update to its policy prohibiting the use of deepfakes in political and other advertisements, and Twitter is considering identifying manipulated photos, videos, and audio shared on its platform. Meanwhile, Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon are working with more than a half-dozen universities on a Deepfake Detection Challenge to accelerate research into new ways of detecting and preventing media manipulation to mislead others. Said Twitter’s Yoel Roth, “The risk is that these types of synthetic media and disinformation undermine the public trust and erode our ability to have productive conversations about critical issues.”

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Sundar Pichai of Google with Sycamore, its quantum computer Race Is on to Build Quantum-Proof Encryption
Financial Times
Adam Green
November 19, 2019

Experts say quantum computing could upend data security encryption systems, which rely on factoring large prime numbers—a task easily scalable with the extra power provided by quantum computers. Government agencies such as the National Security Agency and the National Institute of Standards and Technology in the U.S., as well as Government Communications Headquarters in the U.K., are working to develop post-quantum cybersecurity. Said Christophe Petit of the University of Birmingham School of Computer Science in the U.K., “The day a big quantum computer is built, all the cryptography we are using today is dead."

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Supercomputers Simulate Solar Flares to Help Physicists Understand Magnetic Reconnection
IEEE Spectrum
Mark Anderson
November 18, 2019

A team of researchers in the U.S. and France has developed a supercomputer simulation that successfully models a key part of a process that produces solar flares. The team simulated an experiment conducted in China in 2010, in which the researchers blasted a piece of aluminum with high-energy lasers and recorded the event with high-speed instruments to capture the tiny, solar flare-like explosion at nanosecond time scales. The team successfully simulated the results of the Chinese experiment using Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Titan supercomputer. Said researcher Jackson Matteucci, "We model the field generation, and we model the collision of the fields, and we model the reconnection." Even so, Matteucci added, “Analytical work is still struggling” to understand the theoretical underpinnings of the process.

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America's New Top Tech Hubs
Vincent Del Giudice; Wei Lu
November 18, 2019

This year's Bloomberg Brain Concentration Index found smaller U.S. technology hubs are flourishing, with regional college towns drawing significant numbers of workers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The Index showed these towns grew more than their peers in Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C. over the past three years. Lawrence, KS, reached 19th place on the Index on the strength of its nearness to Kansas City, and for its "youthful energy generated by a [University of Kansas] population of more than 30,000." This year's top regional city for STEM worker density growth is Boulder, CO, where the University of Colorado is located. San Jose, CA, ranked second on the Index, while University of Michigan host city Ann Arbor ranked third, Washington D.C. fourth, and Cornell University's Ithaca, NY, sixth.

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An American aircraft Army Photogrammetry Technique Makes 3D Aerial Maps in Minutes
Devin Coldewey
November 16, 2019

Researchers at the U.S. Army's Geospatial Research Laboratory in Virginia have developed a highly efficient photogrammetric method that can turn aerial imagery into accurate three-dimensional (3D) surface maps in near-real time without any human oversight. The Army’s 101st Airborne Division tested the system by flying a drone over Fort Campbell in Kentucky. The system was able to map a mock city used for training exercises. "Whether it's for soldiers or farmers, this tech delivers usable terrain and intelligence products fast," said Quinton King, a manager at TechLink, the Defense Department's commercial tech transfer organization.

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Dozens of Potential Antibiotics Discovered with Free Online App
U. of I. News Bureau
Diana Yates
November 18, 2019

University of Illinois (U of I) researchers developed a free Web app that can identify drug compounds that will destroy Gram-negative bacteria, surmounting a significant obstacle in designing effective medications. The eNTRyway app can rapidly screen potential compounds for molecular properties that will allow them to build up in Gram-negative pathogens, and show how to tweak current drugs to make them lethal against the bacteria. The researchers used the app to identify a medication already used to fight Gram-positive infections, and repurposed it to combat Gram-negative bacteria with the addition of an amine in just a few weeks. U of I's Paul Hergenrother said eNTRyway will accelerate the drug-discovery process to help counter the growing challenge of antibiotic-resistant infections. The researchers already have identified more than 60 antibiotics that are effective against Gram-positive bacteria, but which can be transformed into drugs to fight Gram-negative infections.

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Mobile Mapping More Accurate With a Novel Algorithm
University of Twente (Netherlands)
K.W. Wesselink
November 19, 2019

A researcher at the University of Twente in the Netherlands developed an algorithm that improves the accuracy of surveyed mobile mapping imaging products. The algorithm can compensate for measurement errors introduced from erroneous satellite-based positioning, which usually occurs in urban areas. Mobile mapping includes all forms of geospatial data acquisition using a mobile platform carrying one or more sensor systems. The algorithm uses aerial images to make the acquired data more accurate. The algorithm recognizes objects from an overhead view, but also from a street view. Identified objects are used to establish thousands of links between the data sets, which enables a mathematical procedure to correct the mobile mapping data.

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IBM's Project Debater, an artificially-intelligent robot designed to debate humans, recently squared off against Harish Natarajan, a grand finalist in the 2016 World Debating Championships IBM Computer Struggles in Cambridge Debate on Dangers of AI
Hanna Ziady; Rachel Metz
November 22, 2019

An IBM computer failed to equal human debaters at Cambridge University in the first debate by the Cambridge Union to feature artificial intelligence (AI), focusing on whether AI is more threatening than beneficial. IBM’s Project Debater system delivered each participating team's four-minute opening address, using submissions sourced beforehand from more than 1,000 people; humans delivered rebuttals and closing arguments. The system could determine whether submissions were for or against the motion, and spot redundancies, given that people will have made the same arguments using different terms. However, the debate highlighted AI's limitations, with the computer not always correctly structuring sentences, sometimes failing to convincingly argue assertions, or making wrong or overly simplistic conclusions. European debate champion Harish Natarajan said Project Debate's contentions lacked "empirical depth," adding that the AI could synthesize a broad range of perspectives.

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City traffic How the Road Network Determines Traffic Capacity
ETH Zurich
Michael Keller
November 19, 2019

Researchers at ETH Zurich in Switzerland have developed rules for predicting traffic capacity by analyzing urban road networks, which will allow urban planners to predict how changes will impact traffic density. The researchers examined billions of vehicle observations from stationary traffic detectors in 41 cities, then simplified these datasets to calculate each city's traffic capacity. The researchers compared the cities' traffic capacities and sought out characteristics to explain how they differed. Certain topological properties relating to the road system and bus network explained about 90% of these differences, including road network density; the redundancy of the network in providing alternative routes to specific destinations; frequency of traffic signals; and density of bus and tram lines that vie for space and rights of way with vehicular traffic. ETH Zurich's Lukas Ambuhl said, "We can use a city's infrastructure to predict the critical point, and by extension, the traffic capacity of the network."

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Australia Releases Draft IoT Cybersecurity Code of Practice
November 19, 2019

The Australian government has issued a draft code of practice for Internet of Things (IoT) cybersecurity, with a public consultation to run until March 1, 2020. The voluntary Code of Practice: Securing the Internet of Things for Consumers will apply to all IoT devices in the country, including "everyday smart devices that connect to the Internet, such as smart TVs, watches, and home speakers." The code is founded on 13 principles, with the greatest priority given to a ban on duplicated default or weak passwords, the deployment of a vulnerability disclosure protocol with device manufacturers, service providers, and app developers, to have a public point of contact, and the provision of secure updates to software and firmware. Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton said, "We're releasing the Code of Practice for public consultation because we want to ensure that the expectations of all Australians are met regarding cybersecurity."

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UNSW researchers have combined 3D printing with a light-controlled process to create a 3D Printing Technique Produces 'Living' 4D Materials
UNSW Newsroom
Caroline Tang
November 19, 2019

Researchers at Australia's University of New South Wales (UNSW) Sydney and New Zealand's University of Auckland have combined three-dimensional (3D) and four-dimensional (4D) printing with a chemical process designed to create polymers to generate "living" resin. The researchers' controlled polymerization technique utilizes visible light to produce an environmentally friendly plastic or polymer. UNSW's Cerille Boyer said, "Our new method ... allows us to control the architecture of the polymers and tune the mechanical properties of the materials prepared by our process ... [and] also gives us access to 4D printing and allows the material to be transformed or functionalized." UNSW's Nathaniel Corrigan added that the system can finely control the 3D-printed material's molecules, so it can reversibly change shape and its chemical/physical properties under certain conditions. The researchers said the technique could be used to generate self-repairing and reusable objects, as well as biomedicines.

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Predicting People's Driving Personalities
MIT News
Adam Conner-Simons
November 18, 2019

A team led by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) developed a system that classifies drivers' behavior, in order to determine whether autonomous vehicles (AVs) can be programmed to gauge other drivers' personalities in order to predict other vehicles' behaviors. The researchers employed social value orientation to quantify a person's selfishness or cooperativeness, and mapped out real-time driving trajectories for driverless vehicles based on that measurement. The researchers designed and tested an algorithm in scenarios of merging lanes and making unprotected left turns, and demonstrated that they could better predict other cars' behaviors. CSAIL's Wilko Schwarting said, "Creating more human-like behavior in autonomous vehicles (AVs) is fundamental for the safety of passengers and surrounding vehicles, since behaving in a predictable manner enables humans to understand and appropriately respond to the AV's actions."

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Google Assistant on Android Devices Could Be Tricked Into Taking Photos, Videos
Alfred Ng
November 19, 2019

Researchers at cybersecurity company Checkmarx reported flaws in the Google Assistant on Android devices that would allow hackers to take photos and videos without users' knowledge. The flaws affected Android devices using app permissions; a demonstration showed a malicious weather app would appear to give forecasts while instructing Google Assistant to shoot photos or video via a background voice request. Checkmarx alerted Google and Samsung to the issue in July, and the companies released a patch in a Play Store update. Checkmarx's Erez Yalon said the vulnerability also could have permitted location tracking and eavesdropping, since most photos automatically log global positioning system coordinates in image metadata.

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Rice University's Computer Science Department is Growing
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