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Welcome to the June 22, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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People using new voting machines in Los Angeles. L.A. County Primary Voting Was Plagued With Technology Flaws
Los Angeles Times
Jaclyn Cosgrove; John Myers; Matt Stiles
June 17, 2020

A report by the Los Angeles County Registrar's Office attributes delays and long lines during the March 3 primary election to a key feature of its new electronic voting system. The electronic poll books used to register voters experienced network and capacity issues despite the availability of ample network bandwidth. In some cases, it took two hours to update the records showing a voter had cast a ballot in the election. It was impossible to download the latest data from the county's voter database because the devices were configured to stop an update if it took more than 15 minutes. The cutoff for syncing data was changed to 30 minutes that afternoon, but many poll books did not complete synchronization and continued to prompt election workers to issue provisional ballots.

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How Much Control Are People Willing to Grant to a Personal Privacy Assistant?
Carnegie Mellon University CyLab Security and Privacy Institute
Daniel Tkacik
June 18, 2020

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University's CyLab Security and Privacy Institute assessed the degree of autonomy that people would feel comfortable giving to personalized privacy assistants (PPAs). The team surveyed users on three increasingly autonomous versions of PPAs; most participants reacted positively to the first version, which would simply let users know that devices were around them, while a few said it would make them anxious. A second version that knows users' personal privacy preferences, and makes recommendations from that information, also found wide favor, while the third PPA, which would exclude users from decision-making entirely, provoked mixed reactions. CyLab's Jessica Colnago said, "We found that people are definitely interested in having some sort of assistance like that provided by a PPA, but what that assistance looks like varies across the board. In different scenarios with different people, they want different ways of interacting with the system.”

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Chinese Researchers Unveil AI That Can Turn Simple Sketches Into Fake Photorealistic Pictures
Daily Mail (U.K.)
James Pero
June 17, 2020

Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences have created an artificial intelligence (AI) that can convert simple sketches of a face into photorealistic images, extrapolating from rough and even incomplete sketches. The DeepFaceDrawing AI analyzes a drawing's details, then checks each individual feature separately against a database of facial features to construct its own image. Said the researchers, "Our key idea is to implicitly model the shape space of plausible face images and synthesize a face image in this space to approximate an input sketch. Our method essentially uses input sketches as soft constraints and is thus able to produce high-quality face images even from rough and/or incomplete sketches." The researchers said the technology aims to help users with little drawing skill produce high-quality images.

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Custom-Built to Ready-Made Photonic Systems
The Current (UC Santa Barbara)
Harrison Tasoff
June 17, 2020

Researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne have condensed a complex optical system onto a single silicon photonic chip. The team used this integrated photonics approach to create the world's smallest optical-frequency comb generator, which addresses challenges in plotting an array of equally-spaced multicolor laser light frequencies needed for efficient data transmission. The system is configured as a commercially distributed feedback laser and a silicon nitride photonic chip, reducing scale, power, and cost. Caltech's Kerry Vahala said its operation is as simple as turning on a room light. Said UCSB's John Bowers, "Low-noise integrated optical microcombs will enable a new generation of optical clocks, communications, and sensors."

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Rhanor Gillette, who simulated a sea slug brain in a computer model. Simulated Sea Slug Gets Addicted to Drug
University of Illinois News Bureau
Diana Yates
June 16, 2020

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) scientists have created a computer model of a simple brain network based on that of a sea slug, which was trained to find food. The ASIMOV simulated slug was placed in a confined setting to randomly encounter food pellets that were alternately delicious or noxious, emitting a characteristic odor to either attract or repulse the slug. ASIMOV was programmed to experience satiation as well as reward, and the addition of a rewarding but nutritionally empty pellet enticed the slug to pursue it to the exclusion of all else. Although consuming this pellet caused satiation, that sense of fullness dissipated over time, with a homeostatic plasticity mechanism causing ASIMOV to experience withdrawal. UIUC's Rhanor Gillette said, "By watching how this brain makes sense of its environment, we expect to learn more about how real-world brains work."

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Launching a drone. Research Leads to Army Drones Changing Shape Mid-Flight
U.S. Army
June 16, 2020

Researchers at the U.S. Army's Combat Capabilities Development Command's Army Research Laboratory and Texas A&M University helped create a tool that will enable autonomous aerial drones to change shape during flight. The tool can optimize the structural configuration of Future Vertical Lift vehicles while accounting for wing deformation due to fluid-structure interaction. Fluid-structure interaction analyses generally have high computational costs because they typically require coupling between a fluid and a structural solver. The researchers were able to reduce the computational cost for a single run by as much as 80% by developing a process that decouples the fluid and structural solvers, which offers further computational cost savings by allowing for additional structural configurations to be performed without reanalyzing the fluid.

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Quantum Satellite Links Extend More Than 1,000 Kilometers
IEEE Spectrum
Charles Q. Choi
June 15, 2020

A study by researchers at the University of Science and Technology of China suggests that a space-based quantum Internet may be one step closer to realization thanks to satellite experiments that connected ground stations 1,120 kilometers (695 miles) apart. In 2017, the scientists used the Micius satellite to link terrestrial sites separated by up to about 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) via photon entanglement. More recently, they engineered entanglement-based quantum cryptography, boosting the collection efficiency of the links up to fourfold. The researchers enhanced the systems used to acquire, orient toward, and track targets at both satellite and ground stations, while also upgrading the receiving and collection efficiencies of lenses and other optical equipment on the ground. The university’s Jian-Wei Pan said, "We demonstrated ... that the security is ensured even if the satellite is controlled by an adversary."

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USC Researchers Develop State-of-the-Art Biometric Security Systems
USC Viterbi School of Engineering
Rishbha Bhagi
June 15, 2020

Researchers at the University of Southern California's Information Sciences Institute have developed state-of-the-art biometric security systems for iris, face, and fingerprint recognition, under the auspices of the Biometric Authentication with Timeless Learner project. The system analyzes a biometric sample using multispectral data by shining light-emitting diode (LED) lights with different wavelengths on the sample. Machine learning algorithms analyze the collected data to differentiate between actual and spoofed biometrics. Tests performed by the John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory showed that the fingerprint and iris recognition systems were respectively 99.08% and 99.36% accurate in detecting spoofs, while the facial recognition system was 100% accurate.

Full Article
The Benefits of Slowness
Ruhr-Universitat Bochum
Meike Drießen
June 15, 2020

Neuroinformatics engineers at Ruhr-Universitat Bochum's Institute for Neural Computation in Germany have developed an algorithm that estimates an individual’s age and ethnic origin with greater than human-level accuracy. The team fed the algorithm several thousand photos of faces of different ages, sorted by age. The system disregarded features that varied between images, and only considered features that slowly changed over time. In calculating the age of the people in the photos, the algorithm outperformed even human assessment. The algorithm also estimated the correct ethnic origin of the subjects in the photos with greater than 99% probability, even though the images' average brightness was standardized, making skin color an insignificant marker for recognition.

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Tracking lions and cheetahs with GPS collars. GPS Collars for Lions, Cheetahs: How IoT, Open Source Are Protecting Rare Animals
Charles McLellan
June 15, 2020

Smart Parks, the Netherlands/U.K.-based social enterprise that offers technology solutions for wildlife protection, is testing lightweight GPS collars that can be fitted to lions and cheetahs in Liwonde, Malawi. The collars, which use LoRaWAN (a Low Power, Wide Area networking protocol) connectivity, allow for high-frequency GPS tracking and a battery life in terms of years. Liwonde National Park's Craig Reid said the collars offer near-live tracking at a lower cost than traditional satellite GPS collars. Smart Parks' Laurens de Groot said machine learning could provide "more situational awareness that leads to actionable intelligence," helping determine, for instance, optimal ranger deployment.

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Intel Tiger Lake Processors Will Thwart Future Spectre, Meltdown Attacks
Carly Page
June 15, 2020

Intel said its Tiger Lake central processing units will feature hardware-based security that foils Spectre- and Meltdown-like malware attacks. The laptop processors will incorporate Control-Flow Enforcement Technology (CET), which guards against the misuse of legitimate code through control-flow hijacking attacks, according to the chip maker. CET, co-developed by Intel and Microsoft, offers Shadow Stack (SS) and Indirect Branch Tracking (IBT). SS uses a copy of a program's intended execution flow to block unauthorized changes to an application's intended execution order, to defend against return-oriented programming attacks. IBT defends against jump/call-oriented programming attacks. CET will be available in mobile processors that use the Tiger Lake microarchitecture, as well as in future Intel desktop and server platforms.

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Amazon's 'Distance Assistants' in action. Amazon Deploys AI 'Distance Assistants' to Notify Warehouse Workers if They Get Too Close
The Verge
James Vincent
June 16, 2020

Amazon has deployed a new artificial intelligence (AI) tool to help employees follow social distancing rules. The "Distance Assistant" uses a TV screen, depth sensors, and an AI-enabled camera to track employees' movements and provide real-time feedback. Circles around employees' feet flash red on the screen if they come closer than six feet to one another, warning them to keep a safe distance apart. Amazon says the tool is a "standalone unit" that only requires power, implying it doesn’t store data about worker movements. The company plans to open source the technology so others can replicate and deploy the devices.

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ACM Gordon Bell Special Prize for High Performance Computing-Based COVID-19 Research
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