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Welcome to the July 27, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Dartmouth-Industry Collaborations Improve Computer Graphics
Dartmouth College
July 24, 2020

Dartmouth College researchers and industry partners have developed two distinct software methods that add realism to illumination in computer-generated images, focusing on real-time graphics which must maintain the illusion of interactivity as scenes change in response to user movements. Both techniques utilize ray tracing. The reservoir-based spatiotemporal importance resampling method developed with NVIDIA reuses rays traced in neighboring pixels and in prior frames to produce realistic lighting and shadows from millions of artificial light sources. The second method, developed with video game publisher Activision, details the evolution of its UberBake system to portray subtle lighting shifts in response to player interactions.

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The U.S. Capitol, in Washington DC. Tech Execs Urge Washington to Accelerate AI Adoption for National Security
Khari Johnson
July 22, 2020

Technology company CEOs have issued 35 recommendations to Congress through the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI) for maintaining global AI supremacy. Recommendations include establishing a National Reserve Digital Corps modeled on military reserve corps, enabling machine learning practitioners to contribute to government projects on a part-time basis. NSCAI also urged the founding of an accredited U.S. Digital Services Academy, whose graduates would commit to five years of civil service. Other recommendations include training State Department workers in emerging technologies like AI that "define global engagement strategies," and encouraging the Defense Department to adopt AI systems for robotic process automation and similar applications.

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Apple Starts Giving 'Hacker-Friendly' iPhones to Top Bug Hunters
Zack Whittaker
July 22, 2020

Apple has begun loaning special "hacker-friendly" iPhones to vetted researchers in order to help them find and report security flaws that the company can fix as part of the iOS Security Research Device program. These iPhones have custom-built iOS software with features ordinary models lack, including Secure Shell access; a root shell to run custom commands with the highest access to the software; and debugging tools that allow researchers to run their code more easily and better understand what is happening under the surface. Participating hackers also will be able to access extensive documentation, as well as a forum where Apple engineers will answer questions and provide feedback. Apple hopes the program will help trusted security researchers find undiscovered vulnerabilities deep inside its software.

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A Speedier Solution for Molecular Biomedical Research
The Harvard Gazette
Juan Siliezar
July 24, 2029

Doctors, medical researchers, and quantum physicists from Boston’s Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School have developed an algorithm that analyzes nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy readings using quantum computers. The team combined quantum computing and classical machine learning in creating the hybrid algorithm. The proof-of-concept theoretically speeds a process that can take days on a classical computing system to minutes on quantum systems using only 50 to 100 quantum bits. The researchers envision it as an initial application for near-future intermediate quantum computers. Tests demonstrated the algorithm's ability to find simple molecules.

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Mechanical engineer Gih-Keong Lau with the drone prototype. Drone Inspired by Fastest Bird Is Mix of Paraglider, Airplane, Helicopter
Jason Murdock
July 22, 2020

An international research team led by the National University of Singapore has created a prototype flapping-wing ornithopter designed after the aerobatic maneuvers of the swift to hover, glide, and dive with greater capability than current quadcopter drones. The drone is engineered to swoop into "cluttered" environments filled with people, and can come to a quick stop to avoid collisions. The University of South Australia's Javaan Chahl said the drone can save energy by flying in a large circle, opt to hover when necessary, land in hover mode, and soar up to a perch. Chahl said, "Essentially, the ornithopter drone is a combination of a paraglider, airplane, and helicopter."

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Scientists Build Model to Detect Early Signs of Depression in Text
University of Alberta
Katie Willis
July 23, 2020

Scientists at Canada's University of Alberta (UAlberta) have created a machine learning model that can identify linguistic clues indicating early signs of depression in written text, like Twitter messages. The team developed the English-language model from writing samples by individuals who identify as depressed in online depression forums; the algorithm was trained to detect depressive language in tweets. UAlberta's Nawshad Farruque said, "This is the first study to show that depressive language has a specific linguistic representation. We demonstrate that it is possible to identify it, transfer it, and further use it for depressive language detection tasks."

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BadPower Attack Corrupts Fast Chargers to Melt or Set Your Device on Fire
Catalin Cimpanu
July 20, 2020

Chinese security researchers from Tencent's Xuanwu Lab said they can corrupt the firmware of fast chargers to cause damage to the items they charge. The BadPower exploit alters the default charging setting to deliver more voltage than the receiving device can manage; the technique needs no prompts or interactions, and the attacker only has to connect an attack rig to the fast charger, wait a few seconds, then leave, having corrupted the firmware. When the user connects their infected device to the fast charger, the malware modifies the charger's firmware, and the charger will overload any subsequently linked devices, melting or even setting them on fire. The Tencent team found that although updating device firmware can eliminate the BadPower vulnerability, this option is lacking in many fast-charging chips. The researchers alerted all affected vendors and the Chinese National Vulnerabilities Database, suggesting tougher firmware safeguards and deployment of overload protection to charged devices.

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Amazon's delivery robot on the job. Meet Scout: Amazon Is Taking Its Prime Delivery Robots to the South
USA Today
Dalvin Brown
July 22, 2020

Amazon has announced the deployment of its Scout autonomous delivery system to Atlanta, GA, and Franklin, TN, following year-long pilots elsewhere. The company in January 2019 launched Scout, an electric delivery robot, in the Seattle region before expanding to Irvine, CA, in August. The rovers can navigate around pets, pedestrians, and other objects on sidewalks; they are engineered to travel at a walking pace, and will initially be accompanied by an Amazon employee. The carriers help to reduce human-to-human contact during the coronavirus pandemic. Amazon Scout's Sean Scott said the service has helped the company fulfill growing customer demand during the crisis. The Atlanta and Franklin rollouts are intended to extend the service to diverse neighborhoods with different climates than those in which the robots currently operate.

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Google's virus app on a smartphone. Google Promises Privacy with Virus App but Can Still Collect Location Data
The New York Times
Natasha Singer; Aaron Krolik
July 20, 2020

Despite Google's promise that its free smartphone software preserves privacy and does not track user locations, governments adopting it for coronavirus-tracing applications were surprised to learn that location-setting must be active for the software to work with Android phones. Human rights groups and technologists have warned that aggressive data collection and security flaws in apps imperil the privacy of hundreds of millions of people. Google's Pete Voss said virus-alert apps using Google's software employ Bluetooth scanning signals to detect smartphones that come into close proximity with one another without pinpointing their locations. There are concerns that although Google and Apple prohibit government virus apps from tracking users, Google may determine and use device locations of Android app users, depending on their settings. Alexandra Dmitrienko at Germany's University of Wurzburg suggested governments should pressure Google to stop requiring Android users of virus-alert apps to activate location.

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Refugee camps. AI Estimates Size of Remote Refugee Camps Using Satellite Data
IEEE Spectrum
Michelle Hampson
July 20, 2020

Old Dominion University researchers funded by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency have created a new machine learning artificial intelligence (AI) that can extrapolate the size and population of remote refugee camps from satellite data with greater precision and accuracy. The AI deconstructs images into arbitrary segments, extracting spectral and spatial information while filters classify the data at the pixel scale in a fully convolutional network (FCN) model. The researchers trained and tested the algorithm on satellite data across two time periods in 2016 and 2017. Their FCN model was up to 4.49% more accurate and up to 41.99% more precise than several others. Old Dominion's Jiang Li said, "Our model is generic and can be adapted to other applications such as flood and hurricane damage assessment, urban change detection, et cetera."

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'Quantum Rainbow'—Photons of Switching Colors Allow Room-Temperature Quantum Computing
Purdue University News
July 20, 2020

Engineers at Purdue University have developed a quantum random walk method that could eventually allow computers to sift through data at incredibly fast speeds. A random walk involves an agent randomly moving to the right or left at each time interval, while a quantum agent can move to right and left simultaneously at each step. Purdue's Andrew Weiner said the new technique employs photons at specific colors or frequencies, which he described as "the quantum walk of the rainbow." The photons randomly change colors in a quantum manner during the walk, and this method can be conducted at room temperature because it uses photons rather than superconducting quantum bits. Performing experiments with integrated photonics and other elements used in lightwave or optical communication also reduces costs and adds compatibility with fiber-optics communications infrastructure.

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Finding security vulnerabilities in a smart city. Why E-Mobility Is the 'Wild West' of Cybersecurity
Financial Times
Sooraj Shah
July 19, 2020

E-mobility raises serious cybersecurity issues, and the Coalfire consultancy's Andy Barratt described the technology as being like the Wild West in terms of cybersecurity. The full range of e-mobility technology can have vulnerabilities, and Barratt said the more forward-thinking companies have dedicated security units. F-Secure Consulting's Vic Harkness envisions malefactors exploiting e-mobility weaknesses to wreak havoc, like causing high-speed vehicle collisions or localized traffic jams, suggesting cybersecurity researchers' unfamiliarity with e-mobility vehicles compounds the risk. Several experts have urged baking security into e-mobility design from the outset, and Andrew Tsonchev at the Darktrace cybersecurity group said manufacturers should prioritize security and cooperate with each other. Said Harkness, "If a vendor discovers a vulnerability within one of their systems, a framework should be in place whereby this information can be shared with other vendors."

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