Welcome to the August 28, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Paul Mockapetris Mockapetris Receives ACM Software System Award
USC Viterbi School of Engineering
Joanna Maniti
August 27, 2020

ACM has named Paul Mockapetris to receive the 2019 ACM Software System Award for his development of the Domain Name System (DNS) while working at the University of Southern California's Information Sciences Institute (ISI). Mockapetris created the first Simple Mail Transfer Protocol email server, and proposed the DNS architecture and its initial deployment in 1983. DNS is the basis for dozens of applications, and all online users rely on DNS whenever accessing a Web URL or sending email, because the system converts the first part of the URL to the numeric address for pinpointing the Web page. ISI's John Heidemann said, "It's part of everything from your local pizza store's website to the infrastructure that sends every email. The basic protocol Mockapetris established is still there."

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Arnold and Steven Spielberg Computer Pioneer Arnold Spielberg, Steven's Dad, Dies at 103
Associated Press
Andrew Dalton
August 26, 2020

Computing engineer Arnold Spielberg, who helped pioneer the development of the personal computer (PC) and is father to filmmaker Steven Spielberg, has died at 103. Spielberg and Charles Propster designed the GE-225 mainframe computer in the late 1950s at General Electric, which enabled Dartmouth College computer scientists to develop the programming language BASIC. The coding language would prove crucial to the advent of PCs in the 1970s and 1980s. Steven Spielberg said, "When I see a PlayStation, when I look at a cellphone—from the smallest calculator to an iPad—I look at my dad and I say, 'My dad and a team of geniuses started that’."

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Google, Apple Downplay Possible Election Threat in Their Covid-19 Tracing Software
Michael del Castillo
August 27, 2020

A new study suggests Google-Apple Exposure Notification software, designed to alert users when they have been in contact with a Covid-19-infected individual without identifying that individual, could be used to scare people away from voting. The Google-Apple Privacy Preserving Contact Tracing service allows authorities to allocate authentication codes so one cellphone can notify another when its owner is infected. The investigators warned those codes could be illegally acquired, duplicated, and broadcast, through either a compromised mobile application with access to the handset's Bluetooth, or via physical attack using Bluetooth transmitters near high-population areas. The lack of a central repository collecting those codes means they could be used to "expose" millions of users in hundreds of locations concurrently, and detecting or preventing such an attack while in progress would be impossible. The authors said this bug could be exploited to undermine an election via voter suppression, but Google and Apple say app stores have built-in detection to identify and remove malware.

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An F-16 Fighting Falcon. F-16 Pilot Took on AI in a Dogfight. Here's Who Won
Aaron Pressman
August 20, 2020

The U.S. Defense Department’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recently hosted virtual "AlphaDogFight Trials," in which an artificial intelligence (AI) program easily beat a U.S. Air Force officer in a simulated dogfight. The AI won all five rounds of the trials in under two minutes. Each F-16 aircraft was armed with a laser simulating the use of machine guns, and the human pilot wore a virtual reality headset that made it appear as though he were in the cockpit of a real plane. DARPA's Col. Daniel Javorsek said the results come with "plenty of caveats and disclaimers" and do not mean the program could have won in actual combat. The winning program from defense contractor Heron Systems, which was able to aim its guns more accurately than the human pilot, beat out programs developed by the Georgia Institute of Technology and Lockheed Martin, among others.

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Amazon Launches Grocery Store with 'Smart' Shopping Carts, Alexa Guides
The Washington Post
Hamza Shaban
August 27, 2020

Amazon on Thursday opened its first Fresh grocery store in the Woodland Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles, featuring no checkout lines, smart shopping carts, and Alexa virtual assistant-powered guides. Shoppers sign into the Amazon app and put items in a sensor-equipped Dash Cart that identifies each item as it is added and enables customers to use a dedicated checkout lane to pay for those groceries. The store also is integrated with Alexa and Alexa shopping lists, while Echo Show devices can help shoppers navigate the outlet. Unlike the smaller Amazon Go markets, Fresh customers can choose between smart or traditional shopping carts, pay at a checkout lane with cashiers if they prefer, and ask Alexa guides for help. Forrester Research's Sucharita Kodali said, "Obviously, they thought that building something from scratch would be better than to try to retrofit a Whole Foods store."

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A drone in aerial navigation training. CMU Researchers Train Autonomous Drones Using Cross-Modal Simulated Data
Carnegie Mellon University
Virginia Alvino Young
August 25, 2020

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) developed a two-step approach to teaching autonomous drones perception and action, providing a safe way to deploy drones trained entirely on simulated data into real-world course navigation. In the first step, the researchers used a photorealistic simulator to train the drone on image perception by creating an environment including the drone, a soccer field, and elevated red square gates positioned randomly to create a track. Thousands of randomly generated drone and gate configurations were used to create a large dataset employed in the second step to teach the drone perception of positions and orientations in space. Said CMU's Rogerio Bonatti, "The robot is not learning to recreate going through any specific track. Rather, by strategically directing the simulated drone, it's learning all of the elements and types of movements to race autonomously."

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Researchers on Path to Build Practical Quantum Computer
Optical Society of America
August 25, 2020

Researchers at Duke University and the University of Maryland have created a hardware design for a fully connected 32-quantum bit (qubit) trapped-ion quantum computer register that runs at cryogenic temperatures, an advance toward practical quantum systems. Duke's Junki Kim said the design is the latest effort to directly address challenges of long-term reliability. The design traps ions in a localized ultra-high-vacuum enclosure within a closed-cycle cryostat cooled to 4 degrees Kelvin (-452.47 degrees Fahrenheit) with minimal vibrations; laser-beam instability was eliminated by using a photonic crystal fiber to link various parts of the qubit gate-driving Raman optical system. The system can execute automated on-demand loading of ion qubit chains, and perform simple qubit manipulations using microwave fields, the researchers claim.

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A grid of photos of horses on a screen all wearing hats. Rewriting the Rules of Machine-Generated Art
MIT News
Kim Martineau
August 18, 2020

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have shown it is possible to edit deep layers of neural networks to generate images never seen before. Generative adversarial networks (GANs) typically are trained on massive datasets, but MIT’s study suggests large datasets are not essential to the process. Said MIT's David Bau, "We’re like prisoners to our training data. GANs only learn patterns that are already in our data, but here I can manipulate a condition in the model to create horses with hats. It’s like editing a genetic sequence to create something entirely new, like inserting the DNA of a firefly into a plant to make it glow in the dark.” The tool has immediate applications in computer graphics, and in teaching expert AI systems to recognize rare features and events through data augmentation.

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An illustration of lines of code as viewed through microscope. NIST Calls for Standards to Improve Forensic Capabilities in the Cloud
Mariam Baksh
August 27, 2020

A report from the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) details how cloud data storage impedes law enforcement and auditors' forensic investigations, while cloud providers benefit from a lack of standards. NIST gap analyses of cloud computing standards have long targeted interoperability and compliance auditing as priority areas. NIST's Martin Herman said, "If there were more standards, including interoperability standards ... it would be easier for outside forensic investigators to do the work instead." The report also cites as a drawback to such investigations the fact that data stored in the cloud, and not in physical storage media, cannot be seized by investigators. NIST identified 62 challenges to forensics in cloud environments that would require technological, organizational, or legal solutions to correct.

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An amphibious self-driving bus being tested on Japan’s Yamba Dam. Japanese Town to Test Autonomous Amphibious Bus
IEEE Spectrum
John Boyd
August 27, 2020

The Japanese town of Naganohara will test a consortium's autonomous amphibious bus in a trial beginning in December and running through March 2021. The Saitama Institute of Technology (SIT) is developing the driverless technologies to be used in the bus based on the open source Autoware platform for autonomous cars, and on controllers for modified joystick-driven Joy Cars for disabled people. Autoware will be installed in a personal computer, which ingests data from LiDAR, cameras, sensors, and the Global Navigation Satellite System, while a controller area network transmits the data to a vehicle motion controller. SIT's Daishi Watabe said the autonomous control system will manage vehicle water-in/water-out location recognition; sensor stabilization to offset ship rolling; self-localization techniques to handle changes in surrounding three-dimensional views; and sonar-based obstacle avoidance. Artificial intelligence also will assist in obstacle detection, self-localization, and path planning.

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Artist’s rendition of an array of microscopic robots. Army of a Million Microscopic Robots Created to Explore on Tiny Scale
New Scientist
Layal Liverpool
August 26, 2020

University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) researchers have developed microscopic robots that move by themselves, using an actuator fashioned from a thin layer of platinum. Each robot uses four such actuators as legs, while dorsal solar cells allow the legs to bend in response to sequenced laser light and drive the bodies forward. UPenn's Marc Miskin and colleagues mass-produced more than 1 million of the microrobots, using a process similar to that used in manufacturing circuit boards. Miskin said the microrobots demonstrate the possibility of developing and mass-producing devices with on-board electronics. Next, Miskin said, "We're developing things where we'll have sensing capabilities, we'll have programmability, stuff like that."

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Declarative Logic Programming: Theory, Systems, and Applications
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