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Welcome to the November 16, 2020 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Blockchain Voting Risks Undetectable Nation-Scale Failures: MIT Researchers
November 16, 2020

A study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers labelled assertions that Internet- and blockchain-based voting would boost election security "misleading," adding that they would "greatly increase the risk of undetectable, nation-scale election failures." The MIT team analyzed previous research on the security risks of online and offline voting systems, and found blockchain solutions are vulnerable to scenarios where election results might have been erroneously or deliberately changed. The MIT researchers proposed five minimal election security mandates: ballot secrecy to deter intimidation or vote-buying; software independence to verify results with something like a paper trail; voter-verifiable ballots, where voters themselves witness that their vote has been correctly recorded; contestability, where someone who spots an error can persuade others that the error is real; and an auditing process.

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University of Chicago scientists programmed an IBM quantum computer to become a type of material called an exciton condensate. UChicago Scientists Turn IBM Computer Into Quantum Material
November 13, 2020

University of Chicago (UChicago) scientists said they have transformed IBM's largest quantum computer, Rochester, into a quantum material called an exciton condensate. Such condensates conduct energy with almost no loss, which UChicago's David Mazziotti said is significant because "it shows you can use quantum computers as programmable experiments themselves." The UChicago researchers wrote algorithms that treated each of Rochester's quantum bits (qubits) as an exciton. A quantum computer functions by entangling its qubits once the computer is active, so the entire system becomes an exciton condensate. Said Mazziotti, "Having the ability to program a quantum computer to act like an exciton condensate may be very helpful for inspiring or realizing the potential of exciton condensates, like energy-efficient materials."

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A video gamer. Computer Scientists Launch Counteroffensive Against Video Game Cheaters
UT Dallas News Center
Kim Horner
November 13, 2020

University of Texas at Dallas (UT Dallas) computer scientists developed a countermeasure against video game cheaters. Previous research depended on decrypted game logs to spot cheating after the fact, while the UT Dallas team's approach analyzes encrypted data traffic to and from a central server in real time. Twenty UT Dallas students downloaded the Counter-Strike game and three software cheats. Researchers monitoring their data traffic identified patterns indicating cheating; that data was fed to a machine learning model to train it to predict cheating. The researchers said they have adjusted their model to work on larger populations of gamers.

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Researchers Can Detect Early Onset of Suicidal Thoughts
The Jerusalem Post
Aaron Reich; Hannah Brown; Jeremy Sharon
November 11, 2020

Researchers from Israel's Technion-Institute of Technology and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have developed a technological means of detecting early onset of suicidal ideation and tendencies in the general population. The system integrates machine learning, natural language processing, and psychological and psychiatric analytical tools with a layered neural network. The scientists analyzed more than 80,000 Facebook posts written by adults in the U.S., comparing the language they used with scores on diverse psychological indices. Technion's Roi Reichart said, "Attempts to predict suicide attempts based on demographic, psychological, and medical data have not been particularly successful despite five decades of intensive research. Therefore, we realized that we had to approach the challenge from different directions simultaneously.”

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An electric car. Electric-Car Batteries Get Boost From AI
The Wall Street Journal
Suzanne Oliver
November 3, 2020

Researchers are using artificial intelligence (AI) to accelerate electric-car battery upgrades. Experts expect AI’s role in battery development will help electric vehicles (EVs) reach price parity with traditional combustion-engine cars within five years. AI enables scientists to pinpoint the sweet spot between charging speeds, charging currents, charging frequency, and battery life. General Motors' Danielle Cory said, "The robust charging performance of our EVs that simultaneously extends the life of our batteries would not be achievable without AI." AI also helps shorten testing times for experimental batteries by quickly analyzing massive datasets to predict performance faster.

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The EHang 216 autonomous aerial vehicle. Drone Taxis, Bags of Rice Take Flight in Downtown Seoul
Youkyung Lee
November 11, 2020

An autonomous aerial delivery vehicle was tested in Seoul, South Korea, last week, a drone from Chinese company Ehang that carried 70 kilograms (154 pounds) of rice bags. Also tested was a drone taxi. Ehang's Bill Choi said the Ehang 216 passenger drone can fly for up to 30 minutes with a fully-charged battery; the company’s drones already are in use in China for deliveries, firefighting, and tourism. South Korea is investing approximately $22 million through 2022 to develop what it’s calling the K-Drone System, part of that nation’s plan to launch flying autonomous vehicles in its skies by 2025. South Korea transport ministry official Seo Jeong Seok said flying cars initially will be controlled by an onboard human pilot.

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Massachusetts Earns Top Marks for Technology-Focused Economy
U.S. News & World Report
Kaia Hubbard
November 12, 2020

The Milken Institute's biennial State Technology and Science Index names Massachusetts, Colorado, and California as having the greatest science and technology capabilities. The report compares states on their "capacity for achieving prosperity through scientific discovery and technological innovation" and considers why some states are more effective in terms of job creation and wage growth in high-tech industries. Said Milken's Kevin Klowden, "If states can adapt to this new reality, if they are able to function in this new environment, it's going to make a huge difference for them and for their economies." Massachusetts was No. 1 in science in technology capabilities, a ranking it has held since 2002. Colorado ranked second and California third, the latter up one spot since the 2018 report. The report indicated that New Jersey and New Mexico have experienced the greatest gains since 2018.

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Study Outlines Steps Higher Education Should Take to Prepare Quantum Workforce
Rochester Institute of Technology
Luke Auburn
November 11, 2020

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder and the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) interviewed managers at more than 20 quantum technology companies across the U.S. to determine how colleges and universities could update their curricula to prepare the workforce for quantum technology jobs. The researchers found that companies still look for candidates with traditional STEM degrees, but also prefer that candidates understand fundamental concepts in quantum information science and technology. RIT's Ben Zwickl noted that "many positions don't need to have deep expertise, but students could really benefit from a one- or two-semester introductory sequence that teaches the foundational concepts, some of the hardware implementations, how the algorithms work, what a qubit is, and things like that." The researchers suggest that colleges and universities offer introductory, multidisciplinary courses with few prerequisites for software engineering, computer science, physics, and other STEM majors.

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Using facial recognition on bears. Training Facial Recognition on Some New Furry Friends: Bears
The New York Times
Lesley Evans Ogden
November 11, 2020

Silicon Valley software developers Ed Miller and Mary Nguyen have trained facial recognition technology to monitor individual bears, as part of a project called BearID. They built on dog hipsterizer, a program that identified the faces, eyes, and noses of dogs in photos and placed glasses and mustaches on them, which worked reasonably well on bear faces. Miller and Nguyen produced a training dataset for the deep learning program, using more than 4,000 photos featuring bears, then manually highlighting each bear's eyes, nose, and ears with boxes. Melanie Clapham at Canada's University of Victoria said once trained, the system operated unsupervised to detect differences between known bears from 935 photos; it identified them with 84% accuracy.

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Walmart, Cruise Launch Pilot to Deliver Orders via Self-Driving Cars
Kyle Wiggers
November 10, 2020

General Motors-backed autonomous vehicle startup Cruise has announced a partnership with Walmart to deliver orders from a Scottsdale, AZ, Walmart store to local customers' homes, starting early next year. Customers will be able to place orders to the store and have them delivered in one of Cruise's electric self-driving Chevy Bolts. If the pilot goes well, a Cruise spokesperson said, the company will mull launching on-demand delivery with other retailers in the future. Walmart has forged driverless vehicle delivery partnerships with other automakers and startups. Also, through an alliance with Postmates and Ford, Walmart stores in Miami-Dade County, FL, are delivering goods using prototype self-driving cars.

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PLATYPUS: Vulnerabilities Discovered in Intel Processors
Graz University of Technology (Austria)
Christoph Reid
November 10, 2020

Security researchers from Austria's Graz University of Technology, Germany's Helmholtz Center for Information Security, and the U.K.'s University of Birmingham discovered new "PLATYPUS" side-channel attack vulnerabilities in Intel processors. The investigators exploited the Running Average Power Limit (RAPL) interface built into Intel and AMD central processing units for monitoring and regulating energy consumption. RAPL is configured to log consumption even without administrative rights, allowing readout of measured values without authorization. The team also exploited Intel's security function Software Guard Extensions (SGX) functionality, which shunts data and critical programs to a secure enclave. The researchers made the processor execute certain commands tens of thousands of times within an SGX enclave, while RAPL measured their power consumption; fluctuations in the measured values enabled reconstruction of data and cryptographic keys. The team notified Intel and AMD about the vulnerabilities, and the companies have developed corrective updates.

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AI-Directed Robotic Hand Learns How to Grasp
IEEE Spectrum
Michelle Hampson
November 6, 2020

Researchers at Germany's FZI Forschungszentrum Informatik are teaching a robot to grasp objects of different shapes and hardness, using artificial neurons arranged in a spiking neural network (SNN). The robotic system trains its neural net to better model system and object motions, then grasps items more autonomously by adapting to the motion in real time. The system utilizes a Schunk SVH 5-finger hand, and the SNN is divided into sub-networks, one controlling each finger as another governs grasping movement; a neural circuit in each finger detects contact with an object using motor current and joint velocity, which triggers a controller to regulate finger exertion. FZI's Juan Camilo Vasquez Tieck said the ultimate goal is "a system that can perform grasping similar to humans, without intensive planning for contact points or intense stability analysis, and [that is] able to adapt to different objects using visual and haptic feedback."

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Two-Thirds of Software Developers Have Increased Use of Low-Code Tools
Information Age
Aaron Hurst
November 12, 2020

A survey by software company Nuxeo found that 41% of software developers want over half of their organization's app development processes to be based on low-code solutions by 2022. The developers report facing increased pressure to build and launch content-based applications quickly, with 70% of respondents noting the pandemic has made digital transformation more of a priority. However, the survey reveals nearly half (47%) of respondents do not have the low-code tools necessary to build applications fast enough to meet deadlines. Forty-three percent of those polled said it takes more than three months to build a typical content-based application, and 44% said long time frames prompted their organization to table application projects. Fifty-five percent said they have been encouraged by their employers to increase use of low-code development tools, but 61% said they use them only occasionally or rarely.

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Conversational UX Design: A Practitioner's Guide to the Natural Conversation Framework
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