Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers found the mobile voting Voatz app piloted in the U.S. contains bugs that hackers could exploit to alter, block, or expose how users are voting. The Voatz platform combines biometrics like cellphone-based facial recognition and hardware-backed keystores to deliver end-to-end encrypted and voter-verifiable ballots, and employs blockchain as a tamperproof electronic ledger to store voting results. Critics of mobile or online voting warn the app opens up the possibility of attacks associated with infiltrating voters’ systems with malware, or infecting computers in the elections office that manage and count ballots. Jeremy Epstein of ACM’s U.S. Technology Policy Committee said, “Any election official using Voatz products would be well advised to cancel their plans, before a stealthy attack in a real election compromises democracy.”
More info: Computerworld, Lucas Mearian
Researchers led by the University of Oxford in the U.K. used artificial intelligence to generate accurate machine learning emulator algorithms for accelerating simulations billions of times, for all scientific disciplines. The neural network-based emulators absorb the inputs and outputs of a full simulation, seeking patterns and learning to guess what the model would do with new inputs while avoiding the need to run the full simulation many times. The Deep Emulator Network Search (DENSE) method randomly inserts computation layers between network inputs and outputs and trains the system with the limited data, so added layers that improve performance are more likely to end up in future variations. DENSE-produced emulators for 10 simulations in physics, astronomy, geology, and climate science were 100,000 to 2 billion times faster than the models with the addition of specialized graphical processing chips—and were highly accurate.
More info here: Science, Matthew Hutson
White House officials have proposed boosting federal funding for developing artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing, which defense officials believe will be critical to future national security. The plan would raise funding for AI research at the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency from $50 million to $249 million, and at the National Science Foundation (NSF) from about $500 million to $850 million. The Trump administration also pledged to double funding for non-Defense Department AI and quantum computing research by 2022. The NSF plans to use $50 million of the new funding to train AI experts, while the Department of Energy hopes to use $25 million to build a national “quantum Internet” connecting its 17 research laboratories.
More info here: The New York Times, Cade Metz
Chinese scientists freely released the genetic sequence of a coronavirus 10 days after the first reported case, to help researchers worldwide better understand and combat the pathogen. After the disclosure, Purdue University’s Andrew Mesecar instructed his laboratory to analyze the genome, while researchers at the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s Rocky Mountain Laboratories asked a company to convert the information from a string of letters on a computer screen into DNA for research. The Purdue scientists are about to scale up production of experimental anti-coronavirus drugs, while Northwestern University researchers have ordered the synthesis of about 12 viral genome segments to facilitate development of drugs, vaccines, and rapid diagnosis methods. Rocky Mountain Laboratories’ Michael Letko said, “This is one of the first times we’re getting to see an outbreak of a new virus and have the scientific community sharing their data almost in real time, rather than have to go through the classic route of going through the journals.”
More info here: The Washington Post, Carolyn Y. Johnson
Researchers at Finland’s University of Jyvaskyla have taught computers to identify individuals by their dance style. Their original intent was to use machine learning and motion-capture technology to determine the musical genre subjects were listening to, based on motion-captured dance movements; instead, the system correctly identified which individuals were dancing 94% of the time. The researchers think the implications are more valuable to human musicality than to applications like surveillance. Jyvaskyla’s Emily Carlson said, “We have a lot of new questions to ask, like whether our movement signatures stay the same across our lifespan, whether we can detect differences between cultures based on these movement signatures, and how well humans are able to recognize individuals from their dance movements compared to computers.”
More info here: University of Jyvaskyla (Finland)
Researchers at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) and China’s Harbin Engineering University have created an artificial intelligence (AI) system that analyzes students’ emotions based on video recordings of their facial expressions to measure their engagement level in a class. The AI system was tested in a classroom of toddlers in Japan and a classroom of university students in Hong Kong. While the visual analytics system was successful in detecting obvious emotions like happiness, it often incorrectly reported anger or sadness in students who were focused on the lectures. Said HKUST computer scientist Huamin Qu, “To address this issue, we need to add new emotion categories, relabel our data, and retrain the model.”
More info here: IEEE Spectrum, Emily Waltz
Late last month, U.S. President Donald J. Trump signed into law the Building Blocks of STEM Act to boost young girls’ access to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), who introduced the bill, said she sponsored the legislation “to help break down the gender barriers that [she] faced as a woman in STEM, for current and future generations.” The new law seeks to improve and broaden existing U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) STEM education projects in U.S. schools, through new research and grants to increase girls’ participation in computer science. The law also instructs NSF to concentrate more on pre-Kindergarten and early elementary-grade students when addressing challenges throughout the STEM environment.
More info here: NextGov.com, Brandi Vincent