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Hackers’ election

A man casts his ballot during a nationwide popular vote in 2014 at a polling station in Switzerland. (Michael Buholzer/AFP/Getty Images)


Hackers’ election

Switzerland calls on computer hackers to test its e-voting system

The Swiss government is offering up to $150,000 in bug bounties to white-hat hackers who successfully discover vulnerabilities in the country’s internet voting system. Hackers who register for the “Public Intrusion Test” will search for and report on vulnerabilities during a dummy election run by the Swiss postal system from Feb. 24 through March 24, the duration of a typical voting period in the country.

The test is the latest in a series of more than 300 e-voting trials over the past 14 years, according to a Swiss news report. In December, the Swiss government drafted a bill to make electronic voting permanent, stating that it wanted to introduce e-voting gradually as an option alongside ballot boxes and postal voting.

Hackers who discover vulnerabilities undetectable by voters or auditors can receive bounties of as much as $30,000 to $50,000. At the lower end of the scale, hackers can earn $100 by simply highlighting failures to follow best practices.

Demand for electronic voting is high among Swiss citizens, particularly for those living abroad. The Organization of the Swiss Abroad is pushing for e-voting to be made available for all ex-pats by 2021. Currently, e-voting is available in 10 of the country’s 26 cantons (political districts), and the government hopes to expand that to 17 by October.

Jonathan Pow/PA/AP

Plastic bottles (Jonathan Pow/PA/AP)

Boiling it down

Banning plastic drinking straws would likely make only a small dent in the 300 million tons of plastic waste deposited each year in landfills or the environment. But a new, patented process invented by a team of researchers at Purdue University could convert polypropylene—a common plastic used in household product containers—into clean fuels.

The process, detailed in a paper published in January in the journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering, involves dissolving the polypropylene waste in superheated water at extremely high pressures. The resulting byproducts include gasoline or a diesel-like fuel, which could be sold to offset waste management costs.

“Our conversion technology has the potential to boost the profits of the recycling industry and shrink the world’s plastic waste stock,” Linda Wang, a professor of chemical engineering at Purdue, said in a statement. Wang estimates that the amount of fuel that could be derived from the polypropylene waste generated each year could satisfy 4 percent of the country’s annual demand for gasoline or diesel fuels.


Shri Narayanan (Handout)

Investigative intel

Children who have witnessed a crime or been victims of one are often so traumatized that they are unable to explain coherently what has happened to them. Even experienced professionals sometimes can’t decode what a child is trying to say during forensic interviews.

Scientists at the University of Southern California are developing artificial intelligence (AI) they hope will identify subtle signals in a child’s speech patterns—including word choices and vocal intonations—that provide clues to better interviewing techniques.

Shri Narayanan, founder of USC’s Signal Analysis and Interpretation Laboratory, told PC Magazine his team trained an AI program using more than 200 anonymous audio transcripts of actual forensic interviews involving child abuse. They hope their AI model will one day help interviewers identify speech patterns giving insight into a traumatized child’s mental state.


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  •  Xion's picture
    Posted: Thu, 02/21/2019 08:52 pm

    Has any study proven that a single drinking straw has ever harmed anything?  Since what we don't want is litter, why not ban litter?  Why single out a miniscule form of it?

  •  Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Sat, 02/23/2019 02:23 pm

    * Switzerland is on the right track, I think.  An e-voting system, done right, can solve a lot of problems regarding voter identity and ability to present oneself at the voting booth.  I like the idea of logging into a thoroughly tested, secure site to register my vote.

    * AI can be a useful tool to analyze forensic interviews of abuse victims.  But it will never replace humanity.  And who is to say that the recordings used to "train" the AI have a hidden bias that will make its analysis incorrect?