Researchers say they can hack Alexa, Siri with laser

Researchers from the University of Michigan and the University of Electro-Communications in Tokyo have demonstrated that a laser beam can be used from a distance of more than 300 feet and through a glass window to trick voice-controlled virtual assistants like Siri, Alexa or Google Assistant into behaving as if they registered an audio command. The researchers discovered a vulnerability in the microphones of these systems that they call “light commands.” The team showed that light commands could enable an attacker to remotely inject inaudible and invisible commands into smart speakers, tablets and phones. “The risks associated with these attacks range from benign to frightening depending on how much a user has tied to their assistant. In the worst cases, this could mean dangerous access to homes, e-commerce accounts, credit cards, and even any connected medical devices the user has linked to their assistant,” said Daniel Genkin, assistant professor of computer science and engineering at U-M. The researchers have proposed hardware and software fixes, and they’re working with Google, Apple and Amazon to put them in place. 

Clements Library launches redesigned website

The Clements Library launched a new website on Oct. 17 that is more user-friendly and easier to navigate. The site has a fresh look with larger, more compelling images and text that has been revised to be more readable and concise. New features include responsive site navigation via drop-down mega-menus on every page, automatically updated library hours on the home page and a better integration of the library blog and other social media. The site also has a responsive design for viewing on mobile devices. The new website has achieved one of the major objectives in the Clements Library’s ongoing Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Strategic Plan, meeting U-M standards for website accessibility. Check out the new site at clements.umich.edu.

NCID taking applications for postdoctoral fellowship, scholar-in-residence

Applications are due Dec. 16 for the National Center for Institutional Diversity’s postdoctoral fellowship and scholar-in-residence programs. The NCID Postdoctoral Fellowship is aimed at promoting and supporting the work of outstanding early career diversity scholars. The program provides the opportunity of protected time for focused scholarship and the chance to engage with the intellectual community at U-M. The salary for postdoctoral fellows is $55,000 per year plus benefits. Fellows will receive additional support for conference travel and other research-related expenses. The NCID Scholar-in-Residence program provides an opportunity for senior diversity scholars to pursue their research and writing at U-M. Scholars will have the opportunity to interact with junior faculty and postdoctoral fellows, senior NCID faculty fellows, graduate students and colleagues in their affiliated academic units. A cost-of-living stipend is available to defray the costs of room and board in Ann Arbor. Find out more information about the postdoctoral fellowship, or learn more about the scholar-in-residence program.

Applications sought for Elizabeth Caroline Crosby Grants

Applications are due Nov. 25 for the Elizabeth Caroline Crosby Grants. Grants are available to individual faculty members to support a range of activities aimed at improving the environment for career satisfaction and success of a diverse faculty in science and engineering. Several grants of up to $20,000 will be awarded. Support may be requested for programs and projects aimed at improving the career success of diverse faculty, especially for women and other members of underrepresented groups, including efforts to support the special child or other dependent care associated with work-related travel, long stays at field sites, long and late hours at labs, or other essential research activities away from home. The funding can also be used for career development and advancement activities, including participation in workshops focusing on leadership and career development. Applications are limited to faculty with appointments on the tenure track in the science and engineering fields. Faculty on research or clinical tracks may apply if they are working toward a shift to tenure-track.

Mindfulness at work increases generosity, research shows

Gretchen Spreitzer, the Keith E. and Valerie J. Alessi Professor of Business Administration and a professor of management and organizations at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business, and her colleagues at other universities have found that engaging in mindfulness exercises at work, even a simple seven-minute morning meditation, leads to more generous and helpful behavior. The results of their research were recently published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. The researchers conducted several different studies, in different settings, all of which supported the core finding that mindfulness practices lead to more generous or helpful behavior. In one study, some employees of an insurance company’s call center were asked to do a slightly different mindfulness exercise each day for a week. The employees who engaged in mindfulness exercises were more helpful to callers.

Compiled by Ann Zaniewski, The University Record

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