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Welcome to the February 21, 2024 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for computer professionals three times a week.

Brain-computer interface technology The Brain Computer Interface program at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital in Toronto, Canada, develops technology that allows physically disabled children to use their minds to move and play. While wearing a headset with electroencephalogram electrodes, a child is asked to think about something specific that will serve as a “command” thought, and then to relax their mind into a quiet, passive state, which serves as the “stop” thought. The resulting electrical signals are saved on a computer, which is trained through AI to recognize these signals and start or stop whatever device to which it is connected.
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The Globe and Mail (Canada); Nicole Ireland (February 20, 2024)

Distribution of pathogenic, and likely pathogenic ClinVar variants Analyses of up to 245,000 genomes from diverse populations in the U.S gathered by the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s All of Us program uncovered more than 275 million new genetic markers. The data will help produce more accurate "polygenic risk scores," which rate a person’s risk of developing a disease as a result of their genetics. To calculate such a score, researchers develop an algorithm trained on the genomic data of people who either do or do not have a particular disease; an individual’s score can then be calculated by feeding their genetic data into the algorithm.
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Nature; Max Kozlov (February 19, 2024)
Executives from Adobe, Amazon, Google, IBM, Meta, Microsoft, OpenAI, and TikTok announced a joint effort to combat AI-generated images, audio, and video designed to sway elections. Announced at the Munich Security Conference on Friday, the initiative, which also will include 12 other major technology companies, outlines methods the companies will use to try to detect and label deceptive AI content when it is created or distributed on their platforms. Participants will share best practices and provide “swift and proportionate responses” when fake content starts to spread.
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Associated Press; Matt O'Brien; Ali Swenson (February 16, 2024)
In separate studies, researchers found that nearly a fifth of all difficult-to-correct errors in quantum computers are caused by powerful particles from space hitting the machines. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology set up an array of 10 superconducting qubits inside an extremely cold fridge with radiation detectors close by, and found that 17% of the qubit errors detected were attributable to cosmic rays. A team at the Beijing Academy of Quantum Information Sciences in China also identified a link between cosmic rays and quantum computing errors during their experiment on an array of 31 superconducting qubits.
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New Scientist; Alex Wilkins (February 20, 2024)

message that appears on LockBit's website An operation conducted by the U.K. National Crime Agency, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Europol, and a coalition of international police agencies has taken control of an online site run by the LockBit ransomware group. LockBit's eponymous software was the "most deployed ransomware variant" across the world last year. It was first discovered in 2020 when the software surfaced on Russian language forums. On Monday, a message appearing on the site belonging to the group said it was "now under control of law enforcement."
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BBC News; Gordon Corera (February 20, 2024)
Major airlines in the U.S. have increasingly invested in facial recognition technology, as have government agencies in charge of aviation security. Overseas, a growing number of airports are installing biometrics-enabled electronic gates and self-service kiosks at Immigration and Customs. The technologies' adoption could mean enhanced security and faster processing for passengers, but also raises privacy and ethics concerns.
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The New York Times; Christine Chung (February 19, 2024)

tamper-proof ID tag Building on their previous work, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology leveraged terahertz waves to develop an antitampering identification tag that also offers the benefits of being tiny, cheap, and secure. In 2020, the researchers unveiled a cryptographic ID tag several times smaller and significantly less expensive than traditional radio frequency ID (RFID) tags. The team then mixed microscopic metal particles into the glue that sticks the tag to an object and used terahertz waves to detect the unique pattern those particles form on the item’s surface, which is used to authenticate the item.
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Tech Times; Inno Flores (February 18, 2024)
Air Canada has been ordered to pay compensation to a bereaved passenger who said he was misled into purchasing a full-price flight ticket by a chatbot. The chatbot informed the passenger he could retroactively make a bereavement claim after purchasing a full-price ticket, but was later told by the airline that he could not. The airline argued the online tool was "a separate legal entity that is responsible for its own actions." A small claims adjudicator in British Columbia disagreed, writing, "While a chatbot has an interactive component, it is still just a part of Air Canada's website."
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CBC News (Canada); Jason Proctor (February 16, 2024)

seniors enjoy virtual reality A study of virtual reality involving 245 participants aged between 65 and 103 by researchers at Stanford University, in partnership with Dallas-based Mynd Immersive, found generally positive effects. Participants picked from seven-minute virtual experiences such as parachuting, riding in a tank, watching stage performances, playing with puppies and kittens, or visiting places like Paris or Egypt. Almost 80% of seniors reported having a more positive attitude after their VR session, and almost 60% said they felt less isolated socially.
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Associated Press; Terry Spencer (February 19, 2024)

robot guide dog could lead to new assistive technology Researchers at the University of Glasgow in Scotland showed off the latest iteration of their RoboGuide, an AI-powered quadruped robot designed to assist visually impaired people. RoboGuide uses sensors to map and assess its surroundings. Software developed by the team help it learn optimal routes between locations and interpret sensor data in real time to help the robot avoid moving obstacles. The RoboGuide incorporates large language model technology, so it can understand questions and comments from users and provide verbal responses.
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New Atlas; Mike Hanlon (February 16, 2024)

world’s tallest 3D-printed tower A 3D-printed ivory tower that will stand 30 meters tall is being erected to revive declining Swiss villages of the Julier Pass, once an important point of transit between Northern and Southern Europe. Located near the village of Mulegns, in which only 16 people live today, the multipurpose cultural space is set to open in June and will be the tallest 3D-printed structure in the world. The tower is made from concrete that is 3D printed using an extrusion process pioneered at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich.
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Euronews; Anca Ulea (February 13, 2024)

Inverse design of a SiPh metastructure An "unhackable" computer chip that uses light instead of electricity for computations was created by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) to perform vector-matrix multiplications, widely used in neural networks for development of AI models. Since the silicon photonic (SiPh) chip can perform multiple computations in parallel, there is no need to store data in a working memory while computations are performed. That is why, UPenn's Firooz Aflatouni explained, "No one can hack into a non-existing memory to access your information."
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Interesting Engineering; Ameya Paleja (February 16, 2024)
Digital Dreams Have Become Nightmares: What We Must Do
 
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