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Welcome to the June 11, 2021 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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A chamber holds tissue printed by NASA’s Vascular Tissue Challenge winner. Teams Engineer Complex Human Tissues, Win Top Prizes in NASA Challenge
NASA
June 9, 2021


Two scientific teams at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) have placed first and second in the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Vascular Tissue Challenge, a contest to advance tissue engineering to benefit people on Earth and future space explorers. Teams Winston and WFRIM three-dimensionally (3D)-printed laboratory-cultured human liver tissues that could survive and function in a manner like their in-body counterparts. Each team assembled a cube-shaped tissue that could function for 30 days in the lab, using gel-like scaffolds with a network of channels to maintain oxygen and nutrient levels. Team Winston will work with the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory to adapt its technique for space.

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A protestor holding a “We Stand with Immigrants” sign. Facing Shortage of High-Skilled Workers, Employers Are Seeking More Immigrant Talent, Study Finds
CNBC
Hannah Miao
June 10, 2021


U.S. employers are seeking out immigrants for computer-related jobs amid a shortage of domestic talent, according to a study by bipartisan immigration research group New American Economy (NAE). While U.S. employers posted 1.36 million openings for computer-related jobs last year, Labor Department data indicated only 177,000 computer and math workers were unemployed. NAE found more than seven job postings for computer-related occupations for each unemployed U.S computer or math worker. Census data indicated immigrants constituted 25% of the computer workforce in 2019, while Labor estimated they comprised 17.4% of the broader workforce. Said NAE's Andrew Lim, "The evidence in this report is really adding more support to the idea that there are still needs from employers in the U.S. for computer-related workers that are not being addressed by current immigration policy in the U.S."

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The Electronics Arts logo and attendees at an EA Play event. Hackers Breach Electronic Arts, Stealing Game Source Code and Tools
CNN
Brian Fung
June 10, 2021


A spokesperson for video game publisher Electronic Arts (EA) verified that hackers have compromised the company's systems and stolen game source code and other assets. The hackers claimed in online forum posts that they had acquired 780 gigabytes of data, including the Frostbite source code undergirding a series of video games, and were offering "full capability of exploiting on all EA services." The hackers also said they had stolen software development tools and server code for player matchmaking in several other games. The EA spokesperson said, "No player data was accessed, and we have no reason to believe there is any risk to player privacy," adding that the company is "actively working with law enforcement officials and other experts as part of this ongoing criminal investigation."

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Twist on DNA Data Storage Lets Users Preview Stored Files
NC State University News
Matt Shipman
June 10, 2021


A faster and more affordable DNA data storage method developed by North Carolina State University (NC State) researchers can provide previews of stored data files. The approach involves users "naming" data files by affixing primer-binding DNA sequences to the ends of data-storing DNA strands. The system then applies polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to copy the relevant strands, and sequences the entire sample. The signal of the targeted strands is stronger than the rest of the sample, enabling the identification of the targeted DNA sequence and the file's readout. Said NC State’s Kevin Volkel, “Although we have only stored image files, this technology is broadly compatible with other file types. It also provides this new functionality without added cost.”

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Packs of Juul vape pens. Following E-Cigarette Conversations on Twitter Using AI
Aalto University (Finland)
June 4, 2021


Researchers at Finland's Aalto University designed machine learning (ML) techniques to follow Twitter-based conversations about the flavors of electronic cigarettes made by JUUL. The researchers built the tools on Google's open source Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers platform, which previously demonstrated excellent sentiment-prediction ability. They analyzed over 30,000 tweets and found positive tweets about the different JUUL flavors; Aalto's Aqdas Malik said flavors like mango, mint, and cucumber appeal to young people but also are addictive, making a case for regulation. In addition, Malik said, “There is also a need to cap the promotional activities by e-cigarettes retailers, such as giveaways, announcing new stock arrivals, discounts, and ‘buy more, save more’ campaigns.”

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Cristoph Grainger-Herr (left), CEO of Swiss watch company IWC, appears in hologram form at a trade event. Tech Companies Want to Make Holograms Part of Office Life
The Wall Street Journal
Ann-Marie Alcántara
June 9, 2021


To reduce Zoom fatigue, some companies want to implement holograms in the workplace. Proponents of hologram technology say three-dimensional (3D) representations of people on video calls feel more personal and help participants read body language. WorkLife Ventures' Brianne Kimmel said holograms and avatars allow for "a new style of communication, where you'll have better, more frequent interactions." Gartner's Kanishka Chauhan said holograms may be best for recorded events, trainings, or seminars, citing the complex and time-consuming logistics of live hologram meetings. WeWork, which has partnered with hologram technology company ARHT Media to bring holograms to 100 WeWork buildings across the globe, expects to use them for recorded or livestreamed videos to virtual, physical, and hybrid audiences.

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Accessing a smart watch’s functions. Could Your Smart Watch Alert You to Risk of Sudden Death?
Queen Mary University of London
June 9, 2021


A new algorithm engineered by researchers at the U.K.'s Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) and University College London could eventually enable everyday wearables to alert users to potentially fatal changes in heart rhythm. The algorithm can recognize electrocardiogram (ECG) readings correlating with the risk of hospitalization or death resulting from an abnormal heart rhythm. The team obtained a reference for normal T waves (the time for heart's ventricles to relax once they have pumped blood out) on an ECG from data on some 24,000 U.K. Biobank Imaging study participants, then applied the algorithm to ECG data from over 50,000 other participants. Results indicated that people with the biggest T-wave changes over time were more likely to be hospitalized or die from ventricular arrhythmias. QMUL's Julia Ramirez said the algorithm is "better at predicting risk of arrhythmia than standard ECG risk markers."

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Researchers Create 'Un-Hackable' Quantum Network Over Hundreds of Kilometers Using Optical Fiber
ZDNet
Daphne Leprince-Ringuet
June 10, 2021


Toshiba researchers in the U.K. transmitted quantum information over 600-kilometer (372-mile)-long optical fibers without disruption, demonstrating technology that stabilizes environmental fluctuations within the fibers. The researchers utilized dual-band stabilization to send two signals down the fiber at differing wavelengths, with one signal canceling out rapidly varying fluctuations, while the other made finer quantum-phase adjustments. The Toshiba team said this enabled the safe routing of quantum bits over the optical fiber, which it used to employ quantum-based encryption in the form of the Quantum Key Distribution protocol. Said Toshiba Europe’s Mirko Pittaluga, "Further extensions of the communication distance for QKD are still possible ,and our solutions can also be applied to other quantum communications protocols and applications."

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A cyber-like strand of DNA. Algorithm to Make CRISPR Gene Editing More Precise
University of Copenhagen (Denmark)
June 10, 2021


A new algorithm improves CRISPR gene editing's precision by choosing optimal gRNA molecules for helping the CRISPR-Cas9 protein with editing at the correct DNA site, say researchers at Denmark's University of Copenhagen (UCPH) and Aarhus University. Aarhus' Yonglun Luo said the team measured the efficiency of gRNA molecules for over 10,000 different DNA sites using a vast high-throughput library-based method beyond the scope of traditional techniques. From this dataset, the researchers assembled a model capable of forecasting the efficiencies of previously unseen gRNAs. UCPH's Jan Gorodkin said, "Our new method is more precise than other methods currently available."

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The campus of Dartmouth University. Rates of Anxiety, Depression Among College Students Continue to Soar, App-Based Research Shows
The Washington Post
Lauren Lumpkin
June 10, 2021


A four-year study by Dartmouth College researchers uncovered higher rates of anxiety and depression among college students since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, accompanied by less sleep and greater phone usage. Dartmouth's Andrew Campbell co-developed the StudentLife app, which records data on the user’s location, phone use, sleep duration, and sedentary habits. The researchers tracked 217 students who began as freshmen in 2017, and Campbell said depression and anxiety rates have skyrocketed since the pandemic started, with no sign of decelerating. Dartmouth’s Dante Mack said, “Interest in covid fatigue is a unique tool that allows us to understand how the ‘new normal’ may be associated with poor mental health outcomes.”

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The kinds of tasks PlasticineLab uses to make robot learning more intuitive. Training Robots to Manipulate Soft, Deformable Objects
MIT News
Kim Martineau
June 9, 2021


The PlasticineLab simulation environment developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and University of California, San Diego researchers is designed to accelerate the training of robots to manipulate soft, deformable objects and materials. The researchers say the virtual environment incorporates knowledge of the physical world so robots can find the best solution via gradient descent-based optimization algorithms. PlasticineLab tasks include RollingPin, an exercise to flatten a piece of dough by pressing or rolling over it with a pin; and Chopsticks, aimed at training agents to pick up and move a rope to a target site. MIT's Tao Du said, "We can find the optimal solution through back propagation, the same technique used to train neural networks. Back propagation gives the agent the feedback it needs to update its actions to reach its goal more quickly."

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New Method to Untangle 3D Cancer Genome
Northwestern Medicine Feinberg School of Medicine
Will Doss
June 9, 2021


Researchers in the Feinberg School of Medicine of Northwestern Medicine have devised a new approach for determining the three-dimensional (3D) composition of cancer cell structures, which could help identify gene regulators that control the development of tumors. Northwestern Medicine's Feng Yue and his team designed NeoLoopFinder, a computational framework that analyzes the 3D architecture of cancer chromosomes and highlights critical regulators of cancer-causing genes (oncogenes). The researchers reviewed 50 types of cancer cells and used NeoLoopFinder to compile a database of oncogene-associated control elements; they then used CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing to disable a gene enhancer tied to a prostate cancer oncogene as validation of this approach. Said Yue, "With our tool, more scientists will be able to identify such events and dissect their clinical implications in cancer."

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CyLab Researchers Discover Novel Class of Vehicle Cyberattacks
Carnegie Mellon University CyLab Security and Privacy Institute
Daniel Tkacik
June 7, 2021


Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers led a team that identified a new class of cybersecurity vulnerabilities in vehicles that could allow hackers to remotely bypass a vehicle's intrusion detection system and shut down the engine and other components. While the researchers found that hackers cannot launch these kinds of attacks without first breaching the vehicle's network, Bosch Research's Shalabh Jain said, "This class of vulnerabilities can provide new directions for lateral movement in a larger attack chain." The attack strategy discovered by the team was able to turn off the electrical control units (ECUs) that control most modern car functions. CMU's Sekar Kulandaivel said that "to really defend yourself against this type of attack, you have to update the hardware."

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