ACM TechNews


Welcome to the November 28, 2022, edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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The Utah Bionic Leg uses mechanical levers to help people climb upstairs. Prosthetic Leg Can 'Change Gears' to Make Going Upstairs Easier
New Scientist
Matthew Sparkes
November 23, 2022


The Utah Bionic Leg, created by researchers at the University of Utah, could help wearers climb stairs and inclines more easily, through the use of mechanical levers. The researchers designed the prosthesis for people missing a leg from above the knee, with two separate modules that each feature a controller and battery. The knee module perceives the amount of power needed, then adjusts the motor's output as required. The appendage taps the power of smaller motors to accommodate speed and strength, internally altering the joint's geometry and the point at which the motor's power is impelled.

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Microlaser Chip Adds Dimensions to Quantum Communication
Penn Engineering Today
Devorah Fischler
November 21, 2022


A multi-institutional team led by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering and Applied Science (Penn Engineering) developed a chip that doubles the quantum information space of any previous on-chip laser by communicating in qudits (quantum bits in a state of superposition greater than two levels). The hyperdimensional microlaser-produced qudits boost the maximum secrete key rate for information exchange from 1 bit to 2 bits per pulse, supporting four levels of superposition and clearing a path for further dimensional enlargement. The researchers realized the four-level system by devising a method to manipulate and couple the orbital angular momentum and spin of photons.

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An astronomical clock in Prague, Czech Republic. Network-Crashing Leap Seconds to Be Abandoned by 2035, for at Least a Century
Ars Technica
Kevin Purdy
November 22, 2022


Parties to the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) approved the cessation of the leap second for keeping Coordinated Universal Time starting in 2035, until at least 2135. Leap seconds have been used to bring Earth's rotation into alignment with atomic-precision timekeeping. In 2012 and 2017, they triggered multi-hour network blackouts at companies including Reddit, Qantas, and Cloudflare. Many companies implemented a version of "leap smearing" to smooth out a leap second addition into micro-seconds spread across the globe throughout a day. Engineers at Meta, a supporter of the change, said the 27 leap seconds that have been applied since their introduction in 1972 were "enough for the next millennium."

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An image of the Mars surface taken by the Ingenuity helicopter's navigation camera. Mars Helicopter Ingenuity Aces Flight After Software Update
Space.com
Tereza Pultarova
November 26, 2022


The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Mars helicopter Ingenuity has flown its shortest-ever flight following a software update. The 18-second flight involved Ingenuity hovering over Mars' surface before landing 16 feet (5 meters) from its takeoff point. The flight tested a new software system transmitted to the helicopter from Earth to improve its ability to navigate the rugged terrain the Perseverance rover is traversing in Jezero Crater. The Ingenuity team said the software will use the vehicle's downward-facing camera to identify risky objects, steering the helicopter to avoid them and to find the safest visible landing site.

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A scalable technique that uses synthetic data can improve the accuracy of AI models that recognize images. A Simpler Path to Better Computer Vision
MIT News
Adam Zewe
November 23, 2022


A team led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers trained computer vision models using a dataset of 21,000 publicly available, uncurated image generation programs and found them to be more accurate in image classification than synthetically trained models. This approach allowed the researchers to generate images and train the model simultaneously. The researchers found pretrained models were more accurate than state-of-the-art computer vision models pretrained using synthetic data. Although less accurate than models trained using real data, the approach resulted in a 38% reduction in the performance gap between models trained on real data and those trained on synthetic data.

Full Article
Attackers Bypass Coinbase, MetaMask 2FA via TeamViewer
BleepingComputer
Bill Toulas
November 21, 2022


Anti-phishing company PIXM found scammers are waging a phishing campaign to pilfer cryptocurrency by accessing the Coinbase, MetaMask, Crypto.com, and KuCoin exchanges through the circumvention of two-factor authentication (2FA) safeguards. The attackers exploit the Microsoft Azure Web Apps service to host a network of phishing websites that entice victims to enter. When victims visit one of the phishing sites, a scammer-controlled customer support chat window leads them through a defrauding process. The attack involves a fake form followed by a prompt, then progresses to a prompt requesting the 2FA code for accessing the account. The hackers persuade victims to download and install a "TeamViewer" remote access app to bypass authentication.

Full Article

Having drones on strings attached to a person could provide a more realistic simulation of interacting with physical objects in virtual reality. Drones on Strings Could Puppeteer People in VR
New Scientist
Matthew Sparkes
November 25, 2022


Researchers at Germany's Saarland University and Canada's University of Toronto have tested a system that uses a drone attached to a user’s finger via string to mimic the action of button-pushing in virtual reality. Saarland's Martin Feick said the challenges of maintaining the drone's stability while pulling the string include its tendency to oscillate or drift, while coordinating multiple drones so they do not crash or tangle up will be problematic. Feick acknowledged testing the drones safely with people is currently infeasible, so the researchers deployed nets to catch the drones. The drones also can produce distracting sounds and drafts, although Feick said soundless blade-free drones capable of ultrasonic levitation show potential.

Full Article
ML Tools Automatically Classify 1,000 Supernovae
Caltech News
November 22, 2022


A machine learning algorithm developed by astronomers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) autonomously classified 1,000 supernovae using data from the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) sky survey instrument at Caltech's Palomar Observatory. The SNIascore algorithm hit that milestone 18 months after classifying its first supernova, in April 2021. The algorithm is intended to help the ZTF team by processing data from the hundreds of thousands of transient events ZTF detects every night. SNIascore currently has the ability to classify Type Ia supernovae that astronomers use to measure the universe's expansion rate. The researchers are working to enable the algorithm to classify other types of supernovae as well.

Full Article
Using Satellites for Faster Flood Information
University of Queensland (Australia)
November 23, 2022


Researchers at Australia's University of Queensland (UQ) are using satellites to provide communities flood information faster and in greater detail. UQ's Noam Levin said the initiative integrated data from optical and imaging radar satellites. During Brisbane's February floods, researchers combined satellite daytime pictures detailing the floods' scope with imaging radar and optical nighttime data of lights indicating human activity. Levin said darkening areas signaled flood encroachment, which was matched with data from river sensors deployed by the Bureau of Meteorology, and with electrical load changes posted by energy supplier Energex. UQ's Stuart Phinn said, "With faster update times—at least twice a day—and more accurate and timely data, agencies monitoring the floods can assess changes and alert people in at-risk areas."

Full Article
AI Learns the Art of Diplomacy
Science
Matthew Hutson
November 22, 2022


Computer scientists at Meta have developed an artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm able to outplay humans in Diplomacy, a board game requiring strategic planning and verbal negotiations with other players. CICERO, Meta's AI agent, features both strategic reasoning and dialogue modules. CICERO was tested in 40 online games against humans, placing in the top 10% of players with at least two games played. However, around 10% of CICERO's messages were rated by Diplomacy experts as inconsistent with its plan or game state, indicating that its success could be related to the strategic planning, rather than to the dialogue, module.

Full Article

The Apple logo. Apple Says Your iPhone's Usage Data is Anonymous, but Tests Find That's Not True
Gizmodo
Thomas Germain
November 21, 2022


Researchers at software company Mysk found Apple is collecting personally identifiable information from iPhones, despite the company’s promises that the devices' usage data is anonymous. The researchers analyzed iPhone data sent to Apple, which includes a permanent, immutable ID number called a Directory Services Identifier (DSID) directly tied to the user's name. "It's one-to-one to your identity," explained Mysk's Tommy Mysk. "All these detailed analytics are going to be linked directly to you. And that's a problem, because there's no way to switch it off." The researchers said DSID collection contradicts Apple's data analytics privacy policy, which states that no collected data identifies users personally.

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