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Welcome to the May 10, 2021 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Trucks line up at a Colonial Pipeline facility in Pelham, AL. Ransomware Attack Leads to Shutdown of Major U.S. Pipeline System
The Washington Post
Ellen Nakashima; Yeganeh Torbati; Will Englund
May 8, 2021


A ransomware attack forced operators of the Colonial Pipeline to shut down its network on Friday, highlighting the vulnerability of industrial sectors to such threats. A U.S. official and another source familiar with the matter said the attack appears to have been conducted by DarkSide, an Eastern European-based criminal gang believed to operate primarily out of Russia. Private companies that probe cyberattacks say they are handling cases involving DarkSide targeting U.S. industrial firms with ransomware, while many other ransomware gangs also appear to be attacking such companies in greater numbers than previously known. Eric Goldstein at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said, "We encourage every organization to take action to strengthen their cybersecurity posture to reduce their exposure to these types of threats."

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'Intelligent' Shoe Helps Blind People Avoid Obstacles
The Daily Mail (U.K.)
Jonathan Chadwick
May 5, 2021


Computer scientists at Austria's Graz University of Technology (TU Graz) and medical technology maker Tec-Innovation have designed a shoe with ultrasonic sensors that can detect obstacles and emit vibrations to warn blind and visually impaired wearers. The sensors are attached to the toe of each InnoMake shoe, which will sell for £2,700 ($3,759) per pair, and the vibrations become faster the closer the wearer gets to an obstacle. Tec-Innovation's Markus Raffer said the sensors detect obstacles up to four meters (13 feet) off, with the device able to identify the nature of an obstacle and its directional path, especially if it is downward-facing.

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Tomographic printing using the goopy index bath. Making Her Mark in 3D
University of Waterloo News (Canada)
Sonia Thomson
May 5, 2021


A technology developed by University of Waterloo student Kayley Ting and researchers at the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) computationally corrects for optical distortions in tomographic three-dimensional (3D) printing. With standard tomographic 3D printing, a projector beams light at a rotating vial of resin to form the desired shape by solidifying certain regions of the polymer. However, the vial refracts rays like a lens, requiring it to be dipped in an index-matching bath. The new technology eliminates the need for the slimy bath by using equations that account for the vial's round shape. NRC’s Chantal Paquet said Ting also produced a user interface “that enables people to use the printer without knowing how to code," which "will make the technology much more usable at the NRC and for others interested in tomographic 3D printing."

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Learning on the Fly: Computational Model Demonstrates Similarity in How Humans, Insects Learn
University of Sussex (U.K.)
Neil Vowles
May 7, 2021


A computational model developed by researchers at the U.K.'s University of Sussex shows similarities in the way insects and mammals learn. The model demonstrates that dopamine neurons in the brain of a fruit fly, or the mushroom body, produce signals similar to those of dopamine neurons in mammals, and that these signals support learning according to the reward prediction error (RPE) hypothesis. Sussex researcher James Bennett said, "Establishing a bridge between insect and mammal studies on learning may open up the possibility to exploit the powerful genetic tools available for performing experiments in insects, and the smaller scale of their brains, to make sense of brain function and disease in mammals, including humans."

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60% of School Apps Are Sharing Kids' Data with 3rd Parties
Gizmodo
Shoshana Wodinsky
May 4, 2021


A study by technology-focused nonprofit Me2B Alliance analyzed 73 "utility" apps for school districts and found that about 60% share some student data with third-party marketing companies. These apps are downloaded by students and parents to review school calendars or bus schedules, among other things. The data shared includes the student's location, their contact list, and their phone's mobile ad identifiers. The researchers found 486 software development kits (SDKs), small libraries of code that help monetize the apps by sharing data with third-party app networks, across the 73 apps. About two-thirds of the SDKs were owned and operated by Facebook or Google, and the rest shared data with lesser-known third parties that shared data with dozens, if not hundreds, of other lesser-known third parties.

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A quantum processor semiconductor chip connected to a circuit board. Researchers Confront Major Hurdle in Quantum Computing
University of Rochester
Lindsey Valich
May 4, 2021


University of Rochester (UR) researchers have reported significant progress in improving data transfer between electrons in quantum systems. One study described adiabatic quantum state transfer (AQT) between quantum bits (qubits) using electron-spin qubits, which is immune to pulse errors and noise. The UR team successfully transferred one electron's quantum spin state across a chain of four electrons in semiconductor quantum dots via AQT. A second study highlighted data transfer between qubits using an exotic state of matter called time crystals, in a chain of semiconductor quantum dots. UR's John Nichol said, "These two results illustrate the strange and interesting ways that quantum physics allows for information to be sent from one place to another, which is one of the main challenges in constructing viable quantum computers and networks."

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The Next Frontier for Gesture Control: Teeth
IEEE Spectrum
Evan Ackerman
May 5, 2021


Researchers at Cornell University's Smart Computer Interfaces for Future Interactions Lab have developed a prototype wearable system controlled by teeth-tapping gestures. The prototype features an inertial measurement unit (IMU) located behind the bottom of the ear where the jawline begins, and contact microphones that sit against the temporal bone behind the ear. The TeethTap system was capable of identifying and distinguishing 13 different teeth-tapping gestures in a controlled environment with a real-time classification accuracy rate of more than 90%. The researchers found TeethTap worked while study participants were talking, writing, walking, running, eating, or drinking.

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Where Should Our Digital Data Go After We Die?
University of British Columbia (Canada)
May 6, 2021


A study by computer scientists at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada considered ways for people to control what happens to their personal digital data after they die. The researchers presented study participants ages 18 to 81 with 12 rough design concepts for data management featuring different levels of user-control, including human-selected, computer-selected, and artificial intelligence (AI)-powered options. The researchers found study participants generally had not previously thought about what happens to their digital data after death, but when presented with the study’s concepts, preferred ideas that let them preserve their sense of agency over what remains online after their passing. Observed UBC’s Janet Chen, "One concept people clearly did not like at all was an AI-powered replica of the deceased person, which would interact with future generations. They said it was scary and creepy."

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A new system uses UV light projected onto objects coated with light-activated dye to alter the reflective properties of the dye, changing images in minutes With Zap of Light, System Switches Objects' Colors, Patterns
MIT News
Daniel Ackerman
May 4, 2021


A programmable matter system developed by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Russia's Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology can update imagery on object surfaces rapidly by projecting ultraviolet (UV) light onto items coated with light-activated dye. The ChromoUpdate system's UV light pulse changes the dye's reflective properties, creating colorful new images in minutes. The system’s UV projector can vary light levels across the surface, granting the operator pixel-level control over saturation levels. MIT's Michael Wessley said the researchers are investigating the technology's application to flexible, programmable textiles, "So we could have clothing—t-shirts and shoes and all that stuff—that can reprogram itself."

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3D Detectors Measure Social Distancing to Help Fight COVID-19
EPFL (Switzerland)
Sandrine Perroud
May 7, 2021


Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne, repurposed an algorithm initially created for autonomous vehicles to help people comply with COVID-19-related social distancing requirements. Using a camera, the three-dimensional MonoLoco algorithm calculates the dimensions of human silhouettes and the distance between them to determine whether individuals are maintaining proper infection-preventive distances, without collecting personal data. MonoLoco can identify bodily orientation, determine how a group of people are interacting, and assess whether they remain 1.5 meters (about five feet) apart. Said EPFL’s Lorenzo Bertoni, “When Switzerland went into lockdown last year, we were working on an algorithm for self-driving cars, but we quickly saw that by adding just a few features, we could make our program a useful tool for managing the pandemic.”

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Alan Aspuru-Guzik, collaborated with academic and industry partners to launch an open-access library of 330,000 machine learning-calculated organic compounds. Lab Launches Free Library of Virtual, AI-Calculated Organic Compounds
University of Toronto (Canada)
Dan Haves
May 5, 2021


Researchers at Canada's University of Toronto (U of T) have launched a free open access tool containing a library of 330,000 virtual machine learning-calculated organic compounds to accelerate catalysis science. The Kraken tool features organophosphorus ligands, and U of T's Théophile Gaudin said the team created a Web application "where users can search for ligands and their properties in a straightforward manner." Their hope is that the library will allow chemists to reduce the number of trials needed to realize optimal results in their work. U of T's Alan Aspuru-Guzik said, “The world has no time for science as usual; neither for science done in a silo. This is a collaborative effort to accelerate catalysis science that involves a very exciting team from academia and industry.”

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Spotify Urged to Rule Out 'Invasive' Voice Recognition Tech
Reuters
Umberto Bacchi
May 4, 2021


A coalition of musicians and human rights groups has called on music streaming service Spotify to exclude the use of a recently developed speech recognition tool it developed for suggesting songs, describing the product as "invasive." The tool analyzes users' speech and background noise to suggest tracks based on mood, gender, age, accent, or surroundings. In its original patent application, Spotify said the tool was designed to streamline the tedious process of personalizing music suggestions to users' tastes; the coalition warned such devices could absorb private information and make deductions about other people in the room who might be unaware they were being surveilled. An open letter by the coalition called the technology "dangerous, a violation of privacy and other human rights," and urged Spotify to discard it altogether, and publicly vow never to "use, license, sell, or monetize it."

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