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Welcome to the September 20, 2021 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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A rendering of the university’s planned School of Computer, Data, and Information Sciences. UW-Madison Announces $175 Million in Support for Computer, Data, Information Sciences Building
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Devi Shastri
September 17, 2021


The University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) plans to spend $225 million to create a building to house its new School of Computer, Data, and Information Sciences. UW alumni John and Tashia Morgridge contributed $125 million toward the new building, while the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation donated $50 million. The university hopes to raise another $50 million from other donors and alumni. UW-Madison's Eric Wilcots said, "The school will enhance our ability to tackle the big challenges in data-rich sciences such as climate science, physics, and astronomy," adding that it resides "in the intersection of computing and data with the humanities and social sciences."

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City-Wide Quantum Data Network in China Is Largest Ever Built
New Scientist
Matthew Sparkes
September 17, 2021


China has been running a city-wide quantum communications network in Hefei, the largest quantum network demonstration built to date, for almost three years. Designed by scientists at the University of Science and Technology of China, the network's commercial fiber-optic hardware connects 40 computers at government buildings, banks, and universities clustered into three subnetworks, each separated by about 15 kilometers (9 miles). Smaller subnetworks and switches support routes between different users as needed, while three trusted relays streamline the architecture. The researchers claim the network can be linked to other similar frameworks through long-distance quantum connections and satellite relays, clearing a path toward a global quantum network.

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More Shark-Spotting Drones, Drumlines Added to NSW Coastlines
ZDNet
Campbell Kwan
September 20, 2021


The Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) said it will spend AU$21.4 million (US$15.4 million) to expand its shark management program. NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro said the funding would be used to deploy more shark-spotting drones, shark-management-alert-in-real-time (SMART) drumlines, and VR4G beach-monitoring stations. NSW Minister for Agriculture Adam Marshall said, "The NSW government will now be operating the world's largest shark management program aiming to get the balance right, between keeping swimmers and surfers safe, and protecting our marine life."

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Two sail drones awaiting deployment from Dutch Harbor, AK. NASA Sends Robots to Study Climate Change in the Arctic
NASA
Emily Fischer
September 17, 2021


The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) dispatched two robots to the Arctic in early July to collect sea surface temperature data and provide better estimates of ocean temperatures there. Partnered with unmanned surface vehicle (USV) maker Saildrone, NASA researchers hope to use information gathered by the robots to study climate change in that region. Wind and solar-powered sensors propel autonomous Saildrone USVs, which are steered remotely from hundreds of miles off. The vehicles can validate satellite data that may be used to develop and enhance algorithms that simulate temperature change. The 2021 NASA Arctic Cruise is part of the Multi-Sensor Improved Sea Surface Temperature (MISST) project, an international and inter-agency initiative to augment weather and climate research and forecasting.

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Unlimited Digital Sensing Unleashed for Imaging, Audio, Driverless Cars
Imperial College London (U.K.)
Caroline Brogan
September 17, 2021


A new method devised by researchers at the U.K.'s Imperial College London (ICL) and Germany's Technical University of Munich could support unlimited digital sensing. The team used modulo-sampling analog-to-digital converters (ADCs) to determine whether sensors could process more information via a different type of voltage; the researchers built a prototype with an algorithm that causes the ADC to switch to modulo voltage once a stimulus limit is reached, and folds these signals into smaller ones. Potential applications include enhanced imaging, audio perception, and improved driverless-car cameras. Said ICL's Ayush Bhandari, "By combing new algorithms and new hardware, we have fixed a common problem—one that could mean our digital sensors perceive what humans can, and beyond."

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A protest in Iran. A new Android app aims to give Iranians a way to speak freely, without government oversight. App Helps Iranians Hide Messages in Plain Sight
Wired
Lily Hay Newman
September 17, 2021


The Nahoft Android app can help Iranians conceal messages by encrypting up to 1,000 characters of Farsi text into random word strings. Released on Google Play by the human rights group United for Iran, Nahoft also can encrypt communications and embed them unnoticeably within image files. The code the app generates is designed to appear inconspicuous and benign, and using real words makes it less likely to be flagged by content scanners. The open source app can bypass government-imposed Internet blackouts: users enter words that the app encodes, allowing them to write the resulting string of seemingly random words in a letter, or read it to another Nahoft user over the phone, for them to input into their app manually to see what the uncoded message. United for Iran's Reza Ghazinouri said the regime will have difficulty blocking Nahoft as long as Google Play remains accessible in Iran.

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Scientists 3D-Print Microscopic Gas Sensors
Trinity College Dublin (Ireland)
September 15, 2021


Scientists at Ireland’s Trinity College Dublin, the AMBER (Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research) Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Research Center for Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research, and GE Research in New York have three-dimensionally (3D)-printed microscopic gas sensors that can be monitored in real time. Trinity's Colm Delaney said the team produced the color-changing sensor materials via direct laser-writing, by focusing a laser to produce tiny 3D structures from laboratory-developed soft polymers. Trinity's Larisa Florea said, "The ability to print such an optically responsive material has profound potential for their incorporation into connected, low-cost sensing devices for homes, or into wearable devices for monitoring analytes."

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A smartphone user accesses an app. The Battle for Digital Privacy Is Reshaping the Internet
The New York Times
Brian X. Chen
September 16, 2021


Mounting online privacy fears are changing businesses' digital advertising strategies, with Apple and Google overhauling their online data collection rules. Apple has launched tools that block marketers from tracking people, while Google, reliant on digital ads, is retooling to target ads at people without exploiting their personal data. Such changes may weaken brands that use targeted ads to sell goods. Brendan Eich, a founder of the Brave private Web browser, said Google and Apple's differing views on revoking digital ads will lead to "a tale of two Internets." Trade Desk chief executive Jeff Green said, “The Internet is answering a question that it’s been wrestling with for decades, which is: How is the Internet going to pay for itself?”

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Toolkit to Test Apple Security Finds Vulnerability
NC State University News
September 13, 2021


A software toolkit designed by North Carolina State University (NC State) researchers to evaluate Apple device hardware security uncovered a previously unknown vulnerability during a proof-of-concept demonstration. NC State's Gregor Haas said the team used the checkm8 bug as a starting point; the flaw lets users control the first code to run on the system as it boots up. Haas said the toolkit "allows us to observe what's happening across the device, to remove or control security measures that Apple has installed, and so on." During the proof-of-concept demo, the team reverse-engineered key Apple hardware components and identified a vulnerability to a so-called iTimed attack, which enables a program to access cryptographic keys used by one or more programs on an Apple device. NC State's Aydin Aysu said they alerted Apple of the vulnerability, and will use the toolkit to investigate other types of attacks.

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Queensland Police to Trial AI Tool Designed to Predict, Prevent Domestic Violence Incidents
The Guardian (Australia)
Ben Smee
September 13, 2021


Police in Queensland, Australia, will soon start trials of an artificial intelligence system designed to anticipate and help prevent domestic violence incidents. The "actuarial tool" formulates a risk assessment of potential domestic and family violence offenders using the police's Qprime computer system. Acting Superintendent Ben Martain said trials of the algorithm using historical data had "largely confirmed what experts/research says are causal factors," and also uncovered "previously unrealized" insights into predictors of violence, including offenses associated with risk-taking behavior and disregard for others' safety. Martain said, "The purpose of this model is not to replace the professional judgment of officers, but to assist in better informing decision-making through collating patterned and objective data."

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The WhatsApp logo. The app uses end-to-end encryption to secure messages. Smart Reporting Tool Could Combat Fake News on Encrypted Chat Apps
New Scientist
Chris Stokel-Walker
September 17, 2021


Researchers at George Washington University say they have built a tool that would allow users to expose fake news without endangering their privacy. The Fuzzy Anonymous Complaint Tally System (FACTS) would let users report a message without disclosing its contents, and only decrypt the identity of the sender and message contents to a third party if the number of complaints about a single message exceeded a certain limit. FACTS would prevent malefactors from falsely labeling messages as misinformation by logging complaints about messages, but not their contents, and automatically deciding if they match previous complaints so users could not report the same messages multiple times. Said Alan Woodward at the U.K.'s University of Surrey, the tool "has the advantage that it is a scoring of complaints and doesn't involve requiring access to message content per se."

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DRNets Can Solve Sudoku, Speed Scientific Discovery
Cornell Chronicle
Tom Fleischman
September 17, 2021


Deep Reasoning Networks (DRNets) developed by scientists at Cornell University and the California Institute of Technology combine deep learning with constraint reasoning, knowledge of a subject's boundaries and rules. The framework can solve problems with little input data. The team tested the framework by having it de-mix overlapping handwritten Sudoku puzzles, tasking it to separate the puzzles into two solved Sudokus without any training data (which it did with nearly 100% accuracy). The researchers then had the framework automate crystal-structure phase mapping of solar-fuels materials, using x-ray diffraction patterns. Cornell's Carla Gomes said, "Verifying that a chemical system solution satisfies the physics rules is easier than producing it, the same way checking that a completed Sudoku is correct is easier than completing it."

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