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Welcome to the February 6, 2023, edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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A satellite image shows a plume of methane over southern New Mexico. Global Alarm System Watches for Methane Superemitters
Science
Paul Voosen
February 3, 2023


An international team led by scientists at the Netherlands Institute for Space Research (SRON) has developed a system for detecting huge methane leaks anywhere on Earth from space. The automatic methane spotter uses artificial intelligence (AI) to sift through 12 million daily observations gathered by Europe's Sentinel-5 Precursor satellite to detect the largest methane eruptions. The spotter employs Sentinel-5's Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI), which can identify methane's infrared glow, while the system's AI algorithms are trained to recognize methane plumes (and to filter out false positives). Tests on TROPOMI's 2021 measurements uncovered 2,974 methane leaks that researchers could confidently identify from one satellite pass, including more than 40% tied to oil and gas development, 33% linked with landfills, and 20% with coal mines.

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Autonomous Driving: Algorithm Distributes Risk Fairly
Technical University of Munich (Germany)
February 3, 2023


An autonomous driving algorithm developed by researchers at Germany's Technical University of Munich (TUM) is the first to incorporate an EU Commission expert panel's 20 ethics recommendations, and the first to distribute risk fairly instead of using the either/or principle to make an ethical decision. Said TUM's Maximilian Geisslinger, "Our algorithm weighs various risks and makes an ethical choice from among thousands of possible behaviors — and does so in a matter of only a fraction of a second." The researchers translated the expert panel's rules into mathematical calculations by classifying vehicles and people moving in street traffic based on the risk they pose to others and their willingness to take risks. They implemented a maximum acceptable risk in various street situations and variables that account for the responsibility of each party.

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Marisa Shuman challenged her students at the Young Women’s Leadership School of the Bronx to examine the work created by a chatbot. Computer Science Class Now Includes Critiquing Chatbots
The New York Times
Natasha Singer
February 6, 2023


At the Young Women's Leadership School of the Bronx, teacher Marisa Shuman recently challenged her computer science class to examine material produced by OpenAI's ChatGPT chatbot. She used the algorithm-generated lesson plan to analyze ChatGPT's potential utility and shortcomings with students. Several courses at the school ask students to consider how popular computer algorithms — often developed by mainly white and Asian men — may disproportionately affect groups like immigrants and low-income communities. Shuman and other U.S. educators say they are encouraging pupils to question the hype surrounding the technology and to weigh its potential consequences, in order to teach next-generation technology inventors and consumers "critical computing."

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AI Learns to Visualize Extensive Datasets
University of Helsinki (Finland)
January 30, 2023


Researchers at Finland's Aalto University and the University of Helsinki found that none of the most well-known methods of visual analytics worked with extensive datasets and could no longer distinguish strong signals of observational groupings in the data. The researchers were inspired to develop a new visual analytics algorithm by the discovery of the Higgs boson, whose dataset contained over 11 million feature vectors. University of Helsinki's Jukka Corander said, "This finding provided the impetus to develop a new method that utilizes graphical acceleration similarly to modern [artificial intelligence] methods for neural network computing." The researchers found that in tests of the algorithm, it chose the solution generally favored by humans, and highlighted the most important physical characteristics when applied to the Higgs boson data.

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A simple buzzer and some microphones help a drone navigate and map its surroundings. Flying Robot Echolocates Like a Bat to Avoid Hitting Walls
New Scientist
Alex Wilkins
February 2, 2023


Frederike Dümbgen and colleagues at Canada's University of Toronto and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne have equipped a flying robot to use bat-like echolocation to map its surroundings using a simple microphone and speaker. The robot’s speaker emits sound bursts infused with a range of frequencies, which bounce off walls and are recorded by the microphone when they come back. An algorithm then uses interference patterns caused by the sound waves to model the environment's surfaces. The researchers tested the system on a drone rigged with a buzzer and four microphones, and on a wheeled robot with a built-in speaker and microphone. The drone could map walls with up to 2-centimeter (0.7-inch) accuracy from 0.5 meters away when stationary, and with 8-centimeter (3.1-inch) accuracy when airborne.

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Discovering Unique Microbes Made Easy with DOE Systems Biology Knowledgebase
U.S. Department of Energy
January 27, 2023


The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Systems Biology Knowledgebase (KBase) public resource has released new features and a process for refined microbiome analysis that can expedite microbial ecology research. Biologists can use the new features to acquire genomes from microbiome sequences with simple software powered by DOE computers, reducing the time required for sequencing data processing and genome specification. KBase researchers added and upgraded tools for metagenome analysis, data types, and execution capabilities. The new metagenome analysis process can yield high-quality metagenome-assembled genomes using KBase applications and data products. The protocol enables the production and analysis of putative genomes from organisms exclusive to the environment.

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College Enrollment Stabilizing After Years of Declines
The Washington Post
Danielle Douglas-Gabriel
February 2, 2023


The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCR) suggests COVID-related declines in U.S. college enrollment are beginning to subside due to a surge of new freshmen, although headcount remains 5.8% below 2019 levels. NSCR estimates indicate erosion in undergraduate enrollment started to stabilize last fall when it shrank by 0.6% compared to the same time in 2021. U.S. enrollment in computer and information science courses grew 10% in the fall, drawing 54,000 additional students compared to the same period in the previous year. Overall, the NSCR report found headcount in computer science graduate programs rose 18% nationally. Said NSCR's Doug Shapiro, "It stands to reason that the labor market and job outlook for computer science skills has been continually strong and growing, despite the most recent layoff of the last month or two."

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The researchers integrated four humidity sensors between the absorbent layers of a diaper to create a “smart diaper,” capable of detecting wetness and sending out an alert for a change. Sensor Enables 'Smart Diapers,' Other Health Monitors
Penn State News
Adrienne Berard
February 2, 2023


Researchers at Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) and China's Hebei University of Technology have developed an electrode sensor that could be used to create wearable, self-powered health monitors. The low-cost hydration sensor can be drawn with a pencil on paper treated with sodium chloride; it exploits how paper reacts to humidity changes, using the pencil's graphite to interact with water molecules and the sodium-chloride solution. The paper can be connected to a computer to act as an environmental humidity detector. For wireless applications, the drawing is connected to a tiny lithium battery that powers data transmission to a smartphone via Bluetooth. The researchers used the technology to create a "smart diaper" that can detect wetness and signal for a change by integrating four sensors between the garment's absorbent layers.

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Applying Scientific Method to Bail Reform
ABC News
Tesfaye Negussie; Brittany Gaddy
February 2, 2023


More than 50 state, city, and county jurisdictions in the U.S. have implemented the Public Safety Assessment (PSA) tool to shift from cash-based bail systems to fairer judicial procedures. The algorithm, developed by the philanthropy Arnold Ventures and trained on 750,000 historical criminal cases, scores detainees on a scale of 1-6 based on a release conditions matrix that considers how likely they would be to appear in court for their trial, commit a new crime, or perpetrate a violent criminal act. The jurisdiction then uses that score to determine how it handles the detainee. There are concerns the PSA's use of criminal history data could prejudice the tool against people of color, as well as worries that such cashless bail policies will make communities inherently more dangerous.

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This soft robotic wearable can significantly assist upper arm and shoulder movement in people with ALS. Soft Robotic Wearable Restores Arm Function for People with ALS
Harvard University John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
Kat J. McAlpine
February 3, 2023


A soft robotic wearable designed by researchers at Harvard University's John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and Massachusetts General Hospital can enhance upper arm and shoulder movement in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis patients. SEAS' Tommaso Proietti said the cordless, battery-powered device is "basically a shirt with some inflatable, balloon-like actuators under the armpit. The pressurized balloon helps the wearer combat gravity to move their upper arm and shoulder." A sensor system can detect residual arm movement and calibrate suitable balloon actuator pressurization to help the wearer's arm move seamlessly and naturally. Following 30 seconds of calibration, the researchers found the device improved wearers' range of motion, alleviated muscle fatigue, and boosted performance of tasks like holding or reaching for objects.

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Researchers at Columbia University devised a way to grow engineered skin in complex, three-dimensional shapes, making it possible to construct a seamless “glove” of skin cells. Bioengineered Skin Grafts Fit Like a Glove
Columbia University Irving Medical Center
January 31, 2023


Columbia University researchers have developed a method for growing engineered skin in complex, three-dimensional (3D) shapes to make it easier to graft skin onto irregularly shaped body parts by slipping the skin on like clothing. Columbia's Hasan Erbil Abaci said 3D engineered skin "would dramatically minimize the need for suturing, reduce the length of surgeries, and improve aesthetic outcomes." It also functions better than conventional grafts that are pieced together. Creation of the skin grafts begins with a three-dimensional (3D) laser scan of the target structure, such as a human hand; then a hollow, permeable model is crafted using computer-aided design and 3D printing. Using this method, the researchers were able to graft engineered skin onto the hind limbs of mice, which Abaci said "was like putting a pair of shorts on" them.

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Piloting Drones Reliably with Mobile Communication Technology
Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (Germany)
February 1, 2023


Researchers at Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Telecommunications, Heinrich-Hertz-Institut (Fraunhofer HHI) teamed with partners in the SUCOM drone communication project to develop a mobile network system to control drones flying over long distances and rough terrain. In collaboration with drone manufacturer Wingcopter, delivery drone maker Emqopter, and American Society of Mechanical Engineers certification provider CiS, the researchers developed communication protocols that maintain drone connectivity despite data streams that may fluctuate. Fraunhofer HHI's Tom Piechotta said in a test, a SUCOM mobile network module-equipped drone maintained uninterrupted connection to the network, while a drone with a conventional module kept losing its connection.

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