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Welcome to the January 6, 2021 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Open Source Developer, Manager David Recordon Named White House Director of Technology
Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols
January 5, 2021

President-elect Joe Biden's transition team announced that open source software developer David Recordon has been named the White House Director of Technology. The team said his nearly 20-year career has focused on the intersection of technology, security, open source software, public service, and philanthropy. Recordon also was the first Director of White House Information Technology (IT) during the Obama administration, with IT modernization and cybersecurity his priorities. His agenda during the Biden presidency will include getting a grip on next-generation technology like facial recognition, artificial intelligence, and predictive analytics. Recordon wrote on LinkedIn: "The pandemic and ongoing cybersecurity attacks present new challenges for the entire Executive Office of the President, but ones I know that these teams can conquer in a safe and secure manner together."

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Individual (left, center) and combined scans (right). 'Virtual Biopsies' Could Replace Tissue Biopsies
University of Cambridge (U.K.)
January 6, 2021

An advanced computing technique developed by cancer researchers at the U.K.'s University of Cambridge combines computed tomography (CT) scans with ultrasound images as a potential virtual replacement for physical tissue biopsies. Cambridge's Evis Sala and colleagues designed the method to expose tumor heterogeneity from standard medical images, extracting details from CT scans of ovarian cancer patients using high-powered radiomics. The team used this information to map features of the tumor, then superimposed that map on an ultrasound image of the tumor. This combined image was used to guide the biopsy, which successfully captured the diversity of cancer cells within the growth. Cambridge's Lucian Beer said, "Our study is a step forward to non-invasively unravel tumor heterogeneity by using standard-of-care CT-based radiomic tumor habitats for ultrasound-guided targeted biopsies."

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The extended hand of a humanoid robot. Leading Computer Scientists Debate the Next Steps for AI in 2021
Ben Dickson
January 2, 2021

Canadian research company MontrealAI convened leading computer scientists in December to debate moving artificial intelligence (AI) forward in the year ahead. Cognitive scientist Gary Marcus cited key drawbacks of deep learning, including excessive data requirements, low capacity for inter-domain knowledge transfer, opacity, and a dearth of reasoning and knowledge representation. Early last year he suggested hybridizing learning algorithms and rules-based software, while computer researcher Luis Lamb proposed a foundational strategy for neural-symbolic AI based on logical formalization and machine learning. ACM A.M. Turing Award recipient Judea Pearl said AI systems require world knowledge and common sense to use the data they receive most efficiently.

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QuTech Researchers Develop Novel Qubit Readout Method
John Russell
January 4, 2021

Researchers at the Netherlands' Quantum Computing and Quantum Internet (QuTech) research institute have devised a novel method for reading quantum bits (qubits) that may help in assembling larger, better-controlled quantum computers. The technique is based on spin qubits in quantum dot arrays. As QuTech's Sjaak van Diepen described the phenomenon, "A first transition triggers a second transition, a second transition triggers a third transition, and so on—much like dominoes toppling over in a chain reaction." The research indicated that a Coulomb repulsion causes an initial charge transition to trigger subsequent transitions, inducing a cascade of electron hops. Combining this cascade with Pauli spin blockade enables the readout of distant spins, yielding results with the potential for high fidelity via a remote charge sensor in a quadruple quantum-dot device.

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An aerial drone flying among trees. A Robotic Revolution for Urban Nature
University of Leeds (U.K.)
January 5, 2021

An international team of more than 170 experts led by the U.K.'s University of Leeds evaluated the opportunities and challenges facing the use of robotic technology for urban nature and green space. Former Leeds researcher Mark Goddard said, "Understanding how robotics and autonomous systems will affect our interaction with nature is vital for ensuring that our future cities support wildlife that is accessible to all." Robotics, autonomous vehicles, and drones could help reduce existing pollution and traffic congestion, but they also might produce their own pollution, so cities may require re-planning to accommodate them. Leeds' Martin Dallimer said, "We need to make sure that the public, policymakers, and robotics developers are aware of the potential pros and cons, so we can avoid detrimental consequences and fully realize the benefits."

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Supercomputer Models Describe Chloride's Role in Corrosion
UC San Diego News Center
Kimberly Mann Bruch
January 5, 2021

Researchers at Oregon State University (OSU)'s College of Engineering modeled chloride's corrosive effects on structural metals using supercomputers at the University of California, San Diego's San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) and the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC). The OSU team applied density functional theory to probe the structural, magnetic, and electronic properties of certain molecules using SDSC's Comet and TACC's Stampede2 supercomputers. Said OSU's Burkan Isgor, "Not only do Comet and Stampede2 make it possible to work on more complex, more realistic, and industrially relevant problems, but also these high-performance computers let us do so within a reasonable timeframe, moving knowledge forward."

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Visualization Adds Transparency to Digital Product Development
Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (Germany)
January 4, 2021

Visualization software developed by researchers at Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research (IGD) and Austria's Linz Center of Mechatronics could embed transparency within digital product development. The Fraunhofer IGD team applied this tool to the development of electric motors, while its Linz partner produced technical data and mathematically modeled all product parameters. The visualization covers all criteria relevant for motor development, and portrays the interactions of individual parameters, relaying what occurs when any value is changed and the impact on other criteria, in real time. Fraunhofer IGD's Lena Cibulski said, "The software is an ideal choice whenever dealing with many design options and a number of incompatible quality criteria that require a compromise to be made."

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Hackers Exploit Backdoor Built Into Zyxel Devices
Ars Technica
Dan Goodin
January 4, 2021

Niels Teusink, a researcher at Netherlands-based security firm Eye Control, found that hackers are attempting to exploit a backdoor built into several Zyxel device models used as VPNs, firewalls, and wireless access points by thousands of individuals and businesses. This backdoor is an undocumented user account with full administrative rights that is hardcoded into the device’s firmware, which can be accessed over SSH or through a Web interface. Said Teusink, "An attacker could completely compromise the confidentiality, integrity and availability of the device.” A fix already is available for firewall models and will be available Jan. 8 for AP controllers.

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Vertical structures at the onset of transition to turbulence by Taylor Green vortices/ ETH Researchers Compute Turbulence With AI
ETH Zurich (Switzerland)
Simone Ulmer
January 4, 2021

The modeling of turbulence has been automated by researchers at ETH Zurich in Switzerland by merging reinforcement learning (RL) algorithms with turbulent flow simulations on the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre's (CSCS) "Piz Daint" supercomputer. The two major approaches for simulating turbulent flows are direct numerical simulation (DNS) and large eddy simulation (LES). The researchers used artificial intelligence (AI) to determine the best turbulent closure models from DNS and apply them to LES. Their RL algorithm uses the grid points that resolve the flow field as AI agents, which observed thousands of flow simulations to learn turbulence closure models. Said ETH's Petros Koumoutsakos, "The machine 'wins' when it succeeds to match LES with DNS results, much like machines learning to play a game of chess or GO.” Koumoutsakos added that the new methodology “offers a new and powerful way to automate multiscale modeling and advance science through a judicious use of AI."

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Portable Device Can Quickly Detect Plant Stress
MIT News
January 4, 2021

A device developed by researchers with the Singapore-Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Alliance for Research and Technology and Singapore's Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory (TLL) can read plant health, enabling sustainable crop yield maximization. The portable Raman leaf-clip sensor can diagnose nitrogen deficiency in plants, which can be connected to premature leaf deterioration and yield loss. MIT's Rajeev Ram said, "Our findings showed that in vivo measurements using the portable leaf-clip Raman sensor under full-light growth conditions were consistent with measurements obtained with a benchtop Raman spectrometer on leaf sections under laboratory conditions." TLL's Nam-Hai Chua said the sensor "was demonstrated on multiple vegetable varieties and supports the effort to produce nutritious, low-cost vegetables as part of the Singapore 30-by-30 initiative."

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The coronavirus pandemic has put corporate information technology in the spotlight. CIOs Enter 2021 with Expanded Role
The Wall Street Journal
Angus Loten
January 5, 2021

Information technology (IT) executives surveyed by CIO Journal say the pandemic has expanded their clout in corporate boardrooms and front-office decision-making. CIO Chris Bedi of cloud software company ServiceNow said, "The pandemic has shown us that digital transformation is the number one business imperative right now, and ... the role of the CIO has never been more crucial." Bedi added that the crisis ramped up a longstanding campaign to digitally overhaul business models. Industry analysts mainly credit the adoption of cloud computing for enabling IT executives to deliver real-time data on fast-changing markets. With business decisions becoming entwined with cloud computing and software applications, technology leaders say they are increasingly graded on business results, rather than as IT system maintainers.

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Fermilab and Partners Achieve Sustained, High-Fidelity Quantum Teleportation
University of Chicago News
December 28, 2020

Researchers at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab), AT&T, the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Harvard University, the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the University of Calgary in Canada have demonstrated for the first time a sustained, long-distance teleportation of qubits made of photons with fidelity greater than 90%, paving the way for a quantum Internet. The qubits were teleported over a 27-mile-long fiber-optic network using state-of-the art single-photon detectors and off-the-shelf equipment. Fermilab's Panagiotis Spentzouris said the demonstration was a “key achievement on the way to building a technology that will redefine how we conduct global communication.”

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