Seton Hall M.S. in Data Science
Welcome to the February 8, 2021 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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An image of the vaccine. Where Do Vaccine Doses Go, Who Gets Them? The Algorithms Decide
The New York Times
Natasha Singer
February 7, 2021

Trump administration officials last year formulated a Covid-19 vaccine distribution plan that has an algorithm divide shots nationwide based on each state's adult population, after which states would allocate doses to local hospitals, nursing homes, and clinics. However, public health experts said the algorithm has compounded states' burden, requiring multiple delivery plans for weekly Moderna and Pfizer vaccine quotas, even if different shipments are going to the same facilities. Algorithmic formulas generally follow U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance that prioritizes frontline healthcare workers, nursing home residents, seniors, and those with major health risks for inoculation. Yet vaccine access is widely uneven because federal agencies, states, local health departments, and medical centers each follow different allocation formulas, based on various ethical and political considerations. Rutgers Law School's Ellen P. Goodman said algorithms were necessary for efficient allocation, but public agencies and health centers should be transparent about prioritization formulas.

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A factory in Changzhou, China, where workers assemble locomotives made in conformance with Chinese industrial standards, and slated for export to Nigeria. From Lightbulbs to 5G, China Battles West for Control of Vital Technology Standards
The Wall Street Journal
Valentina Pop; Sha Hua; Daniel Michaels
February 8, 2021

China is channeling state funding and political influence to wrest control of technical standards for cutting-edge technologies from the West, especially those reliant on 5G networks. Chinese officials direct at least four global standards organizations; official documents estimate Beijing and regional governments supply annual stipends of up to 1 million yuan (roughly $155,000) for firms leading global standards development, while Western funding is dwindling. Former Japanese trade minister Akira Amari warned of standards for data-gathering technology authored by China, with its history of data collection. He said, "If Chinese products are set up to collect data, you have to work on the assumption that it will all end up with the Chinese government."

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Almost 70% of IT Staff Say Firms Working on Tech Gender Diversity
Computer Weekly (U.K.)
Clare McDonald
February 8, 2021

In the annual Computer Weekly/TechTarget Information Technology (IT) salary survey, over half of IT workers in the U.K. and Ireland indicated their companies were trying to address gender diversity in their IT departments last year. Overall, 67% of respondents said their firms were working on gender diversity, yet just 29% said their company had a plan in place to do so. Less than a third of respondents said similarly-qualified men and women earned the same wage in their company; earlier research estimated women in the U.K. technology industry made about 9% less than their male counterparts in 2016. Global Tech Advocates and Tech London Advocates' Russ Shaw said, "While there is a growing awareness of the scale of this challenge and an increasing number of tech companies are taking action, this research shows that more needs to be done and that change needs to happen faster."

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Quantum Systems Learn Joint Computing
Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Germany)
February 5, 2021

Researchers at Germany's Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (MPQ) connected two quantum bits (qubits) in two different laboratories to a distributed quantum computer via a 60-meter (196-foot) optical fiber. This represents the world's first distributed quantum computer prototype, which the MPQ team realized by using modules consisting of a single atom as a qubit positioned between two mirrors. A single light photon was transmitted between the modules, then entangled with the quantum states of the module's qubits. One qubit's state changed according to the measured state of the ancilla photon, supporting a quantum mechanical controlled NOT gate-operation with a fidelity of 80%. MPQ's Gerhard Rempe said, "Our scheme opens up a new development path for distributed quantum computing."

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Software Allows Scientists to 'Walk Inside' Samples
Australian National University
February 3, 2021

The new Drishti software developed by researchers at Australian National University (ANU) lets scientists visualize data in three dimensions and generate lifelike models of objects like fossil samples so they can "zoom in" on smaller details without damaging the original sample. ANU's Yuzhi Hu said, "After we scan the sample, we then have a set of 3D data which can be digitally dissected effectively using our new tool.” The ANU team said the software could be particularly useful for scientific communication and education. ANU's Ajay Limaye said Drishti's current applications include digitally duplicating a mummy sample. The Drishti software is free and available online.

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Psychologists standing in front of neurological images. A New Realm of Personalized Medicine With Brain Stimulation
USC Viterbi School of Engineering
Ben Paul
February 1, 2021

Machine-learning models developed by researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) and New York University can predict the impact of electrical stimulation on an individual's brain activity across multiple brain regions. The research paves the way for the use of personalized brain stimulation to treat certain neurological and mental disorders. The researchers created a novel electrical stimulation wave to map brain activity; machine learning models learn the map from brain data collected during stimulation. Said USC's Maryam Shanechi, "Our wave, which changes its amplitude and frequency randomly in time, allowed us to see and predict how the brain responded to a wide range of stimulation doses."

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Supercomputer in Your Bedroom: Researchers Unleash Potential of Desktop PCs to Run Simulations of Mammals' Brains
University of Sussex (U.K.)
Neil Vowles
February 2, 2021

Researchers at the U.K.'s University of Sussex used the latest graphical processing units (GPUs) to give a single desktop PC the capability to perform a large-scale brain simulation that typically requires a supercomputer. The simulations run on the desktop PC consume 10 times less energy than a supercomputer. Simulations using the researchers' GPU-accelerated spiking neural network simulator took up to 35% less time than a previous supercomputer simulation. Said the university's Thomas Nowotny, "This research is a game-changer for computational neuroscience and [artificial intelligence] researchers who can now simulate brain circuits on their local workstations, but it also allows people outside academia to turn their gaming PC into a supercomputer and run large neural networks."

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Blockchain Transactions Confirm Murky, Interconnected Ransomware Scene
Catalin Cimpanu
February 4, 2021

A study by blockchain investigations firm Chainalysis verified that cybercrime gangs often switch ransomware-as-a-service suppliers as they seek better profits. The modern ransomware ecosystem consists of coders who create and rent out ransomware, sometimes to anyone who subscribes, or to verified clients (affiliates) who typically spread the malware or launch attacks on networks; sometimes affiliates are themselves multiple gangs, executing specialized operations. Chainalysis confirmed this interconnected landscape using cryptographic traces of bitcoin transactions among the ransomware groups. The researchers found evidence of affiliates waging multiple ransomware attacks, while the operators of several campaigns used the same services to launder the stolen funds. Chainalysis said this could actually benefit law enforcement, because "the evidence suggests that the ransomware world is smaller than one may initially think, given the number of unique strains currently operating."

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This small drone is learning to fly and land like a honeybee. Flying Robots Suggest Bees Can't Rely on Instinct to Land on Flowers
New Scientist
David Hambling
February 1, 2021

Researchers at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands and Germany's Westphalian University of Applied Sciences used small drones to study how bees land on one flower and then another in turn. Bees and other insects use "optical flow," the rate at which things move through one’s field of view, to judge movement and decelerate for a soft landing. The researchers initially found optical flow does not distinguish speed and distance sufficiently at very low speeds; they then had the drones learn what surfaces like bark or grass look like at different distances. Delft's Guido de Croon said the combination of optical flow plus learning resulted in "really fast and smooth landings." Westphalian's Tobias Seidl noted bees also go through such a learning phase for landings.

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Neutrons Probe Molecular Behavior of Proposed Covid-19 Drug Candidates
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Olivia Trani
February 1, 2021

Using neutron experiments and computer simulations to determine how proposed Covid-19 drug candidates behave at the molecular level in a hydrated environment, researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) found that once hydrated, certain parts of the molecules moved more easily, which could influence how efficiently a drug binds to a target protein and inhibits viral activity. The researchers analyzed the methyl groups of three molecules—remdesivir, dexamethasone, and hydroxychloroquine—in dry and hydrated drug samples using ORNL's BASIS, VISION, SEQUOIA, and CNCS spectrometers. Computer modeling was used to connect certain molecular movements to specific energy peaks in the data. Said ORNL's Timmy Ramirez-Cuesta, "Using spectroscopy, we can look into how atoms are moving in a material. With this technique, we’re trying to help build up a library of how these drug molecules work at the atomic scale."

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Scientists Develop Method to Detect Fake News
University of Gottingen (Germany)
February 1, 2021

Researchers at Germany's universities of Göttingen and Frankfurt and Slovenia's Jožef Stefan Institute used machine learning to develop a method for identifying fake news even when such reports are repeatedly adapted. The approach creates classification models that identify suspicious messages based on content and certain linguistic characteristics, such as comprehensibility and mood. With the new model, which is similar in principle to spam filters, fraudsters cannot evade detection by adapting their messages to avoid certain words. This means that even if "suspicious" words are removed from the text, its linguistic features can still identify it as fake news. Said Michael Sierling of Goethe University Frankfurt, "This puts scammers into a dilemma. They can only avoid detection if they change the mood of the text so that it is negative, for instance. But then they would miss their target of inducing investors to buy certain stocks."

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The three-dimensionally printed Riverhead, NY, home is listed online through Zillow with an asking price of $299,999. A 3D-Printed House Is for Sale in New York. Builders Say It Will Cut Housing Construction Costs
Cole Higgins
February 7, 2021

The SQ4D construction company has listed what it calls the first three-dimensionally (3D)-printed house for sale in the U.S., in Riverhead, NY, on the Zillow online real estate marketplace. SQ4D can set up its Autonomous Robotic Construction System at a build site in no more than eight hours, and deposit concrete layer by layer to produce footing, foundation, and interior and exterior walls. The 3D-printed house features 1,407 square feet of living space and has three bedrooms, two baths, and a 2.5-car detached garage. Zillow's Stephen King said, "The cost of construction is 50% cheaper than the cost of comparable newly constructed homes in Riverhead, NY, and 10 times faster."

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A gravitational lens found in the DESI Legacy Surveys data. AI Finds More Than 1,200 Gravitational Lensing Candidates
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Glenn Roberts Jr.
February 2, 2021

A research team including physicists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) used artificial intelligence (AI) to identify over 1,200 gravitational lensing candidates. The researchers used a sample set of 632 observed lenses and lens candidates, and 21,000 non-lenses, to train a deep residual neural network; the dataset came from the Dark Energy Camera Legacy Survey and Dark Energy Survey. The candidate lenses discovered by the AI can yield insights on the role of dark matter in large celestial objects, and Berkeley Lab's findings, if verified, could more than double the number of known lenses. Berkeley Lab's David Schlegel said, "I really thought it would be many years before anyone would find this many gravitational lenses. It's just amazing to know that you're seeing, very clearly, space itself being warped by a massive object."

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