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Welcome to the February 17, 2021 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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virtual twin of Notre Dame cathedral Notre-Dame Rescue Is Buttressed by Digital Wizardry
Financial Times
Kevin Holden Platt
February 16, 2021

Art historians, architects, computer scientists, and digital designers from around the world are leveraging virtual reality (VR), three-dimensional modeling, and cloud computing technologies to create a "virtual twin" of the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris, France, as part of its reconstruction following a 2019 fire. The simulated cathedral will display the progress in real time using images streamed from inside the cathedral by robot-sentries outfitted with cameras. Engineers and experts on medieval architecture can move through the simulation while wearing VR headsets. Architectural drawings, post-fire scientific reports, and the provenance of specific building components can be accessed by clicking on any detail. Artificial intelligence agents also are moving quickly through pre- and post-fire images to identify surviving sculpted and limestone elements that could be reintegrated into the site. These techniques could be used to preserve ancient architecture virtually, reconstruct centuries-old sites, or create virtual museums for iconic cultural sites.

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an Apple watch Mount Sinai Study Finds Apple Watch Can Predict COVID-19 Diagnosis Up to a Week Before Testing
Darrell Etherington
February 9, 2021

Researchers at Mount Sinai Health System found that a positive COVID-19 diagnosis can be predicted up to a week before current PCR-based nasal swab tests using an Apple Watch and iPhone app. Participants, including several hundred health care workers at Mount Sinai, used the app for health data monitoring and collection and filled out a daily survey about their potential COVID-19 symptoms and other factors like stress. Of particular interest to researchers was participants' heart rate variability (HRV), a key indicator of strain on the nervous system, combined with information about reported symptoms. In addition to predicting positive COVID cases in advance, the researchers found that participants' HRV patterns normalized about one to two weeks following their positive tests. The researchers believe the findings could be useful in isolating individuals from others at risk without performing a physical exam or nasal swab test.

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Boeing autonomous aircraft Forget Self-Driving Cars—the Pentagon Wants Autonomous Ships, Choppers, and Jets
The Wall Street Journal
Andy Pasztor
February 13, 2021

The Pentagon is pushing for increased use of automation in the U.S. military, outpacing efforts in commercial automation as officials aim to counter technological advances among adversaries. These autonomous technologies are expected to emerge in future civilian aircraft, air traffic control systems, and drone applications, but unlike commercial automation, there are concerns about the lack of regulation over the Pentagon's initiatives. While these advanced systems will not be deployed immediately, the recent $740 billion defense authorization bill includes provisions to expand and promote automation across the military. Military projects in the works include pairing an autonomous jet fighter with a traditional one in mock dogfights and using autonomous helicopters to deliver supplies to remote outposts, an autonomous vehicle for transporting ground troops, undersea vehicles to carry cargo and gather intelligence, and artificial intelligence to assume the role of a U-2 reconnaissance plane pilot for navigation.

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AI Can Use the Veins on Your Hand Like Fingerprints to Identify You
New Scientist
Matthew Sparkes
February 12, 2021

Researchers at the University of New South Wales in Australia developed a technique to identify people using the unique pattern of veins on the back of their hands. They used 500 photos of the hands of 35 people to train a neural network to connect the pattern of veins to a particular subject. The model identified the test subjects with an accuracy rate of 99.8%, then identified four new subjects not included in the original dataset with a 96% accuracy rate. Researcher Syed Shah said vein detection is reliable for people of all ethnicities and is less vulnerable to attacks than existing biometric tests using fingerprints or face recognition. Shah said the technique potentially could be adapted for use with smartphones and CCTV cameras.

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Researcher Hacks Over 35 Tech Firms in Novel Supply Chain Attack
Ax Sharma
February 9, 2021

Security researcher Alex Birsan launched a novel software supply chain attack that breached the internal systems of more than 35 major companies, including Microsoft, Apple, PayPal, Shopify, Netflix, Yelp, Tesla, and Uber. The attack involved uploading malware to open source repositories like PyPI, npm, and RubyGems, which then was distributed downstream automatically into the company's internal applications. The attack did not need action by the victim, unlike traditional typosquatting or brandjacking attacks, instead taking advantage of dependency confusion, a unique design flaw of open-source ecosystems. Birsan explained that "vulnerabilities or design flaws in automated build or installation tools may cause public dependencies to be mistaken for internal dependencies with the exact same name." Birsan has earned more than $130,000 from bug bounty programs and pre-approved penetration testing arrangements for his research.

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two people checking smartphone for calorie counts, illustration Can Technology Help Us Eat Better?
The New York Times
Anahad O'Connor
February 8, 2021

New digital health companies are offering consumers wearable devices that measure their blood glucose levels, in the hope of improving their diet. The wearables transmit that data to the user's smartphone, displaying in real time how diet, sleep, exercise, and stress impact blood sugar levels. Dr. Casey Means, co-founder of the company Levels, said, "This is the first time [a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) has] been used for a mainstream population for the specific purpose of making lifestyle decisions." Another firm, January, provides CGMs to customers, then uses artificial intelligence to help them make dietary decisions, including predictions of their reactions to foods before consumption. The University of California, San Francisco's Dr. Aaron Neinstein said, "'If people can use these devices to test different foods and get a little feedback on what are the behaviors that are making them less healthy, then that seems like a valuable thing to me."

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Quantum Computing Enables Simulations to Unravel Mysteries of Magnetic Materials
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
February 9, 2021

Materials science simulations conducted by a multi-institutional research team on a quantum computer generated accurate results that can be confirmed with neutron scattering experiments and other practical methods. Investigators at the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UT Knoxville), Purdue University, and Canadian quantum computing firm D-Wave Systems embedded an existing quantum annealing model within a quantum computer. The results indicated that quantum resources can analyze magnetic materials' structure and properties, which could deepen understanding of novel phases of matter conducive to data storage and spintronics. UT Knoxville's Paul Kairys said, "We completed the largest simulation possible for this model on the largest quantum computer available at the time, and the results demonstrated the significant promise of using these techniques for materials science studies going forward."

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CSAIL LaserFactory Fabricating Fully Functional Drones
MIT News
Rachel Gordon
February 8, 2021

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) developed a three-dimensional (3D) printing system to manufacture functional, custom-made devices and robots like drones, without human intervention. CSAIL's Martin Nisser said, "By leveraging widely available manufacturing platforms like 3D printers and laser cutters, LaserFactory is the first system that integrates these capabilities and automates the full pipeline for making functional devices in one system." LaserFactory combines a software toolkit for custom design with a hardware platform, enabling users to fabricate structural geometry, print traces, and build electronic components like sensors and actuators. Said Nisser, "Beyond engineering, we're also thinking about how this kind of one-stop shop for fabrication devices could be optimally integrated into today's existing supply chains for manufacturing, and what challenges we may need to solve to allow for that to happen."

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FLeet: Putting Machine Learning in Your Pocket
EPFL (Switzerland)
Tanya Petersen
February 11, 2021

Researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL) and the French National Institute for Research in Digital Science and Technology (INRIA) have demonstrated that mobile devices can perform machine learning in real time as part of a distributed network without compromising device functionality or sharing data. The researchers created FLeet, which combines the privacy of standard the Federated Learning model with I-Prof, a lightweight profiler that predicts and controls the impact of learning tasks on mobile devices, and AdaSGD, an adaptive learning algorithm that is resilient to delayed updates. EPFL's Anne-Marie Kermarrec said, "What we have shown is that if we put all our phones together they start constituting big computing power to match the likes of Google and that gives people alternatives to relying on centralized, powerful computer farms."

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image of AI agent playing a game of hiding and searching for objects AI Agents Play 'Hide the Toilet Plunger' to Learn Deep Concepts About Life
IEEE Spectrum
Eliza Strickland
February 11, 2021

Researchers at the Allen Institute for AI (AI2) demonstrated that artificial intelligence agents learned the concept of object permanence—that objects hidden from view are still there—by playing hide and seek. The agents, playing as both hiders and seekers, learned the game "Cache" via reinforcement learning. The agents began learning about the environment by taking random actions, like pulling on drawers, and dropping objects in random places. Their game play improved as they learned from outcomes, with the hider, for instance, learning that it had selected a good hiding place when the seeker failed to find the object. Subsequent testing showed that the agents understood the principles of containment and object permanence and were able to rank images based on how much free space they contained. The agents performed as well or better than models trained on the gold-standard ImageNet.

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NRL 3D-Printed Antenna Designs Reduce Cost, Weight, and Size
U.S. Navy Office of Information
Kevin McAndrews
February 11, 2021

New three-dimensionally (3D)-printed antennas and arrays designed by U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) experts combine light weight with reduced cost and size. 3D-printed radar components, like a cylindrical array, can be manufactured in hours rather than days using traditional methods, due to less machining and assembly time. For NRL's Anna Stumme and colleagues, rapid manufacturing via 3D printing allows tests to be performed quickly on new designs, which Stumme said is "a way to test more design iterations in a short amount of time." She and colleagues are exploring how 3D-printed parts can benefit weight-and-size-limited applications such as unmanned aerial vehicles or small ships.

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'Multiplying' Light Could Be Key to Ultra-Powerful Optical Computers
University of Cambridge
February 8, 2021

Researchers at the U.K.'s University of Cambridge and Russia's Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech) propose a new optical computing method for solving highly complex problems, by reducing light signals while simplifying the search for optimal mathematical solutions. The technique combines light by multiplying the wave functions describing the light waves, rather than adding them. The team demonstrated that tiny light pulses or blobs of coherent, superfast-moving polaritons can be generated in space and nonlinearly overlap with each another, due to their matter component. Skoltech's Nikita Stroev said, "If you get the coupling and light intensity right, the light multiplies, affecting the phases of the individual pulses, giving away the answer to the problem." The authors also have deployed a technique to guide optical system trajectories toward the solution by temporarily modifying the coupling strengths of the signals.

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Sweden to Establish National Cybersecurity Center
Computer Weekly
Gerard O'Dwyer
February 8, 2021

Sweden is the latest Nordic country to commission key defense and security agencies to establish a national cybersecurity center (NCSC), in the wake of a string of cyberattacks against major Swedish corporations last year. The NCSC will be set up and run by a coalition of state security organizations led by the Swedish Armed Forces and its signals intelligence arm, the National Defense Radio Establishment (FRA). Sweden's government has allocated 440 million krona ($52.8 million) to meet the NCSC's projected operational costs from 2021 through 2025. Central to the NCSC's mission will be coordinating with public and private entities to prevent, detect, and manage cyberattacks and other information technology incidents. FRA's Björn Lyrvall said many cyberattacks are orchestrated by state actors and criminal organizations, and the NCSC "will strengthen our resilience to defend against cyber threats and protect our society."

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