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Welcome to the May 24, 2021 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Does Correcting Online Falsehoods Make Matters Worse?
MIT News
Peter Dizikes
May 20, 2021

A Twitter field experiment by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) found that after corrections to tweeted misinformation, there was an increase in retweeting lower-quality and more partisan news. The experiment involved using a series of Twitter bot accounts to issue corrections and links to accurate information in response to 2,000 Twitter users who had tweeted one of 11 frequently repeated false news articles. In the 24 hours after being corrected, the researchers found the accuracy of news sources retweeted by these users fell about 1%. An analysis of more than 7,000 retweets with links to political content during that period showed a more than 1% increase in partisan lean and a 3% increase in toxic language. MIT's David G. Rand said, "It seems that getting publicly corrected by another user shifted people's attention away from accuracy—perhaps to other social factors, such as embarrassment."

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A robotic “extra” thumb. This Robotic Extra Thumb Can Be Controlled by Moving Your Toes
New Scientist
Chris Stokel-Walker
May 19, 2021

A prosthetic robotic thumb controlled by users' toes could come with a cognitive cost, according to scientists at the U.K.'s University College London (UCL). UCL's Danielle Clode and colleagues outfitted 36 people with the robotic thumb, which is controlled by sensors worn on the big toes, with commands transmitted via wireless hardware on the wrist and ankle. Wiggling each toe lets users move the thumb in different directions or clench its grip. UCL's Paulina Kieliba said magnetic resonance imaging before and after the experiment showed that participants' brains perceived each finger on the hand with the robotic thumb as more similar to each other than they did before the experiment.

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You Can Pet a Virtual Cat, Feel Its Simulated Fur Using Elaborate VR Controller
Andrew Liszewski
May 14, 2021

A virtual reality (VR) controller developed by researchers at Taiwan's National Taiwan and National Chengchi universities lets users feel simulated fur while petting a virtual animal. The prototype HairTouch controller augments a VR headset that tracks and mirrors hand movements in a simulated environment with a device that uses tufts of artificial fur. The controller not only presents the fake fur when a user touches a furry creature in VR, but it also simulates the sensations of different types of fur and other surfaces by manipulating the hairs as they extend and contract. The controller can also be used to simulate the feel of other textures, including fabrics.

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Helping Robots Learn What They Can and Can't Do in New Situations
The Michigan Engineer News Center
Dan Newman
May 19, 2021

University of Michigan researchers have developed a method of helping robots to predict when the model on which they were trained is unreliable, and to learn from interacting with the environment. Their approach involved creating a simple model of a rope's dynamics while moving it around an open space, adding obstacles, creating a classifier that learned when the model was reliable without learning how the rope interacted with the objects, and including recovery steps for when the classifier determined the model was unreliable. The researchers found their approach was successful 84% of the time, versus 18% for a full dynamics model, which aims to incorporate all possible scenarios. The approach also was successful in two real-world settings that involved grabbing a phone charging cable, and manipulating hoses and straps under a car hood. Michigan's Dmitry Berenson said, "This method can allow robots to generalize their knowledge to new situations that they have never encountered before."

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AI-Aided Search for Single-Atom-Alloy Catalysts Yields More Than 200 Promising Candidates
Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Russia)
May 19, 2021

A new search algorithm for single-atom-alloy catalysts (SAACs) developed by an international research team led by Russia’s Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech) has identified more than 200 as yet unreported candidates. The researchers' machine-learning model scanned more than 5,000 SAACs and was able to predict their catalytic performance more accurately and quickly. The researchers also developed a machine-learning methodology that identifies combinations of materials' physical properties, in order to identify those that generate outstanding catalytic performance. Skoltech's Sergey Levchenko said, "The developed methodology can be easily adapted to designing new functional materials for various applications, including electrocatalysis (oxygen reduction and hydrogen evolution reactions), fuel cells, reforming of methane, and water-gas shift reaction."

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Does Driving Wear You Out? You Might Be Experiencing 'Accelerousal'
University of Houston News
Sally Strong
May 19, 2021

Researchers in the University of Houston (UH) Computational Physiology Lab, working with colleagues at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, explored why some drivers become more exhausted behind the wheel than others, and found driver stress may be triggered by acceleration events, which they described as “accelerousal.” The researchers took thermal stress readings of volunteer drivers during separate half-hour trips along the same route in a Toyota Sienna minivan, with an onboard computer that recorded vehicle acceleration, speed, brake force, and steering. About half the participants consistently showed peak stress during periods of commonplace acceleration, while others exhibited no notable changes from baseline measurements. Said UH's Ioannis Pavlidis, “The differences were significant, with ‘accelaroused’ participants logging nearly 50% more stress than non-accelaroused ones.”

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A person walks past a Microsoft sign at the company’s office in Beijing, China Microsoft Pushes into Growing Grocery Tech Market with Deal in China
Evelyn Cheng
May 20, 2021

Microsoft's Chinese branch last week announced its latest omnichannel retail push to develop cloud-based software for store operators, in partnership with Chinese retail technology provider Hanshow. Hanshow, whose clients are mainly Chinese and European supermarkets, said its products include electronic shelf labels that can display price changes in real time, a system that helps workers pack produce faster for delivery, and a cloud-based platform that lets retailers simultaneously view the temperatures of fresh produce in stores worldwide. The partnership also will develop Internet of Things technology, while Hanshow's Gao Bo said Hanshow will gain access to Microsoft Office 365 software such as Word, and Dynamics 365, a cloud-based customer relationship management system. Joe Bao at Microsoft's China unit said the partnership aims to extend the reach of China's grocery technology globally.

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A worker watches a robot cut a piece of plastic for a face shield at Mask and Shield. Hiring Troubles Prompt Some Employers to Eye Automation, Machines
The Washington Post
David J. Lynch
May 19, 2021

Some U.S. employers are ramping up automation as demand for labor outstrips supply, partly driven by innovations in sensors, wireless communications, and optics in the last decade. The COVID-19 pandemic expedited the rollout of automation in industries that previously had been slow to adopt such systems. According to the Association for Advancing Automation, companies outside the auto industry last year constituted over 50% of industrial robot orders for the first time. Bank of America (BofA)'s Ethan Harris said this reflects a gradual "tectonic shift" fueled not just by the pandemic, but also by supply-chain issues and trade issues. BofA analysts forecast twice as many robots in the global economy by 2025 versus 2019, resulting in years of workforce disruption even after the pandemic ends.

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A Pittsburgh site once occupied by a steel mill will be home to Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Innovation Center and an institute focused on advanced materials and manufacturing. Robotics Hub Carnegie Mellon Lands $150-Million Grant
The Wall Street Journal
Sara Castellanos
May 21, 2021

The Richard King Mellon Foundation has allocated a $150-million grant to Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), half of which the university plans to use to expand research and personnel for its advanced manufacturing program and to construct the new Robotics Innovation Center. The other half will be used to build a new science facility on CMU's campus. The university anticipates its research in robotics and artificial intelligence will double over the next decade; "We're convinced of it,” CMU's Farnam Jahanian said, “driven by market needs in almost every sector." The university’s goals for these initiatives are to draw talent to CMU for new manufacturing technologies, and to advance Pittsburgh's economic development.

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Vulnerabilities in Billions of Wi-Fi Devices Let Hackers Bypass Firewalls
Ars Technica
Dan Goodin
May 21, 2021

Security researcher Mathy Vanhoef found 12 fragmentation vulnerabilities and aggregation attack (FragAttack) exploits in Wi-Fi systems that leave billions of devices potentially vulnerable. FragAttacks let hackers within radio range inject frames into networks shielded by Wi-Fi Protected Access-based encryption; although FragAttacks cannot be used to read passwords or other sensitive data, they can cause other kinds of damage when coupled with other exploits. One particularly severe FragAttack is a flaw in the Wi-Fi specification itself, which if exploited forces devices to use a rogue Domain Name System server, which can subsequently route users to malicious websites. While the most effective way to mitigate the threat is to install all available updates that address the vulnerabilities on each vulnerable computer, router, or Internet-of-things device, it is likely many affected devices will never be patched.

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Highly Sensitive LiDAR System Enhances Autonomous Driving Vision
Interesting Engineering
Chris Young
May 20, 2021

A Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) system developed by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Virginia can enhance weak signals reflected off faraway objects. A new avalanche photodiode they developed can amplify the photoelectric effect for light detection via a staircase-like alignment. The researchers said its greater light sensitivity enabled it to generate a more comprehensive perspective for a car's onboard computers, while also removing noise. The engineers intend to integrate the new device with an avalanche photodiode they invented last year to capture near-infrared light, for greater accuracy in fiber-optic communications and thermal imaging.

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Providing Sound Foundations for Cryptography: On the Work of Shafi Goldwasser and Silvio Micali
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