Welcome to the July 9, 2021 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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The ACM Student Research Competition logo. 2021 ACM Student Research Competition Winners Announced
July 8, 2021

ACM has announced the winners of the 2021 Grand Finals of its Student Research Competition (SRC), which involved 296 computer science students presenting projects at 21 ACM conferences. The University of Texas at Austin's Jiaqi Gu took first place in the graduate category for developing a method of tapping optical neural networks to facilitate efficient neuromorphic computing. Thomas B. McHugh of Northwestern University was ranked first in the undergraduate category for his project, “Constructing Agency and Usability Through Community-Driven Assistive Technology Design.” Microsoft Research's Evelyne Viegas said, "The ACM Student Research Competition prepares students for the future contributions they will make. As active participants in the global research community, SRC students are given access to the world's top computing conferences that empower them to engage in dialogue and share their ideas before experts and peers."

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A skull and crossbones binary computer screen. Microsoft's Emergency Patch Fails to Fix Critical 'PrintNightmare' Vulnerability
Ars Technica
Dan Goodin
July 7, 2021

Researchers warn a software patch Microsoft issued this week did not fully correct a flaw in all supported versions of the Windows operating system that allows hackers to commandeer infected networks. The PrintNightmare vulnerability is rooted in bugs in the Windows print spooler, which supports printing functionality in local networks, and which attackers can exploit remotely when print capabilities are exposed online. Hackers also can use the flaw to escalate system privileges once they have infiltrated a vulnerable network via another bug, hijacking the domain controller. Benjamin Delpy, a developer of the hacking and network utility Mimikatz, tweeted that exploits could circumvent Microsoft's out-of-band update, which fails to fix vulnerable systems that employ certain settings for the point and print feature.

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Facebook, Twitter, Google Threaten to Quit Hong Kong Over Proposed Data Laws
The Wall Street Journal
Newley Purnell
July 5, 2021

Facebook, Twitter, and Google have privately threatened to halt service to Hong Kong if the city's government revises data-protection ordinances that could make the companies liable for doxing, or malicious online sharing of individuals' information. The Singapore-based Asia Internet Coalition, which the Internet firms are members of, expressed concern the proposed rules' vague language could subject their employees to criminal investigations or prosecution for doxing by their users. "The only way to avoid these sanctions for technology companies would be to refrain from investing and offering the services in Hong Kong," states a letter from the Coalition. The letter further said the proposed revisions could curtail free expression and outlaw even "innocent acts of sharing information online."

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Illustration representing the future Quantum Internet. Untappable Communication Becomes Practical with MDI-QKD System in Future Quantum Internet
TU Delft (Netherlands)
July 6, 2021

Engineers at the QuTech institute created by the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) and the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research have devised a cost-scalable system for untappable communication. TU Delft's Joshua Slater said the measurement-device independent quantum key distribution (MDI-QKD) system enables the connection of multiple users through a central node that functions like a switchboard operator. Said Slater, "The entire system is designed such that hacking attacks against the central node cannot break the security of the protocol." He also said QuTech researchers have facilitated a proof-of-principle demonstration of MDI-QKD, as well as demonstrations of its capabilities over deployed optical fibers and commercially available hardware.

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The three-dimensional cat display. Giant 3D Cat Takes Over One of Tokyo's Biggest Billboards
Megan C. Hills
July 7, 2021

One of the largest billboards in Tokyo is displaying a hyper-realistic three-dimensional (3D) cat in 4K resolution. The gigantic feline is projected moving around on a 1,664-sq.-ft. (155-square-meter) curved light-emitting diode (LED) screen overlooking a railway station in the city’s Shinjuku district. The Shinjuku cat, airing between 7 a.m. and 1 a.m., is a test broadcast for a display that officially opens July 12. The Cross Shinjuku Vision billboard's owners said the 3D effect of the display can diminish depending on the viewing angle. One of the companies that organized the display, Cross Space, has begun livestreaming a view of the billboard on online video service YouTube.

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The European Robotic Arm. Europe to Launch 2-Handed Robotic Arm to the International Space Station
Tereza Pultarova
July 6, 2021

The European Robotic Arm, developed by Airbus for the European Space Agency, is scheduled to be flown to the International Space Station on July 15 with the new Russian Multipurpose Laboratory Module. The autonomous robotic arm features dexterous hands attached to two symmetrical arms, each just over 16 feet (just under 5 meters) long. Made of lightweight aluminum and carbon fiber, the arm can install components weighing up to 17,600 pounds, reach targets with 5-millimeter precision, and transport astronauts from one work site to another during spacewalks. It also is equipped with an infrared camera that can be used to inspect the exterior of the space station and stream video to the astronauts inside. The arm can be controlled by the astronauts in real time, or autonomously perform pre-programmed tasks.

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The Tech Cold War's 'Most Complicated Machine' That's Out of China's Reach
The New York Times
Don Clark
July 4, 2021

A Dutch company's computer-chip manufacturing system has become a point of leverage in the U.S.-Chinese competition for global dominance in the computer industry. ASML Holding's $150-million-plus system defines ultrasmall circuitry on leading-edge chips with extreme ultraviolet light to boost performance. ASML's machine also requires development and assembly across three continents, making any country's ambitions to build a totally self-sufficient semiconductor supply chain unrealistic. The system uses mirrors made by Germany’s Zeiss optics firm and other hardware by San Diego-based Cymer; Japanese companies provide critical chemicals and photomasks. The Biden administration appears likely to uphold the previous administration's embargo on selling ASML equipment to China.

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A numerical simulation of aerosol dispersion. Simulation of Air Flow After Coughing, Sneezing to Study the Transmission of Diseases Such as COVID-19
Universitat Rovira i Virgili (Spain)
June 30, 2021

Researchers at Spain's Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV) simulated air flow from coughing and sneezing using high-performance computation systems to better understand the airborne spread of diseases like COVID-19. The researchers found the air plume generated by a cough or sneeze carries particles smaller than 32 microns higher than the height of emission, producing a cloud that can remain suspended and dispersed by air currents over long distances. The researchers used the results of the simulations to develop a map of the concentration of viral particles around an infected person following a cough or sneeze.

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Data Security Rules Instituted for U.S. Payment Processing System
Jonathan Greig
June 30, 2021

New data security rules governing the payment system that facilitates direct deposits and direct payments for nearly all U.S. bank and credit union accounts are now in effect. The National Automated Clearinghouse Association (NACHA) stipulates that an account number used for any Automated Clearinghouse (ACH) payment must be rendered indecipherable while stored electronically. This mandate is applicable to any facility where account numbers related to ACH entries are stored. NACHA has instructed ACH originators and third parties that process over 6 million ACH transactions annually to render deposit account data unreadable when stored electronically, recommending measures that include encryption, truncation, tokenization, and destruction. The regulator said access controls like passwords are unacceptable, but disk encryption is permitted, provided additional and prescribed physical safeguards are implemented.

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The Zuchongzhi quantum computer. China Beats Google to Claim the World's Most Powerful Quantum Computer
New Scientist
Matthew Sparkes
July 5, 2021

Chinese researchers have demonstrated the world's most powerful quantum computer, displacing Google's Sycamore processor as the holder of quantum supremacy. The 54-quantum-bit (qubit) Sycamore solved the benchmark problem of simulating a quantum circuit and sampling random numbers from its output in three minutes 20 seconds; the Google team said the most powerful classical supercomputer would have taken 10,000 years to crack the problem. The Chinese team’s Zuchongzhi processor featured 66 qubits, although the team reportedly used just 56 to solve the same challenge in about 70 minutes. Peter Knight at the U.K.'s Imperial College London said, "What this has done is really demonstrate what we've always thought we knew, but didn't have proved experimentally, that you can always beat a classical machine by adding a few more qubits."

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Technion AI researchers Ofra Amir, Liat Levontin, and Zohar Gilad. Technion Study Finds Warmth of AI Systems More Important Than Capability
The Jerusalem Post
June 30, 2021

A study by researchers at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology found that potential users of artificial intelligence (AI) systems consider such systems’ “warmth” more important than capability and competence. The study of more than 1,600 participants defined warmth as related to traits indicating the AI system's perceived intent, such as friendliness, helpfulness, sincerity, trustworthiness, and morality. The researchers found participants preferred “warm” AI systems built for the consumer that use algorithms trained on less data over systems built for the producer that use state-of-the-art artificial neural network algorithms. The researchers looked at navigation apps, search engines, and recommender systems, in contrast to prior research that focused on virtual agents or robots.

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An individual with Cobot Designer. Web-Based Design Tool for Better Job Safety
Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (Germany)
July 1, 2021

A free Web-based tool developed by Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation IFF aims to help companies design cobots, or robots that work alongside humans, to reduce the risk of accidents and increase employee safety. The Cobot Designer, which runs on all browsers, can be used by companies before purchasing a robot to determine whether its speed will allow a task to be performed productively and safely. Users enter the robot's parameters, the hazard, and the tool to be used, and the Cobot Designer will calculate the effect of contact between a human and the robot, and the robot's maximum permissible speed. Fraunhofer's Roland Behrens said, "The goal is to use computer simulation, as the Cobot Designer does, to dispense with measurements entirely in the future."

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ML Algorithm Predicts How Genes Are Regulated in Individual Cells
UIC Today
June 30, 2021

A software tool designed by University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) scientists uses a machine learning algorithm to help researchers more efficiently identify genetic regulators. The Bayesian Inference Transcription Factor Activity Model (BITFAM) predicts the transcription factors most likely to be active in individual cells. BITFAM integrates new gene expression profile data collected from single-cell RNA sequencing with current biological data on transcription factor target genes, then runs computer-based models to find the best match and forecast the activity of each transcription factor in the cell. The team tested BITFAM in cells from lung, heart, and brain tissue, and UIC's Shang Gao said the algorithm yields not only significant activities, but also insights into underpinning regulatory mechanisms.

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