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Welcome to the December 1, 2021 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Living Robots Can Now Reproduce, Scientists Say
Katie Hunt
November 29, 2021

Researchers at the University of Vermont, Tufts University, and Harvard University discovered that the living robots they developed last year from the stem cells of the African clawed frog are able to reproduce. University of Vermont's Josh Bongard said the xenobots reproduce using kinetic replication, which has never been seen before at the scale of whole cells or organisms. The researchers used a supercomputer and artificial intelligence (AI) to determine the C-shape that would make the xenobots more effective at kinetic replication. Bongard said the AI came up “with this Pac-Man shape” of the xenobots, which “influences how the xenobots behave to amplify this incredibly surprising process."

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U.K. patient Steve Verze become the first person to be fitted with a 3D-printed eyeball. Man Becomes First 3D-Printed Eyeball Recipient
New York Post
Ben Cost
November 25, 2021

The U.K.'s Steve Verze became the world's first recipient of a three-dimensionally (3D)-printed eyeball. Patients typically wait six weeks to receive a prosthetic eye, but doctors at London's Moorfields Eye Hospital said the 3D-printed option could cut that in half. The patient's empty socket is scanned to map the area via software, before scanning the good eye to ensure the new eyeball is a match. The prosthesis is 3D-printed in Germany within 2.5 hours, then delivered to Moorfields and fitted to the patient. Moorfields' Mandeep Sagoo said, "We are excited about the potential for this fully digital prosthetic eye.”

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Most Cryptocurrency Trades May Be People Buying from Themselves
New Scientist
Chris Stokel-Walker
November 25, 2021

Researchers at the U.K.'s Newcastle University have found that as many as seven in 10 cryptocurrency trades on popular exchanges worldwide may involve people purchasing from themselves to inflate prices artificially. The researchers studied trades of the four most popular cryptocurrencies—bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, and Ripple—on 29 cryptocurrency exchanges from July to November 2019. The researchers uncovered large volumes of "wash trading," in which investors sell and buy the same asset to create artificial interest in an investment, which generally distorts prices. They said such wash trading appeared to account for more than 70% of total trading volume on unregulated exchanges.

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Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have developed a machine learning model that understands the underlying relationships between objects in a scene. AI That Understands Object Relationships
MIT News
Adam Zewe
November 29, 2021

A deep learning model developed by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) understands the underlying relationships between objects in a scene. This could further the development of robots able to learn from and interact with their environments. The framework can generate an image of a scene based on text descriptions of objects and their relationships within that scene. They used energy-based models to represent individual object relationships in a scene description, then combined them to infer all objects and relationships. Said MIT's Yilun Du, "We can increase our sentence from having one relation description to having two, or three, or even four descriptions, and our approach continues to be able to generate images that are correctly described by those descriptions, while other methods fail."

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AWS Launches Services for Automotive Industry
Frederic Lardinois
November 30, 2021

Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced new services for automakers at its annual re:Invent conference, including the AWS FleetWise offering for retrieving sensor and telemetry data from vehicle fleets. AWS' Mike Tzamaloukas said manufacturers initially must describe and model each vehicle and its sensors via the open-source Vehicle Signal Specification, after which AWS provides the source code needed to interact with FleetWise and collect data. Developers can incorporate the code into the vehicle gateway, while engineers can start arranging data collection campaigns to import data from the vehicle fleet. Tzamaloukas expects FleetWise to be generally available next year, adding that cars equipped with FleetWise will be available around 2024.

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The ultracompact camera system relies on a technology called a metasurface, which is studded with 1.6 million cylindrical posts and can be produced much like a computer chip. Researchers Shrink Camera to Size of Salt Grain
Princeton University Electrical and Computer Engineering News
Molly Sharlach
November 29, 2021

A salt-grain-sized camera developed by researchers at Princeton University and the University of Washington can generate sharp, full-color images comparable to those created using conventional compound camera lenses 500,000 times larger. The technology uses a metasurface studded with 1.6 million microscopic cylindrical posts, each functioning like an optical antenna. Each post's design is varied to shape the optical wavefront correctly, while signal-processing algorithms combine with the posts' optical interactions to generate images. Said the U.S. Army Research Laboratory's Joseph Mait, "Although the approach to optical design is not new, this is the first system that uses a surface optical technology in the front end and neural-based processing in the back."

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Working of Algorithms Used in Government Decision-Making to Be Revealed
The Guardian (U.K.)
Dan Milmo
November 29, 2021

The U.K. government has published a standard for transparency requiring ministers and public entities to disclose the underlying architecture of algorithms they use for decision-making. They also will be required to explain where the algorithms were used, the reason for their use, and whether they were successful. The standard will be tested by government departments and other public-sector bodies in the coming months, before being reviewed again and formally launched next year. The Alan Turing Institute's Adrian Weller said, "Organizations are increasingly turning to algorithms to automate or support decision-making. We have a window of opportunity to put the right governance mechanisms in place as adoption increases."

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Stanford graduate student Ben Bartlett (left) and electrical engineering professor Shanhui Fan have proposed a simpler design for photonic quantum computers using readily available components. Stanford Engineers Propose Simpler Design for Quantum Computers
Stanford News
McKenzie Prillaman
November 29, 2021

Stanford University engineers have proposed a simpler design for quantum computers by harnessing a laser to manipulate an atom and alter photonic states through quantum teleportation. The atom can be recalibrated and reused for numerous quantum gates, which renders multiple distinct physical gates unnecessary. The design includes a storage ring to hold several counter-propagating photons, while a scattering unit manipulates photonic quantum bits (qubits). Since any quantum logic gate can be compiled into a series of operations performed on the atom, quantum programs of any size can be run on a single atomic qubit. Stanford's Ben Bartlett said in this design, changing programs only requires giving the machine "a different set of instructions."

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Finland Battles 'Exceptional' Malware Attack Spread by Phones
Kati Pohjanpalo
November 30, 2021

Finland is working to counter malware-carrying text messages of unknown origin that number in the millions, according to Aino-Maria Vayrynen at the country's National Cyber Security Center. Finnish telecom Telia has intercepted hundreds of thousands of texts containing links to the FluBot malware. Many messages claim recipients have received a voice mail and request they open a link, which on Android devices summons a prompt that requests the installation of the malware-impregnated application; authorities said users of Apple's iPhones are ushered to fraudulent material on the site. "The malware attack is extremely exceptional and very worrying," said Teemu Makela at leading Finnish telecom Elisa Oyj.

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U.S. Workforce Falling Behind in Digital Skills
Alexandra Kelley
November 30, 2021

A report by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) estimated that nearly a third of the U.S. workforce have limited or no digital skills. ITIF's Stephen Ezell said these findings "should raise the alarm in Washington as an increasingly digitalized global economy requires ever-more digitally skilled workforces for nations to remain productive." Data from 2021 indicated the U.S. ranked 29th out of 100 countries in terms of students enrolled in operating systems, cloud computing, and mathematics courses. Among Ezell’s recommendations were fortifying the computer science (CS) curriculum to count toward high school graduation; doubling the number of science, technology, engineering, and math charter schools; giving colleges and universities incentives to teach CS and digital literacy courses; investing more in artificial intelligence, and boosting the federal budget for training and reskilling.

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A Pennsylvania State University-led research team developed a modeling technique that can make identifying CO2 storage sites easier and cheaper. Physics-Informed Deep Learning to Assess Carbon Dioxide Storage Sites
Penn State News
Gabrielle Stewart
November 30, 2021

A cost-effective predictive modeling technique developed by researchers at Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) and the University of Texas at Austin can more easily identify underground carbon sequestration sites. The researchers trained deep learning algorithms to predict potential sites’ responses to carbon dioxide injection based on data produced by simulated scenarios of carbon dioxide in a 7,500-foot-deep reservoir. Incorporating fundamental physics principles helped address the risk of overfitting when estimations too closely align with the dataset. Penn State's Parisa Shokouhi said the resulting simulation was less costly and faster to use than conventional numerical models, yet more accurate and potentially more generalizable than data-driven models.

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Creating 3D Maps with a Backpack
University of Twente (Netherlands)
K.W. Wesselink
November 23, 2021

At the University of Twente (UT) in the Netherlands, a researcher has developed a wearable mobile mapping system that can generate detailed three-dimensional (3D) maps of building interiors. The ITC-Backpack features three two-dimensional (2D) LIDAR scanners to record points on walls, ceilings, and floors, and an inertial measurement unit (IMU) to measure the backpack's accelerations and angular velocities over time. The researchers also developed a LIDAR-IMU-based simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) algorithm that depends on planar structures in indoor environments. While he encountered some challenges in creating a three-dimensional map from 2D data points, UT's Samer Karam said he "developed a specific loop closure technique that makes the backpack system recognize the previously visited places and corrects the drift."

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'Transformational' Approach to ML Could Accelerate Search for Disease Treatments
University of Cambridge (U.K.)
November 29, 2021

The transformational machine learning (TML) approach developed by U.K., Swedish, Indian, and Dutch researchers can learn from multiple problems, improving its performance in the process. Ross King at the U.K.'s University of Cambridge said the system "learns information from previous problems it has encountered in order to better learn new problems." He said the approach outperforms current machine learning (ML)-based drug design methods by checking what other ML models determine about a particular molecule, which could speed up the search for new disease therapies. "It's better at choosing drugs than humans are—and without the best science, we won't get the best results," King said.

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