Welcome to the April 1, 2022, edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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A representation of DNA sequencing. Scientists Finish Decoding Last 8% of Human Genome
Interesting Engineering
Grant Currin
March 31, 2022

An international team of 99 researchers completed the decoding of the final 8% of the human genome, thanks to technological improvements and a better understanding of genomics than existed 20 years ago. The Howard Hughes Medical University's Erich Jarvis said commercially available algorithms can correctly assemble as much as 98% of the human DNA sequence, "but the remaining 2% still has errors in it," which is why his colleague Giulio Formenti developed an algorithm "to clean up the last remaining 2%." Bioinformatician Adam Phillippy said, "Truly finishing the human genome sequence was like putting on a new pair of glasses. Now that we can clearly see everything, we are one step closer to understanding what it all means."

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A rendering of geofencing for public transport, which is being tested in Sweden. Can Controlling Vehicles Make Streets Safer, More Climate Friendly?
The New York Times
Tanya Mohn
March 28, 2022

Sweden, which now has one of the lowest vehicle crash death rates in the world, has been spearheading tests of geofencing, a virtual tool in which software uses global positioning system or similar technology to control some actions of vehicles within a specified area. The Swedish Transport Administration's Johannes Berg envisions geofencing as a tool for improving traffic safety and reducing emissions. He said simple applications—like when a map with constraints is downloaded to a vehicle to lower its speed automatically in certain areas—do not require external links, but they are required for more advanced applications like real-time use. "The cloud service can access the engine of the vehicle using the telematics connection of the vehicle," Berg noted. The city of Gothenburg uses geofencing to prioritize public transport vehicles at intersections for everyday traffic.

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Fighting Discrimination in Mortgage Lending
MIT News
Adam Zewe
March 30, 2022

To help combat discrimination in mortgage lending, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed a process to remove bias from the data used to train machine learning (ML) models. The technique, called DualFair, subdivides a dataset into the largest number of subgroups based on combinations of sensitive attributes and options to eliminate label bias. DualFair evens out the number of borrowers in each subgroup by duplicating individuals from minority groups and deleting individuals from the majority group, then balances the proportion of loan acceptances and rejections in each subgroup to match the median in the original dataset before recombining them. To eliminate selection bias, DualFair iterates on each datapoint to identify discrimination, removing those found to be biased from the dataset. The researchers found their method lowered discrimination in predictions, while maintaining high accuracy.

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The projected shadows of people walking through Moscow’s Red Square after sunset. Russia Sees Tech Brain Drain, Other Nations Hope to Gain
Associated Press
Liudas Dapkus
March 31, 2022

Some countries view the exodus of technology workers from Russia as an opportunity to refresh expertise in their own high-tech industries. One estimate suggested as many as 70,000 computer specialists have left Russia since the start of its invasion of Ukraine, departing for Latvia, Lithuania, Armenia, Georgia, and elsewhere. The Russian Association for Electronic Communications' Sergei Plugotarenko said another 100,000 tech workers might leave in April. Said Konstantin Siniushin at Latvian tech-focused venture capital fund Untitled Ventures, “The more talent that Europe or the U.S. can take away from Russia today, the more benefits these new innovators, whose potential will be fully realized abroad, will bring to other countries."

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Qubits based on “holes” whose spins store information. 'Hot' Spin Quantum Bits in Silicon Transistors
University of Basel (Switzerland)
March 25, 2022

Researchers at Switzerland's University of Basel and the IBM Research Laboratory in Rüschlikon, Switzerland, have developed silicon-based qubits that are similar in design to silicon transistors. The qubits are based on fin field-effect transistors (FinFETs) and use holes as spin qubits, which store quantum information in spin-up and spin-down states. The researchers addressed temperature issues by building measurement and control electronics directly into the cooling unit. Basel's Simon Geyer said, "We have overcome the 4-kelvin mark with our qubits, reaching the boiling point of liquid helium. Here we can achieve much greater cooling power, which allows for integration of state-of-the-art cryogenic control technology."

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Eye Imaging Technology Could Help Robots, Cars See Better
Duke University Pratt School of Engineering
Ken Kingery
March 29, 2022

Duke University researchers used lessons from optical coherence tomography (OCT) to develop frequency-modulated continuous wave (FMCW) LiDAR that can help robots and autonomous cars see better. OCT devices are used to profile microscopic structures up to several millimeters deep inside an object. Because robotic three-dimensional (3D) systems need only locate the surfaces of human-scale objects, the researchers narrowed the range of frequencies used by OCT to determine the peak signal produced from the surfaces of objects. Duke's Joseph Izatt said, "These are exactly the capabilities needed for robots to see and interact with humans safely, or even to replace avatars with live 3D video in augmented reality."

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Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg shown on a smartphone. Facebook Drives Skeptics Toward Climate Denial
BBC News
Merlyn Thomas
March 30, 2022

According to research by the human-rights organization Global Witness, Facebook's algorithms guide climate skeptics toward disinformation and conspiracy groups, instead of reliable information. The researchers created accounts and tracked recommendations for "Jane," a climate skeptic, and "John," who followed established scientific bodies. After Jane's account "liked" Facebook pages posting climate disinformation, the researchers found more conspiratorial and anti-science content was recommended to Jane over a two-month period. The researchers had John's account like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's page, and his account was consistently introduced to reliable science-based content. Global Witness' Mai Rosner said, "Facebook is not just a neutral online space where climate disinformation exists—it is quite literally putting such views in front of users' eyes."

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A young girl practices coding on her desktop computer. Battery-Free MakeCode Empowers Kids to Code Sustainably
Northwestern Now
Amanda Morris
March 30, 2022

Northwestern University scientists have designed the first computer coding platform that allows children to construct and code sustainable battery-free energy-collecting devices. The researchers based the Battery-free MakeCode tool on Microsoft's learn-to-code MakeCode platform, using an extension that supports programming electronic devices that gather energy from vibrations, radio-frequency (RF) transmissions, and other ambient sources. The extension facilitates fault tolerance, guaranteeing the program state persists when energy supplies are intermittent. Teachers at Pu'ohala Elementary School in Hawaii are deploying Battery-free MakeCode into their sustainability-focused science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) curricula. Northwestern's Josiah Hester said, "With Battery-free MakeCode, we want to enable educators to instruct a new generation of programmers who understand sustainable computing and programming practices."

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Hackers' Path Eased as 600,000 U.S. Cybersecurity Jobs Sit Empty
Olivia Rockeman
March 30, 2022

Cybersecurity jobs search platform CyberSeek estimates roughly 600,000 vacant U.S. cybersecurity positions, including 560,000 private-sector jobs. The pandemic compounded a shortfall of cybersecurity professionals, while phishing and ransomware attacks escalated due to many employees using their home networks and computers. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management's Stuart Madnick cites a lack of qualified cybersecurity workers, while Bryan Palma at cybersecurity company Trellix said nations like Russia and China host better talent pipelines at the government level of people trained in cybersecurity. Max Shuftan at the SANS Institute cybersecurity training organization said the worker shortage especially impacts smaller organizations like civilian public agencies, most of which cannot match private companies' pay. As a result, Shuftan warned, "They're probably not going have the staff and that makes them more vulnerable to attacks."

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A sign-language interpreter signs a tech-related phrase. Sign Language Glossary Aims to Widen Tech Access
University of Edinburgh (U.K.)
March 29, 2022

Researchers at the U.K.'s University of Edinburgh participated in the development of a sign language glossary featuring more than 500 signs covering computer science, cybersecurity, data science, and software development. The goal is to help deaf people in schools, colleges, universities, and workplaces better communicate about technology. Eight deaf technology experts across the U.K. worked with sign linguists to develop and test the new signs, which are part of the new British Sign Language lexicon. Said Phil Ford at government agency Skills Development Scotland, "This will help deaf people get jobs in tech while also enhancing inclusivity–all with the ultimate aim of plugging the skills gap in a sector that is vital for Scotland's economy."

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A robot peels a banana. Watch a Robot Peel a Banana Without Crushing It
New Scientist
Chris Stokel-Walker
March 24, 2022

A machine learning system developed by researchers at Japan's University of Tokyo can train a robot to peel a banana without crushing it. The robot was trained on about 13 hours of data in which a human demonstrator peeled hundreds of bananas. The machine learning model maps out a trajectory that involves copying the human when it comes to broad movements not likely to damage the fruit. The system shifts to a reactive approach, in which it responds to changes in its environment, for more precise movements. The robot successfully peeled a banana 57% of the time, with the process taking fewer than three minutes.

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Algorithm Distinguishes Forms of Sudden Cardiac Arrest
News-Medical Life Sciences
Emily Henderson
March 31, 2022

A clinical algorithm developed by researchers at Cedars-Sinai's Smidt Heart Institute can differentiate between treatable and untreatable forms of sudden cardiac arrest. The algorithm bundles 13 clinical, electrocardiogram, and echocardiographic variables that could put patients at higher risk of treatable sudden cardiac arrest. The researchers tapped data from the ongoing Oregon Sudden Unexpected Death Study and the Ventura Prediction of Sudden Death in Multiethnic Communities study, which provided unique, community-based information. "This first-of-its-kind algorithm has the potential to improve the way we currently predict sudden cardiac arrest," said the Smidt Heart Institute's Eduardo Marbán. "If validated in clinical trials, we will be able to better identify high-risk patients and therefore, save lives."

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The Chrome logo on a computer screen. Chrome, Edge Hit with V8 Type Confusion Vulnerability with in-the-wild Exploit
Chris Duckett
March 27, 2022

Google is calling on Windows, macOS, and Linux users to upgrade their Chrome browsers to version 99.0.4844.84, in order to patch a V8 Type Confusion vulnerability with an exploit in the wild. V8, Chrome's JavaScript engine also is used server-side in Node.js, but Google has not yet announced whether that is impacted. Google said bug details would be undisclosed until most users had updated their browsers. "We will also retain restrictions if the bug exists in a third-party library that other projects similarly depend on, but haven't yet fixed," according to Google’s announcement. Microsoft published its own advisory, and said the issue has been corrected in the concurrently released Edge version 99.0.1150.55.

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Probabilistic and Causal Inference: The Works of Judea Pearl
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