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Welcome to the April 22, 2022, edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Éva Tardos, a professor of computer science at Cornell University, leads a class. Éva Tardos Named ACM Athena Lecturer for Technical, Mentoring Contributions
April 20, 2022

ACM has named Éva Tardos the 2022-2023 ACM Athena Lecturer in recognition of her research contributions and mentoring. Her achievements in combinatorial optimization include the first strongly polynomial-time algorithm for the minimum-cost flow problem, and a general architecture for fast approximation of packing and covering linear programs. Tardos also applied seminal game-theoretic concepts to measure performance gaps between centrally managed network traffic and the flow of traffic directed by self-interested agents, for which she received the Gödel Prize from the European Association for Theoretical Computer Science and ACM’s Special Interest Group on Algorithms and Computational Theory (ACM SIGACT). "Her work, her generosity to younger colleagues, and her service to the wider field have been outstanding," said ACM President Gabriele Kotsis.

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A Zipline drone is launched to make a delivery in Ghana. U.S. Drone Company Zipline Starts Delivering Medicine in Japan
Associated Press
Yuri Kageyama
April 21, 2022

U.S. drone firm Zipline is delivering medical supplies to pharmacies and hospitals in southwestern Japan via aerial drones, in partnership with the Toyota Tsusho trading company. Zipline's Keller Rinaudo is confident the technology will find acceptance in a country with a large senior populace that requires better healthcare in isolated areas. “You can totally transform the way that you react to pandemics, treat patients, and do things like home healthcare delivery," Rinaudo said. The service can help shrink medication stockpiles and waste through precise delivery. Toyota Tsusho's Sora-iina subsidiary is operating the service, managing a distribution center and flights from Fukue Port in the Goto Islands.

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Computational models determined the composition of the GRX-810 alloy used in this turbine engine combustor, which was 3D-printed at the NASA Glenn Research Center. NASA's Metal Alloy Built to Withstand Extreme Conditions
Diana Fitzgerald
April 12, 2022

Scientists at the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) three-dimensionally (3D)-printed a new metal alloy that can better endure the extreme conditions of aviation and space exploration. NASA Alloy GRX-810 can withstand temperatures over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit (538 degrees Centigrade) and survive more than 1,000 times longer than existing alloys. The oxide dispersion-strengthened alloy can be incorporated into aerospace parts for high-temperature applications, including those in aircraft and rocket engines. The researchers computationally determined the alloy's composition via thermodynamic modeling, then used 3D printing to uniformly diffuse nanoscale oxides throughout the material. “This breakthrough is revolutionary for materials development. New types of stronger and more lightweight materials play a key role as NASA aims to change the future of flight,” said NASA's Dale Hopkins.

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Concerned Your Smartphone Is Spying on You?
Columbia Engineering News
Holly Evarts
April 18, 2022

Columbia University computer scientists developed an algorithm that can block smart devices from spying on users by generating extremely quiet sounds. Columbia's Carl Vondrick said the algorithm can block a rogue microphone from listening in 80% of the time by camouflaging a person's voice. Columbia's Mia Chiquier explained that the program applies predictive attacks, signals that can disrupt any word automatic speech recognition models are taught to transcribe. The system performs this task in near-real time by predicting an attack on the future of the signal, or word, based on two seconds of input speech. The attack's volume closely resembles normal background noise, so people can converse naturally.

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Job seekers at a career fair. Cyber Chiefs Try New Tricks to Attract Talent
The Wall Street Journal
James Rundle; Kim S. Nash
April 20, 2022

With demand exceeding the available workforce, more cybersecurity and risk executives are seeking candidates without degrees or traditional technology backgrounds. Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group's Steven Babb said he supports the drive to increase gender representation in the workplace, and is interested in seeing candidates who may not have typical cybersecurity backgrounds but may have relevant experience in other departments. McDonald's Shaun Marion said help desk technicians can be suitable for cybersecurity positions because they manage ambiguity and practice real-time problem-solving. Marion said online gamers also can be good candidates, given the need for those in cybersecurity to work odd hours, cooperate with others, and think on their feet. Said Marion, "I search for attitude and aptitude, and lay security training on top of that."

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A world map displays vegetation heights. Neural Network Can Read Tree Heights from Satellite Images
ETH Zurich (Switzerland)
Stéphanie Hegelbach
April 20, 2022

Researchers at Switzerland's ETH Zurich leveraged an artificial neural network and satellite images to develop a high-resolution global vegetation height map for 2020 that could be used for sustainable regional development planning or to assess carbon emissions associated with deforestation. The map allows users to determine tree heights on any piece of woodland on Earth at a resolution of as little as 10x10 meters per pixel. The convolutional neural network was trained using millions of images from the European Space Agency's two Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellites, along with tree height data based on space laser measurements from NASA's Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation mission. The map will be made public along with its source code.

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A boat sails along the Chicago River. The 2020 Census Suggests People Live Underwater. There's a Reason
The New York Times
Michael Wines
April 21, 2022

The U.S. Census Bureau's initiative to preserve the privacy of respondents purposefully relocated some Chicagoans to the Chicago River in the 2020 census, as its privacy protocols suggested the river may once have hosted at least one residence. Federal law stipulates census records must remain private for 72 years, and the Bureau says this means information from the smallest census blocks it quantifies must be considered untrustworthy, or even disregarded. The agency is using differential privacy, applying computer algorithms to the full body of census data rather than tweaking individual blocks, to mask census data. However, consumers say this practice not only yields nonsensical results, but also could limit public disclosure of integral information. Said the University of Minnesota's David Van Riper, "In my opinion, producing low-quality data to achieve privacy protection defeats the purpose of the decennial census."

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The Biohazard symbol. AI Drug Discovery Systems Might Be Repurposed to Make Chemical Weapons
Scientific American
Rebecca Sohn
April 21, 2022

Scientists at Collaborations Pharmaceuticals presented research at the 2020 Spiez CONVERGENCE conference in Switzerland that artificial intelligence (AI)-powered drug discovery frameworks might be harnessed to produce chemical weapons. The researchers applied Collaborations' MegaSyn software to build a compendium of toxic molecules similar to the nerve agent VX, generating 40,000 substances that included other weapons besides VX in less than six hours. Collaborations' Fabio Urbina said the team had previously used MegaSyn to generate potentially therapeutic molecules with the same molecular target as VX, while the toxic molecules were produced by asking the system to design similar molecules without structural inputs. However, some experts said the research did not answer important questions about whether using AI software to find toxins could lead to the practical development of a biological weapon.

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A woman wearing a face mask checks her smartwatch. Can Wearables Track the Severity of COVID-19 Symptoms?
HealthDay News
Cara Murez
April 19, 2022

A study conducted by University of Michigan (U-M) researchers used heart rate data to determine whether, and how well smartwatches can track the progression of COVID-19 symptoms. The researchers studied fitness tracker data from 43 medical interns and 72 undergraduate and graduate students who tested positive for COVID-19. They found that when their symptoms started, study participants exhibited a heart rate increase per step; for persons who had a cough, the increase was even greater. U-M's Daniel Forger said, "Most people using this data think about heart rate as one number, but heart rate is this vital sign that reflects so many different physiological processes. That's what our goal is as mathematicians: can we take this one string of numbers, all these heartbeats, with all the noise and everything and say something about different physiological signals?"

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Lenovo Patches UEFI Firmware Vulnerabilities Impacting Millions of Users
Charlie Osborne
April 19, 2022

Chinese multinational technology company Lenovo has patched three Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) vulnerabilities discovered by Martin Smolár at Slovak Internet security firm ESET. The bugs reportedly could be leveraged to "deploy and successfully execute UEFI malware either in the form of SPI [Serial Peripheral Interface] flash implants like LoJax, or ESP implants like ESPecter" in the Lenovo Notebook BIOS. ESET said the bugs, caused by drivers only intended for use during product development, affected "more than 100 different consumer laptop models with millions of users worldwide." ESET advised using Trusted Platform Module-aware full-disk encryption software to block access to information, if UEFI Secure Boot configurations are meddled with in out-of-support devices

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A robot made to resemble a rat. Robotic Rat Climbs, Crawls, Turns on a Dime
IEEE Spectrum
Michelle Hampson
April 20, 2022

Qing Shi and colleagues at China's Beijing Institute of Technology built a rat-inspired robot that can squeeze through tight spaces, which could be used to assess disaster zones or pipelines. The SQuRo (small-sized Quadruped Robotic Rat) can walk, crawl, and climb over objects, as well as being able to turn sharply and recover from falls. The researchers modeled SQuRo's architecture, movement patterns, and degrees of freedom (DOFs) on x-rays of actual rats' joint structure. The robot features two DOFs in each limb, as well as its waist and head, enabling its spine to move in the flexible manner of an actual rat. Said the Institute’s Ben Shi, “To the best of our knowledge, SQuRo is the first small-sized quadruped robot of this scale that is capable of performing five motion modes, which includes crouching-to-standing, walking, crawling, turning, and fall recovery.”

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The Bird Language Diversity Web app. Bird App Spreads Its Wings
University of Queensland (Australia)
April 21, 2022

Researchers at Australia's University of Queensland (UQ) collaborated with scientists from around the world to create the Bird Language Diversity application, designed to protect birds threatened with extinction by removing language barriers between scientists. UQ's Pablo Negret said the team analyzed more than 10,000 bird species to determine that 1,587 types of birds live and migrate in regions where 10 or more languages are spoken. "This app reveals where threatened and migratory birds exist geographically, in relation to the language spoken in those regions," he explained. "Simply select a language to see the number of bird species that live within that language zone, or compare the impact of that language on bird species globally."

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