Welcome to the May 23, 2022, edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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The MareNostrum supercomputer is located in the deconsecrated Torre Girona chapel. Barcelona Bets on 'Digital Twin' as Future of City Planning
Politico Europe
Aitor Hernandez-Morales
May 18, 2022

Officials in Barcelona, Spain, are using the Barcelona Supercomputing Center's MareNostrum supercomputer to improve urban planning through the use of a digital twin of the city. Planners can use the digital replica to trial-run potential urban planning projects. "Instead of implementing flawed policies and then have to go back and correct them, we're saving time by making sure those decisions are right before we execute them," said Barcelona Deputy Mayor Laia Bonet. The city is using the program to explore ways to implement the 15-minute city framework, which proposes that residents have access to all needed services within a 15-minute walk or bike ride from home.

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People play a role in the new method for achieving virtual textures. Haptics Device Creates Realistic Virtual Textures
USC Viterbi School of Engineering
Lillian Goodwin
May 20, 2022

Computer scientists at the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering (USC Viterbi) have developed a preference-driven model that can generate realistic virtual textures. A user receives an actual texture, then the model randomly produces three virtual textures using many variables, from which the user can choose the one that feels most similar. The user then manipulates a slider to adjust the amount of friction; over time, the search adjusts its variable distribution as it approaches the user's preference. Said USC Viterbi's Shihan Lu, "Surgical training is definitely a huge area that requires very realistic textures and tactile feedback. Fashion design also requires a lot of precision in texture in development, before they go and fabricate it.”

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Bluetooth Hack Can Unlock Tesla, Devices
Ars Technica
Dan Goodin
May 18, 2022

Sultan Qasim Khan at U.K.-based security firm NCC Group has devised an exploit for unlocking Teslas and countless other devices by hacking the Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) standard. The simplest form of this relay attack involves two hackers who share data through an open Internet connection, and are respectively close to the Tesla and the authenticating phone. Attacker 1 captures the authenticating request from the Tesla and sends it to Attacker 2, who forwards the request to the phone and records and sends the phone-transmitted credential to Attacker 1, who then can unlock the car. The hack thwarts countermeasures like encrypting phone-transmitted credentials, and Khan said practically any BLE device that authenticates on proximity alone is susceptible.

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Imaging Reveals Hot, Dense Blob Deep Inside Earth
David Nield
May 20, 2022

Researchers at the U.K.'s universities of Cambridge and Oxford used computational modeling techniques to produce detailed images of a pocket of rock close to the Earth's core, about 3,000 km (1,864 miles) below the planet’s surface. Previous images of these so-called ultra-low velocity zones have been grainy and difficult to analyze. Said Cambridge's Zhi Li, "We've now got the first solid evidence to show their internal structure—it's a real milestone in deep Earth seismology." Computational modeling provided kilometer-scale imaging of the rock pocket. Oxford's Kuangdai Leng added, "We are really pushing the limits of modern high-performance computing for elastodynamic simulations, taking advantage of wave symmetries unnoticed or unused before."

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Differential Privacy the Correct Choice for 2020 U.S. Census
Columbia Engineering News
Holly Evarts
May 19, 2022

A study of the mathematical concept of differential privacy (DP) by Columbia University computer scientists concluded the U.S. Census Bureau's move to DP as a de-identification mechanism for the 2020 Census was appropriate. DP maintains the privacy of an individual's personal data by injecting random changes into the data. There had been concerns that such "noise" would result in artificial deflation of reported minority populations, and a subsequent loss in funding. The researchers found DP offers a stronger privacy guarantee, while swapping puts a disproportionate privacy burden on minority groups. Even when implemented with sufficient privacy, the researchers found swapping generally less accurate than DP.

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The international team of researchers found some topological behavior in over half of all naturally occurring materials. Is It Topological? Materials Database Has the Answer
MIT News
Jennifer Chu
May 19, 2022

An international team of researchers has discovered that topological materials are everywhere, which could help pave the way for the development of devices with more robust electronic properties. The researchers used multiple supercomputers to map the electronic structure of more than 96,000 natural and synthetic crystalline materials from the Inorganic Crystal Structure Database, and found that over 90% contain at least one topological property. They also identified some materials that, when exposed to specific conditions, exhibited multiple topological states, and some sort of topological behavior was seen in over half of all naturally occurring materials. The researchers compiled these newly identified materials into the Topological Materials Database, which is freely accessible and will enable quick searches to identify a material's topological properties.

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Quantum Computing May Make Ray Tracing Easier
Tom's Hardware
Francisco Pires
May 20, 2022

U.S., U.K., and Portuguese researchers have combined classical ray tracing algorithms with quantum computing to improve ray tracing performance as much as 190% by reducing the calculation workload substantially. The researchers rendered a 128 x 128 three-dimensional ray-traced image via classical, non-optimized quantum, and optimized quantum rendering. The classical technique required computing 2,678 million ray intersections; the unoptimized quantum method demanded just 1,366 million intersections; and the optimized quantum-classical hybrid algorithm required only 896,000 intersections. Each image took hours of computing time to render, partly because quantum computing devices are still designed under the Noisy Intermediate-Scale Quantum product category. The researchers suggested practical applications of this approach may take years to emerge, given the current state of quantum computing.

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Scientists Learn to Kill Cyberattacks in Less Than a Second
Cardiff University News (U.K.)
May 19, 2022

Researchers at Cardiff University in the U.K. and European aerospace company Airbus have developed a technique for automatically detecting and neutralizing cyberattacks in under a second. The method is based on monitoring and forecasting malware's behavior, rather than on analyzing its code structure. The team built a virtual model representing commonly used laptops, and they tested the detection method on it using thousands of malware samples. The approach prevented the corruption of up to 92% of computer files, and wiped out the malware in an average 0.3 seconds. Airbus' Matilda Rhode said, "This is an important step towards an automated real-time detection system that would not only benefit our laptops and computers, but also our smart speakers, thermostats, cars, and refrigerators as the 'Internet of Things' becomes more prevalent."

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A conceptual image of artificial intelligence. Solving Complex Physics Problems by Seeking Signs of Symmetry
New Scientist
Alex Wilkins
May 18, 2022

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers developed an artificial neural network that can solve physics problems by transforming those with complex coordinate systems to be more symmetric. The system was tested on six well-known physics problems that already had been solved, and rediscovered the symmetry in each. The neural network was provided a list of known symmetries, and attempts to transform complex coordinate systems until it identifies a match among known symmetries. Referring to the first equations to describe a black hole, MIT's Ziming Liu said, "It took 17 years for people to realize that there is a transformation that can simplify this system. But our tool only takes half an hour [to get to this stage]."

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A transmission electron micrograph of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles. ML Models Help Identify Long COVID Patients
UNC Health News
May 16, 2022

Researchers at the University of North Carolina (UNC) School of Medicine used machine learning models to identify patients with long COVID from de-identified electronic health record data in the National COVID Cohort Collaborative (N3C) clinical database. The researchers developed XGBoost machine learning models to identify long COVID patients. The models were trained and tested on data from nearly 600 long COVID patients, and were found to accurately identify potential long COVID patients. Said UNC's Emily R. Pfaff, "Using algorithms like the one we've created on large clinical datasets can narrow down vast numbers of patients to those who could qualify for a long COVID trial, potentially giving researchers a head start on recruitment, making trials more efficient, and hopefully getting to findings faster."

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Report Spotlights Scale of Adtech's 'Biggest Breach'
Natasha Lomas
May 16, 2022

The U.K.'s Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) released an analysis suggesting Google and other technology giants are processing and passing people's data billions of times a day through the real-time bidding (RTB) system. The ICCL described the surveillance-based ad auction system as "the biggest data breach ever recorded," tracking and sharing "what people view online and their real-world location 294 billion times in the U.S. and 197 billion times in Europe every day." Collectively, the organization calculated, U.S. Internet users' online behavior and locations are tracked and shared 107 trillion times annually, while Europeans' data is exposed 71 trillion times annually. These findings raise unsettling issues for European regulators, as Europe's General Data Protection Regulation was supposed to rein in adtech tracking and profiling.

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Swiss engineers believe they hold the key to automated drone mapping. The Missing Piece to Faster, Cheaper, More Accurate 3D Mapping
Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (Switzerland)
May 20, 2022

A method combining an algorithm and artificial intelligence developed by engineers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne (EPFL) and the University of Geneva in Switzerland could potentially advance drone-based three-dimensional (3D) mapping. Geneva's Davide Cucci said generating perfectly aligned drone-captured 3D maps via laser scanning typically requires manual data correction, but the new method "has the advantage of resolving the issue directly at the scanner level where measurements are taken, eliminating the need to subsequently make corrections." Said EPFL's Jan Skaloud, "With our method, surveyors can send [drone] laser scanners as high as five kilometers [3.1 miles] and still maintain accuracy.”

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