Welcome to the September 14, 2022, edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Protecting Privacy, Safety in Encrypted Messaging
Cornell University Chronicle
Tom Fleischman
September 12, 2022

Cornell Tech and University of Maryland researchers have created a mechanism for preserving anonymity in encrypted messaging while blocking unwanted or abusive messages. The Orca protocol would have recipients register an anonymized blocklist with the messaging platform; senders would assemble messages that the platform can confirm as originating from someone not on the blocklist. Confirmation is realized through group signatures, which allow users to sign messages anonymously on behalf of a group. Said Cornell Tech’s Nirvan Tyagi, “Increased privacy can harm the ability to do certain types of abuse mitigation and accountability. The question is, can we make that tradeoff a little less costly with even better cryptography? And in some cases, we can.”

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This NIST-developed chip measures the performance of memory devices used by artificial intelligence algorithms. NIST, Google to Create Chips for Researchers, Startups
September 13, 2022

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Google have signed an agreement to develop and produce chips that researchers can use to create new technologies. Under the agreement, Google will pay the initial cost of setting up production at the Bloomington, MN, semiconductor foundry of Skywater Technology, while NIST and university research partners will design the circuitry for the chips. The collaboration will make available a bottom-layer chip with specialized structures for measuring and testing the performance of components placed on top of it, including new kinds of memory devices, nanosensors, bioelectronics, and advanced devices needed for artificial intelligence and quantum computing. The chip designs will be open source, allowing researchers to pursue new ideas without restriction and to share data and designs freely.

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3D-Printed Surfaces Inspired by Nature
Ruhr-Universität Bochum (Germany)
Meike Drießen
September 12, 2022

Scientists at Germany's Ruhr-Universität Bochum and Kiel University three-dimensionally (3D)-printed surfaces that mimic the color of blue Morpho butterflies via two-photon polymerization (2PP). The 2PP laser-based printing technology allows 3D processing of photosensitive resins, enabling the generation of complex structures from virtual computer models without the need for support structures. The technology also facilitates high resolution, because single structural features can measure as small as 100 nanometers (billionths of a meter). The researchers produced hierarchically composed micro- and nanometer-scale structures, and the resulting surfaces emulated the butterflies' blue iridescence.

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The Mr. Bah robot. This Robot Catches Grandma Before She Falls
The Washington Post
Pranshu Verma
September 10, 2022

A mobile robot balance assistant developed by scientists at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University (NTU) can anticipate and catch seniors before they fall. The robot, called Mr. Bah, is equipped with guardrails that come up to hip level, as well as sensors to assess when a person may begin to lose their balance. Wei Teh Ang of the Rehabilitation Research Institute of Singapore said the robot was designed "to help people walk around at home without the fear of falling down." Ang and colleagues at NTU and Singapore's Tan Tock Seng Hospital tested Mr. Bah on patients who had suffered strokes, brain trauma, or spinal cord injuries; during the tests, the researchers said, no falls were recorded.

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A satellite image of Borneo in 2006 covered by smoke from fires (marked by red dots. AI System Predicts How to Prevent Wildfires
Aalto University (Finland)
September 9, 2022

A neural network model developed by researchers at Finland's Aalto University can predict the effectiveness of different land management strategies in mitigating wildfires. The analysis concentrated on Borneo's Central Kalimantan province, and the model predicted the distribution of peatland fires from measurements captured before each fire season from 2002 through 2019. The researchers analyzed 31 factors, then forecast the likelihood of a peatland fire at each spot on the map, resulting in an annual expected fire distribution that was correct 80% to 95% of the time. They then simulated the effects of different land management strategies on such fires, and found that converting shrubland and scrubland into swamp forests would cut fire incidence in half.

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One Solution to the Digital Divide: Teens
The New York Times
Shira Ovide
September 7, 2022

The youth development organization 4-H taps teenagers who love video games and computer programming for its 4-H Tech Changemakers program, which provides young people with the education and tools needed to teach digital skills to adults in their communities. The program reached 37,000 adults through 325 teen coaches during the past school year, and more digital skills sessions are planned for the coming school year. National 4-H Council's Jennifer Sirangelo said overcoming the digital divide "is something that Americans are united on. Young people are part of the solution."

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AI Enables Autonomous Vehicles to Adapt to Weather Conditions
University of Oxford (U.K.)
September 8, 2022

An artificial intelligence (AI) system developed by scientists at the U.K.'s University of Oxford and Turkey's Bogazici University can enable autonomous vehicles (AVs) to navigate more safely and reliably in challenging weather conditions. The self-supervised deep learning model facilitates ego-motion estimation, which calculates the vehicle’s position relative to nearby objects. The model performed well under conditions of rain, fog, and snow, as well as day and night. Said Oxford’s Andrew Markham, “Estimating the precise location of AVs is a critical milestone to achieving reliable autonomous driving under challenging conditions. This study effectively exploits the complementary aspects of different sensors to help AVs navigate in difficult daily scenarios.”

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An experimental setup for the study of ants walking. Physics of Walking is Simpler than We Thought
UC San Diego News Center
Ioana Patringenaru
September 5, 2022

A team of researchers at the universities of California, San Diego (UCSD) and Michigan (U-M) discovered a mathematical relationship between walking, skipping, slithering, and swimming in viscous fluid for multi-legged animals and robots. The researchers analyzed several colonies of Argentine ants and two types of multi-legged robots, using a U-M algorithm that converts complex body movements into shapes. "This algorithm allows us to create a simple relationship between what posture you're in and where you are going to move next," explained UCSD's Nick Gravish. Despite differences in the degree of slippage between ants and robots when walking, the model can predict where an insect or robot will move next based on their posture or shape. "This provides a universal model for location that applies whenever the movement is dominated by friction with the environment," according to the researchers.

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Researchers in the Augmented Health Lab leverage data from wearable medical devices. Leveraging Data from Wearable Medical Devices
Dartmouth College
Harini Barath
September 8, 2022

Dartmouth College's Temiloluwa Prioleau and Abigail Bartolome used machine learning to identify and extract meaningful data from wearable medical devices to help manage the ailments of their wearers. The researchers sifted data from continuous glucose monitors and insulin pumps to find patterns reflecting related diabetes outcomes. One finding indicated patients whose glucose levels were within a target range for more than 70% of a day are likely to remain within that range for a large part of the following day; the likelihood of a good outcome for the next day was even higher when mealtime insulin doses also were within an observed range. Said Bartolome, "We can now connect other lifestyle and activity data with the information we have to gain richer and more nuanced insights into daily behaviors that can lead to good or poor glucose control."

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Model Adjusts Videogame Difficulty Based on Player Emotions
Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology (South Korea)
September 1, 2022

Researchers at South Korea's Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology (GIST) have developed a method of adjusting videogame difficulty according to players' emotions. A game’s dynamic difficulty adjustment (DDA) agent would modify that game’s difficulty to maximize one of four aspects of player satisfaction—challenge, competence, flow, and valence. The researchers trained the agents on data collected from people who played a combat game against various artificial intelligences (AIs), then described the experience. Each DDA agent uses a Monte-Carlo tree search algorithm to tweak the opposing AI's fighting style to maximize a specific emotion or affective state; GIST's Kyung-Joong Kim said the model calculates this state using in-game features only, rather than external sensors.

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Harvard, AWS Alliance to Advance Research in Quantum Science
Harvard University John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
September 12, 2022

Harvard University and Amazon Web Services (AWS) have partnered to further faculty-led quantum networking research. The alliance intends to expedite progress toward quantum networking goals at the Harvard Quantum Initiative (HQI), described by Harvard's Alan M. Garber as "an interfaculty initiative that exemplifies the rewards of collaboration across different scientific domains." AWS will fund HQI-based research projects in quantum memories, integrated photonics, and quantum materials through the three-year partnership, as well as upgrading the quantum fabrication capabilities of Harvard's Center for Nanoscale Systems. AWS researchers also will push to advance the engineering maturity and scalability of quantum memory technology.

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IBM Builds World's Largest Dilution Refrigerator for Quantum Computers
Interesting Engineering
Loukia Papadopoulos
September 11, 2022

IBM has built what it calls the world's largest dilution refrigerator for cooling future generations of quantum experiments. The project Goldeneye refrigerator has 1.7 cubic meters' worth of experimental volume, and can cool its contents to temperatures colder than outer space. The researchers tested the device by cooling it to an operating temperature of 25 millikelvins (-459 degrees Fahrenheit), then placing a quantum bit (qubit) chip inside. They said the test "demonstrated the performance of Goldeneye through the eyes of a qubit by measuring qubit frequencies and coherence times—how long they can retain quantum information."

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Naturalist and researcher Dunia Villalobos examines a river in Las Cruces, Costa Rica. Researchers Model Outsized Benefits of Riverfront Forest Restoration
Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment
Rob Jordan
September 13, 2022

Stanford University-led research in Costa Rica found restoring strips of riverfront forests could improve regional water quality and carbon storage substantially. Researchers from Stanford and Costa Rica's Ministry of Environment and Energy (MEE), Central Bank, and PRIAS Laboratory reviewed a policy requiring protection of forested riverfront strips 10 meters (about 55 feet) to 50 meters (about 154 feet) wide. The team used the Natural Capital Project's open-source InVEST software to model the law's enforcement with a business-as-usual scenario, which yielded nearly 86% increased phosphorus retention, 81% greater nitrogen retention, about 4% greater sediment retention, and 1.4% greater carbon sequestration. Said MEE's Rafael Monge Vargas, “Our study provides a model for using realistic, policy-based scenarios to pinpoint areas where forest restoration could have the largest impact in terms of improving people’s health and meeting national adaptation and emissions goals."

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