Welcome to the January 4, 2021 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Drone-Crowded Skies Get a Step Closer With U.S. Safety Rules
Alan Levin
December 28, 2020

New regulations from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will require most U.S. drones to broadcast a radio signal identifying them and their location. The regulations represent the most significant regulatory expansion for drone capabilities since the devices first started trickling into civilian markets starting about a decade ago. The FAA also is establishing four tiers of drones capable of flying over people, ranging from lightweight devices with no exposed propellers to sophisticated craft that require the same FAA approvals for reliability as full-size aircraft. The FAA will also require licensed drone pilots to pass a knowledge test on flying after dark.

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The Microsoft logo, with people's texting silhouettes. Microsoft Says Russian Hackers Viewed Some of Its Source Code
The New York Times
Nicole Perlroth
December 31, 2020

Microsoft on Thursday said the Russian exploit of U.S. government agencies and private corporations extended further into its network than the company previously thought, as the hackers viewed Microsoft source code. The software giant said its investigation turned up unusual activity from a small number of employee accounts, then ascertained one account had been used to view "a number of source code repositories." The company said the account lacked permissions to modify code or engineering systems, and no changes were made. The exploit appears to have started as far back as October 2019, when hackers infiltrated SolarWinds, which supplies technology monitoring services to government agencies and 425 Fortune 500 companies. Some government officials expressed frustration at Microsoft's failure to detect the breach and alert the government earlier, while Microsoft president Brad Smith blamed the hack on the government's failure to share threat intelligence findings among agencies and the private sector.

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A drug used for cancer chemotherapy, pralatrexate, also may be effective against COVID-19. Computational Drug Screening Technique Finds Chemotherapy Drug May Be Effective Against Covid-19
Brian P. Dunleavy
December 31, 2020

A novel computational drug screening technique developed by Chinese researchers determined that the lymphoma-combating chemotherapy drug pralatrexate may be effective against Covid-19. The team blended multiple computation methods with deep learning technologies that model drug-virus interactions, and screened 1,906 existing medications for their potential to constrain or halt Covid-19 replication by targeting RNA-dependent RNA polymerase. The researchers said this screening approach yielded four promising drugs, which then were tested against the virus in laboratory experiments at the Shenzhen Institutes of Advanced Technology. Pralatrexate and azithromycin were found to successfully block viral replication, with pralatrexate apparently more effective than the drug remdesivir, according to the team.

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Industry Collaboration Leads to Important Milestone in the Creation of a Quantum Computer
University of Copenhagen
December 28, 2020

According to researchers at Denmark's University of Copenhagen (UCPH), wafers manufactured by French microelectronics company CEA-Leti can be used as two-dimensional (2D) quantum bit (qubit) platforms, constituting a step toward a working quantum computer. The UCPH researchers said industrial-scale production of the devices is critical to creating ever-larger arrays, while fabricating a quantum system necessitates a 2D array, and the means of connecting the outside world to each qubit. Finally, these tools supported moving and swapping single electrons around the array. 2D arrays also can control errors. Said Anasua Chatterjee of UCPH’s Neils Bohr Institute, “Two dimensional arrays is a really big goal, because that’s beginning to look like something you absolutely need to build a quantum computer.”

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An Amazon workspace. Amazon Eyes Launching CS Education Program in India
Manish Singh
December 30, 2020

Amazon intends to extend its Future Engineer computer science (CS) program to India in 2021. The multinational technology and e-commerce company said in a job recruitment post that initial research for the program is "currently underway" in India for a candidate to partner with local nonprofits and government officials. According to the company, which has invested more than $6.5 billion in India to date, "Amazon India has a specific focus on equipping children and young adults from underserved and underprivileged communities to build better futures for themselves." The company said the Future Engineer program provides CS coursework to more than 5,000 schools and 550,000 students in the U.S.

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10 Most 'Disruptive' IT Jobs in the Year Ahead
Joe McKendrick
December 29, 2020

Software company Burning Glass Technologies projected quantum computing and connected technologies will be among the 10 most "disruptive" information technology (IT) job roles in the year ahead, with forecast growth rates of 135% and 104%, respectively. Other jobs projected to be most distruptive in the year ahead include IT roles in financial technologies, artificial intelligence and machine learning, IT automation, natural language processing, proactive security, software development methodologies, the cloud, and parallel computing. According to the Burning Glass analysis, "Eight of the 10 skill areas are already commonly requested in over 30% of occupations. This diffusion of skills across different jobs and industries is hybridizing many roles and teams, requiring employers to be thoughtful in determining which roles are best suited for embedding these skills."

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Insecure Wheels: Police Turn to Car Data to Destroy Suspects' Alibis
NBC News
Olivia Solon
December 28, 2020

Law enforcement agencies increasingly are using data stored in an automobile's onboard computers to solve crimes. Digital vehicle forensics can utilize data generated and stored by onboard computers to reconstruct where a vehicle has been and the behavior of its passengers. Law enforcement agencies generally focus on the vehicle's telematics and infotainment systems, which can reveal such things as the vehicle’s location and speed, the opening and closing of doors, voice commands, Web histories, call logs, text messages, which devices were connected to the vehicle, and more. Privacy activists are concerned about the lack of security built into onboard computers, as well as the dearth of federal laws to regulate what data can be collected by automakers and what can be done with it.

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A three-dimensional model of a polymer desalination membrane. Researchers Measure, Model Desalination Membranes to Maximize Flow, Clean More Water
Iowa State University News Service
December 30, 2020

Researchers from Iowa State University (Iowa State), Pennsylvania State University, the University of Texas at Austin, DuPont Water Solutions, and Dow Chemical employed three-dimensional (3D) computational modeling and transmission electron microscopy to simulate desalination membranes. The team learned that generating a uniform membrane density down to the nanoscale of billionths of a meter is critical for maximizing the performance of reverse-osmosis water-filtration membranes. Iowa State engineers forecast water flow through 3D membrane models, allowing detailed comparative analysis of why some membranes were better performers. Iowa State's Baskar Ganapathysubramanian said, "The simulations were able to tease out that membranes that are more uniform—that have no ‘hot spots’—have uniform flow and better performance. The secret ingredient is less inhomogeneity.”

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A Nuro delivery vehicle. Nuro to Be California's First Driverless Delivery Service
BBC News
December 24, 2020

California has approved the operation of R2 driverless delivery vehicles from robotics startup Nuro. The R2s will be limited to maximum speeds of 35 mph (56 kph) per on surface streets, and they can operate only in "fair weather" conditions. The vehicles employ radar, thermal imaging, and 360-degree cameras to navigate, and have two temperature-controlled compartments for deliveries; recipients must enter a code to open the R2's doors when receiving their items. California Department of Motor Vehicles director Steve Gordon said, "Issuing the first deployment permit is a significant milestone in the evolution of autonomous vehicles in California. We will continue to keep the safety of the motoring public in mind as this technology develops."

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AI Solves Schrödinger's Equation, a Fundamental Problem in Quantum Chemistry
January 2, 2021

Scientists at Germany's Freie Universität Berlin (FU) have developed a deep learning artificial intelligence (AI) technique for calculating the ground state of the Schrödinger equation in quantum chemistry. FU's Jan Hermann said, "We believe that deep 'Quantum Monte Carlo', the approach we are proposing, could be equally, if not more successful [than functional theory]. It offers unprecedented accuracy at a still acceptable computational cost." The FU team's deep neural network is a novel approach for representing electronic wave functions, capable of learning the intricate patterns in which electrons surround nuclei by incorporating the functions' antisymmetry, or "Pauli's exclusion principle." FU's Frank Noé said, "Building the fundamental physics into the AI is essential for its ability to make meaningful predictions in the field. This is really where scientists can make a substantial contribution to AI, and exactly what my group is focused on."

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Apple Loses Copyright Battle Against Security Startup Corellium
The Washington Post
Reed Albergotti
December 29, 2020

Apple's lawsuit against security research firm Corellium has failed, with a federal judge rejecting claims that Corellium's software breached copyright law in finding bugs and security holes on Apple products. Corellium lets customers run "virtual" iPhones on desktop computers, making physical iPhones with specialized software unnecessary to test iOS security. Judge Rodney Smith determined the virtual iPhones were not a copyright violation, partly because they were designed to help enhance security for all iPhone users, and did not constitute a competing product for consumers. Corellium's co-counsel David L. Hecht said, "The court affirmed the strong balance that fair use provides against the reach of copyright protection into other markets, which is a huge win for the security research industry in particular." Blackstone Law Group's Alexander Urbelis added that the decision "makes it possible for cybersecurity researchers to virtualize and test distinct components of third-party software for security vulnerabilities."

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Semantic Web For The Working Ontologist, Third Edition: Effective Modeling In RDFs And Owl
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