Welcome to the January 11, 2021 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

ACM TechNews mobile apps are available for Android phones and tablets (click here) and for iPhones (click here) and iPads (click here).

To view "Headlines At A Glance," hit the link labeled "Click here to view this online" found at the top of the page in the html version. The online version now has a button at the top labeled "Show Headlines."

Tim Berners-Lee, at home in Oxfordshire, U.K., envisions a framework in which personal online data could be stored in a “pod” that one controls He Created the Web. Now He's Out to Remake the Digital World.
The New York Times
Steve Lohr
January 10, 2021

World Wide Web creator and 2016 ACM A.M. Turing Award recipient Tim Berners-Lee hopes to bring the Web back to his original vision of a decentralized marketplace through personal online data stores (pods), with users controlling their data in individual vaults. Berners-Lee co-founded the startup Inrupt, which will charge licensing fees for its commercial software, using Solid open source software along with augmented security, management, and developer tools. Pods are free for users, and Inrupt expects initial sponsors will be trusted organizations. Increasingly intelligent data protection technology is placing competitive pressure on the big tech firms; Georgia Institute of Technology's Peter Swire said this creates "a market opportunity for Tim Berners-Lee's firm and others to offer individuals better ways to control their data."

Full Article

A rendering of how a Vigoride vehicle from Momentus can send small satellites into final orbit. Tiny Satellites Will Connect Cows, Cars, Shipping Containers to the Internet
The Wall Street Journal
Christopher Mims
January 9, 2021

Scientists are tapping tiny satellites developed by startups for research, using a new form of universal, all-the-time connectivity for terrestrial people, animals, and assets. These "cubesat" networks are the product of smaller, less costly, more capable satellite technology; plummeting launch costs thanks to companies like SpaceX; active national space programs; new launch technologies like three-dimensionally-printed engines, and low-power wireless communication standards. The Arribada Initiative co-develops satellite tracking and connectivity systems for researchers, which link to ground stations using Long Range Wide Area Networks. Similar projects include Dutch startup Smart Parks' network for connecting rhinos and elephants for wildlife refuge monitoring. These organizations are using radio spectrum to send and receive smaller amounts of data using less power.

Full Article
*May Require Paid Registration
UCI Researchers Use Deep Learning to Identify Gene Regulation at Single-Cell Level
UCI News Center
January 5, 2021

University of California, Irvine (UCI) researchers have developed a novel deep learning framework to forecast gene regulation at the cellular level. The framework facilitates analysis of the framework of single-cell-level transcription factor (TF) binding. The UCI team identified novel gene regulation for individual cells or cell types by training a neural network on large-scale genomic and epigenetic datasets, and by tapping the expertise of collaborators in multiple departments. UCI's Qing Nie said, "Our capability of predicting whether certain transcriptional factors are binding to DNA in a specific cell or cell type at a particular time provides a new way to tease out small populations of cells that could be critical to understanding and treating diseases." He added that researchers can use the framework to identify key signals in cancer stem cells, which are especially difficult to target for treatment, or even to measure.

Full Article
Researchers Achieve On-Demand Storage in Integrated Solid-State Quantum Memory
Chinese Academy of Sciences
January 7, 2021

Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) stored photonic quantum bits (qubits) on demand in an integrated solid-state quantum memory by adopting a modified Stark-modulated atomic frequency comb scheme. The team applied the Stark effect to facilitate real-time manipulation of the evolution of rare-earth ions by introducing two electrical pulses to control the quantum memory's storage time. The CAS investigators utilized a femtosecond laser micromachining system to assemble optical waveguides on a europium-doped yttrium silicate crystal, then positioned two on-chip electrodes on both sides of the waveguides, to control storage time in real time via a transistor-transistor logic-compatible voltage. The researchers demonstrated on-demand storage of time-bin qubits with a storage fidelity of about 99.3%.

Full Article
Phishing Attack Uses Odd Lure to Deliver Windows Trojan Malware
Danny Palmer
January 6, 2021

Researchers at cybersecurity company Trustwave have reported a new phishing campaign that lures victims into downloading trojan malware that grants hackers full control over infected Microsoft Windows machines. The researchers described it as a "significantly enhanced" version of the Quaverse Remote Access Trojan (QRat), using an email that purports to offer targets a loan with a "good return on investment." Accompanying the email is an unrelated attachment claiming to contain a video of President Trump; attempting to open this Java Archive file (JAR) activates a QRat malware installer equipped with detection-avoidance mechanisms. Also triggered is a pop-up warning users that the installed software can be used for remote access and penetration testing. Trustwave's Diana Lopera said, "Email administrators should be looking to take a hard line against inbound JARs and block them in their email security gateways."

Full Article
Advanced Materials in a Snap
Sandia National Laboratories
January 5, 2021

A machine learning algorithm developed by researchers at Sandia National Laboratories can perform simulations for materials scientists about 42,000 times faster than normal, which could dramatically shorten the design cycle for new technologies. The accelerated computer simulation predicts how tweaking a design or fabrication process will affect a material. The researchers performed an unaided simulation on a high-performance computing cluster with 128 processing cores in 12 minutes; the same simulation with the machine learning algorithm took just 60 milliseconds using only 36 cores. The new algorithm's answer was 5% different from that of the standard simulation. Said Sandia's Rémi Dingreville, "Our machine-learning framework achieves essentially the same accuracy as the high-fidelity model but at a fraction of the computational cost."

Full Article

Mock-ups of the robotic foresters. Robot Foresters Could Plant Thousands of Trees a Day
New Scientist
David Hambling
January 11, 2021

Two types of autonomous robot foresters developed by Estonia's University of Tartu and robot manufacturer Milrem are planting trees from Milrem's driverless ground vehicles. One robot, a planter that carries more than 300 seedlings in one batch, can plant a hectare (about 2.5 acres) of new forest in five to six hours, while recording the exact location of each new tree so the other robot, a brush cutter, can trim vegetation around the seedlings. The robots’ navigation uses laser-based LiDAR, cameras, and global positioning systems, with LiDAR producing a three-dimensional geometric representation of the environment (and high-resolution camera images fill in the blanks). Andrew Davidson at the U.K.'s Imperial College London said, "This is one of many interesting applications ... which show that mobile robotics technology is maturing fast and enabling robots to tackle new types of task in difficult environments."

Full Article
*May Require Paid Registration
Neural Networks Playing Video Games Teach Us About Our Own Brains
California Institute of Technology
Lori Dajose
January 7, 2021

In comparing brain scans of humans playing classic Atari video games to artificial intelligence (AI) networks trained to play the same games, California Institute of Technology (Caltech) researchers found the AI's “neurons” behaved similarly to neurons in the human brain. The Caltech team trained DeepMind's Deep Q Network (DQN) agent to play "Pong," "Space Invaders," and "Enduro" (a racing game), then used its artificial neurons to predict behavior and brain activity in functional magnetic resonance imaging brain scans of human players. Caltech's John O'Doherty said, "If we can understand why and how the brain can solve these games much more efficiently compared to an AI, this may help guide the development of smarter and more humanlike AI algorithms in the future."

Full Article

A NeuroPAL worm coiled into an O-shape, with the head and tail touching each other at the top of the ring. Scientists Paint Multicolor Atlas of the Brain
Columbia News
Carla Cantor
January 7, 2021

A novel technique developed by Columbia University researchers helped to map neural network dynamics in the C. elegans worm. The Neuronal Polychromatic Atlas of Landmarks (NeuroPAL) technique "paints" neurons with fluorescent hues, via genetic methods, identifying each neuron while recording the entire nervous system in action. The Columbia scientists developed two software programs: one identifies all the neurons in NeuroPAL worm images, and the other designs optimal coloring for potential methods of identification of any cell type or tissue. Columbia's Eviatar Yemini said, "Being able to identify neurons, or other types of cells, using color can help scientists visually understand the role of each part of a biological system. That means when something goes wrong with the system, it may help pinpoint where the breakdown occurred."

Full Article

Structural changes in RNA on drug binding/unbinding. Supercomputers Simulate New Pathways for Potential RNA Virus Treatment
San Diego Supercomputer Center
December 17, 2020

University of New Hampshire (UNH) researchers utilized the Comet supercomputer at the University of California, San Diego's San Diego Supercomputer Center, and the Stampede2 supercomputer at the Texas Advanced Computing Center, to find new inhibitor binding/unbinding pathways in an RNA-based virus. UNH's Harish Vashisth and colleagues modeled molecular dynamics with the supercomputers to analyze an RNA fragment from the HIV-1 virus and its interaction with the replication-disrupting acetylpromazine molecule. The team ran hundreds of simultaneous simulations to witness base-flipping events involved in the inhibitor binding/unbinding process, exposing new details of its base mechanism. Vashisth said, "Our hope is that this adds new possibilities to a field traditionally focused on static biomolecular structures and leads to new medications."

Full Article
U.K. Government Use of 'General Warrants' to Authorize Computer, Phone Hacking Is Unlawful: Court
Computer Weekly
January 8, 2021

The U.K.'s High Court has ruled that government security and intelligence services cannot use "general warrants" to indiscriminately hack domestic mobile phones and computers. The court declared neither GCHQ nor MI5 can use warrants issued under Section 5 of the Intelligence Services Act to interfere with electronic gear and other property. The implication is that targets for hacking must be scrutinized by a secretary of state, rather than permitting surveillance to be authorized solely by intelligence agencies. The High Court judges cited common law principles established more than 250 years ago in determining that general hacking warrants breached individuals' rights not to have their property searched without lawful authority. Said Caroline Wilson Pallow at charity Privacy International, “General warrants are no more permissible today than they were in the 18th century. The government has been getting away with using them for too long.”

Full Article
The Essentials of Modern Software Engineering
ACM Special Interest Groups

Association for Computing Machinery

1601 Broadway, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10019-7434

ACM Media Sales

If you are interested in advertising in ACM TechNews or other ACM publications, please contact ACM Media Sales or (212) 626-0686, or visit ACM Media for more information.

To submit feedback about ACM TechNews, contact: [email protected]