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Welcome to the January 20, 2021 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Pro-Trump protesters storm the U.S. Capitol following a rally to contest the certification of the 2020 U.S. presidential election results by the U.S. Congress, in Washington, D.C. U.S. Lawmakers Aim to Curtail Face Recognition Even as the Technology IDs Capitol Attackers
Paresh Dave
January 18, 2021

U.S. lawmakers are working to ban facial recognition software, even as the technology helps to identify assailants who besieged the Capitol in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6. Researchers and law enforcement have been using facial recognition to sift through photos from the riot, seeking similar faces in databases of mugshots, social media headshots, or other pictures. Michael Sheldon at the nonprofit Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Laboratory said he identified several suspects using commercially available facial recognition software that looks for online matches, including on websites that aggregate mugshots or university alumni lists. Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) said facial recognition's risks may outweigh the benefits, while racial justice activists have warned the technology can perpetuate biased policing and normalize constant surveillance.

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Model Analyzes How Viruses Escape the Immune System
MIT News
Anne Trafton
January 14, 2021

Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a model that can predict which sections of viral surface proteins are more likely to mutate to enable viral escape, as well as those that are less likely to mutate and are good targets for new vaccines. The researchers also pinpointed potential targets for influenza, HIV, and SARS-CoV-2 vaccines. They trained a natural language processing model to analyze patterns in genetic sequences to predict new sequences that have new functions while continuing to follow the biological rules of protein structure. The researchers then used the model to predict sequences of the coronavirus spike protein, HIV envelope protein, and influenza hemagglutinin protein that would be more or less likely to mutate and enable viral escape. Said MIT's Bryan Bryson, "There are so many opportunities, and the beautiful thing is all we need is sequence data, which is easy to produce."

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Drones have been used to send quantum Internet signals. Quantum Internet Signals Beamed Between Drones a Kilometer Apart
New Scientist
Matthew Sparkes
January 15, 2021

Researchers at China's Nanjing University have sent entangled photons between two 35-kilogram drones located a kilometer apart, a development that could pave the way for quantum encryption. The study marks the first time photon entanglement has been transmitted between moving devices. The pair of entangled photons was created using a laser on board one drone by splitting a single photon with a crystal. The receivers and transmitters were lined up using motorized devices on each drone, and a short piece of fiber-optic cable was used to focus and steer the photons through a relay drone. Imperial College London's Myungshik Kim said it is important that researchers were able to engineer complex optics into moving drones given even small rotational differences can make it hard to maintain quantum connections.

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Microsoft Is Investing, Partnering with GM's Cruise on Self-Driving Cars
Michael Wayland
January 19, 2021

Microsoft has partnered with automaker General Motors (GM) and its Cruise autonomous car unit to invest in and expedite commercialization of driverless vehicles as GM and Cruise's preferred cloud provider. Microsoft’s Satya Nadella said, "We will apply the power of [Microsoft's cloud and edge computing platform] Azure to help [GM] scale and make autonomous transportation mainstream." GM said it will work with Microsoft "to accelerate its digitization initiatives, including collaboration, storage, artificial intelligence, and machine learning capabilities." The automaker also will investigate opportunities with Microsoft to simplify operations across its digital supply chains, and more rapidly roll out mobility services to customers.

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Scientists Count Elephants From Space with Satellites, Computer Smarts
Amanda Kooser
January 19, 2021

Scientists at the U.K.'s Universities of Oxford and Bath have developed a technique for counting African elephant populations using satellite camera imagery and a deep learning algorithm. The Maxar space technology company, which supplied the satellites used in the research, said the method boasts "comparable accuracy to human detection capabilities." The satellite images could replace elephant surveillance by manned aircraft, as the technique can single out elephants from a variegated landscape of grass and woodlands. Bath's Olga Isupov said, "Accurate monitoring is essential if we're to save the species."

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Gather supplied IDE's digital offices with a bar, a TED-style auditorium, and ocean views. Are Videogames the Future of Remote Work?
The Wall Street Journal
Christopher Mims
January 16, 2021

The startup Gather offers a videogame-like format for remote work, supporting virtual two-dimensional workspaces for enterprise clients. Gather's servers provide an artificial office environment for remote employees' avatars, including interaction via videoconferencing interfaces and collaboration on Web-based documents and applications. Nearly a dozen startups like Gather are building clientele that includes workers at ride-sharing company Uber, universities, and IBM; customers use these platforms to hold classes and events, and increasingly as an all-day replacement for office work. The builders and users of these platforms claim they activate place cells in users’ brains, enabling socialization and collaboration based on routines acquired from physical office experience.

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Report Names Bengaluru World's Fastest-Growing Tech Hub
January 15, 2021

Dealroom.com data analyzed by London & Partners found that Bengaluru, India's IT capital, is the world's fastest-growing mature tech ecosystem, followed by London, Munich, Berlin, and Paris. Investment in Bengaluru increased 5.4 times from $1.3 billion in 2016 to $7.2 billion in 2020, according to the report; investment in London tripled over the same period, from $3.5 billion to $10.5 billion. Said London & Partners' Hemin Bharucha, "London has a strong trade and investment relationship with cities across India and today's figures show the opportunities for future partnerships between the U.K. and India on technology. Despite the pandemic, tech companies in London and India are continuing to lead the way in creating game-changing technologies, especially in high growth sectors such as EdTech and Fintech."

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Robotic Swarm Swims Like a School of Fish
Harvard University John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
Leah Burrows
January 13, 2021

Fish-inspired robots designed by researchers at the Harvard University John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) can synchronize their movements like an actual school of fish, without outside control. The Blueswarm robotic swarm uses visual coordination based on blue LED lights, with each robot (Bluebot) featuring two cameras and three LEDs; the cameras detect the LEDs of neighboring Bluebots and algorithmically determine their distance, direction, and heading. SEAS Radhika Nagpal said, "Insights from this research will help us develop future miniature underwater swarms that can perform environmental monitoring and search in visually-rich but fragile environments like coral reefs. This research also paves a way to better understand fish schools, by synthetically recreating their behavior."

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A man using his smartphone. How Law Enforcement Gets Around Your Smartphone's Encryption
Lily Hay Newman
January 15, 2021

Analysis by Johns Hopkins University (JHU) cryptographers revealed encryption-circumventing schemes that law enforcement agencies use to access information in Android and iOS smartphones. JHU's Maximilian Zinkus said iOS has infrastructure for hierarchical encryption, yet little is actually used. The researchers found vulnerabilities in the iPhone's After First Unlock security, triggered after users unlock their phone the first time after a reboot; encryption keys begin getting stored in quick access memory even as the phone is locked, at which point a hacker could find and exploit iOS bugs to grab keys that are accessible in memory, and decrypt big chunks of data from the device. Reports from Israeli law enforcement contractor Cellebrite and U.S. forensic access firm Grayshift indicated most smartphone access tools probably operate in this manner. Android phones lack a Complete Lock mechanism after first unlock, meaning forensic tools can steal even more decryption keys, and compromise more data.

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Hackers Have Leaked the Covid-19 Vaccine Data They Stole in a Cyberattack
Danny Palmer
January 13, 2021

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) disclosed that information about Covid-19 medicines and vaccines, stolen as part of a cyberattack announced last month, has been leaked on the Internet. The hackers breached an undisclosed IT application and targeted data related to Covid-19 medicines and vaccines. The EMA's work and regulatory network were not impacted by the breach, and Covid-19 vaccine approval and distribution has not been disrupted. The EMA said, "Necessary action is being taken by the law enforcement authorities. The agency continues to fully support the criminal investigation into the data breach and to notify any additional entities and individuals whose documents and personal data may have been subject to unauthorized access.”

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Astronaut Chris Cassidy poses with two Astrobee robotic assistants. NASA Readies Astrobee Flying Robots for Serious Space Science
Paul Brinkmann
January 12, 2021

New Astrobee flying robots are being prepared by U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) astronauts on the International Space Station, to help perform science investigations. NASA's Ames Research Center's Jose Benavides said, "We are planning to have them perform boring, routine tasks, because crew time is one of the most valuable resources we have up there." The cube-shaped machines float in the microgravity of orbit and maneuver via jets of compressed air. They feature speakers, cameras, laser imaging or LIDAR, signal lights, an LED touchscreen control panel, and a docking arm. They also have a laser pointer that could be used by ground control to identify defective wires or air leaks, and could be outfitted with specialized microphones to alert the crew to changes in ambient noise levels that could indicate a problem with the space station's life support systems.

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AI to Map Our Intestinal Bacteria
University of Copenhagen (Denmark)
January 12, 2021

Researchers at Denmark's University of Copenhagen (UCPH) are applying artificial intelligence (AI) to the exploration of human intestinal bacteria and its relationship to disease. UCPH's Simon Rasmussen and colleagues developed an algorithm that uses AI to complete the DNA strings of the approximately 1 billion bacteria found in feces. Said Rasmussen, "If we are able to reconstruct their DNA, it will give us an idea of the types of bacteria we are dealing with, what they are capable of, and what they actually do. It is not the complete picture, but it is a huge step forward."

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