Seton Hall M.S. in Data Science
Welcome to the March 3, 2021 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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New York, IBM Begin Testing Covid-19 Digital Health Pass
Stephanie Condon
March 2, 2021

IBM and New York State have initiated the testing of their forthcoming blockchain-based Covid-19 digital health pass (Excelsior Pass), through which New Yorkers can securely display proof of a negative test result or vaccination certification. A group of predetermined participants on Saturday used the pass to gain admission to the Brooklyn Nets basketball game at Barclays Center, while on Tuesday volunteers used it to enter a hockey game at Madison Square Garden. The pass and its accompanying verification application are built on IBM's Digital Health Pass app, which employs blockchain to preserve privacy and let individuals store, manage, and share health status from mobile devices. Users can either print out or store their pass on smartphones, and each pass features a quick response code for venues to scan with the verification app. IBM's app also plugs into multiple data sources, and its open architecture will enable adoption by other states and organizations.

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Eric E. Schmidt, co-founder of Schmidt Futures, speaks before Congress. AI Panel Urges U.S. to Boost Tech Skills Amid China's Rise
Associated Press
Matt O'Brien
March 1, 2021

The National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (AI) issued its final report to Congress on March 1, calling on the U.S. to enhance its AI skills as a means of countering China. The 15-member commission—which includes executives from Google, Microsoft, Oracle, and Amazon—indicated that, with or without the U.S. and other democracies, machines that "perceive, decide, and act more quickly" and more accurately than humans will be used for military purposes. Despite warning against their unchecked use, the report does not support a global ban on autonomous weapons. It also recommends "wise restraints" on the use of facial recognition and other AI tools that could be used for mass surveillance and calls for "White House-led strategy" to defend against AI-related threats, set standards for the responsible use of AI, and increase research and development to maintain a technological edge over China.

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The Digidog robot ready for work. Digidog, a Robotic Dog Used by the Police, Stirs Privacy Concerns
The New York Times
Maria Cramer; Christine Hauser
March 1, 2021

The New York City Police Department is testing a 70-pound robotic dog to assess the safety of buildings where there may be threats before allowing officers to enter. Digidog, built by Boston Dynamics, features cameras, lights, and a two-way communication system that allows remote operators to see and hear what is going on around the robot. John Jay College of Criminal Justice's Keith Taylor said injuries and fatalities could be limited through the use of mobile devices that can collect intelligence about potential threats remotely. However, using a robot for police work has raised concerns about bias, mobile surveillance, hacking, privacy, and even weaponization. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for one, described Digidog on Twitter as a “robotic surveillance ground” drone.

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The computer-generated unfolding sequence of a sealed letter from the Brienne Collection, a rare cache of 300-year-old undelivered messages found inside a European postmaster’s trunk. A Letter Sealed for Centuries Has Been Read—Without Even Opening It
The Wall Street Journal
Sara Castellanos
March 2, 2021

An international team of researchers used computer algorithms and x-ray scanning to read a tightly folded letter sealed since 1697, without actually opening it. The letter was part of the Netherlands' Brienne Collection, and the authors scanned the document in three dimensions using an x-ray scanner originally developed by Queen Mary University of London's dental institute. The team used an algorithm on the scanned data to reveal the individual layers of paper, and software exposed onscreen the appearance of the physically unfolded letter. San Francisco software engineer Amanda Ghassaei said the image resembled a photo of the message, with the bulk of the text legible.

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Researchers Introduce New Generation of Tiny, Agile Drones
MIT News
Daniel Ackerman
March 2, 2021

Agile insect-sized drones designed by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard University, and City University of Hong Kong can withstand the physical stresses of flight by using a special soft actuator. The new actuators, made from rubber cylinders coated in carbon nanotubes, replace rigid, fragile piezoelectric ceramic actuators used in earlier versions of the drones. Applying voltage to the nanotubes generates an electrostatic force that squeezes and elongates the cylinders, causing rapid wing-beats when applied repeatedly. The actuators give the 0.6-gram drones insect-like resilience and sophisticated maneuverability. MIT's Kevin Yufeng Chen said the new actuators make the drones more resilient, so “You can hit it when it’s flying, and it can recover. It can also do aggressive maneuvers like somersaults in the air.”

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Quantum Internet Closer to Reality, Thanks to This Switch
Purdue University News
Kayla Wiles
March 2, 2021

Engineers at Purdue University and the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory have overcome an obstacle in the development of a quantum Internet via a programmable switch that adjusts the amount of data sent to each user by selecting and rerouting wavelengths of light carrying data channels. This could increase user numbers without incurring greater photon and data loss as the network expands. The approach removes the need to physically interchange many fixed optical filters tuned to individual wavelengths, by simply programming the switch to route data-carrying wavelengths to each new user. The switch also can be programmed to modify bandwidth based on user needs.

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Food products displayed at the Lawson Open Innovation center in Japan. Japanese Companies Go High-Tech in the Battle Against Food Waste
Tetsushi Kajimoto
February 28, 2021

Japanese firms are accelerating the use of advanced technology to combat food waste and reduce costs during the Covid-19 pandemic. Convenience store chain Lawson is using artificial intelligence (AI) from U.S. company DataRobot to identify goods on shelves that go unsold or fall short of demand. Meanwhile, multinational brewing and distilling company Suntory Beverage & Food is testing AI from Fujitsu to ascertain if inventory has been damaged in shipping. Suntory hopes the AI will reduce the return of goods by 30% to 50%, slash food waste costs, and yield a common standard for use by other food manufacturers and shipping firms. Other businesses have partnered with food firms in developing new technological platforms to reduce food waste, in tandem with global initiatives to meet sustainable development goals.

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Criminals Are Jumping on This Niche Programming Language to Write the Latest Malware
Mayank Sharma
March 1, 2021

Cybersecurity company Intezer warns that Google's open source Go programming language has become a popular tool for malware authors, having identified nearly 2,000% growth in new Go-based malware strains in the wild. Intezer's analysis noted that the TIOBE programming community index named Go 2016's Programming Language of the Year, which may have drawn malware writers' interest. Intezer also cited both state-sponsored and non-state sponsored threat actors as Go users, using it to create bots for direct denial-of-service attacks or installing cryptominers that constitute a large portion of current Linux malware written in Go. Intezer suggests Go's networking stack is favored by malefactors because it is a preferred language for writing cloud-native applications.

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Algorithm Identifies 'Escaping' Cells in Single-Cell CRISPR Screens, Uncovers New Regulators of Immune Cell Behavior
New York University
March 1, 2021

A new algorithm developed by researchers at New York University (NYU) and the New York Genome Center can help users understand the operation and regulation of human genes by interpreting experiments that blend CRISPR and multimodal single-cell sequencing technologies. The mixscape approach helped to identify a novel molecular mechanism for regulating immune checkpoint proteins that control the immune system's ability to identify and kill cancer cells. The researchers employed a sequencing technology that captures single-cell profiles of different types of biomolecules, after perturbing each gene with a CRISPR "guide RNA." However, computational difficulties constrained analysis and interpretation of the data, and the team developed the mixscape approach to simulate each perturbation as generating a mix of cells with different responses. Mixscape can identify and remove sources of noise from the dataset, enhancing the ability to associate gene perturbations with changes in transcriptome and protein expression.

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Microsoft's Alex Kipman appears in a holographic aquarium. Microsoft Steps Up Push to Bring VR to the Masses
Dina Bass
March 2, 2021

Software giant Microsoft has unveiled Mesh software, designed to reduce the cost and complexity of building and accessing virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) content. Mesh will allow users to work and play together virtually by interacting with the same series of holograms on devices at various price points and from different manufacturers. Multiple parties also can view the same holograms from different locations, facilitating events that combine live and virtual attendance. Mesh also applies spatial sound to change audio based on the locations of holograms and participants. Microsoft is banking on cloud-based tools that simplify development of compelling AR and VR content for almost any type of device to drive mass appeal.

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Manufacturing 3D-Printed Beams Inspired by Lego Pieces, the Human Body
RUVID (Spain)
February 28, 2021

Researchers at Spain's Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV) have developed a system for fabricating beams from pieces of three-dimensionally-printed plastic that can be assembled like Lego modules. UPV's José Ramón Albiol said the beams' internal structure is honeycombed to reduce the amount of plastic used without sacrificing structural rigidity; the alveolar geometry is inspired by that of human bone. The beams weigh up to 80% less than standard concrete or metal beams, and can be printed and assembled on site. UPV's Miguel Sánchez said, "Being able to customize the beams in-situ allows the characteristics of each one of them to be adapted to the structural needs of each point of application."

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Researchers Build Fastest Laser-Based Random Number Generator
S. Shah
March 1, 2021

Scientists at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, Yale University, and Ireland's Trinity College Dublin collaborated on the design of the fastest-ever laser-based random number generator, capable of churning out 250 terabytes of random digits per second. The researchers said the system also can produce many bitstreams simultaneously. A 1-millimeter-long laser bounces light between mirrors positioned at either end of an hourglass-shaped cavity before leaving the device. Concurrent amplification of many optical modes creates fast intensity fluctuations recorded via camera, which measures light intensity at 254 spots across the beam about every trillionth of a second. Data generation was so fast that the camera could only track it for few nanoseconds before its memory reached capacity, after which the data was uploaded to a computer.

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Electricity Needed to Mine Bitcoin is More Than Used by 'Entire Countries'
The Guardian (U.K.)
Lauren Aratani
February 27, 2021

The Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index estimated that the electricity used to mine bitcoins last year equaled the annual carbon footprint of Argentina. Bitcoin mining entails solving complex math problems in order to generate new bitcoins, with miners rewarded in the cryptocurrency; a maximum 21 million bitcoins can be mined, and the more that are mined, the tougher the algorithms that need solving to get bitcoins. Over 18.5 million bitcoins have been mined, and computers that can handle the intense processing power of the process are needed to get bitcoin. Environmentalists are concerned because, they say, bitcoin miners use the cheapest available source of electricity to power the process, even if that turns out to be coal. Bitcoin advocates believe bitcoin mining is a secure, inexpensive global value transfer and storage system that is worth the environmental cost.

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