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Welcome to the June 30, 2021 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

Please note: In observance of the U.S. Independence Day holiday, TechNews will not be published on Friday, July 2, or Monday, July 5. Publication will resume Wednesday, July 7.

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Stephen Normandin was fired by a machine; the algorithms decided he wasn't doing his job properly. Fired by Bot at Amazon: 'It's You Against the Machine'
Spencer Soper
June 28, 2021

Online retailing giant Amazon's Flex contract drivers say their jobs are at the mercy of software that can unfairly rate their performance. Algorithms mine data on performance patterns and assign drivers routes, or deactivate them, with little human feedback. One source says the Flex algorithms do not account for human nature, setting up good drivers for failure. A former engineer who helped design Flex says Amazon believes the program's benefits offset the collateral damage; a former manager says the company knew the software would lead to errors and bad press, but felt addressing such issues was unnecessarily expensive, as long as drivers could easily be replaced.

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RAMBO Speeds Searches on Huge DNA Databases
Rice University News
Jade Boyd
June 28, 2021

The new RAMBO (repeated and merged bloom filter) method developed by Rice University computer scientists dramatically shortens genomic searches through massive DNA databases. RAMBO can slash indexing times for metagenomic databases from weeks to hours, and query times from hours to seconds. RAMBO's data structure supports faster queries than state-of-the-art genome indexing methods, and offers ease of parallelization, a zero false-negative rate, and a low false-positive rate. Rice's Gaurav Gupta said RAMBO searches DNA databases 35 times faster than current methods; in experiments on a 170-TB microbial genome dataset, the method shrank indexing times from six weeks on a dedicated cluster to nine hours on a shared commodity cluster.

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Perlmutter, a U.S.-based supercomputer located in the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. A New Piece of the Quantum Computing Puzzle
The Source (Washington University in St. Louis)
Brandie Jefferson
June 28, 2021

Jung-Tsung Shen and colleagues at Washington University in St. Louis have designed a high-fidelity two-bit quantum logic gate that taps a new form of light to realize orders of magnitude greater efficiency than current technology. Critical to its construction was the discovery of a new class of quantum photonic states that Shen previously predicted: photonic dimers, or space- and frequency-entangled photons. The controlled-phase gate is engineered so the two photons that exit it are in the negative quantum state of the photons that entered. Shen said the photons can form a photonic dimer in entering the gate, and this new state "enables the output state to have the correct sign that is essential to the optical logic operations." Shen said the gate's fidelity can run as high as 97%.

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A New Supercomputer Has Joined the Top Five
Daphne Leprince-Ringuet
June 28, 2021

The Perlmutter supercomputer in the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory is the only new entry in the top 10 of the June edition of the Top500 listing of the world’s most powerful supercomputers. With 64.6 petaflops, Perlmutter reached fifth place in the new ranking, pushing the previous fifth-place system, Nvidia's Selene, down to sixth place. Perlmutter also ranked sixth on the Green500 ranking of the most energy efficient supercomputers, with a power efficiency of 25.55 gigaflops per watt. Remaining at the top of the Top500 list were Japan's Fugaku (442 petaflops) and IBM's Summit (148.8 petaflops). China accounts for 186 supercomputers in the latest Top500, followed by the U.S. with 123.

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AI Breakthrough in Premature Baby Care
James Cook University (Australia)
June 24, 2021

A hybrid neural network can accurately forecast premature babies' individual mortality risk in order to better guide their care, thanks to scientists at Australia's James Cook University (JCU). JCU's Stephanie Baker said the Neonatal Artificial Intelligence Mortality Score (NAIMS) network assesses preterm infants' mortality risk based on simple demographics and trends in heart and respiratory rate. Baker said NAIMS could predict an infant's mortality risk within three, seven, or 14 days from data generated over 12 hours, without requiring invasive procedures or knowledge of medical histories. Said Baker, "Due to the simplicity and high performance of our proposed scheme, NAIMS could easily be continuously and automatically recalculated, enabling analysis of a baby's responsiveness to treatment and other health trends."

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An electron ptychographic reconstruction of a praseodymium orthoscandate (PrScO3) crystal, zoomed in 100 million times. See the Highest-Resolution Atomic Image Ever Captured
Scientific American
Anna Blaustein
June 28, 2021

The highest-resolution atomic image to date was captured by Cornell University researchers from a crystal sample, magnified at a factor of 100 million. The researchers recorded the image via electron ptychography, in which about 1 billion electrons per second are beamed at a target material, with infinitesimal beam movement ensuring the sample is struck from slightly different angles each time. Machine learning algorithms use the resulting speckle pattern to calculate the atoms' locations and possible shapes. The method extends electron ptychography's scope from extremely flat samples to multiple layers tens to hundreds of atoms thick.

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Danger Caused by Subdomains
Technical University of Wien (Austria)
June 28, 2021

A security vulnerability could enable hackers to commandeer Website subdomains and inflict severe damage, according to researchers at Austria's Technical University of Wien (TU Wien) and Italy's Ca' Foscari University. The vulnerability lies in the persistence of dangling records—links to subdomains no longer in use—where TU Wien's Mauro Tempesta said attackers can establish their own domains. Such exploits can create vulnerabilities that pose risks to anyone who wants to use the actual site. The researchers found 1,520 vulnerable subdomains within 50,000 of the world's most critical Websites, and university sites were more likely to be vulnerable, since they have an especially large number of subdomains. TU Wien's Marco Squarcina said only 15% of those vulnerabilities have been corrected six months after administrators were warned of the threat.

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3D Scanning Breakthrough Means Results Are 4,500% More Accurate
Loughborough University (U.K.)
June 28, 2021

Scientists at the U.K.'s Loughborough University and University of Manchester have boosted the accuracy of three-dimensional (3D) body scans by 4,500% via a free algorithm that can be used with any scanning system. The Gryphon code can identify and remove errors in scan measurements. In 121 measurements of 97 participants, Gryphon had a margin of error of 0.3 centimeters, compared to an average of 13.8 centimeters for current 3D scanning machines when data is captured non-consecutively. Loughborough's Chris Parker said, "We hope this will speed up 3D body scanning, removing the need for highly trained operators to correct mistakes, and—ultimately—help 3D body scanning create custom garments for everyone—without the fuss."

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A robot on stage during Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. Verizon Shows Off 5G-Connected Robots at Barcelona Conference
Supantha Mukherjee; Clara-laeila Laudette
June 28, 2021

Wireless network operator Verizon this week showcased two robots that reportedly communicate with each other via 5G connectivity and mobile edge computing at the Mobile World conference in Barcelona, Spain. Edge computing analyzes bulk data where it was collected using augmented reality and machine learning, and demands rapid data transfers that only high-speed 5G signals can deliver. Verizon's Rima Qureshi said, "5G will make it possible for robots to connect with other robots and devices of all kinds in a way that simply wasn't possible before." Qureshi said drones using 5G-enabled communications would be able to stream video to multiple recipients simultaneously, so they could each focus on different aspects of an image.

Full Article

A Tesla crash. Crashes Involving Tesla Autopilot, Other Driver-Assistance Systems Attract Scrutiny
The New York Times
Neal E. Boudette
June 29, 2021

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is requiring automakers to start disclosing and tracking crashes involving vehicles that use advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS). The agency has initiated probes into about three dozen collisions of vehicles using such systems, all but six involving Teslas. The NHTSA said automakers must furnish reports of serious collisions within a day of learning about them; provide more complete data on serious crashes involving ADAS systems within 10 days; and report on all crashes involving such systems every month. The NHTSA's Steven Cliff said these mandates will give the agency access to data that can help rapidly identify safety problems in ADAS systems.

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ML Tools Can Help Identify Risk of Tooth Loss
News-Medical Life Sciences
June 24, 2021

A study by Harvard School of Dental Medicine researchers found that machine learning tools can be used to identify patients in need of early interventions to avoid or delay tooth loss. The researchers compared five algorithms designed to assess risk without a dental exam and found that those relying only on dental clinical indicators did not perform as well as those that consider medical characteristics and socioeconomic variables like race, education, arthritis, and diabetes. The study, based on data from nearly 12,000 adults who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, found that algorithms can facilitate screenings in various health care settings and by non-dental professionals. Said lead researcher Hawazin Elani, "This work highlights the importance of social determinants of health. Knowing the patient's education level, employment status, and income is just as relevant for predicting tooth loss as assessing their clinical dental status."

Full Article
Hackers Infecting Gamers' PCs with Malware to Make Millions From Crypto
Sam Shead
June 25, 2021

Security firm Avast has found that hackers are exploiting gamers with "Crackonosh" malware to generate millions by mining cryptocurrency using gamers’ computers. Avast researchers said the criminals hide Crackonosh in free downloadable versions of games like NBA 2K19, Grand Theft Auto V, and Far Cry 5, available on torrent sites; upon installation, Crackonosh starts the gamers' PCs crypto-mining. The researchers estimate Crackonosh has been used to mine $2 million in Monero cryptocurrency since June 2018; Avast's Daniel Benes said about 220,000 users have been infected worldwide, with an additional 800 devices infected daily. Benes said indications of the malware’s presence can include slower PC performance and higher-than-normal electricity bills.

Full Article
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