Welcome to the July 23, 2021 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Protein structures. Public Database of AI-Predicted Protein Structures Could Transform Biology
Robert F. Service
July 22, 2021

A team of researchers says it has used a new artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm to forecast the three-dimensional structures of 350,000 proteins from humans and 20 model organisms. The team at U.K.-based AI developer DeepMind (which is owned by Alphabet, the parent of Google) developed the AlphaFold computer model, which it says has generated structures for almost 44% of all human proteins, encompassing nearly 60% of the amino acids encoded by the human genome. Researchers at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Germany compiled a freely available public database of DeepMind's new protein predictions, which is likely to help biologists determine out how thousands of unknown proteins operate. EMBL's Edith Heard said, "We believe this will be transformative to understanding how life works."

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CARMAT’s artificial heart. Total Artificial Heart Successfully Transplanted in U.S.
Interesting Engineering
Ameya Paleja
July 20, 2021

Duke University Hospital surgeons successfully transplanted a total artificial heart (TAH) developed by France's CARMAT into a 39-year-old patient who had suffered sudden heart failure. The TAH both resembles and functions like the human heart. Actuator fluid carried in a bag outside the body is responsible for the heartbeat, and sensors and microprocessors on the heart trigger its micropumps based on patient need. The TAH is connected to the aorta and the pulmonary artery through two outlets. To keep the heart powered, the patient will need to carry a nearly nine-pound bag containing a controller and two chargeable battery packs. The TAH has received primary approval for testing from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and was approved for use in Europe for patients expected to receive a heart transplant within 180 days.

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Kaseya Gets Master Decryption Key After July 4 Global Attack
Associated Press
Frank Bajak
July 22, 2021

Florida-based software supplier Kaseya has obtained a universal key that will decrypt all businesses and public organizations crippled in the July 4 global ransomware attack. The Russia-affiliated REvil syndicate released the malware, which exploited Kaseya's software and immobilized more than 1,000 targets. Kaseya spokesperson Dana Liedholm would only disclose that the key came from a "trusted third party," and that Kaseya was distributing it to all victims. Ransomware analysts suggested multiple possibilities for the master key's appearance, including Kaseya paying the ransom, or the Kremlin seizing the key and handing it over.

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Top view of actuating Electriflow butterfly. Origami Comes to Life with Shape-Changing Materials
University of Colorado Boulder
Daniel Strain
July 20, 2021

University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder) researchers have developed paper-thin, shape-changing objects that could lead to books in which origami figures fly off the page. These "Electriflow" designs, which include origami cranes, flowers, and butterflies, were inspired by soft robotic artificial muscles developed at CU Boulder, which do not require motors or mechanical parts. Eric Acome of Artimus, commercial supplier of the artificial muscles, said, "They're just pouches, but depending on the shape of that pouch, you can generate different kinds of movement." CU Boulder's Purnendu said, "This system is very close to what we see in nature. We're pushing the boundaries of how humans and machines can interact."

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drone racing along a time-optimal trajectory Algorithm Flies Drones Faster Than Human Pilots
University of Zurich (Switzerland)
July 21, 2021

An autonomously flying quadrotor drone has for the first time outraced human pilots, using a novel algorithm designed by researchers at Switzerland's University of Zurich (UZH). The algorithm calculates the fastest trajectories for the aircraft and guides it through a series of waypoints on a circuit. UZH's Davide Scaramuzza said the algorithm "is the first to generate time-optimal trajectories that fully consider the drones' limitations." He said the algorithm enabled the autonomous drone to beat two world-class human pilots on an experimental track. During the race, external cameras captured the drones' movement, and relayed real-time data to the algorithm on where the autonomous drone was at any moment.

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A medical professional holding a liquid-filled vial. Method Predicts Whether COVID-19 Clinical Trials Will Succeed
Florida Atlantic University
Gisele Galoustian
July 21, 2021

Scientists at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) used a novel method combining machine learning algorithms and ensemble learning to simulate COVID-19 completion versus cessation in clinical trials. The researchers compiled a testbed of 4,441 COVID-19 trials from the ClinicalTrials.gov national registry and database, then produced 693 dimensional features to represent each clinical trial. By applying ensemble learning and sampling, the model realized what was characterized as high efficacy in clinical trial prediction. FAU's Stella Batalama said this new technique "will be helpful to design computational approaches to predict whether or not a COVID-19 clinical trial will be completed, so that stakeholders can leverage the predictions to plan resources, reduce costs, and minimize the time of the clinical study."

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A D-Wave Systems 2X quantum computer at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, CA. U.K. Companies Lead Expansion in Quantum Computing
Paul Sandle
July 20, 2021

Multinational professional consultancy Accenture said, based on its research, that over 80% of large U.K. companies are expanding their quantum computing capabilities. Accenture Technology's Maynard Williams said the pandemic had forced companies to adopt technology more quickly and to be more willing to innovate. Accenture’s research found Britain was outpacing the global average of 62% of large companies scaling quantum computing technologies, surpassing the U.S. average of 74%. Said Williams, "While the technology is still being tested to create new products and services, we expect quantum computing to bring huge advances in computing power and solve business problems that are too complex for classical computing systems."

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A three-dimensionally-printed robotic hand working a game console. Water-Powered Robotic Hand Can Play Super Mario Bros
New Scientist
Matthew Sparkes
July 15, 2021

University of Maryland (UMD) researchers used three-dimensional (3D) printing to produce a water-controlled robotic hand capable of completing the first level of the computer game Super Mario Bros in less than 90 seconds. The hand is composed of hard plastic, a rubbery polymer, and a water-soluble "sacrificial" material that can support complex shapes during printing before being rinsed away. These constituents form a rigid skeleton, as well as fluidic circuits that translate streams of water from a hose into finger movements. By carefully controlling the pressure of water pulses routed through the hose, the UMD team could move each of the hand's three fingers and operate a controller with sufficient precision to play the game.

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A narrow street lined with parked cars on both sides. Algorithm May Help Autonomous Vehicles Navigate Narrow, Crowded Streets
Carnegie Mellon University School of Computer Science
Aaron Aupperlee
July 20, 2021

An algorithm developed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) could enable autonomous vehicles to navigate crowded, narrow streets where vehicles traveling in opposite directions do not have enough space to pass each other and there is no knowledge about what the other driver may do. Such a scenario requires collaboration among drivers, who must balance aggression with cooperation. The researchers modeled different levels of cooperation between drivers and used them to train the algorithm. In simulations, the algorithm was found to outperform current models; it has not yet been tested on real-world vehicles.

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Figures (human and cyber-like) working on a blackboard filed with mathematical equations. Will AI Grade Your Next Test?
The New York Times
Cade Metz
July 20, 2021

Stanford University researchers have developed an artificial intelligence (AI) system designed to provide automated feedback to students taking the online Code in Place course. The researchers trained a neural network to analyze computer code using examples from a decade's worth of midterm exams featuring programming exercises. After the system offered 16,000 pieces of feedback to students this spring, the researchers found students agreed with the AI feedback 97.9% of the time, and with feedback from human instructors 96.7% of the time. Stanford's Chris Piech stressed that the system is not intended to replace instructors, but to reach more students than they could on their own.

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Crypto Experts in Demand as Countries Launch Digital Currencies
The Wall Street Journal
James T. Areddy
July 18, 2021

Demand for cryptocurrency consultants continues to grow as countries accelerate efforts to launch their own digital tenders. For example, Israeli crypto consultant Barak Ben-Ezer designed the SOV (sovereign), a bitcoin-like tradable cryptocurrency, for the Marshall Islands archipelago nation. China has jumpstarted other countries' eagerness to have their own digital currencies by indicating the launch of a digital yuan (the e-CNY) is approaching. Advisers say central banks often have teams modeling digitization schemes, although many are discreetly consulting with engineers with backgrounds in cryptocurrencies and blockchain. Having private advisers like Ben-Ezer directing such efforts raises concerns about potential conflicts of interest and liability; the Marshall Islands' crypto issuance has been delayed amid similar issues raised by the First Hawaiian Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

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iPhone Security No Match for NSO Spyware
The Washington Post
Craig Timberg; Reed Albergotti; Elodie Gueguen
July 19, 2021

Spyware made by Israeli surveillance company NSO has been used to hack Apple iPhones without users’ knowledge. An international probe uncovered 23 Apple devices compromised by Pegasus spyware, which circumvented their security systems and installed malware. The hacked smartphones included an iPhone 12 with the latest Apple software updates, indicating even the newest iPhones are vulnerable, and undercutting Apple's long-hyped claims of superior security. An Amnesty International study found evidence that NSO's clients use commercial Internet service companies to send Pegasus malware to targeted devices. The international probe found the inability to block such smartphone hacking threatens democracy in many nations by weakening journalism, political activism, and campaigns against human rights abuses.

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An image of a black soldier pulled from the U.S. National Archives. Researchers Pulling Movements from Microfilm with Digital History
Virginia Tech News
Suzanne Irby
July 18, 2021

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) historians and computer scientists are using digital technologies to bring archived historic content to life for public access. Their goal is to provide technology-enhanced experiences for users, to enable them to control interactive platforms that can make the study of history more accessible. One example is Immersive Space to Think, a three-dimensional workspace that history students can navigate using virtual reality goggles and handheld controllers. Users can explore transcriptions and other documents with Incite, an open source software plug-in; the system itself can learn from students' behavior to enhance the interactive experience using a machine learning algorithm that can suggest additional relevant documents to explore.

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