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Welcome to the September 1, 2021 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

Please note: In observance of the U.S. Labor Day holiday, TechNews will not be published on Friday, Sept. 3 and Monday, Sept. 6. Publication will resume Wednesday, Sept. 8.

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The Test of Time at Internet Scale: Verisign's Danny McPherson Recognized with ACM SIGCOMM Award
Burt Kaliski Jr.
August 27, 2021

ACM's Special Interest Group on Data Communications (SIGCOMM) 2021 conference accorded the Test of Time Paper Award to research published in 2010 in which Danny McPherson, now chief security officer at Domain Name System operator VeriSign, and colleagues at software maker Arbor Networks and the University of Michigan analyzed over 200 exabytes of data to map the Internet's internal structure. The paper noted the emergence of a "global Internet core" of a relatively small group of large application and content providers generating most of the traffic between different parts of the Internet, overtaking large network operators as the main source. Co-author Craig Labovitz confirmed in 2019 that the paper's prediction of accelerating Internet inter-domain traffic consolidation has panned out over the previous decade, with traffic volume expanding and content sources shrinking.

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Afghan refugee Saidullah Karimi demonstrates how the Athena robot functions. He Built a Robot to Prove a Point About Refugees
The New York Times
Alice Greenway
August 27, 2021

Afghan refugee Saidullah Karimi built a robot from pieces of trash to symbolize what refugees can accomplish and contribute to their new societies. The Athena robot is comprised of what Karimi calls "recycled objects," including plumbing pipes, a printer, and motors and transmitters removed from broken remote control toys. The robot's fingers were made from razor handles, its feet and limbs from plastic bottles, its ankle joints from suitcase wheels, and its knees were reinforced with metal from a CD player. Said Karimi, an orthopedic technician now living in Athens, Greece, "I wanted to make a robot and fix sensors in the orthotics so that when the child moves his knee, the robot knee moves too. I wanted the robot to copy the gait, hand movements, everything."

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Biden Administration Establishes Program to Recruit Tech Professionals to Serve in Government
The Hill
Maggie Miller
August 30, 2021

The Biden administration has established the U.S. Digital Corps to enlist and train technology professionals to serve in digital positions within the federal government and tackle major challenges like COVID-19 and cybersecurity. The program will launch later this year as a two-year fellowship for 30 initial participants, who could serve at initial host agencies like the General Services Administration (GSA), the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. GSA's Robin Carnahan said, "The Digital Corps fellowship offers technologists just starting out in their career the opportunity to work on some of the most pressing challenges that we face and develop innovative solutions that make government work better for the American people."

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Li Qian is part of the research team that proposed the new quantum fingerprinting protocol. Researchers Develop Quantum 'Fingerprinting' Protocol to Improve Information Exchange
University of Toronto News (Canada)
Matthew Tierney
August 31, 2021

More private information sharing is possible with a new quantum fingerprinting (QF) protocol developed by researchers at Canada's University of Toronto (U of T). The protocol encodes data by tapping the many frequencies of a photon's quantum state. U of T's Li Qian said, "As the data string becomes larger and larger, quantum fingerprinting can drastically reduce the amount of information that you need to exchange," which reduces the possibility of information leakage. The enhanced QF protocol uses multiplexing to expedite communications and lower QF's susceptibility to photon-detector noise. Said Qian, "It makes QF a more practical option. We can use off-the-shelf components: run-of-the-mill semiconductor-based single photon detectors, which are orders of magnitude cheaper than superconductor detectors."

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Carnegie Mellon's Cloud Lab to Automate Labor-Intensive Science Experiments
The Wall Street Journal
Sara Castellanos
August 30, 2021

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and remote technology access provider Emerald Cloud Lab have partnered on a $40-million laboratory to automate experiments in robotics and artificial intelligence. CMU's Rebecca Doerge said the "Cloud Lab" will be the first-ever university-owned cloud lab, in which scientists may access software to design experiments that are conducted remotely by about 200 different kinds of robots. Emerald Cloud Lab's Brian Frezza said researchers can design experiments from anywhere with the company's proprietary software, which instructs machines via the cloud. CMU researchers are developing artificial intelligence systems that can automatically suggest ways to calibrate the equipment to carry out tests optimally.

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China Swoops on Algorithms in Latest Tech Clampdown
Brenda Goh
August 27, 2021

The Cyberspace Administration of China has issued draft rules to prevent companies from developing algorithmic models that encourage users to spend significant amounts of money, or to spend money in a manner that could be disruptive to public order. The draft rules would enable Chinese authorities to review algorithms and request fixes if they are deemed necessary. The rules would affect some of the biggest tech companies in China, including Alibaba Group. Trivium China's Kendra Schaefer noted, "This policy marks the moment that China's tech regulation is not simply keeping pace with data regulations in the European Union but has gone beyond them."

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Sandia researchers Thushara Gunda, front, and Nicole Jackson examine solar panels as summer monsoon clouds roll by. Sandia Uncovers Hidden Factors That Affect Solar Farms During Severe Weather
Sandia National Laboratories LabNews
Mollie Rappe
August 27, 2021

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories used machine learning to study the effects of severe weather on solar farms. The researchers combined six years of maintenance tickets from over 800 solar farms in 24 states, and two years of real-world electricity production data from over 100 solar farms in 16 states, with historical weather data. They determined that electricity production was affected most by snowstorms, followed by hurricanes and a general group of other types of storms. The researchers used a machine learning algorithm to identify factors contributing to low electrical production performance from these weather events, and found, among other things, that older solar farms were affected most by severe weather, potentially due to greater wear and tear from longer exposure to the elements.

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A drone delivers a defibrillator. Real-World Tests Show Life-Saving Potential of Defibrillator Drones
New Atlas
Nick Lavars
August 29, 2021

A Swedish team of researchers has deployed aerial drones equipped with automated external defibrillators (AEDs) to heart attack victims for the first time. Scientists at Sweden's Karolinska Institutet (KI) had previously conducted simulations proving that drones could deliver defibrillators four times as fast as ambulances; the latest study saw drones transporting the life-saving devices to sites of cardiac arrest over a four-month period last year. The drones were deployed in 12 out of 53 alerts for suspected cardiac arrests, with 11 successful AED arrivals logged; the drones traveled an average of 3.1 kilometers (2 miles) and arrived ahead of the ambulance seven times, although none were used prior to ambulance arrival. KI's Sofia Schierbeck said, "Our study shows that it is possible to use drones to transport defibrillators in a safe way and with target precision during real-life emergencies."

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The Fortress S03 home security system. Popular Smart Home Security System Can Be Remotely Disarmed
Zack Whittaker
August 31, 2021

Researchers at cybersecurity company Rapid7 found vulnerabilities that can be used to remotely disarm the Fortress S03 smart home security system. The Wi-Fi-based system allows owners to monitor their homes with a mobile application via Internet-linked cameras, motion sensors, and sirens, and to arm or disarm it with a radio-controlled key fob. The researchers said hackers can remotely query an unauthenticated application programming interface without the server checking the request's legitimacy; the server would return the device's unique International Mobile Equipment Identity number, which could be used to disarm the system. In addition, intercepting unencrypted radio signals between the S03 and the key fob could permit the "arm" and "disarm" signals to be captured and replayed. Rapid7 informed Fortress of the flaws, then publicly disclosed them when the company did not respond after three months; a law firm representing Fortress called the claims of vulnerabilities in the S03 system "false, purposely misleading, and defamatory," without specifying why they are false, or that Fortress has fixed the vulnerabilities.

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AI Matches Cardiologists' Expertise, While Explaining Its Decisions
University of California, San Francisco News
Elizabeth Fernandez
August 26, 2021

Scientists at the University of California, San Francisco and the University of California, Berkeley designed an artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm that diagnosed cardiovascular ailments as well as expert cardiologists, while explaining its reasoning. The researchers trained the convolutional neural network on commonly accessible electrocardiogram (ECG) data. The researchers said the algorithm performed strongly across 38 different diagnoses in five broad diagnostic categories. Because the researchers incorporated "explainability" into the algorithm, it highlighted ECG segments critical for each diagnosis, which may boost physicians' confidence in using it. The researchers said their results “offer strong support for AI algorithms like neural networks to be incorporated into existing commercial ECG algorithms, since they perform better for many diagnoses, can improve over time and provide additional insights through explainability.”

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Digital Archives Meant to Be Permanent Seem to Be Lost on the Web
New Scientist
Chris Stokel-Walker
August 30, 2021

Old Dominion University (ODU)'s Michael Nelson and colleagues found supposedly permanent digital Web archives could be lost. The team ran a Web crawler between November 2017 and January 2019 to access 16,627 pages preserved by 17 services in the U.S., Europe, and some serving the whole Internet. Four of the archives' uniform resource identifiers changed during that period, impacting the crawler's ability to find the archived pages. The four archives stored 1,981 Web pages, of which 537 were affected, including 20 that could not be retrieved at all. ODU's Michael Nelson said, "Being able to provide access to archives and demonstrate the integrity and authenticity of those archives are indeed issues that are very important to us and our members, and Web archives are no exception."

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Computer Scientists Find Key Research Algorithm's Limits
Nick Thieme
August 29, 2021

New research indicates the gradient descent algorithm tackles a fundamentally hard computational problem, limiting the type of performance researchers can expect in specific applications. Scientists at the U.K.'s universities of Oxford and Liverpool concentrated on the confluence of two subsets of problems within total function nondeterministic polynomial. The polynomial local search (PLS) subset consists of problems for finding the minimum or maximum value of a function in a particular region; the polynomial parity arguments on directed graphs (PPAD) subset has solutions emerging from a theorem where a fixed point exists for any continuous function. The researchers found gradient descent to be a natural PLS in the PPAD-complete problem. Columbia University's Tim Roughgarden said, "[The nature of computation] is something that we as a species should try to understand deeply in all of its many forms. And I think that should be reason enough to be excited about this result."

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