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Welcome to the September 24, 2021 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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A COVID-labeled test tube held by hand with Greek flag colors. How Greece Let in Tourists, Kept Out COVID-19
University of Southern California
Emily Gersema
September 22, 2021

Researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) Marshall School of Business, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, wealth management advisory firm AgentRisk, and Greece's universities of Athens and Thessaly collaborated on the development of an algorithm that can identify asymptomatic COVID-19 infections in travelers. The “Eva” algorithm utilizes real-time data to identify high-risk visitors for testing. The researchers found the algorithm was able to identify nearly twice as many asymptomatic infected travelers to Greece than if the country had depended only on travel restrictions and randomized testing. Eva was used to weed through data provided by tourists to develop profiles of those likely to be infected and asymptomatic.

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Structure of the microflier. Winged Microchip Smallest-Ever Human-Made Flying Structure
Northwestern Now
Amanda Morris
September 22, 2021

Flying microchips developed by engineers at Northwestern University could be used to monitor air pollution and airborne disease. These microfliers, the smallest-ever human-made flying structures, do not use motors or engines; they are aerodynamically designed to fall at a slow velocity in a controlled manner. They can be outfitted with sensors, power sources, antennas for wireless communication, and embedded memory to store data. Said Northwestern's John A. Rogers, "We think that we beat nature, at least in the narrow sense that we have been able to build structures that fall with more stable trajectories and at slower terminal velocities than equivalent seeds that you would see from plants or trees."

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Model Advances Understanding of Incorporating 3D Printing into Supply Chains
North Carolina State University
September 22, 2021

A computational model developed by researchers at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and North Carolina State University can help determine efficient methods for incorporating additive manufacturing (AM) technologies, also known as three-dimensional (3D) printing, into supply chains for spare parts. The model considers the intermittency of demand, including the potential amount of time between requests for spare parts, and the potential variability in the number of spare parts requested. The model showed that the less frequently such requests are made and the greater the variability in the number of items needed in each request, the more likely a centralized system would be the most efficient arrangement.

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Custom electrical impedance tomography sensing motherboard alone (left) and measuring electrical impedance. Making Health, Motion Sensing Devices More Personal
MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory
Rachel Gordon
September 22, 2021

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Massachusetts General Hospital’s Center for Artificial Intelligence have developed a toolkit for designing health and motion-sensing devices to monitor patients’ wellbeing. Devices designed using the "EIT (electrical impedance tomography)-kit" can be exported to a three-dimensional (3D) printer once sensing electrodes are applied in the EIT-kit's 3D editor, after which the device can be printed/assembled, placed in a targeted measuring area, and connected to the EIT-kit's sensing motherboard. MIT's Junyi Zhu said, "We discovered that EIT sensing is largely patient and sensing location dependent, because of measuring configurations, signal calibration, electrode placements, and other bioelectrical-related factors. These challenges can be resolved with customizable hardware and automation algorithms."

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An illustration of global recruitment. Technology Skills in Demand, 2021: Cloud, with a Twist of Open Source
Joe McKendrick
September 21, 2021

The results of a survey of 750 open source professionals and 200 hiring managers by the Linux Foundation and massive open online course provider (MOOC) edX indicates a rebound in technology jobs, although 92% of managers said demand continues to outstrip supply. Managers are seeking candidates with cloud and container technology skills even more than Linux skills, while qualified open source talent remains scarce. The survey's authors warn, "We are facing a situation where new technologies are being built on legacy technologies, requiring middleware that often cannot keep up with changes in underlying software infrastructure. When combined with a lack of skills around both old and new technologies, the hiring market for open source talent is experiencing unprecedented stress."

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SpaceX’s Starlink network. SpaceX Satellite Signals Used Like GPS to Pinpoint Location on Earth
Ohio State News
Laura Arenschield
September 22, 2021

Researchers at The Ohio State University and the University of California, Irvine have come up with a method for locating a position on Earth using signals broadcast by SpaceX's Starlink Internet service satellites. Signals from six Starlink satellites were used to identify a location on Earth within 8 meters, suggesting the method could serve as an alternative to GPS. Ohio State's Zak Kassas said, "We eavesdropped on the signal, and then we designed sophisticated algorithms to pinpoint our location, and we showed that it works with great accuracy. And even though Starlink wasn't designed for navigation purposes, we showed that it was possible to learn parts of the system well enough to use it for navigation."

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A fanned-out Pantone color wheel. Mapping Words to Color
Penn Today
September 23, 2021

University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) researchers developed an algorithm capable of inferring the communicative needs that different linguistic communities place on colors. Using data from the World Color Survey, collected more than 50 years ago from 130 diverse linguistic communities worldwide, the researchers used speakers’ observations of focal colors, such as the “reddest red” or “greenest green,” to infer the communicative need associated with each of the 330 colors in the survey. The researchers used World Color Survey data on how languages divided color to confirm their inference algorithm could predict the communicative needs of different languages, as well as the similarities and differences between languages.

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The measurement system and dummies positioned in the cabin of a car. Car Passengers Could Soon Listen to Personalized Audio
September 23, 2021

An acoustic algorithm created by researchers at France’s Le Mans University and Netherlands-based carmaker Stellantis allows two listeners sitting next to each other in an automobile to hear entirely different sounds without the need for headphones. Using microphones, the system first monitors the characteristics of the sound emitted by an array of headrest-mounted loudspeakers in real time. The algorithm then adapts the system’s filters whenever seating positions change, adjusting the position of each passenger’s personalized sound zone (PSZ). During testing, when one seat was moved forwards by even 15 centimeters while the other stayed fixed, the algorithm could reliably maintain a 30-decibel difference between their two PSZs, about the difference between whispering and normal conversation.

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Scientists Use Supercomputer to Probe Limits of Google Quantum Processor
Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Russia)
September 21, 2021

Researchers at Russia’s Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech) using the Zhores supercomputer to emulate Google's quantum processor found a reachability deficit in Google's data, indicating that significantly more quantum resources will be necessary to perform quantum approximate optimization. The researchers' emulation displayed a range of instance densities at which the performance of the quantum approximate optimization algorithm (QAOA) degrades sharply. They found that Google's data sits at the edge of this range, beyond which more powerful QAOA circuits will be needed. Skoltech's Igor Zacharov said, "We created a software package that can now emulate various state-of-the-art quantum processors, with as many as 36 qubits and a dozen layers deep."

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A digital illustration of circuitry with a security hand indicating ‘stop.’ Federal Agencies Warn Companies to Be on Guard Against Prolific Ransomware Strain
The Hill
Maggie Miller
September 22, 2021

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), National Security Agency, and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency issued a joint alert warning companies to be on guard against the Conti ransomware variant, noting that hundreds of groups around the globe had already fallen victim to it. The alert came months after the FBI issued an alert outlining how the variant was used to target at least 16 healthcare and first responder networks. While most of the targets of the Conti ransomware were in the U.S., others have also been targeted, including the Irish healthcare system. Testifying before the House Homeland Security Committee, FBI Director Christopher Wray said, “Ransomware has mushroomed significantly over the last year, and it’s on pace to mushroom again this year."

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Facebook Knows Instagram Is Toxic for Teen Girls, Company Documents Show
The Wall Street Journal
Georgia Wells; Jeff Horwitz; Deepa Seetharaman
September 15, 2021

Research conducted by Facebook over the past three years indicates its Instagram photo-sharing application harms significant numbers of young users, particularly teenage girls. Internal presentations by Facebook researchers concluded that some of the problems were specific to Instagram and not social media at large, especially in instances of social comparison, in which people evaluate themselves against others' attractiveness, wealth, and success. One presentation showed 13% of U.K. teen users and 6% of U.S. teen users who reported thoughts of suicide traced them to Instagram. March 2020 internal Facebook research said the tendency to share only the best moments, pressure to look perfect, and an addictive product can lead to eating disorders, negative bodily perception, and depression among teens. The social media giant has publicly played down Instagram’s negative effects on teens, declining to make its research public or available to academics or lawmakers.

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How to Create More Space for Pedestrians in Post-Pandemic Cities
Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (Spain)
September 23, 2021

Using automated technology, scientists from the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) in Spain and the University of California, Berkeley have designed a methodology for determining the measures that need to be taken to ensure greater distancing between pedestrians in public spaces. The researchers used geographic information system (GIS) data generally hosted on city authorities' open data portals to measure the space dedicated to pedestrians and traffic in 10 cities in Europe, North America, and South America. "Our methodology shows that, with a well-planned strategy, the effort required to improve the pavement system in a city can be shared, while still allowing traffic to circulate," said the researchers, who created an algorithm that makes it possible to share the cost of maintaining such a pavement network between pedestrians and drivers.

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An IBM quantum computer. Physicists, Colleagues Offer Way to Control Qubits
University of Oregon
Tim Christie
September 22, 2021

A research team has developed new techniques for controlling qubits, which could help improve the accuracy of quantum computers. The team, which included two physicists from the University of Oregon (UO), along with colleagues from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the University of Colorado, Boulder, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and the University of Texas at San Antonio, demonstrated that creating logic gates using magnetic forces is less expensive and more practical than using lasers to control trapped-ion qubits. The researchers said their goal is to achieve 10,000 operations without error, as well as implementing layers of checks to resolve errors as they arise. UO's David Allcock said, "We want to get to that point. Then you can use quantum computers for something useful. Right now, they're just toys."

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