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

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An award and books. Data Mining Conference Honors Best Papers on COVID-19, Disaster Work Zones, More
September 30, 2021

ACM's Special Interest Group on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining (SIGKDD) named three of 2,200 submitted papers to receive the SIGKDD Best Paper Awards for advancing basic understanding of knowledge discovery in data and data mining. Cited as Best Paper in the Research Track was work by Seoul National University scientists in South Korea on the Zoom-Tucker decomposition technique for uncovering hidden temporal tensor data factors in an arbitrary period. Researchers at Austria's University of Vienna authored the paper awarded Best Student Paper in the Research Track, which proposes a joint dimensionality reduction method for multi-relational graphs with categorical node attributes. Named the Best Paper in the Applied Data Science Track was a U.S. team's paper on a decision-support tool that employs large-scale data and epidemiological modeling to measure the effect of mobility changes on infection rates, which captured COVID-19's spread as an analytical policymaking tool.

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A child using aa computer. Lack of Access to Computer Science Resources, Not Lack of Interest, Negatively Impacts Students from Underrepresented Groups
Carolina Milanesi
September 30, 2021

A Gallup study commissioned by Amazon Future Engineer, a program created to help students build computer science (CS) knowledge and coding skills, found that at schools that offer CS classes, 68% of students are interested in them, while 49% of students whose schools do not offer such classes are interested in the topic. The study of 4,116 U.S. public and private school students in grades 5-12 also found only 18% of students whose schools do not offer CS classes plan to study the topic in college, compared to 42% of those whose schools do offer the classes. Further, only 15% of those whose schools do not offer the classes aspire to a career in computer science, compared to 43% of those whose schools do, according to the study.

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A hacker seeks to break into systems at a medical institution. A Hospital Hit by Hackers, a Baby in Distress: The Case of the First Alleged Ransomware Death
Wall Street Journal
Kevin Poulsen; Robert McMillan; Melanie Evans
September 30, 2021

A lawsuit filed against Alabama's Springhill Medical Center alleges that a 2019 ransomware attack directly contributed to the death of a newborn. If proven in court, this would mark the first confirmed death resulting from a ransomware attack. Teiranni Kidd was admitted to the hospital nearly eight days into a ransomware attack that left patient health records inaccessible and left fewer eyes on fetal heart rate monitors because they could not be displayed at the nurses' station. Attending obstetrician Katelyn Parnell said the death of Kidd's daughter was preventable had she seen an indication from the monitor that the fetus was in distress. Springhill refused to pay the ransom when the hackers, believed to be the Russian-based Ryuk gang, resulting in a network outage that lasted at least three weeks.

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New MacArthur Fellow Trevor Bedford of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Computational Virologist Named MacArthur Fellow
UW Medicine
September 30, 2021

The University of Washington School of Medicine's Trevor Bedford, a computational virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, has been named a 2021 MacArthur Fellow. The award recognizes his timely analytical methods to track viral evolution and proliferation, which became critically important during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bedford co-developed NextStrain, an open source project that evaluates the scientific and public health significance of genomic data from viruses, which is continuously updated with publicly available information and features analytic and visualization tools for community use. His data collection and analyses have informed strategies for monitoring and controlling infectious diseases, and for watching for possible variants and strains of concern.

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Two robots sharing an umbrella in the rain. DeepMind AI Can Accurately Predict if it Will Rain in Next 90 Minutes
New Scientist
Matthew Sparkes
September 29, 2021

Artificial intelligence (AI) programmed by researchers at Alphabet subsidiary DeepMind and the U.K.'s Meteorological Office (Met Office) can forecast extremely short-term rainfall more accurately than current models. The researchers trained a neural network on weather radar data from 2016 to 2018 and tested it using data from 2019. The resulting model can make forecasts over areas measuring up to 1,536 kilometers (954 miles) by 1,280 kilometers (795 miles), and predict the chance of rain in a given 1-kilometer (0.6-mile) by 1-kilometer (0.6-mile) area from five to 90 minutes ahead. DeepMind said the AI model was ranked first for accuracy in 89% of experiments in a blind study of 50 Met Office meteorologists.

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A scanning electron microscope image of SARS-CoV-2 emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab. Tool Predicts Changes That May Make COVID Variants More Infectious
Penn State News
Sara LaJeunesse
September 29, 2021

A novel framework developed by Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) researchers can predict amino acid changes in SARS-CoV-2's spike protein that may improve binding to ACE2 receptors in human and animal cells, and make COVID-19 more infectious. The researchers used Molecular Mechanics-Generalized Born Surface Area (MM-GBSA) analysis to generate a model to anticipate changes in the spike protein's receptor binding domain. The procedure could only partly predict binding affinity, so the researchers investigated the use of energy terms from the MM-GBSA analysis as features in a neural network regression model trained on experimentally available data on binding in variants with single amino acid alterations. This yielded more than 80% predictive accuracy on improved or worsening binding affinity.

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How physical qubits like photons can be entangled to protect logical qubits of information from environmental errors (red swirls). Photonic Chip Key to Nurturing Quantum Computers
University of Bristol News (U.K.)
September 29, 2021

Researchers at the U.K.'s University of Bristol and the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) used a quantum photonic chip developed by DTU to protect qubits from environmental damage by embedding them in large states of entangled photons. Bristol’s Caterina Vigliar said, "The chip is really versatile. It can be programmed to deliver different kinds of entangled states called graphs. Each graph protects logical quantum bits of information from different environmental effects." Added Bristol's Anthony Laing, "Finding ways to efficiently deliver large numbers of error-protected qubits is key to one day delivering quantum computers."

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A user using a smartphone to make a payment. Researchers Find Apple Pay, Visa Contactless Hack
BBC News
September 29, 2021

Researchers at the U.K.'s universities of Birmingham and Surrey uncovered a hack for making unauthorized contactless payments on iPhones by exploiting a weakness in Apple Pay. They enabled contactless Visa payment from a locked iPhone using Apple Pay's "Express Transit" feature, which allows commuters to make quick payments. Placing a piece of radio equipment nearby makes the iPhone think it is near a ticket barrier, while an Android phone running a special application transmits signals from the iPhone to a contactless payment terminal; communications with the terminal are tweaked so it thinks the iPhone has been unlocked and payment authorized. The researchers said the problem concerns Visa cards set up in Express Transit mode in the iPhone's wallet. Visa called the hack “impractical,” while Apple described it as “unlikely.”

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A crowd of people on a busy street. In the Face of Neurotechnology Advances, Chile Passes 'Neuro Rights' Law
Agence France-Presse
September 30, 2021

Chile has become the first country to pass a "neuro rights" law that establishes the rights of individuals to personal identity, free will, and mental privacy. The legislation takes aim at neurotechnology that could manipulate a person's mind. Columbia University's Rafael Yuste said researchers have demonstrated they could implant images of things never before seen by mice into their brains, which affected their behavior. Such experiments have raised concerns that neurotechnology could be used to record or modify people's mental data. The law aims to protect individuals’ "neurodata" and impose limits on the analysis and modification of the contents of a person's brain.

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A schematic representation of longitudinal network analyses applied to developmental psychiatry. An Algorithm to Predict Psychotic Illnesses
University of Geneva (Switzerland)
September 29, 2021

An algorithm developed by researchers at Switzerland's University of Geneva (UNIGE) and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL) could help predict schizophrenia and other psychotic illnesses in children suffering a microdeletion of chromosome 22, to enable early treatment. The researchers relied on network analysis to determine which current symptoms may be predictive of a future psychotic illness. They studied 70 children with a microdeletion of chromosome 22, considering 40 variables and observing them over a period of 20 years. Said UNIGE's Corrado Sandini, "We found that an anxious 10-year-old whose anxiety turns into an inability to cope with stress in adolescence is likely to develop a psychological illness. The evolution of anxiety is therefore a significant warning signal."

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Smartphone Motion Sensors Could Be Used to Listen to Phone Conversations
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Kim Guderman
September 27, 2021

Smartphone accelerometers could be used to eavesdrop on phone conversations, according to University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) researchers. The motion sensor can capture sound vibrations during conversations, and the researchers developed a neural network to convert that very-low-sampling-rate data into high-bandwidth signals. UIUC's Tarek Abdelzaher said, "Human speech has a special pattern. By constraining your interpretation to that special pattern, you can guess higher frequency from low frequency. This won't work with any random sound, but for some keywords or numbers, it works fairly well."

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How whole-heart ventricular arrhythmia modeling can improve clinical support and lead to novel therapeutics. Whole-Heart Computational Modeling Provides Insights for Individualized Treatment
AIP Publishing
September 28, 2021

Johns Hopkins University (JHU) researchers are utilizing whole-heart computational models to gain better mechanistic insights into ventricular arrhythmias. The models, which account for cellular- and organ-level properties, and factor in most of the biophysical complexity of an individual patient's cardiac pathology, can help assess a patient’s risk of sudden cardiac death, or the results of a cardiac procedure. JHU's Natalia A. Trayanova said whole-heart computational models “can be represented using a set of mathematical equations. Solving these equations using computer software allows us to run detailed simulations to mimic the heart’s electrical activity.” Patient-specific computational heart models can determine the best treatment for arrhythmia, she said, and “combined synergistically with machine learning approaches to better account for the information available within patient health records.”

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