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Welcome to the October 27, 2021 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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A robot (top left) was placed on a flat surface with obstacles, and was directed toward the goal (bottom right). 'Thinking' Robot with Neurons Grown from Living Brain Cells is Taught to Steer Around Obstacles
Daily Mail (U.K.)
Jonathan Chadwick
November 26, 2021

A robot developed by researchers at Japan's University of Tokyo was equipped with brain-like neurons to teach it to think. The compact robotic vehicle was connected to a culture of brain neurons grown from living cells and placed in a maze. Said the researchers, "When the robot collided with obstacles or when its goal was not within 90 degrees in front of it, an electrical stimulation from an electrode was applied to the culture." Homeostatic signals fed to the robot let it know it was moving toward its goal, but this homeostasis was interrupted with disturbance signals in the presence of an obstacle, prompting the robot to recalibrate.

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3D-Printed Houses Sprouting Near Austin as Demand for Homes Grows
The Wall Street Journal
Nicole Friedman
October 26, 2021

Home builder Lennar and construction-technology company Icon plan to start building the largest three-dimensionally (3D)-printed home community in the U.S. next year. The 100-house development near Austin, TX, will test the technology's ability to manufacture homes and spark buyer demand on a bigger scale. Icon's Jason Ballard said the 3D-printed homes are built around concrete framing rather than wood, and the company's printers can generate the wall systems for a 2,000-sq.-ft., one-story house in a week. Lennar said Icon needs just three workers on site when printing a wall system, instead of the six to 12 framers and drywall installers needed for conventional construction.

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A dilution refrigerator was used at the AWS Center for Quantum Computing at the California Institute of Technology. Amazon Joins Race for Quantum Computer with Caltech Center
The Washington Post
Jeanne Whalen
October 26, 2021

Amazon is opening a new center at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) this week that will focus on developing a quantum computer. The center will be run by former Caltech professors Oskar Painter and Fernando Brandao. Said Painter, "By the end of this decade you might start to see machines capable of being able to tackle interesting problems ... that you couldn't tackle with existing technologies." Caltech said Amazon is providing financial support for quantum and nanoscience research at the university through "student and postdoctoral fellowships, sponsored research agreements, and infrastructure funds for Caltech's nanoscience facility.” Amazon will own any intellectual property (IP) generated by work within its building, while Caltech will retain ownership of IP it creates through Amazon-sponsored research projects.

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Latest Russian Cyberattack Targeting Hundreds of U.S. Networks
Susan Heavey
October 25, 2021

Microsoft warns the Russia-based agency Nobelium has targeted hundreds of U.S. companies and organizations, specifically "resellers and other technology service providers" of cloud services, in its latest cyberattack. The software giant, which alerted 609 customers between July 1 and Oct. 19 that they had been targeted, informed The New York Times that only a small percentage of the latest attacks succeeded. U.S. officials verified the operation was underway, with one anonymous official calling it "unsophisticated, run-of-the mill operations that could have been prevented if the cloud service providers had implemented baseline cybersecurity practices." Microsoft blogged that the latest attack again confirms Russia's ambition "to gain long-term, systematic access to a variety of points in the technology supply chain and establish a mechanism for surveilling—now or in the future—targets of interest to the Russian government."

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Distributed Protocol Underpinning Cloud Computing Automatically Determined Safe, Secure
University of Michigan News
October 25, 2021

Formal verification techniques developed by University of Michigan researchers can automatically confirm the integrity of Paxos, a foundational distributed computing protocol that underlies cloud computing services. Paxos describes an approach called consensus incorporated within almost all critical distributed systems, including all cloud-supported applications. Formal verification techniques can demonstrate something is correct and reliable, and certify the proper functioning of a specific algorithm, piece of software, or computer chip. The researchers' IC3PO model-checking system sifts through every state a program can enter and determines whether it matches a description of safe behavior. If correctness is verified, IC3PO produces an inductive invariant—a proof by induction that the property universally holds—which took Paxos under an hour.

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AI Sheds Light on How the Brain Processes Language
MIT News
Anne Trafton
October 25, 2021

Research by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) neuroscientists suggests the latest predictive language models' underlying mechanism functions similarly to the human brain's language-processing centers. MIT's Nancy Kanwisher said, "The better the model is at predicting the next word, the more closely it fits the human brain." Computer models that perform well on other language tasks do not exhibit this resemblance, implying the brain may drive language processing using next-word prediction. Stanford University's Daniel Yamins said, "Since the AI [artificial intelligence] network didn't seek to mimic the brain directly—but does end up looking brain-like—this suggests that, in a sense, a kind of convergent evolution has occurred between AI and nature."

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Big Tech Talent War Threatens Kenya's Startups
Financial Times
Antoaneta Roussi
October 24, 2021

Technology giants like Microsoft that have set up operations in Kenya are poaching talent from local startups. Road haulage provider Lori Systems and others are losing tech workers because they cannot compete with major corporations' salary offers. Microsoft in 2019 opened the Africa Development Center as an engineering hub, with branches in Kenya and Nigeria, and pledged to invest $100 million and ally with local universities to develop a curriculum to "build our talent pipeline." Daniel Yu at retail logistics platform Sokowatch said junior engineers are now significantly more expensive to find in Kenyan capital Nairobi, severely inhibiting startups' growth. Laments Yu, "It becomes a perpetual brain drain as individuals are sitting in the continent, but their work is benefiting companies abroad."

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Improved Computer Simulation Can Build Faster, Cleaner, Cheaper Planes
Stanford Engineering
Andrew Myers
October 22, 2021

Stanford University School of Engineering researchers have enhanced computer modeling to better predict the lift and drag of an airplane's structure, without slowing the speed of calculation. This entails breaking the problem into smaller mathematical components, and isolating the area where air and plane intersect with turbulence farther from the plane’s surface. Modelers simulate only the largest eddies, which are more computationally manageable to address, and the Stanford team designed a second model to calculate smaller eddies' impact on large eddies, further reducing computational strain. Stanford's Konrad Goc said, "We've found that our simulations have superior accuracy compared to existing tools in key flow regimes. This will give aircraft designers more confidence in their simulation predictions, especially for complex landing configurations."

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UCLA scientists observed the activity of large numbers of neurons in the brains of rats while the animals navigated a virtual reality maze. VR Experiment With Rats Offers Insights About How Neurons Enable Learning
UCLA Newsroom
October 21, 2021

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) studied rats in a virtual reality maze to determine how individual neurons in the hippocampus enable navigation. The results could inform the development of better treatments for Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia, epilepsy, and other neurological disorders related to dysfunction in the hippocampus. The rats had to determine their location in relation to virtual objects projected on their container's walls to reach a reward. Said UCLA's Mayank Mehta, "We found that in the virtual maze, the neurons carry very little information about the rat's position. Instead, most neurons encode for other aspects of navigation, such as distance traveled and which direction the body is heading."

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Researchers Employ Novel Algorithm to Identify Candidate Cancer Drugs for Pulmonary Hypertension
News-Medical Life Sciences
Emily Henderson
October 21, 2021

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine (UPMC) and Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU) have used a novel algorithm to identify cancer drugs that potentially could be used to treat pulmonary hypertension (PH). The researchers engineered a computational platform that analyzed gene expression data from 800 cancer cell lines treated with hundreds of cancer therapeutics, and assessed the re-connection of gene networks affiliated with drug responses in these cells. PVAMU's Seungchan Kim said, "When we overlay these networks with PH-specific gene networks, we can predict which drugs may be effective in treating PH." The platform identified two compounds, I-BET762 and BRD2889, that improved PH markers in human cells and rodents. UPMC's Stephen Chan said, "With this algorithm in hand, we may be able to repurpose existing cancer drugs for the treatment of other rare and emerging diseases."

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A Servi robot brings customers their food at a restaurant in Miami. Desperate for Workers, Restaurants Turn to Robots
The New York Times
Janet Morrisey
October 20, 2021

Restaurant and hotel owners are using robots to compensate for the pandemic-fueled worker shortage. Miso Robotics' Mike Bell said his company is seeing 150 inquiries weekly for its Flippy robot, which can fry fast food using artificial intelligence (AI), sensors, computer vision, and robotic arms; he said such robots improve cooking accuracy and consistency, reducing errors that could lead to foodborne illness. Bear Robotics' Servi robot employs cameras and laser sensors to carry plates of food from the kitchen to tables. Knightscope's robots patrol outdoor or indoor areas using AI, video, and two-way audio, and also feature thermal imaging and license plate recognition capabilities. Industry experts think labor shortages have ramped up robots' acceptance in the workplace.

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Lazarus Project team member Ken Boydston adjusts the positioning of the dime novel Imaging System Captures Text From Barely Open Books
University of Rochester
October 21, 2021

A new imaging methodology developed by the University of Rochester's Gregory Heyworth and colleagues can capture text from extremely fragile books. The technique can generate digital images of manuscripts and rare, frail tomes without opening them more than 30 degrees. Heyworth and researchers in Rochester's text-retrieval Lazarus Project initiative built a system with a view camera featuring a twistable section, which photographs a book held open by a protective cradle. Software corrects the resulting image's distortion, enabling a page to be read as if the book were lying flat. The system also captures multiple wavelengths of light, picking up features invisible to the eye while correcting the aged pages' coloration.

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Delta to Roll Out Facial Recognition in Atlanta Domestic Terminal
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Kelly Yamanouchi
October 26, 2021

Delta Air Lines intends to launch a facial recognition pilot program in the domestic terminal of Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport as soon as Nov. 3, in partnership with the U.S. Transportation Security Administration. Delta's Greg Forbes said the aim is to make air travel more convenient and "hands-free and touch-free" via biometric solutions. The airline said about 25% of its Atlanta customers would meet the conditions for the optional facial recognition check-in. The ACM Global Technology Policy Council last year warned facial recognition "has often compromised fundamental human and legal rights of individuals to privacy, employment, justice, and personal liberty." However, council chair James Hendler wrote that Delta's implementation "makes it clear where and how it is being used," offers an opt-out process, and has human backup for when the system malfunctions.

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