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Welcome to the December 17, 2021 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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ACM’s Distinguished Member banner. ACM Names 2021 Distinguished Members
December 15, 2021

ACM has named 63 of its members as 2021 Distinguished Members for their contributions to computing education, engineering, and science. This year's class was cited for advancements in areas including bioinformatics, computer architecture, computer graphics, data science, human-computer interaction, networking and distributed systems, semantic Web research, security, and software engineering. The new Distinguished Members work at universities, corporations, and research institutions in Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Chile, China, Germany, India, New Zealand, Norway, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Spain, the U.K., and the U.S. ACM President Gabriele Kotsis said, "The Distinguished Members program is a way both to celebrate the trailblazing work of our members, and to underscore how participation with a professional society enhances one's career growth. This award category also emphasizes how ACM's worldwide membership is the foundation of our organization."

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U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. U.N. Chief Urges Action on Lethal Autonomous Weapons as Geneva Talks Open
Emma Farge
December 13, 2021

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a new call for regulation of lethal autonomous weapons (LAWS) at the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons this week in Geneva, Switzerland. LAWS are fully machine-controlled and use technology like artificial intelligence and facial recognition; regulatory urgency has escalated since a U.N. panel reported in March that the first autonomous drone attack may have already transpired in Libya. Some states participating in the talks support a total ban of LAWS, while others, like the U.S., think such weapons can be used to hit targets more precisely than humans. A diplomat involved in the talks said while there is insufficient support to launch a treaty right now, but “We think some principles could be agreed for national implementation."

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Misinformation Already In the Metaverse
Jillian Deutsch; Naomi Nix; Sarah Kopit
December 15, 2021

Misinformation has infiltrated the metaverse, an immersive, interconnected digital environment for social interaction that technology giants are racing to create. Regulators warn the same qualities that make the metaverse appealing may also invite harmful content, with weaponization of Virtual Reality-powered experiences a potential threat. Karen Kornbluh with the German Marshall Fund's Digital Innovation and Democracy Initiative said, "The Facebook Papers showed that the platform can function almost like a turn-key system for extremist recruiters, and the metaverse would make it even easier to perpetrate that violence." Andrea-Emilio Rizzoli at Switzerland's Dalle Molle Institute for Artificial Intelligence (AI) said the relative safety of the metaverse will depend on how companies teach their AI systems to moderate their metaverse platforms.

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A robot at a podium. AI Argues For, Against Itself in Oxford Union Debate
December 16, 2021

An artificial intelligence (AI) engine both defended and argued against itself at the U.K.'s Oxford Union debating society. The Megatron LLB Transformer developed by Nvidia's Applied Deep Research team was trained on a corpus of data including all of Wikipedia, 63 million English news articles from 2016 to 2019, and 38 gigabytes of Reddit chat. The AI referred to itself a tool that can be used and abused, and contended that humans were not "smart enough" to make it ethical or moral. "In the end I believe that the only way to avoid an AI arms race is to have no AI at all. This will be the ultimate defense against AI," it said. The AI also said the "best AI will be the AI that is embedded into [humans'] brains, as a conscious entity."

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Aerial view of a forest. Real-Time, Interactive Monitoring of Forest Health
Technical University of Munich (Germany)
December 10, 2021

A data analysis and visualization tool developed by researchers at Germany's Technical University of Munich (TUM) uses satellite images to track the health of European forests. The interactive Forest Condition Monitor (FCM) also allows users to view and download data for specific countries and time ranges. Using remote sensing data, the open-access interactive platform can color-code the greenness of European forests based on deviations from long-term norms, helping to identify hotspots for forest die-back and decline. Said TUM's Anja Rammig, "The FCM data, complemented by additional ground-based studies and monitoring campaigns, could help to identify causes for variations in the greenness of tree canopies and thus to gain a better understanding of the eco-physiology of trees under stress in natural surroundings."

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Portable MRI Makes Imaging More Democratic
Scientific American
Simon Makin
December 16, 2021

University of Hong Kong (HKU) researchers have engineered a portable magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner that needs no shielding, featuring permanent magnets that need no cooling. The ultralow field (ULF) MRI can be powered from a standard wall socket, and costs far less than typical MRI machines. The ULF's deep learning algorithm is trained to identify and predict interference signals, which are then eliminated from the measured signals. Said neuroscientist Tom Johnstone of Australia’s Swinburne University of Technology, “Rapid assessment of stroke, which has a large impact on success of interventions, could be facilitated by ULF MRI being located in more towns, or even mobile units.”

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How to Scare an Invasive Fish? A Menacing Robot Predator. How to Scare an Invasive Fish? A Menacing Robot Predator.
The New York Times
Livia Albeck-Ripka
December 16, 2021

University of Western Australia (UWA) scientists have created a robot fish to terrify the invasive mosquitofish species by mimicking its most feared predator, the largemouth bass. The goal is to scare mosquitofish from their prey, which includes native fish and frogs, to prevent their depletion. The robot fish uses a camera to distinguish between the mosquitofish and tadpoles of the Australian motorbike frog; it is programmed to lurch toward mosquitofish as if to strike when they approach tadpoles. Experiments demonstrated that the mosquitofish would expend more energy evading the robot than reproducing, resulting in declining sperm counts, lighter egg production, and weight loss.

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Various medical equipment and paraphernalia. ML Flags Remedies That Might Do More Harm Than Good
MIT News
Adam Zewe
December 9, 2021

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Microsoft Research, and Adobe India designed a machine learning (ML) model to identify medical treatments that could pose greater potential danger than alternatives, and to alerting doctors when sepsis patients may require a change in treatment. The researchers trained a reinforcement learning model on limited data from a hospital intensive care unit (ICU) to identify treatments to avoid. The Dead-end Discovery model indicated about 12% of treatments administered to sepsis patients in an ICU were harmful, with about 3% of patients entering a medical “dead end” in their treatment as long as 48 hours prior to their deaths. MIT's Taylor Killian said the model is “almost eight hours ahead of a doctor's recognition of a patient's deterioration,” which he described as “powerful because in these really sensitive situations, every minute counts, and being aware of how the patient is evolving, and the risk of administering certain treatment at any given time, is really important."

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A device schematic shows Bluetooth and Wi-Fi diagrams. Researchers Uncover Coexistence Attacks on Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Chips
The Hacker News
Ravie Lakshmanan
December 16, 2021

Cybersecurity researchers at Germany's Technical University of Darmstadt and Italy's University of Brescia have disclosed a newly discovered exploit that taps a device's Bluetooth element to steal network passwords and manipulate traffic on a Wi-Fi processor. The hack targets combo chips, processors specially designed to handle different wireless signals simultaneously. According to the researchers, "The Wi-Fi chip encrypts network traffic and holds the current Wi-Fi credentials, thereby providing the attacker with further information.” In addition, they said, an attacker could execute code on a Wi-Fi processor “even if it is not connected to a wireless network." The researchers are urging users to remove unnecessary Bluetooth pairings, erase unused Wi-Fi networks, and employ cellular rather than Wi-Fi communications in public spaces.

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A man works in an office on a computer. Employers Seeking Those Skilled in Python, Java, Linux, SQL
Owen Hughes
December 15, 2021

Recruitment agency Dice's Tech Jobs Report of third-quarter job listings suggests employers are eager to hire people "who understand the core concepts of software development and project management," and are skilled in Linux, Java, Python, and Structured Query Language (SQL). Dice estimated SQL demand rose 5% between the second and third quarters, as companies still use SQL to manage datasets across business units. Pandemic-fueled demand for digital services boosted interest in Java developers, while Python grows more popular within data science and artificial intelligence applications, and demand for Linux has dipped. The Dice report observed, "Employers have been very public about their issues with securing the right kind of talent to fill open roles; there's clearly demand for technologists with particular skills, but perhaps not quite the same level as when businesses were first opening again."

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Illustration of a microprocessor. AI-Driven APOLLO Predicts Processor Power Consumption
The Engineer (U.K.)
December 13, 2021

Duke University computer engineers have developed the APOLLO artificial intelligence (AI) method, which can predict the power consumption of any kind of computer processor over 1 trillion times per second. Said Duke's Yiran Chen, "Our approach runs directly on the microprocessor in the background, which opens many new opportunities." APOLLO employs AI to identify and choose 100 of a processor's millions of signals that correspond most closely with its power consumption, then constructs a power consumption model and watches the signals to generate a real-time performance forecast. The researchers said APOLLO's autonomous, data-driven nature means it can deployed on most processor architectures.

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Illustration showing new process for identifying effective drug compounds. Scientists Can Efficiently Screen Billions of Chemical Compounds to Find Effective Drug Therapies
USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences
Darrin S. Joy
December 15, 2021

An international team of researchers led by the University of Southern California Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences has devised a method of identifying effective drugs among billions of chemical compounds, more quickly and cost-efficiently than current methods. The V-SYNTHES (Virtual Synthon Hierarchical Enumeration Screening) method works directly with synthons, the virtual chemical building blocks of the REAL (readily available for synthesis) Space library, to identify the best molecules to match up with specific protein targets. V-SYNTHES was able to mine synthon libraries to identify drug-like molecules that could selectively target cannabinoid receptors more than 5,000 times faster than standard algorithms.

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A robotic hand able to crush cans, and also hold eggs. Robotic Hand Can Crush Beer Cans, Hold Eggs Without Breaking Them
New Scientist
Carissa Wong
December 14, 2021

Researchers at South Korea's Ajou University have built a highly dexterous robotic hand with sensor-equipped fingers that can handle eggs gently, pour drinks, and crush aluminum cans. The hand, designed for potential prosthetic and artificial intelligence applications, is equipped with fingers with three motors that drive metal parts like tendons around 20 joints, enabling movements similar to those of a human hand. The programmable hand can grip a pair of scissors, cut paper, and handle tweezers to pick up and position a microchip on a circuit board. Said Ajou's Uikyum Kim, “The greatest strength of the developed robotic hand is that it is very easy to attach to existing commercial robot arms, while having both strong grip and delicacy."

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Theories of Programming: The Life and Works of Tony Hoare
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