Welcome to the January 3, 2022 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Kola Tubosun in his home in Lagos, Nigeria. Rescuing the African Languages that Western Tech Ignores
Associated Press
Matt O'Brien; Chinedu Asadu
December 23, 2021

A coalition of African scientists is attempting to provide machine translation in African dialects ignored by Western technology companies. The coalition determined machine translation tools failed to properly translate online COVID-19 polls from English into several African tongues; such products sometimes miss subtleties needed for such applications to function in the real world, owing to a lack of online data. The Masakhane pan-African research project aims to improve the representation of African dialects in natural language processing, which will require not just additional data, but also careful human review by native speakers, and a level of computing power that can be hard for independent researchers to access.

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A census worker using an iPad. Minnesota Mathematicians, Data Scientists Use Technology to Shape Political Districts
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Briana Bierschbach
January 1, 2022

A dozen mathematicians and data scientists are claiming to have used advanced computational technology to generate fair political redistricting maps for Minnesota, a feat considered beyond the expertise of human specialists. The group, known as the Citizen Data Scientists, designed an algorithm to comply with the state Supreme Court's mandate that redrawn districts are as evenly populated as practical, without disenfranchising any minority communities. The technology produced millions of maps to find an outlier that most closely fulfilled these priorities. Attorney Sam Hirsch said, "The court defines the priorities, but a computer just does a better job of crunching the data and experimenting with different combinations."

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Research Opens the Door to Light-Based Quantum Computing
Tom's Hardware
Francisco Pires
December 29, 2021

Researchers at Japan's NTT Corp., Tokyo University, and the RIKEN research center say they have developed a fully light-based quantum computing method. Experiments raised the minimum squeezed light threshold for unlocking a higher than 6-terahertz frequency band from over 65% to 75%, maintaining available broadband at usable levels. The researchers expect the photonics-based quantum model to facilitate deployment without exotic temperature controls, and to ease scaling by continuously splitting light into "time segments" and encoding different information in each segment. The researchers said this enables them to "easily increase the number of qubits [quantum bits] on the time axis without increasing the size of the equipment."

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Robotic arms work on an SUV production line of a Great Wall Motors factory in Chongqing, China. China Aims to Be a World Robot Champion by 2025
South China Morning Post (Hong Kong)
Xinmei Shen
December 29, 2021

China has unveiled a five-year plan to become a global leader in automated manufacturing by realizing 20% minimum annual growth in robotics sales, and cultivating industry champions to double its robot density. The International Federation of Robotics ranked China's robot density—the number of robots in use per 10,000 employees—as ninth in the world in 2020, up from 25th in 2015. China intends to digitize 70% of domestic manufacturers by 2025, as well as becoming a global source of robotics innovation by reaching milestones in core robotics technology and high-end robotics products. China wants to have at least 500 smart manufacturing model factories built and at least 150 smart manufacturing solution providers established by 2025.

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Integrated Computational Methodology for COVID Drug Prioritization
News-Medical Life Sciences
Sreetama Dutta
December 29, 2021

A multi-institutional team of scientists from Finland, Hungary, and Denmark combined bioinformatics and cheminformatics-based techniques to develop a prioritization scheme for drugs that hold the potential to treat COVID-19. The researchers applied four complementary bioinformatics strategies: differential expression analysis, dynamic dose-dependent mechanism of action, connectivity mapping, and network-based drug targeting. Quantitative structure-activity relationship-based cheminformatics also identified chemical substructures from active drugs as experimentally evaluated in multiple studies, identifying 700 potentially effective COVID-19-targeting candidates from 8,000 others in the DrugBank database. Researchers validated their method by performing an in vitro biological evaluation of 23 of those drugs; they found a dozen worked as targeted oncology therapies, while another 8 were kinase inhibitors.

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Dr. Amin Madani developed a prototype that uses artificial intelligence to guide surgeons during gallbladder surgery. AI Prototype Helps Reduce Surgical Complications
CBC (Canada)
Ryan Patrick Jones
December 29, 2021

Researchers at Canada's University Health Network (UHN) and Cleveland's Case Western Reserve University have developed a prototype artificial intelligence system to guide surgeons in real time during gallbladder surgery. The technology projects onto a video monitor colored areas indicating safe and unsafe areas to make incisions; a heatmap-style projection also changes color based on the model's confidence in a safe area's location. The researchers taught their algorithm with videos of surgeries combined with integrated annotations from expert surgeons. Frame-by-frame analysis of the videos enabled the algorithm to recognize patterns and gain the ability to make independent decisions. UHN's Amin Madani said, "It's like I have a panel of experts standing, watching me over my shoulder, guiding me, navigating me, and helping me not get into trouble during that operation."

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A group goes through the “onboarding” process before entering the virtual reality portion of The Infinite. Infinite, a Houston VR Experience, Puts You on the Space Station
Houston Chronicle
Andrea Leinfelder
December 28, 2021

A new virtual reality (VR) exhibit in Houston allows participants to experience life on the International Space Station (ISS). Created by Felix and Paul Studios and PHI Studio, both based in Montreal, Canada, the Infinite provides a free-roaming VR experience using over 200 hours of film taken aboard the ISS. Visitors wearing Oculus VR headsets can experience how astronauts live, work, and play in microgravity as they walk through a replica of the ISS. Visitors have 6,750 square feet of virtual space in which to roam, and touching luminescent spheres inside and outside the virtual space station takes them to experiences filmed in those exact spots of the real ISS. Felix and Paul Studios' Félix Lajeunesse said, "It's ultimately about making the viewers feel like they are one of them [the astronauts]. Those are particularly special and intimate moments when you really feel like the crew is talking to you."

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Researchers Piece Together Jewish Text Lost Centuries Ago Using Algorithms
Haaretz.com (Israel)
Gid'on Lev
December 22, 2021

Researchers at Israel's Ben Gurion and Bar Ilan universities have reconstructed the long-lost Jewish text Mekhilta le-Sefer Devarim, an interpretation and commentary on the biblical Book of Deuteronomy, using textual analysis algorithms. To sort the original text from a later adapted version, the researchers used "fuzzy matching" to identify parallel words even when they have been rearranged, or if they had prefixes, prepositions, or participles added, or if they were conjugated differently. Yale University's Christine Hayes said the research "fills a significant gap in our knowledge, bringing us one step closer to a fuller understanding of the foundational texts of the tradition and the evolution of rabbinic Judaism."

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Hackers Get Better at Defeating Your 2FA Security
Lucas Ropek
December 28, 2021

A team of researchers from Stony Brook University and cybersecurity firm Palo Alto Networks have discovered at least 1,200 different phishing toolkits being used to slip past two-factor authentication (2FA) protections. The researchers found these malicious software programs were designed to phish and steal 2FA login data from users of major Websites. These toolkits steal 2FA authentication cookies, either by infecting the victim’s computer with malware or by stealing them in-transit, along with the victim's password, in a Man-in-the-Middle-style attack. The hackers then are able to access the victim's account for as long as the cookie lasts.

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Drone Flight Trials in Poland Bring EU-Wide Urban Air Mobility a Step Closer
December 30, 2021

Members of the EU-funded Uspace4UAM consortium have launched initial drone test flights in Rzeszów, Poland. The first phase of testing will involve about 160 flights in the city following three public-service scenarios: emergency aerial monitoring of accident sites, capture of ortho- and photogrammetric photos for public institutions; and transportation of automated external defibrillators. Jakub Weglarz with drone-in-a-box system developer Dronehub said the tests will assess drones' ability to respond to different and rapidly changing weather conditions, explaining, "we will be able to adjust both hardware and software to the real city conditions and to the needs of public services." Drone test flights also are planned in the Czech Republic, U.K., and Spain, as a part of efforts to safely integrate autonomous drone flights into European air space.

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ML Predicts Synthesis of Novel Materials
Northwestern Now
Lila Reynolds
December 22, 2021

A machine learning (ML) algorithm developed by scientists at Northwestern University and the Silicon Valley-based Toyota Research Institute (TRI) can predict the synthesis of novel nanomaterials. The researchers generated "Megalibraries" of nanostructures encoded on chips, and used the algorithm to forecast nanomaterial synthesis from them. "We asked the model to tell us what mixtures of up to seven elements would make something that hasn't been made before," said Northwestern Chad Mirkin. "The machine predicted 19 possibilities, and, after testing each experimentally, we found 18 of the predictions were correct." TRI's Joseph Montoya said the data suggests "the application of machine learning, combined with Megalibrary technology, may be the path to finally defining the materials genome."

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Handwriting in the air is a potential text entry scenario for smartwatches. Creating Text Out of Thin Air
IEEE Spectrum
Michelle Hampson
December 22, 2021

Researchers at China's Zhejiang University have developed and tested a smartwatch application in which users write text in mid-air with a finger, and the text is captured by the app. "The goal of AirText is to infer the texts written by the fingertip in the air, using only the IMU (inertial measurement unit) readings, for example the accelerometers, gyroscopes, and magnetometer, from the smartwatch on the wrist as input," said Zhejiang's Wei Dong. The researchers' Leap Motion program fed wrist- and hand-motion data to an artificial intelligence model to correlate wrist and fingertip movements in spelling out letters. Volunteers used AirText to realize an average typing speed of 8.1 words per minute, and an average word error rate of between 3.6% and 11.2%.

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Theories of Programming: The Life and Works of Tony Hoare
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