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Welcome to the January 26, 2022, edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Pioneering artificial intelligence technology is able to diagnose COVID-19 in just a few minutes. AI Technology Diagnoses COVID-19 'in Minutes'
University of the West of Scotland (U.K.)
January 19, 2022

An artificial intelligence (AI) technique developed by researchers at the U.K.'s University of the West of Scotland (UWS) can diagnose COVID-19 in a matter of minutes, versus two hours for a PCR test. Using x-ray technology, the technique compares scans to a database of about 3,000 images of healthy people, those with COVID-19, and those with viral pneumonia. It uses a deep convolutional neural network to compare the scans and make the diagnosis. In testing, researchers found the technique was more than 98% accurate. Said UWS' Naeem Ramzan, "COVID-19 symptoms are not visible in x-rays during the early stages of infection, so it is important to note that the technology cannot fully replace PCR tests. However, it can still play an important role in curtailing the virus' spread, especially when PCR tests are not readily available."

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Image of a robot, waiting. Why Is Silicon Valley Still Waiting for the Next Big Thing?
The New York Times
Cade Metz
January 24, 2022

Critics of the technology industry point out that its biggest promises, including quantum computing, self-driving cars, advanced artificial intelligence (AI), and brain implants controlled only by thoughts, remain far off. However, the slower timeline could be attributed to these projects involving more challenges than building a new app or disrupting an industry. Jake Taylor of quantum startup Riverlane said building a quantum computer could be the most difficult task undertaken because "you are constantly working against the fundamental tendency of nature." Meanwhile, years of research and engineering are still necessary to perfect even technologies that appear to face fewer physical obstacles, like self-driving cars, AI, and augmented reality. Some in the industry believe the hype is necessary to generate mainstream interest in such technologies.

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The activities of pigeons, considered prolific and inconvenient urban poopers, has led to the use of drones for bird control. Rooftop Drones for Autonomous Pigeon Harassment
IEEE Spectrum
Evan Ackerman
January 24, 2022

Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne (EPFL) have deployed an autonomous drone system to spot and chase pigeons from rooftops. A base station equipped with a dedicated high-resolution camera watches the rooftops; when a pigeon is detected, it dispatches a Parrot Anafi drone to chase them off. In tests, airborne drones reduced the maximum observed bird loitering time on roofs from 2.5 hours to just a few minutes. The researchers suggested consulting with experts on pigeons could help make the system more efficient "by leveraging knowledge about the behaviors and interactions of pigeons."

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Ultra-Fast 3D Printer Works Like Reverse Scanner
Technical University of Denmark
Jakob Mikael Espersen
January 24, 2022

An ultrafast three-dimensional (3D) printer developed by Technical University of Denmark (DTU) researchers integrates reversed computed tomography (CT) scanner principles with optical simulation of materials to generate objects with novel composite properties. Just as CT scans assemble the data of many two-dimensional (2D) images into 3D images, the printer produces physical objects by having light rays strike and shape a spinning mass based on a 3D image composed of 2D images. DTU's Yi Yang said the process utilizes a method called Tomographic Vat Photopolymerization to print all points of a 3D object concurrently, allowing objects to be generated almost instantly. Yang added, "We can vary the softness of our 3D object based on our computer model by controlling the different wavelengths delivered from the light sources."

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An Antarctic blue whale comes up for air. Blue Whales: Acoustic Library Helps Us Find What We Can't See
Christian Science Monitor
W.S. Roberts
January 24, 2022

The Acoustic Trends Working Group has developed the open-access Acoustic Trends Annotated Library to archive the recorded sounds of whales, including Antarctic blue whales. Custom software algorithms can mine this data to zero in on whale calls. The library is an online resource created to unify international projects, and offers recordings to test automated algorithms for studying whales. The library’s creators gathered five years' worth of acoustic data from five countries, then annotated the data by sound type, duration, and frequency for conversion into standard .wav audio format, which is paired with annotated text files. The acoustic library is already in use by researchers at the University of Concepción in Chile and at Cornell University’s Lisa Yang Center for Conservation Bioacoustics.

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Software for All: How Do Open-Source Communities Work?
Universitat Oberta de Catalunya News (Spain)
Agustin Lopez
January 24, 2022

Researchers at Spain's Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) analyzed the profiles of open-source software users involved in software development projects and found that few actually contribute to the software's development. Although open-source projects rely on contributors and their constructive collaboration, most community-focused research studies the users who actually program, review, or combine code. The researchers reviewed the 100 most vital npm (the package manager for popular Web application server Node.js) projects on GitHub, which confirmed that non-technical tasks are highly significant to the software development process, said UOC's Javier Cánovas. Analysis also highlighted users who only contribute to projects non-technically, complementing the work of those focusing on coding and code development. The researchers said such findings "demystify the idea that only developers drive open-source projects."

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Shanghai Rated World's Top Smart City for 2022
Computer Weekly (U.K.)
Joe O'Halloran
January 24, 2022

A research report by U.K.-based market researcher Juniper Research ranks Shanghai as the world's top smart city this year, followed by Seoul, Barcelona, Beijing, and New York City. The study highlights Shanghai's Citizen Cloud data platform as an access point for over 1,000 municipal services. Juniper's Mike Bainbridge cited the leading cities' use of technology and data to reduce environmental impact and energy consumption, and "to deliver observable benefits for their citizens as well." The analysis classified smart cities as presenting a $70-billion investment opportunity by 2026, up from $35 billion last year. Juniper said much of that will be invested in smart grid initiatives that will save over 1,000 terawatt-hours of electricity in 2026.

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Scientists Achieve Key Elements for Fault-Tolerant Quantum Computation in Silicon Spin Qubits
RIKEN (Japan)
January 20, 2022

Researchers from Japan’s RIKEN research institute and Dutch research institute QuTech demonstrated a two-quantum bit (qubit) gate fidelity of 99.5% using silicon-based electron spin qubits, a key step toward fault-tolerant quantum computing. A gate fidelity of 99% is considered the minimum threshold for building fault-tolerant quantum computers. The researchers used a nanofabricated quantum dot structure via a controlled-NOT gate, with gate speed enhanced 10-fold over previous iterations. They found that the Rabi frequency, which indicates how qubits change states within an oscillating field, is crucial to system performance. The team showed it could facilitate universal operations using gate fidelities exceeding the error correction threshold.

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Tech Salaries Just Hit Record Highs. So Why Do IT Staff Still Feel Underpaid?
Owen Hughes
January 24, 2022

According to the latest Dice Tech Salary Report, the average salary for U.S. technologists reached a record high of $104,566 in 2021. Of the more than 7,200 respondents to Dice’s survey, 61% reported receiving a salary increase last year, up from 52% in 2020. The biggest pay increases were given to Web developers, whose average salary grew 21.3% to $98,912. IT management received the highest salaries of $151,983, up 6% from the previous year. The percentage of respondents who said they were "very satisfied" or "somewhat satisfied" with their salaries jumped from 55.5% in 2020 to 67% last year. However, nearly half (47.8%) of respondents reported feeling underpaid, up nearly 2% from 2020. The survey also found that a third (35%) of female respondents were dissatisfied with their current salaries, while half (49%) believed they were underpaid compared to their male counterparts.

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Researchers Use Mobile Device Data to Predict COVID-19 Outbreaks
Yale School of Public Health
Colin Poitras
January 24, 2022

Yale School of Public Health (YSPH) researchers used anonymous location information from mobile devices to accurately forecast COVID-19 outbreaks in Connecticut municipalities. Said YSPH's Forrest Crawford, "We measured close interpersonal contact within a six-foot radius everywhere in Connecticut using mobile-device geolocation data over the course of an entire year," an effort that "gave Connecticut epidemiologists and policymakers insight to people's social-distancing behavior statewide." A novel algorithm was used to calculate the likelihood of times when mobile devices were within six feet of each other, according to the geolocation data. This information was embedded within a standard COVID-19 transmission model to predict case levels statewide, and in individual towns, census tracts, and census block groups. Said Crawford, “The contact rate we developed in this study can reveal high-contact conditions likely to spawn local outbreaks and areas where residents are at high transmission risk days or weeks before the resulting cases are detected through testing, traditional case investigations, and contact tracing.”

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A prisoner looks out of his window at the federal detention center in Miami. Flaws Plague Tool Meant to Help Low-Risk Federal Prisoners Win Early Release
Carrie Johnson
January 26, 2022

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has found persistent flaws in an algorithm used to qualify low-risk federal prisoners for early release, including racial bias against non-White felons. The Pattern algorithm overpredicted the risk that many Black, Hispanic, and Asian prisoners would commit new crimes or violate their paroles, and underpredicted the risk of recidivism among certain inmates of color. The DOJ determined some of Pattern's disparities could be mitigated, but acknowledged that could induce less-accurate risk predictions, while having the algorithm factor in race might raise other legal issues.

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A man about to fall from an e-scooter. E-Scooter Simulations Highlight Head Injury Risk to Riders from Falls
Imperial College London (U.K.)
Caroline Brogan
January 25, 2022

Research conducted at the U.K.'s Imperial College London (ICL) simulated e-scooters to highlight the risk to riders of fall-related head injuries. The researchers modeled 185 falls on three digital human avatars representing three different sizes of person, simulating unhelmeted models riding an e-scooter with 10-inch wheels at five different speeds over 12 differently sized potholes. The results showed that the speed of impact between riders' heads and the ground was comparable to that used to test bicycle helmets, and all speeds reached the threshold for skull fractures. ICL's Claire Baker said the results "uncover a knowledge gap in how to design e-scooters and helmets to prevent falls and severe injury."

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