Welcome to the June 13, 2022, edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Researchers recently discovered Apple's M1 chip has an “unpatchable” hardware vulnerability that could allow attackers to break through its last line of security defenses. Researchers Uncover 'Unpatchable' Flaw in Apple M1 Chips
Carly Page
June 10, 2022

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers found Apple's M1 chips contain an "unpatchable" hardware bug that could allow hackers to slip past its last line of defense. The flaw is rooted in pointer authentication codes (PACs) designed to block attackers from injecting malicious code into a device's memory, safeguarding against buffer overflow exploits. The researchers' "Pacman" exploit combines memory corruption and speculative execution attacks to bypass the security feature without a trace, making software patches unworkable. The attack speculatively "guesses" lines of computation to leak PAC verification results, while a hardware side-channel shows whether the guess was right. "If not mitigated, our attack will affect the majority of mobile devices, and likely even desktop devices, in the coming years," the researchers warned.

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Google's Sycamore processor can outperform classical computers. Quantum Computer Succeeds Where Classical Algorithm Fails
Ars Technica
John Timmer
June 9, 2022

Researchers in Google's quantum computing unit used a quantum computer as part of a framework for understanding quantum systems in general. Quantum computers can tap quantum bits (qubits) to mirror a quantum state, and to reproduce and manipulate it as necessary. The Google team specified tasks where this principle should apply, including quantum principal component analysis, which uses computers to identify the most influential property on quantum system behavior. The team mathematically demonstrated that the number of times needed to repeat analytical measurements on a classical system expands exponentially with the number of qubits.

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Water presents a tricky challenge for robots because it is clear. Researchers Teach Robots to See Water
Carnegie Mellon University School of Computer Science
Stacey Federoff
June 9, 2022

A team of Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers taught a robot to identify water and to pour it into a glass through the use of contrastive learning for unpaired image-to-image translation. The researchers played YouTube videos behind a transparent glass of water to train a robot to see backgrounds through a glass of water, which helped to teach the robot to pour the water into the glass up to a certain height. The team tested the robot’s recognition of water by using glasses of various shapes and sizes. Said CMU’s David Held, "Just like we can train a model to translate an image of a horse to look like a zebra, we can similarly train a model to translate an image of colored liquid into an image of transparent liquid. We used this model to enable the robot to understand transparent liquids."

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A three-dimensional scan of the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Pirogoshcha, an Orthodox cathedral in Kyiv, Ukraine, built in 1132. Ukrainians Use 3D Technology to Preserve Cultural Artifacts
Emma Tucker
June 12, 2022

Civilians in Ukraine are recording three-dimensional (3D) models of artifacts in a permanent digital archive far away from the war as part of Backup Ukraine, a project to save the country's cultural heritage. Organizers said the scans' resolutions are fine enough to project them into physical spaces, and to use them to reconstruct destroyed artifacts. The joint project of the VICE media group, cultural heritage preservation organization Blue Shield Denmark, and the Danish UNESCO National Commission marks the first time a country's artifacts are being archived in augmented reality during a war. Backup Ukraine's Tao Thomsen said the initiative includes 150 volunteers who scan up to 10 artifacts daily with mobile devices, using the Polycam application to access the archive. Project leaders are in communication with Ukraine's Heritage Emergency Rescue Initiative, and coordinate with 3D scanning professionals to digitize artifacts faster and at larger scale.

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Research Brings Safer Autonomous Vehicles a Step Closer
University of Surrey (U.K.)
June 9, 2022

Scientists at the U.K.'s University of Surrey have brought safer autonomous vehicles a step closer by using artificial intelligence to render two-dimensional images into a bird's-eye view map. Surrey's Avishkar Saha said, "Our model exploits the one-to-one correspondence between a vertical line in an image and rays passing through the camera location in an overhead map. This allows our technology to treat an image in a similar way that artificial intelligence solves language translations." The technology transforms a column of pixels in an image into one ray along a map, resulting in 15% greater accuracy than other commercially available technologies.

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Making Assistive Walking More Natural
California Institute of Technology
Ben Peltz
June 7, 2022

California Institute of Technology (Caltech) researchers are developing gait-generating technology for robotic assistive walking devices, in order to support more natural locomotion for users. The project is the first integration of hybrid zero dynamics (HZD) with a musculoskeletal model for controlling such devices; HZD produces stable walking gaits for two-legged robots, and the muscle model simulates how much a muscle stretches or contracts with a given joint arrangement. The researchers developed and deployed a mathematical algorithm to direct motor movement in a battery-operated, motorized prosthetic leg. "The muscle activity pattern of a human walking without the prosthetic is what we want to get closer to," explained Caltech's Rachel Gehlhar.

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Building Up Data Storage Memory
University of Tokyo Institute of Industrial Science (Japan)
June 12, 2022

Researchers at the University of Tokyo (UTokyo) in Japan constructed high-density data storage devices by manufacturing three-dimensional field-effect transistors (FETs) from ferroelectric gate insulators and atomic-layer-deposited oxide semiconductor channels. The FETs can store 1s and 0s in a non-volatile fashion, while the vertical structure can boost information density and reduce operational energy requirements. UTokyo's Zhuo Li said the device is able to maintain stability for at least 1,000 cycles, and the researchers found optimizing the indium oxide layer's thickness significantly improves performance. UTokyo's Masaharu Kobayashi said, "Our approach has the potential to greatly improve the field of non-volatile memory."

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AI Reveals Never-Before-Described 3D Structure in Rotavirus Spike Protein
Baylor College of Medicine
Ana María Rodríguez
June 9, 2022

At the Baylor College of Medicine, researchers used artificial intelligence (AI) to identify a new three-dimensional (3D) structure in the rotavirus spike protein called VP8* domain. The researchers used the AI-based computational program AlphaFold2, which predicts the 3D structure of proteins based on their genetic sequence. Said Baylor's Liya Hu, "We were surprised when AlphaFold2 predicted a 3D structure for the VP8* [of rotavirus group B] that was not just totally different from that of the VP8* domain in rotavirus A and C, but also that no other protein before had been reported to have this structure." The researchers confirmed AlphaFold2's prediction aligned with the actual structure of the protein using X-ray crystallography.

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Absolut Vodka’s virtual bar inside the Metaverse was tied to the Coachella music festival. Belly Up to a Virtual Bar
The Wall Street Journal
Meghan Bobrowsky
June 7, 2022

Various brands have established virtual bars in the metaverse where avatars can gather (although actual drinking is out of the question). Patrons like Maryana Ryumshin, who attends Wisher Vodka's online establishment, say they go there to socialize. Some companies are linking their virtual drinks to real-world alcohol; Wisher, for example, sells non-fungible tokens of cocktails, and sends customers who buy them a case of its vodka. The virtual bars also host events, with Absolut Vodka fronting a two-week online party tied to the Coachella music festival with an online bar, dance floor, and music. In April, Heineken claimed to have created the world's first virtual beer, along with a digital brewery where avatars can sample the drink and tour the facility where it is manufactured.

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CRISPR-Based Map Ties Every Human Gene to Its Function
MIT News
Eva Frederick
June 9, 2022

A group of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Princeton University, and biotechnology company 10x Genomics have published the first comprehensive functional map of genes expressed in human cells. The Perturb-seq map was derived from CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing, which introduces genetic changes in cells, then applies single-cell RNA sequencing to record data about RNAs yielded by a given change. The researchers scaled up the technique to encompass the full human genome; MIT's Jonathan Weissman used human blood cancer cell lines and noncancerous retinal cells to conduct Perturb-seq across 2.5 million-plus cells, and constructed a map linking genotypes to phenotypes.

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Glimpses of Quantum Computing Phase Changes Show Researchers the Tipping Point
Duke Electrical and Computer Engineering
Ken Kingery
June 9, 2022

Scientists at Duke University, the University of Maryland, and the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology have tapped the frequency of measurements on a quantum computer to gain insight into how other systems meet their tipping points between phases. "The quantum computing system is behaving in the same way as quantum systems found in nature—like liquid changing to steam—even though it's digital," explained Duke's Crystal Noel. The team designed software to run random quantum circuits on an ion trap quantum computer customized to the system's abilities. Experiments showed the tipping point manifested as predicted as the system lost coherence and quantum data. The results offer guidance into implementing better quantum error-correction codes.

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The Gatik self-driving truck will soon begin delivering items to Sam's Clubs in North Texas using these 26-foot box trucks. Self-Driving Truck Will Deliver Goods to 34 Sam's Club Locations
The Dallas Morning News
Alexandra Skores
June 7, 2022

Starting in July, Gatik, a California-based autonomous trucking company, will make deliveries to 34 Sam's Club locations in Dallas-Fort Worth, TX, using autonomous 26-foot box trucks. Gatik's Richard Steiner said each truck will make an average of three runs per day, driving about 100 miles round-trip. The trucks initially will include a safety driver, but eventually will operate without such a driver. Gatik started testing the technology with Sam's Club parent company Walmart in December 2020, operating on a seven-mile loop in Bentonville, AR. Said Steiner, "It's something which is new for the space, and we're excited to be doing it first here in Texas."

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Conversational UX Design: A Practitioner's Guide to the Natural Conversation Framework
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