Welcome to the June 15, 2022, edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Tweeting a Help Wanted Sign
Carnegie Mellon University School of Computer Science
Aaron Aupperlee
June 14, 2022

A study by Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers found that Twitter is useful in attracting more attention and contributors to open source projects on GitHub. The researchers studied 44,544 tweets with links to 2,370 open source GitHub repositories, and compared increases in star ratings and numbers of contributors to GitHub projects mentioned in tweets, to a control group of projects not mentioned on Twitter. The researchers observed an average 7% boost in popularity (at least one star on GitHub) and a 2% jump in contributors after a project was tweeted. They also found that tweets from a project's fans attracted more attention than those from the developers, and that tweets asking for help received better responses.

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People line up to enter a branch of China Construction Bank in Shanghai, China after the COVID-19 lockdown was lifted. China Bank Protest Stopped by Health Codes Turning Red
Engen Tham
June 14, 2022

Bank depositors in central China said a planned protest in Henan province by people seeking access to funds frozen by Chinese banks was halted by authorities using COVID surveillance infrastructure to turn health code applications red. Without a green code on their smartphone app, citizens are barred from public transport, spaces like restaurants and malls, and cross-country travel. Although it was impossible to determine that the code change was designed to hinder protesters, three depositors said they knew people who had registered to travel to Henan, who were unaffiliated with the frozen funds, whose codes remained unchanged. "They are putting digital handcuffs on us," said one depositor.

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Floreo, founded by Vijay Ravindran, is developing virtual reality lessons designed to help behavioral therapists and others who work with autistic children. Can VR Help Autistic Children Navigate the Real World?
The New York Times
Gautham Nagesh
June 14, 2022

The Floreo startup has developed nearly 200 virtual reality (VR) lessons to help autistic children cultivate social skills and prepare for real-world interactions. Vijay Ravindran founded the company to help therapists, teachers, and parents who work with autistic children. Floreo's system requires an iPhone, a VR headset, and an iPad used by a parent, educator, or coach in-person or remotely; the child wears the headset and navigates the lesson while the coach monitors and engages with them via the iPad. Explained Ravindran, "The Floreo system is designed to be positive and fun, while creating positive reinforcement to help build skills that help acclimate to the real world."

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The MEDUSA 'dual robot’ drone that can fly through the air and dive into the water to collect samples and monitor water quality. Shape-Shifting Drone Flies, Dives for Aquatic Environmental Clues
Imperial College London (U.K.)
Robert Miller; Martin Sayers; Caroline Brogan
June 14, 2022

Researchers at the U.K.'s Imperial College London and Switzerland's Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa) and aquatic research institute Eawag tested a ‘dual robot’ drone that flies and dives to collect water samples. Empa's Mirko Kovac said the Multi-Environment Dual robot for Underwater Sample Acquisition (MEDUSA) has "a flight component that reaches difficult-to-access areas and a diving component that monitors water quality." Remote-controlled multirotors allow MEDUSA to fly long distances with payloads, avoid obstacles, and negotiate rough terrain. After a landing on water, the robot can deploy a tethered pod with a camera and sensors to depths of up to 10 meters (32 feet).

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Nanoparticle Sensor Can Distinguish Between Viral, Bacterial Pneumonia
MIT News
Anne Trafton
June 13, 2022

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University have created a nanoparticle sensor that can differentiate between viral and bacterial pneumonia infections. The researchers designed the sensor to quantify the host's response to infection and found that viral and bacterial infections induce unique patterns of protease enzyme activity. The researchers designed 20 peptide-coated sensors and used them in five mouse models, employing machine learning to analyze the results. Using this method, they trained algorithms that could differentiate between pneumonia versus healthy controls, and also distinguish whether an infection was viral or bacterial. The researchers said they hope the sensor will help doctors choose appropriate treatment for each type of infection.

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Calculating 'Fingerprints' of Molecules with AI
Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (Germany)
June 13, 2022

Researchers at Germany's Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) have demonstrated that self-learning graphical neural networks (GNNs) can calculate the spectral fingerprint of larger molecules faster than conventional methods. The new method involves inputting small molecules into the GNN, which compares the calculated spectra of each with known target spectra and makes corrections as necessary, eventually learning how to calculate spectra on its own. Said HZB's Kanishka Singh, "We have trained five newer GNNs and found that enormous improvements can be achieved with one of them, the SchNet model; the accuracy increases by 20% and this is done in a fraction of the computation time."

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A robotic arm with an attached microphone learns to locate objects in a handbag based on the sound they make. Robot Can Find Keys in a Bag by Listening as It Rummages
New Scientist
Jeremy Hsu
June 13, 2022

Stanford University's Maximilian Du and colleagues have trained a microphone-outfitted robotic arm to locate objects like keys in a handbag by listening for telltale sounds while searching. "That environment is basically like you reach down, you don't know where the keys are, but then once you hear the sound of the keys you can kind of localize it," Du said. "And then by localizing, you can grab it out and lift it up." The researchers trained the robot by having a person demonstrate the action through an Oculus virtual reality headset and controllers, while further human guidance corrected its actions. Stanford's Olivia Lee said this enhanced performance 20%.

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How DOJ Took the Malware Fight into Your Computer
Eric Geller
June 13, 2022

With botnets or armies of hacked computers posing significant threats to Internet security, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) increasingly is being allowed to delete malware from Americans' computers without their knowledge or authorization. In April, for example, federal prosecutors obtained court orders permitting them to access hacked servers used to control a Russian intelligence agency's botnet and erase the malware they found there. The prosecutors had indicated that direct intervention was necessary, given that government warnings to affected users did not solve the problems. However, DOJ officials said such action is considered a last resort. Said deputy assistant attorney general for national security Adam Hickey, “You can understand why we should be appropriately cautious before we touch any private computer system, much less the system of an innocent third party.”

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Discovering the Potential of P-Computers
UC Santa Barbara Engineering
June 4, 2022

Researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) and Italy's University of Messina have demonstrated the potential of probabilistic computers (p-computers). P-computers are driven by probabilistic bits (p-bits) that interact with other p-bits in the system, shifting between quantum states and operating at room temperature. The researchers crafted a sparse Ising machine, which UCSB's Kerem Camsari described as a network of p-bits that can be thought of as people, with each individual having only a small or sparse collection of friends. Camsari called the field-programmable gate array-enabled sparse architecture "a computer chip that allows you to program the connections between p-bits in a network without having to fabricate a new chip." The architecture was up to six orders of magnitude faster, and had a sampling speed five to 18 times faster, than those supported by optimized algorithms on classical computers.

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The Orca PT-1 quantum computer. Ministry of Defence Acquires U.K. Government's First Quantum Computer
BBC News
Liv McMahon
June 9, 2022

The U.K. Ministry of Defence (MoD) has acquired that government's first quantum computer from London-based Orca Computing and will work with the company on applications for quantum technology for the defense sector. Orca's small PT-1 quantum computer, which operates at room temperature, uses photons to optimize image analysis, decision-making, and other machine learning tasks. Said Orca's Richard Murray, "Our partnership with MoD gives us the type of hands-on close interaction, working with real hardware which will help us to jointly discover new applications of this revolutionary new technology." MoD's Stephen Till added, "We expect the Orca system to provide significantly improved latency—the speed at which we can read and write to the quantum computer."

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Physics-Based Cryptocurrency Transmits Energy Through Blockchain
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Anne M. Stark
June 13, 2022

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) have developed E-Stablecoin, a physics-based cryptocurrency that connects electrical energy with blockchain technology. LLNL's Maxwell Murialdo and Jon Belof said the energy-information link supports the generation of a cryptocurrency token directly backed by and convertible into one kilowatt-hour of electricity, making E-Stablecoin the first digital token to be collateralized by a physical asset. Said Belof, "Through thermodynamic reversibility—to the extent that it is allowed by a modern understanding of statistical mechanics—we envision a future blockchain that is not only rooted in real-life assets like energy usage, but also is a more responsible steward of our natural resources in support of the economy."

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Using PragmatIC’s manufacturing process to make a 4-bit microcontroller in plastic, engineers performed what they believe is the first yield study on plastic processors. The First High-Yield, Sub-Penny Plastic Processor
IEEE Spectrum
Samuel K. Moore
June 14, 2022

Engineers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) and U.K. flexible-electronics manufacturer PragmatIC Semiconductor have developed a plastic processor that can be fabricated for less than one cent. The UIUC researchers based 4-bit and 8-bit indium gallium zinc oxide processors on their FlexiCore design to minimize size and maximize the number of working integrated circuits produced. The researchers separated instruction-storing memory from data-storing memory, and reduced the number and complexity of the instructions the processor can execute. This resulted in a 5.6-square-mm (0.22-inch) 4-bit FlexiCore comprised of 2,104 semiconductor devices; 81% of the 4-bit processor functioned, which UIUC's Rakesh Kumar said is sufficient to surpass the one-penny limit.

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Meta Could Let You Create a Lifelike 3D Replica of Yourself From a Phone Scan
Gizmodo Australia
Andrew Liszewski
June 15, 2022

Facebook parent Meta offers users a simple process for creating virtual reality avatars of themselves using smartphones, and researchers at Meta's Reality Labs have developed a new method of generating lifelike three-dimensional (3D) avatars. The process involves having users pan their smartphone cameras across their faces from side to side, then posing for the system with different facial expressions. The researchers say the process takes about three and a half minutes, and employs a neural network previously trained on 3D facial data recorded from 255 subjects inside an advanced camera rig. The rendering process takes about six hours, and can be conducted in the cloud, sparing individual users from the need to access a high-end PC.

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