Welcome to the June 24, 2022, edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Seven members of the Silicon Quantum Computing laboratory at Australia’s University of New South Wales. Scientists Emulate Nature in Quantum Leap Towards Future Computers
UNSW Sydney Newsroom (Australia)
Lachlan Gilbert
June 23, 2022

Scientists at Australia's University of New South Wales, Sydney (UNSW) have constructed an atomic-scale silicon quantum processor to model the behavior of an organic molecule. UNSW's Michelle Simmons said the researchers assembled a quantum integrated circuit forming a chain of 10 quantum dots to simulate the location of atoms in a chain of polyacetylene. Simmons said they addressed theoretical physicist Richard Feynman's challenge to emulate nature by building matter at the same length scale in "mimicking the polyacetylene molecule by putting atoms in silicon with the exact distances that represent the single and double carbon-carbon bonds." The team modeled two distinct strands of the polymer chains and measured electric current passing through them, which matched theoretical predictions.

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Pano AI’s fire detection system employs rotating ultra-high-resolution cameras perched on mountaintops. Tech Companies Want More Eyes in the Sky for Wildfire Season
Mark Bergen
June 24, 2022

The growing threat of wildfires in the U.S. has created opportunities for technology companies offering artificial intelligence (AI) solutions to help utilities and state governments bring conflagrations under control. For example, Portland General Electric has deployed five high-definition cameras from startup Pano AI across Oregon, and intends to install 17 more this summer. The cameras capture minute-by-minute snapshots of the environs, and Pano's Sonia Kastner said the company's software and 32 active camera systems have detected wildfires with 90% accuracy. Union Park Capital's environmental technology subsidiary AEM sells weather stations and panoramic cameras for weather detection, as well as satellite data enhanced with AI that has learned to recognize wildfires.

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Researchers Release Open-Source Photorealistic Simulator for Autonomous Driving
MIT News
Rachel Gordon
June 21, 2022

A research team led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers developed a data-driven simulation engine that enables autonomous vehicles to learn to drive in the real world and to recover from near-crash scenarios. The code behind photorealistic simulation system, VISTA 2.0, is being open sourced to the public. Said MIT's Daniela Rus, "With this release, the research community will have access to a powerful new tool for accelerating the research and development of adaptive robust control for autonomous driving." Said MIT's Alexander Amini, "VISTA 2.0 demonstrates the ability to simulate sensor data far beyond 2D RGB cameras, but also extremely high dimensional 3D LiDARs (Light Detection and Ranging) with millions of points, irregularly timed event-based cameras, and even interactive and dynamic scenarios with other vehicles as well."

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The Gaia telescope observes two billion of the brightest starts in the Milky Way galaxy. Untangling the Milky Way's Evolution Through Big-Data Astronomy
Tereza Pultarova
June 23, 2022

The European Space Agency's Gaia Data Processing and Analysis Consortium (DPAC) has released a 10-terabyte catalog of compressed astronomical data, which DPAC chair Anthony Brown called "the richest set of astronomical data ever published." The Gaia galaxy mapper captured 940 billion observations of 2 billion of the brightest light sources in the sky to compile the data. Supercomputing centers in six EU countries were required to validate, calibrate, and analyze the immense data trove, which took five years. DPAC's Gonzalo Gracia said the main Gaia database contains 1 petabyte of data, and the Gaia telescopes transmit 20 to 100 gigabytes of data to DPAC daily.

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Microsoft Stops Selling Emotion-Reading Tech, Limits Face Recognition
Paresh Dave
June 21, 2022

Microsoft said it would stop selling technology that guesses emotional states from facial images, and would restrict access to its facial recognition technology. The announcement came as cloud providers are trying to self-regulate sensitive technologies to keep U.S. and EU lawmakers from enacting legal strictures. In one year, Microsoft said, its current customers will lose access to artificial intelligence tools that claim to infer emotion, gender, age, smile, facial hair, hair, and makeup. The company also said customers now will need to obtain approval in order to use its facial recognition services, and asked clients to not use it in situations that might compromise privacy or in which the technology might struggle (like identifying minors), but did not outright ban the use of its technology for those applications.

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Seventy-Five Percent of the World's Top Websites Allow Bad Passwords
New Scientist
Jeremy Hsu
June 23, 2022

Princeton University's Arvind Narayanan and colleagues found 75% of 120 top-ranked English-language websites permit weak passwords, while over half also allow 40 of the most common leaked and easily guessed passwords. The researchers manually checked those 40 passwords on each site, choosing 20 from a randomized sampling of the 100,000 most frequently used passwords detected in data breaches, as well as the first 20 passwords guessed by a password cracker. Just 15 sites blocked all 40 tested passwords, including Google, Adobe, Twitch, GitHub, and Grammarly. Only 23 of the 120 sites provide strength meters that encourage users to create sufficiently strong passwords, while 54 sites still follow poorly rated password composition policies.

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Silicon metamaterials featuring rows of cylinders. Teaching Physics to AI Can Allow It to Make Discoveries All on Its Own
June 16, 2022

Duke University researchers found that adding known physics to machine learning algorithms can help them gain new insights into material properties. They developed a neural network to identify the characteristics of metamaterials and predict their interaction with electromagnetic fields. By first accounting for the metamaterial's known physical restrictions, the algorithm was able to predict the metamaterial's properties faster, more accurately, and with additional insights than prior approaches. Duke's Jordan Malof said, "By forcing the neural network to obey the laws of physics, we prevented it from finding relationships that may fit the data but aren't actually true."

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CISA Warns Over Software Flaws in Industrial Control Systems
Liam Tung
June 23, 2022

The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA) has warned organizations to check for recently reported flaws in operational technology (OT) devices that should be partitioned from the Internet. Researchers from the Forescout cybersecurity software company detected 56 vulnerabilities impacting industrial control systems, bugs that include insecure engineering protocols or firmware updates, weak cryptography or cracked authentication schemes, and remote code execution via native functionality. CISA's advisories detail missing authentication and privilege escalation flaws in software from Japan's JTEKT, three bugs harming products from U.S. vendor Phoenix Contact, and one affecting devices from Germany's Siemens. Forescout said its disclosure was intended to illustrate how commonplace vulnerabilities are in critical infrastructure hardware.

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The complex processes of genomic wet-labs, like those at the National Cancer Institute, can be tracked with the help of the online platform developed by Penn State engineers. Online Platform to Improve Reproducibility, Collaboration
Penn State News
Matt Swayne
June 23, 2022

Pennsylvania State University (Penn State)'s Platform for Epi-Genomic Research (PEGR) is designed to help genomic scientists in experimental life sciences laboratories monitor experiments, retain records for quality control, and streamline reproducibility. PEGR electronically collects and tracks data on samples as they progress through the experimental pipeline with quick response codes. The online platform supports reproducibility efforts by linking scientists worldwide. Penn State's Danying Shao said PEGR also can account for the rapid development of genomic research equipment that generates immense volumes of data. The researchers said PEGR is integrated with the Galaxy open-source scientific workflow platform, and is engineered to track sample and sequencing experiments, oversee data processing, and produce reports and visualize experimental results.

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Smart Implants to Monitor Healing
University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering
June 23, 2022

A multi-institutional team of researchers is creating three-dimensionally (3D)-printed smart metamaterial implants that act as their own sensors to monitor spinal healing. The self-powered meta-tribomaterials capture and transmit information about pressure and stresses on the spinal fusion cage's structure, which can be read by an ultrasound scanner. The University of Pittsburgh's Amir Alavi said because the metamaterial is tunable, "The implant can be 3D-printed based on the patient's specific anatomy before surgery, making it a much more natural fit." Added Alavi, “This technological advancement is going to play a major part in the future of implantable devices.”

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The Proteus robot can move wheeled trolleys through Amazon’s warehouse facilities. Amazon Unveils First Fully Autonomous Mobile Robot
PC Magazine
Stephanie Mlot
June 22, 2022

Retail giant Amazon has introduced Proteus, its first fully autonomous mobile robot, to perform tasks and move safely in the vicinity of employees using proprietary safety, perception, and navigation systems. Proteus can lift and transport Amazon's wheeled GoCart trolleys, used to transfer packages through fulfillment and sorting facilities. The robot will initially be used in the Amazon facilities’ outbound GoCart handling areas. The company also unveiled other automated systems, including the artificial intelligence-based Cardinal robot arm, which can choose and lift one package from a pile of boxes, read its label, and place it on the appropriate GoCart.

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Instagram Rolls Out Age Verification, but Not to Keep Children Off App
The Washington Post
Tatum Hunter
June 23, 2022

Photo- and video-sharing platform Instagram has started using age verification tools to prevent account holders under 18 years old from changing their ages to over 18 (although users could still use false birth dates when setting up accounts). Erica Finkle with Instagram parent Meta said the new tools aim to ensure teen accounts reflect users’ actual ages and receive the right protections, rather than keeping the underage off the platform. Users can submit some accepted form of personal identification as proof of age, which Meta said it will store securely and delete within 30 days; they also can ask three adult Instagram friends to vouch for their age, or they can submit a video selfie from which digital identity company Yoti's artificial intelligence will guess their age.

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Computer Simulations of Proteins Help Unravel Why Chemotherapy Resistance Occurs
Stony Brook University News
June 22, 2022

A multi-institutional team of researchers used computer models of proteins to gain insights into the mechanisms of chemotherapy resistance. In a simulation showing how molecules interact with the chronic myeloid leukemia-targeting drug Imatinib, the researchers learned mutations in the BCR-Abl protein kinase's blueprint can complicate Imatinib's binding, and also can accelerate drug release from the kinase. Explains Stony Brook University's Markus Seeliger, "This method in itself is a major technical achievement that extends computational abilities for drug resistance research, and importantly led to us being able to predict how rapidly healthy and mutant proteins would release this drug."

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