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Welcome to the July 22, 2022, edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Technician monitors wastewater. Tracking SARS-CoV-2 Variants in Wastewater
U.S. National Institutes of Health
July 26, 2022

A system capable of identifying individual SARS-CoV-2 variants in wastewater has been developed by scientists at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and Scripps Research Institute. Analyzing daily wastewater samples from the UCSD campus and from a wastewater treatment plant between November 2020 and September 2021, the system detected Alpha, Delta, and other early variants before they began appearing in clinical test samples. It also identified the original Omicron mutation about a week before clinical test samples reflected its presence.

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A New Twist on Old-School Animation
MIT News
Steve Nadis
July 21, 2022

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have created the KineCAM, an instant camera that yields images that appear to move. A modern twist on 19th-century kinegram animation, the KineCAM combines a box with a Raspberry Pi computer, a video camera, a thermal printer, a camera shutter button, and an LED indicator light. "To create the kinegram, our system records the video for a fixed unit of time and selects 'n' frames from it,” explained the researchers. “It then decomposes the frames into strips of width 'w' pixels, interlaces them, and composites them into a single image.” The software captures a few video frames, cuts up the images, and sends this version to the printer. "You can go out into the world and, on the spot, make these animated photographs," said MIT's Ticha Sethapakdi.

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One hand passing cash to another in prison stripes holding a key, illustration Ransomware Attacks against Higher Ed Increase
Inside Higher Ed
Susan D'Agostino
July 22, 2022

Cybersecurity company Sophos reported a global surge in ransomware attacks against colleges and universities last year. Nearly 75% of ransomware attacks on higher-education institutions were successful, and only 2% of victims retrieved all their data, even after paying the ransom. The higher-education sector had the slowest post-attack recovery time, with 40% of victims taking more than a month to recover, versus the 20% global average. “When one sector improves their defenses, the bad folks go somewhere where the bar is lower and they can get money easily," said Jeremy Epstein, chair of the U.S. technology policy committee of ACM.

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Teaching Machines to Really Hear Us
UVA Today
Eric Williamson
July 20, 2022

SITHCon, a deep-learning tool that enables existing artificial intelligence neural networks to hear people clearly, is the result of a collaboration between researchers at the University of Virginia (UVA), Boston University, and Indiana University. The algorithm applies a type of compression that can be unpacked on an as-needed basis, saving storage space by only storing the "memory" of a sound at a resolution that will be useful later. "We showed that SITHCon could generalize to speech scaled up or down in speed, whereas other models failed to decode information at speeds they didn't see at training," said UVA's Brandon Jacques. The researchers have opted to open source the SITHCon code, and they say the information should adjust for any neural network that translates voice.

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Toto pulls back the curtain on the Wizard of Oz 'Pulling Back the Curtain' to Reveal Molecular Key to The Wizard of Oz
American Chemical Society
July 20, 2022

Scientists at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Massachusetts, Lowell have created a molecular encryption key from sequence-defined polymers that are sequentially assembled and decoded, which they believe proves this technique to be sufficiently durable for real-world usage, such as hiding messages in letters and plastic objects. Researchers concealed the 256-character-long binary key in the ink of a letter, which was mailed and used to decrypt a file with text from L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz. The molecular key can encrypt and decrypt text files when inputted into an algorithm, and the team encoded it within polymer sequences of eight 10-monomer-long oligourethanes.

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Google/Apple Contact-Tracing Apps Susceptible to Digital Attacks
Ohio State News
Tatyana Woodall
July 21, 2022

Contact-tracing applications powered by the Google/Apple Exposure Notification framework (GAEN) are vulnerable to geographically based replay attacks, contend researchers from The Ohio State University (OSU). The attacks involve a third-party that intercepts and exploits a user's broadcasted contact-tracing phone data from one area by repeatedly transmitting it in another remote area. "Because the framework operates as a wireless protocol, anybody can inject some kind of fake [COVID] exposure, and those false encounters could disrupt the public's trust for the [contract-tracing] system," said OSU's Anish Arora.

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The da Vinci Research Kit robot was used to complete the automated peg transfer task, a standard test for training surgeons. Robot Outperforms Surgeon in Precision Training Task
IEEE Spectrum
Michelle Hampson
July 19, 2022

A robot outperformed a seasoned surgeon in completing a common training task with equal precision during a study conducted by a multinational team of researchers. Minho Hwang at South Korea's Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology and colleagues tracked the arm movements of a da Vinci robotic surgical assistant using 3D-printed markers. Analysis via a machine-learning algorithm suggested the trained model can reduce the mean tracking error by 78%, from 2.96 millimeters (mm) to 0.65 mm. An experienced surgeon and nine volunteers with no surgical experience used a da Vinci system to complete three variations of a peg transfer task (unilateral, bilateral, and bilateral with crossover). The fully automated robot performed the bilateral tasks faster more accurately than the surgeon.

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Nanomagnets Can Choose a Wine, Could Quench AI's Thirst for Energy
July 18, 2022

Scientists at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology, the University of Maryland, and Western Digital Technologies have developed artificial intelligence (AI) devices that could consume less energy and operate faster than other hardware. The researchers programmed a neural network from magnetic tunnel junctions (MTJs) and trained it to taste wines virtually. They used 148 of 178 wines produced from three grape varieties, with each wine possessing 13 properties; each property was assigned a value between 0 and 1 for the network to appraise when distinguishing between wines. The network then "tasted" a dataset that included 30 previously unknown wines, yielding a 95.3% success rate and committing just two errors on the untasted wines. The results indicate an array of MTJ devices could potentially be scaled up and assembled into new AI systems.

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Medically gloved hand pulls piece from DNA strand, illustration Engineers Develop Tool to Enable More Personalized Cell Therapies
University of Minnesota College of Science & Engineering
July 20, 2022

In a step toward more personalized cell therapies, engineers at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities have developed a tool to forecast and tailor site-specific recombination DNA editing. The tool integrates high-throughput experiments with a machine learning (ML) model to boost efficiency and predictability, enabling researchers to control the DNA editing rate and the speed at which a therapeutic cell generates a drug or therapeutic protein. The researchers first devised an experimental method to calculate the rate of site-specific recombination, then fed that data to an ML algorithm. Researchers can type in a DNA sequence, and the model predicts its recombination rate. The model also can predict and program simultaneous production of multiple cellular proteins, which could be used to induce stem cells to produce new tissues or organs, or to generate multiple drugs in pre-programmed concentrations.

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Preventing Scrollers' Remorse: How to Know What Users Want
Cornell University Chronicle
Patricia Waldron
July 20, 2022

Researchers at Cornell University and the University of Chicago have developed a model to help online media companies determine what users desire in terms of content, rather than inducing them to scroll endlessly. The researchers formulated the model to reconcile two aspects of human decision-making—the tendency to make fast, nearly automatic decisions (system 1); and slower, reflexive, and more logical choices (system 2). The model simulates how users with opposing desires engage with a platform, then suggests how to prioritize the value they receive. The researchers said the model is necessary because most platforms have massive volumes of behavioral data that mainly reflect system 1 decisions. The model can help companies classify content as reflecting system 1 or system 2 choices and adjust the algorithm to prevent users from binging on the former.

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cute ghost using a smartphone, illustration Touchscreens: Attack from the Charging Socket
Technical University of Darmstadt (Germany)
July 20, 2022

German and Chinese researchers have invented an attack method that targets mobile devices' touchscreens through charging cables and power adapters. The researchers generated false (ghost) touches on multiple touchscreens to manipulate the devices. Anyone who charges a device at a compromised charging station triggers the attack, masked as a normal charging signal. The hacker measures the touchscreen’s sampling frequency through the charging connection to adapt the attack signal. The hacker injects the attack signal into the ground line via the charging line, and this signal, via the USB interface, impacts the power supply and is rendered as a noise signal due to the lack of filtering. The researchers were able to direct ghost touches along the touchscreens' conductive and sensing electrodes without physical contact, while also making the touchscreens unresponsive to real touches.

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binary and non-binary numbers, illustration Quan­tum Com­puter Works with More Than Zero and One
Universitat Innsbruck (Austria)
July 21, 2022

A team of scientists at Austria's University of Innsbruck has developed a quantum computer that moves beyond binary information to access hidden computational resources. The system can conduct arbitrary calculations with quantum digits (qudits), using fewer quantum particles to unlock extra computing power. The quantum computer stores data in individually trapped calcium atoms, whose potential is fully tapped by the qudits. As opposed to classical computers, using more quantum states does not reduce the quantum system's reliability. "Quantum systems naturally have more than just two states, and we showed that we can control them all equally well," explained Innsbruck's Thomas Monz.

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Top 10 Search Results from Google, Bing Differ by up to 75%
New Scientist
Chris Stokel-Walker
July 22, 2022

The top 10 search results from Google and Bing for the same inquiries diverge by up to 75%, according to researchers at Germany's Hamburg University of Applied Sciences (HAW Hamburg). The researchers entered 3,537 queries popular on Google Trends in Germany and the U.S. between November 2021 and March 2022 into Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo, and Metager. Overlapping U.S. results varied from 24% to 25% between Google and any other search engine, while German results showed a 27% to 28% variance. However, overlap between the other three search engines varied between 62% and 70% across all results. HAW Hamburg's Nurce Yagci attributes this to DuckDuckGo and Metager partly using Bing to compile their results. German search results tended to link more to news websites, while U.S. results returned more social media sites.

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Intelligent Computing for Interactive System Design
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