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Welcome to the August 5, 2022, edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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The animator explores simulation outcomes, for example, of a die randomly launched at card bowling pins. Animation Simulator Focuses on Finding Interesting Outcomes
Stanford News
Andrew Myers
August 4, 2022

Stanford University's Purvi Goel and Doug James have developed a new approach for browsing physics-based animations. The researchers designed the technique, Unified Many-Worlds Browsing, to refine searches by simulators or solvers for the most promising animations. The method lets animators create queries to narrow options and more easily identify specific outcome options. Solvers are controlled by input parameters, and Goel and James used their browser to animate a simulated bowling alley, using parameters including the ball's starting velocity and position. James says Unified Many-Worlds Browsing can yield unexpected creative outputs, and increase the probability of finding the "needle in the haystack" option that might be impossible using the solver alone.

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Wen Chen of UMass Amherst in front of images of 3D-printed high-entropy alloy components and other figures. Researchers 3D-Print First High-Performance Nanostructured Alloy That's Ultrastrong, Ductile
University of Massachusetts Amherst
August 3, 2022

A team led by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass) and the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) developed a three-dimensionally (3D) printed, dual-phase, nanostructured high-entropy alloy that is stronger and more ductile than other materials produced using additive manufacturing techniques. The researchers used laser powder bed fusion, a type of 3D printing that involves more rapidly melting and solidifying materials than traditional metallurgy. The process leads to "a very different microstructure that is far-from-equilibrium” on the components created, said UMass' Wen Chen. The microstructure looks like a net and is made of alternating layers known as face-centered cubic and body-centered cubic nanolamellar structures embedded in microscale eutectic colonies with random orientations.

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Underwater Robots Get Boost in Mapping the Ocean
IEEE Spectrum
Michelle Hampson
August 2, 2022

A new framework could enable autonomous underwater robots to map cluttered underwater environments more efficiently and with fewer errors. Researchers created a virtual map representing areas not yet seen by the robot, and an algorithm that determines the robot's route through those areas while accounting for localization uncertainty due to the lack of GPS underwater and perceptual observations gathered using sonar imaging. The framework was tested in a harbor at Kings Point, NY, using a BlueROV2 underwater robot. Said Stevens Institute of Technology's Brendan Englot, "The results revealed that each of the competing [models] had its own unique advantages, but ours offered a very appealing compromise between exploring unknown environments quickly while building accurate maps of those environments."

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Users at ReQTable playing card game with physical and virtual cards. Live Your Yu-Gi-Oh Fantasy with a Hologram Game Table
Andrew Liszewski
August 4, 2022

The ReQTable game table developed by researchers at Japan's University of Tokyo generates holograms of playing cards using custom display technology. Dual-sided slit mirror arrays produce images that seem to float in mid-air in front of the observer without requiring special glasses. The mirrors create two holograms, viewable from opposing sides, so players can see the hand they are dealt while others can only see the backs of their cards. The ReQTable uses polarizers and view control films to eliminate stray light and ghost images that might give players' cards away. The polarizers selectively block light of a specific frequency, and the view control films suppress light traveling in certain directions.

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Rangers in Vietnam use digital tools to tackle illegal logging. The Space Tech Helping to Tackle Deforestation
BBC News
Elna Schutz
August 1, 2022

The Integrated Management Effectiveness Tool developed by the Biopama (Biodiversity and Protected Areas Management Program) project is one of several digital tools that aim to improve data collection and analysis to help combat deforestation. The free software allows managers of protected forests to track biodiversity and the impacts of climate change, human actions, and economies, among other things. Another digital tool, accessed via the Framework for Ecosystem Monitoring website of the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), tracks changes to forests worldwide using satellite imagery. FAO's Remi D'Annunzio said imagery from space "has tremendously changed the way we monitor forests, because it has produced extremely repeatable observations and extremely frequent revisits of places," generating "a full snapshot of the Earth every four to five days."

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Optimizing SWAP Networks for Quantum Computing
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Computing Sciences
Monica Hernandez
August 4, 2022

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and quantum technology company ColdQuanta's subsidiary have demonstrated how the ZZ SWAP network protocol can be optimized. SWAP gates enable the exchange of information between quantum bits (qubits), and may be added to quantum circuits to enable interactions between non-adjacent qubits. The researchers employed's SuperstaQ software to allow the customization of applications and automate circuit compilations on the superconducting hardware of Berkeley Lab's Advanced Quantum Testbed. This approach, which uses four transmon qubits, decomposes SWAP networks more efficiently than standard techniques.

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A woman on a train listens to audio through earbuds. Experimental Earphone Can 'Hear' Commands User Is Silently Mouthing
New Scientist
Jeremy Hsu
August 3, 2022

State University of New York at Buffalo (University at Buffalo) researchers have developed an earphone technology that detects movements in facial muscles and changes in the shape of the ear canal when words are mouthed, allowing users to "speak” commands silently. The EarCommand system allows users to interact with voice assistants without speaking aloud, and without interference from face masks or background noise. The device emits near-ultrasound signals into the wearer's ear and uses an inward-facing microphone to detect the reflected echoes. Patterns in the reflected sound waves are analyzed by an artificial intelligence algorithm trained to associate changes in ear canal shape with particular words. EarCommand can recognize 32 single-word commands and 25 sentence-length commands so far, with error rates of 10% and 12%, respectively.

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Visualiztion of satellite data about melting polar ice. Monitoring Polar Ice Melting by Combining Data from Different Satellites
SPIE Newsroom
August 3, 2022

Scientists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences developed a new approach to monitoring polar ice melting by combining elevation data of the Antarctic ice sheet from the CryoSat-2 and Sentinel-3 satellites. The researchers used a clustering algorithm to screen the data by dividing it into clusters based on its values, and eliminating clusters containing outliers. They then applied a fitting model to infer elevation changes from the combined satellite data, while correcting for measurement biases. Analysis of the resulting data indicated the ice sheets' average elevation had decreased by about 4.3 centimeters (cm) annually from 2016 through 2019, while the inner continental ice sheets' elevation decreased by only about 1.1 cm annually.

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Malware warning on a computer. North Korea-Backed Hackers Have Clever Way to Read Gmail
Ars Technica
Dan Goodin
August 3, 2022

Researchers at security company Volexity have discovered malware dubbed SHARPEXT that the North Korea-sponsored SharpTongue hacker gang is using to read and download email and attachments from victims' Gmail and AOL accounts. Volexity's Steven Adair said SHARPEXT installs an extension for Chrome and Edge browsers "by way of spear phishing and social engineering where the victim is fooled into opening a malicious document." Email services cannot detect the extension, and since the browser will already have been authenticated, the compromise cannot be simply identified and neutralized. Volexity said SHARPEXT has been in use for "well over a year," allowing hackers to compile lists of email addresses to ignore, and to monitor already compromised emails or attachments.

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Various math formulas on a computer screen. Algorithm Aces University Math Course Questions
MIT News
Adam Zewe
August 3, 2022

A multi-institutional team of researchers led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Iddo Drori utilized a neural network model to solve university-level math problems in seconds. The researchers used OpenAI's Codex model, which was pretrained on text and "fine-tuned" on code, to learn how pieces of text and code relate to each other. The model can render text questions into code, given a few question-code examples, then run the code to solve the problem. The model also automatically explains its solutions, and can produce new problems in university math subjects which university students were unable to distinguish from human-generated questions. "This work opens the field for people to start solving harder and harder questions with machine learning," Drori said.

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Anika Puri, inventor of ElSa software to help track elephant poachers. Teen Invents Low-Cost Tool to Spot Elephant Poachers in Real Time
Margaret Osborne
August 4, 2022

Anika Puri, a 17-year-old from Chappaqua, NY, created low-cost machine learning (ML) software to spot elephant poachers in India in real time by analyzing the movements of humans and elephants in thermal infrared (IR) videos. Puri said her ElSa (elephant savior) machine-learning-driven software is four times more accurate than state-of-the-art detection systems, and does not require costly high-resolution thermal cameras. ElSa, which took Puri two years to develop, employs a $250 thermal camera that interfaces with an iPhone 6, which are both affixed to a drone; the system infers the presence of humans or elephants as the drone flies over parks.

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The animator explores simulation outcomes, for example, of a die randomly launched at card bowling pins. Smart Microrobots Learn to Swim, Navigate with AI
New Jersey Institute of Technology
August 4, 2022

Researchers from Santa Clara University, the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), and the University of Hong Kong (HKU) trained microrobots to swim using artificial intelligence. The researchers combined artificial neural networks with reinforcement learning to teach a microbot to swim and navigate in any direction. Each movement by the microrobot receives feedback on the action's correctness, so it learns how to swim by interacting with its surroundings. HKU's Alan Tsang said, "Similar to a human learning how to swim, the microswimmer learns how to move its 'body parts'—in this case three microparticles and extensible links—to self-propel and turn." The researchers enabled a microbot to follow an intricate pathway without explicit programming, which NJIT's Yuan-nan Young called "Our first step in tackling the challenge of developing microswimmers that can adapt like biological cells in navigating complex environments autonomously."

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