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Welcome to the October 3, 2022, edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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CS Growing in K-12 Schools, but Access Does Not Equal Participation
EdSurge (CA)
Nadia Tamez-Robledo
September 26, 2022

The latest State of Computer Education report found computer science (CS)'s growing presence in U.S. K-12 schools does not translate into equal participation. While the report found 53% of high schools nationwide offer CS courses, access and participation are inconsistent among traditionally underrepresented groups. The report found white high school students nationally constitute 48% of grade 9-12 CS students, while Latinos comprise 20%, Blacks account for 16%, and Asians make up 11%. Economically disadvantaged learners account for 52% of high school students, but just 36% of CS enrollees. The report argues for using CS to help address pandemic-related learning loss, as well as as a potential career driver for students amid increasing demand for tech-savvy employees.

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Software Robots Gaining Ground in White-Collar Office World
Alexandre Tanzi; Reade Pickert
September 29, 2022

Software is making inroads into white-collar professions due to innovations enabled by artificial intelligence and machine learning, fueled by pandemic-surging demand. Startups are making such solutions available to small companies as well as corporate giants; Kizen, for example, sells licenses to use its Zoe automated assistant, which sales teams can use to conduct initial research and qualify leads. Old-school automation also remains popular, with the Association for Advancing Automation estimating a record number of robots sold in North America in the first quarter of this year. This trend is seen as both positive and negative, with advocates believing task automation will free up employees for more challenging work, while skeptics are concerned about automation taking over some occupations that leave displaced workers without obvious alternatives.

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Rice University student Colter Decker demonstrates a “glove” used to demonstrate the analog features of soft pneumatic control circuitry for soft robotics. Fluidic Circuits Add Analog Options for Controlling Soft Robots
Rice University News
Jade Boyd
September 28, 2022

Researchers from Rice and Harvard universities and Worcester Polytechnic Institute demonstrated programmable fluidic circuits that control soft robots by processing data in bursts of compressed air. Rice's Colter Decker built the control system mainly from everyday materials like plastic drinking straws, flexible plastic tubing, rubber bands, parchment paper, and thermoplastic polyurethane sheets. Decker and colleagues created a pistonlike actuator that uses the mechanical force of air pressure, and a valve that can be switched on and off; they function together as a bistable valve that uses air pressure as input and output. The pneumatic logic gates could be arrayed to perform Boolean functions. "The biggest achievement in this work is the incorporation of both digital and analog control in the same system architecture," said Rice's Daniel Preston.

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A model of Kyiv’s Saint Sophia Cathedral in the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag, made using the iCLIP method of three-dimensional printing. 3D Printing Method Promises Faster Printing with Multiple Materials
Stanford News
Laura Castanon
September 28, 2022

Stanford University engineers have designed a three-dimensional (3D) printing technique that can manufacture multi-material objects faster than currently available high-resolution 3D printers. The technique is five to 10 times faster than the quickest printing methods, and could potentially accommodate thicker resins with better mechanical and electrical properties. The injection continuous liquid interface production (iCLIP) method augments the CLIP technique, in which a rising platform pulls objects from a pool of resin through which ultraviolet images are projected. iCLIP adds additional resin at key points, using syringe pumps to enable smooth, continuous printing. "The ability to make objects with variegated material or mechanical properties is a holy grail of 3D printing," said Stanford's Gabriel Lipkowitz. "The applications range from very efficient energy-absorbing structures to objects with different optical properties and advanced sensors."

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Ingvild Hansen and Amanda Seedhouse in the laboratory where quantum computing experiments are performed. Quantum Computing Engineers Set New Standard in Silicon Chip Performance
UNSW Sydney Newsroom (Australia)
Lachlan Gilbert
September 30, 2022

Engineers at Australia's University of New South Wales, Sydney (UNSW Sydney) have coaxed quantum computing processors to hold data for up to two milliseconds, a more than 100-fold increase over previous benchmarks. This achievement extends the researchers' successful manipulation of millions of quantum bits (qubits) with a single antenna last year. They created the Sinusoidally Modulated, Always Rotating, and Tailored (SMART) qubit protocol to manipulate magnetically controlled electrons individually so they could store different values for complex calculations. This substantially lengthened the coherence time for quantum calculations. UNSW Sydney's Henry Yang called the SMART protocol "a potential path for full-scale quantum computers."

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The Long Road to Driverless Trucks
The New York Times
Cade Metz
September 28, 2022

A partnership between Mountain View, CA-based self-driving startup Kodiak Robotics and trucking company U.S. Xpress resulted in a self-driving 18-wheeler driving goods between Dallas and Atlanta, traveling over 6,300 miles over five days in March. It would have taken a traditional truck over 10 days to make the same deliveries, considering drivers’ required rest periods. However, safety drivers riding in the cab of the self-driving truck took control of the wheel multiple times, underscoring issues delaying the deployment of fully driverless trucks. Researchers must work to ensure the technology can respond to sudden accidents. Further, companies must build a network of "transfer hubs," where cargo is unloaded and the trucks are refueled, and drivers are needed for the short haul from the transfer hubs to final destinations.

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An image of an avocado chair in an orange room, which was created by artificial intelligence. AI Can Create Any Image in Seconds
The Washington Post
Nitasha Tiku
September 28, 2022

The ability of artificial intelligence (AI) systems like research laboratory OpenAI's DALL-E to produce virtually any image in seconds is provoking controversy. Researchers are concerned that text-to-image generators produce images that can perpetuate racial and gender stereotypes, plagiarize artists, or create authentic-looking disinformation. The technology is proliferating faster than AI companies can formulate usage policies and deter harmful outcomes. OpenAI prohibits DALL-E’s use to create images of celebrities or politicians in order to prevent disinformation, but upstart companies have opened-sourced their code for anyone to duplicate. The University of Southern California's Wael Abd-Almageed is concerned the technology exploits the tendency of people to accept what they see, adding "Once the line between truth and fake is eroded, everything will become fake. We will not be able to believe anything."

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Drawing Data in Nanometer Scale
Pohang University of Science and Technology (South Korea)
September 29, 2022

A method for storing data in nanometer scale developed by researchers at South Korea's Pohang University of Science and Technology, Soongsil University, and Seoul National University increases the data storage capacity of metastable materials 10-fold. The researchers demonstrated that a thin film of metastable ferroelectric calcium titanate enables the polarization switching of a material with pressure of just 100 nanonewtons. Using such force from a probe reduced the width of the polarization path to less than 10 nm, increasing data storage capacity by up to 1 terabit/cm.

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A Bitcoin symbol over the emissions of smoke stacks, reflecting the environmental impact of the cryptocurrency. Bitcoin Has Emitted 200 Million Tons of CO2 Since Launch
New Scientist
Matthew Sparkes
September 28, 2022

Researchers at the U.K.'s University of Cambridge estimated bitcoin miners have discharged nearly 200 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere since the cryptocurrency's launch 13 years ago. The Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index (CBECI) factors in cryptocurrency mining volumes for every country worldwide, and a model that covers energy consumption and power of bitcoin-mining hardware, current bitcoin prices, and the point at which certain equipment becomes profitable to operate in various situations. The researchers calculated that 199.65 million tons of carbon emissions could be attributed to the Bitcoin network by September, of which 92% transpired in the past four years.

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Chaos IoT Malware Taps Go to Harvest Windows, Linux for DDoS Attacks
Liam Tung
September 29, 2022

U.S. Internet infrastructure firm Lumen's cybersecurity division Black Lotus Labs found cross-platform malware is proliferating on Linux and Windows systems to harvest resources for distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. The Chaos malware was written in Google's Go coding language, and supports multiple chip architectures to operate on routers, Internet of Things devices, smartphones, and enterprise servers. Chaos leverages established, unpatched flaws in firewall devices to infiltrate networks. Lumen suggests Chinese actors created the malware, and has discovered roughly 100 samples that enable operators to profile host environments, transmit remote commands to devices, add additional capabilities, spread throughout networks by guessing Secure Shell private keys, and launch DDoS attacks.

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Researchers demonstrate the stretchiness of the synaptic transistor. Stretchy, Bio-Inspired Synaptic Transistor Can Enhance, Weaken Device Memories
Pennsylvania State University
Mariah Chuprinski
September 29, 2022

Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) researchers developed a bio-inspired stretchy synaptic transistor that optimizes functions using artificial intelligence and can be used in robots or wearable devices. The transistor mimics the ability of neurons in the ventral tegmental area of the human brain to learn from the environment and adapt its behavior. Penn State's Cunjiang Yu explained, "Neurons in the ventral tegmental area are capable of releasing both excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters at the same time. By designing the synaptic transistor to operate with both synaptic behaviors simultaneously, fewer transistors are needed compared to conventional integrated electronics technology, which simplifies the system architecture and allows the device to conserve energy." The device is comprised of stretchable bilayer semiconductor materials, resulting in a transistor that can stretch and twist while in use.

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Low-Code Could Replace 'Traditional' Coding Within Months
Craig Hale
September 30, 2022

The Mendix software company estimates low-code adoption climbed from 77% last year to 94% this year, with 40% of businesses currently using low-code applications for mission-critical solutions. Mendix’s 2022 State of Low-Code Support study also cites Gartner's forecast that low-code or no-code applications will comprise 70% of apps by 2025, up from 25% in 2020. One in nine businesses surveyed for the study said adopting low-code apps during the pandemic spared them from reputational damage or cost-cutting measures, while 69% saw no-code transitioning to a core technology that they intend to integrate to better control cost and other factors. Public-sector entities also have ramped up low-code adoption, and Mendix's report claims it could dethrone more "traditional" coding within months.

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