Welcome to the November 30, 2022, edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Programming Tool Turns Handwriting into Computer Code
Cornell Chronicle
Louis DiPietro
November 28, 2022

A team of Cornell University researchers created the Notate interface to translate handwriting and sketches into computer code. The pen-based interface enables digital notebook users to open drawing canvases and to handwrite diagrams within lines of traditional code. Notate is driven by a deep learning model, allowing notation in the handwritten diagram to reference textual code and vice versa. Cornell's Ian Arawjo said, "People are ready for this type of feature, but developers of interfaces for typing code need to take note of this and support images and graphical interfaces inside code."

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The North Korean missile launched last week. Volunteer Project Used GPS to Detect North Korean Missile Test
New Scientist
Jeremy Hsu
November 23, 2022

Researchers at Rice University and cybersecurity company Theori detected a North Korean intercontinental missile test by identifying atmospheric disturbances in global positioning system (GPS) satellite data. Volunteers developed software to detect such disruptions by quantifying GPS signals between satellites and ground stations. The Theori/Rice researchers tapped data from Japan's GEONET global navigation satellite system, then designed algorithms to detect changes in charged ionospheric particles caused by rocket exhaust. The method may be used to calculate the number of charged particles and detect changes over time by measuring the delay between satellite signals on two different frequencies.

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San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott answers questions during a news conference in San Francisco. San Francisco Will Allow Police to Deploy Robots That Kill
Associated Press
Janie Har
November 30, 2022

San Francisco's Board of Supervisors voted to grant city police the option to deploy potentially lethal robots in emergency situations, despite objections from civil liberties and other police oversight groups. Although the San Francisco Police Department's Allison Maxie said the department currently has no armed robots, and has no plans to equip robots with guns, it could deploy robots outfitted with explosive charges "to contact, incapacitate, or disorient violent, armed, or dangerous suspects" in life-threatening scenarios. City supervisors revised the proposal so officers could use robots only after alternative force or de-escalation tactics were tried or deemed ineffective. Critics said the authorization would further militarize a police force that already displays excessive aggression toward poor and minority communities.

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Device Controls Light at Unprecedented Speeds
MIT News
Adam Zewe
November 28, 2022

An international team of researchers led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) scientists created a programmable wireless device that can manipulate light orders of magnitude more quickly than commercial devices. The spatial light modulator (SLM) controls light's emission properties, focusing a passing beam in one direction or refracting it to multiple locations to form images. The researchers used a battery of photonic crystal microcavities to control wavelength-scale light at high speeds. MIT's Christopher Panuski said the researchers programmed an algorithm to design photonic crystal devices that focus light into a narrow beam as it escapes each microcavity, while the SLM is controlled by a micro-light-emitting-diode display. An at-scale manufacturing process also ensures the SLMs maintain near-flawless quality.

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Three of OpenSensor’s devices. Can Sensor Technology Help Keep Office Workers Healthy?
The New York Times
Craig S. Smith
November 23, 2022

The U.K.-based startup OpenSensors uses small, inexpensive sensors to monitor foot traffic, occupancy levels, and air quality in offices. The sensors measure ambient carbon dioxide levels using Internet of Things technology, enabling building managers to adjust air quality as required. OpenSensors' power-efficient wide-area technology sends data over an unlicensed spectrum to a router, which channels it via cellular network to an OpenSensors server. The company can compile the data into a Web-based dashboard, or wirelessly transmit it back to the client's own systems through an application. Technology industry analyst Matt Hatton said he expects the market for such solutions, which is “still very early days,” to grow 20-fold by 2030.

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A chip demonstrating quantum dots defined in a specially grown semiconductor nanowire. Electron Pairing in Quantum Dots as Approach to Qubit Research
Eindhoven University of Technology (Netherlands)
November 23, 2022

Tom Dvir at the Netherlands' quantum computing/quantum Internet research institute QuTech says scientists "have directly measured equal-spin pairing between spin-polarized quantum dots. The paired electrons are induced from a conventional superconductor into the semiconducting nanowire, whose properties enforce the equal-spin polarization." Dvir said researchers at QuTech and the Netherlands’ Eindhoven University of Technology showed that severing an opposing-spin electron pair (Cooper pair) can yield two electrons with equal spin polarization, which is necessary to achieve an artificial Kitaev chain of several quantum dots. This technique is one of several promising candidates for the creation of topological quantum bits (qbits), which could form the foundation of a future quantum computer.

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A golf-playing robot nicknamed Golfi uses a 3D camera to take a snapshot of the green. Golf Robot Putts Like a Pro
IEEE Spectrum
Edd Gent
November 24, 2022

The Golfi robot built by Annika Junker and colleagues at Germany's Paderborn University combines classical control engineering and machine learning to putt with professional golfer-level skill. Golfi captures images of the green through a ceiling-mounted three-dimensional camera, which feeds its data into a physics-based model to enable the simulation of thousands of random shots from different positions. A neural network employs this data to predict the amount of force and direction required when hitting a ball to get it in the hole from anywhere on the green. Junker said Golfi was designed to demonstrate the capability of hybrid robotic control techniques.

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Engineers Improve Electrochemical Sensing by Incorporating ML
Penn State College of Engineering News
Mary Fetzer
November 23, 2022

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University College of Engineering (Penn State Engineering) combined machine learning (ML) with multimodal measurement to enhance electrochemical biosensor analysis. The researchers designed a platform to selectively measure uric acid and tyrosine concentrations in sweat and saliva with a single sensor. Said Penn State Engineering's Aida Ebrahimi, "Using our optimized machine learning architecture, we could detect biomolecules in amounts 100 times lower than what conventional sensing methods can do." While the system's ML model is trained to identify biomolecules in biological fluids, Penn State Engineering's Vinay Kammarchedu suggested the method may find wider use "in multiplexed biochemical sensing."

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Businesses Hope to Cut Cyber Turnover by Encouraging Volunteer Work
The Wall Street Journal
Catherine Stupp
November 26, 2022

Businesses are nudging their cyber employees to volunteer at nonprofits, which managers say can improve retention of in-demand specialists despite high turnover. Last year, the Switzerland-based CyberPeace Institute launched an initiative to recruit corporate professionals to teach cybersecurity to nonprofits that cannot afford their own experts. The institute's Fabien Leimgruber said the work involves providing nonprofits advice on cybersecurity-related technical, legal, or marketing issues, and breach response. For example, Janet Roberts at Swiss insurer Zurich Insurance Group partnered with Zurich threat-intelligence experts to organize a training session for technology employees with privileged system access. CyberPeace's Stéphane Duguin said companies that promote cyber-volunteerism distinguish themselves "when it comes to attracting cyber talent and retaining talent."

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A colorful illustration of a cyber brain. Nanoengineers Develop Predictive Database for Materials
UC San Diego Today
Emerson Dameron
November 28, 2022

The M3GNet algorithm developed by nanoengineers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD)'s Jacobs School of Engineering can forecast the structure and dynamic properties of any material almost instantaneously. Researchers used M3GNet to compile the matterverse.ai database of more than 31 million yet-to-be-synthesized materials with traits predicted by machine learning algorithms. UCSD's Shyue Ping Ong and colleagues combined graph neural networks with many-body interactions into a highly accurate deep learning framework that operates across the entire periodic table. The team employed the Materials Project's database of materials energies, forces, and stresses to train the predictive M3GNet interatomic potential model. "We truly believe that the M3GNet architecture is a transformative tool that can greatly expand our ability to explore new material chemistries and structures," said Ong.

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Websites Have Way More Trackers Now
Sead Fadilpasic
November 29, 2022

Analysts at Panama-based virtual private network company NordVPN found the average website has 48 trackers monitoring visitors' activity and recording their private data, elevating the risk of identity theft. The analysts calculated the number of trackers across the 100 most popular websites in 25 countries. The heaviest users are social media websites, each of which contain 160 trackers on average; health sites feature an average of 46 trackers each, while digital media sites have an average of 28 trackers, and adult content and government sites have one and four trackers per site, respectively. Most trackers are owned by recognizable third parties including Google, Facebook, and Adobe, which frequently use the collected data for marketing purposes. NordVPN's Daniel Markuson said website trackers are fewer in countries with strong data-protection laws.

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By applying ‘dynamic time warping’, QUT researchers can calculate the odds of a women’s basketball team scoring high or low. Basketball Study Automates Patterns of Play to Compare Teams' Performance
Queensland University of Technology (Australia)
November 30, 2022

Researchers at Australia's Queensland University of Technology (QUT), the University of Sydney, and the Australian Institute of Sport analyzed data from 72 women's international basketball games to calculate the odds of a team scoring high or low. QUT's Paul Wu said the research was sparked by queries into whether the unpredictability of plays yielded better scoring outcomes, with incorporation of ball trajectories aiding the identification of emerging patterns. Said Wu, "Dynamic Time Warping provides a way to map one trajectory to another to get a better evaluation of how similar they are automatically. This is one way to organize many, many hours of video footage to help coaches and athletes identify key strengths and weaknesses for review and highlight something not obvious, like if a team favors one side of the court."

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Chemistry Toolkit Speeds Analyses of Molecules in Solution
Emory News Center
Carol Clark
November 28, 2022

The AutoSolvate open-source toolkit developed by theoretical chemists at Emory University accelerates analysis of molecular properties in solution. "By using our automated workflow, researchers can quickly generate 10, or even 100 times, more data compared to the traditional approach," said Emory's Fang Liu. AutoSolvate's command-line interface requires just a few lines of code to perform hundreds of calculations automatically, which Liu explained frees researchers "from most of the tedious, manual tasks of data input so that they can focus on analyzing their results and other creative work." Liu said the datasets produced by the tool will provide a platform for scientific innovation fueled by state-of-the-art machine learning methods.

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December 2022 Issue of Communications of the ACM
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