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Welcome to the March 20, 2023, edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Ballard High School students work to solve an exercise at the MisinfoDay event hosted by the University of Washington to help high school students identify and avoid misinformation. Digital Literacy: Can the Republic 'Survive an Algorithm?'
Associated Press
David Klepper; Manuel Valdes
March 20, 2023

Educators and researchers are striving to counter the boom in online misinformation, whose efforts in the U.S. trail those of many other democracies. Although new ordinances and algorithm changes are touted as the most promising solutions to misinformation, teaching Internet literacy may be the most impactful approach. States including New Jersey, Illinois, and Texas have deployed new digital literacy education standards, which can cover topics such as the workings of the Internet and social media, and cross-checking multiple sources to spot misinformation. Finland's misinformation program includes educating children about the Internet as early as preschool; Finland's minister of science and culture Petri Honkonen said the goal is to protect people and democracy by teaching critical thinking. The politicization of misinformation compounds the challenge U.S. educators face in teaching digital literacy, which opponents equate with thought control.

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A brain organoid viewed with a scanning electron microscope. Human Brain Cells Used as Living AIs to Solve Mathematical Equations
New Scientist
Michael Le Page
March 14, 2023

A multi-institutional team of scientists has connected laboratory-grown human brain cells to computers to solve mathematical equations as an initial step toward using brain tissue as a form of artificial intelligence (AI). The researchers said this "living AI hardware" taps "the computation power of 3D [three-dimensional] biological neural networks in a brain organoid." They said their "Brainoware" outperformed conventional AIs in solving a non-linear equation called a Hénon map without a so-called long short-term memory unit, but with less accuracy. The research indicates Brainoware can learn from training data, yet Martin Lellep at the U.K.'s University of Edinburgh said the method, while interesting, does not demonstrate real-world applications.

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Ukraine Pushes Diia App Used to Counter Russia as Global Tool
Daryna Krasnolutska; Ott Tammik
March 16, 2023

Ukrainian officials intend to export the technology underpinning the Diia application to other governments as a bulwark against Russia. Diia was launched in 2020 to help Ukrainians with a range of electronic services including signing documents, applying for benefits, to paying taxes. Since the Russians invaded last year, Ukraine has been using Diia to transmit the location of foreign troops, to counter Russian disinformation, and to allow users to contribute money or to seek remuneration for damaged property. Mstyslav Banik at Ukraine's Ministry of Digital Transformation said the app's exportation to governments in nations like Estonia is a bid "to have leadership in digitization and to become a benchmark for other countries." A spokesperson for the U.S. Agency for International Development said the U.S. government allocated $25 million to develop Diia's underlying digital infrastructure.

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Mining the Right Transition Metals in a Vast Chemical Space
MIT News
Leda Zimmerman
March 13, 2023

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have developed a "recommender" engine that uses machine learning to identify the optimal model to search for nontoxic, earth-abundant transition metal complexes for use in energy applications. The researchers developed a machine learning platform to assess the accuracy of density functional models in predicting the structure and behavior of transition metal molecules. They used electron density as a machine learning input and a neural network model for mapping. The tool can identify the appropriate density functional for characterizing the target transition metal complex in a matter of hours. The researchers gathered density functional theory results on 100 compounds, then trained the machine learning models to make predictions on 32 million candidate materials. The process was repeated to reduce the number of compounds to those with the desired properties, resulting in nine of the most promising compounds.

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A mobile phone showing the time of 12 noon prepares to photograph the U.S. Capitol surrounded by an empty area during the coronavirus outbreak. Biden Administration Looks to Free Up Wireless Spectrum for Advanced Technology
David Shepardson
March 15, 2023

An initiative by the Biden administration aims to identify wireless spectrum that can be repurposed for advanced technology needs and wireless demand. The U.S. Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is crafting a National Spectrum Strategy to identify at least 1,500 megahertz of spectrum for exploration into new applications. The agenda will cover current and future spectrum requirements, including fixed and mobile wireless broadband; next-generation satellite communications and other space-based systems; advanced transportation; and industrial and commercial uses. NTIA's Alan Davidson said wireless medical devices and telemedicine, the Internet of Things and smart cities, and government applications like national defense, national airspace, critical infrastructure, and climate monitoring and forecasting are also to be addressed by the spectrum strategy. Demand for spectrum use is exploding along with planned new applications like connected vehicles, while U.S. wireless data traffic grew 20% in 2021.

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Automated Bioinformatics Pipeline to Monitor HIV Data in Real Time
Neha Mathur
March 15, 2023

Researchers have developed an open source, automated bioinformatics pipeline to analyze and integrate HIV-1 sequence data. The pipeline was applied to 18 monthly datasets produced in Rhode Island from January 2020 and June 2022, allowing for near real-time collaboration between researchers and the Rhode Island Department of Health. Unlike prior HIV cluster analyses, the pipeline contained a flagging step that analyzed sequence quality and implemented several phylogenetic and distance-only clustering methods. It also uses visual representations to summarize clustering results. The pipeline identified 76% more clustered HIV cases, including 37 new HIV cases for case management discussions. Among other things, the pipeline enabled real-time management of HIV cases by public health officials.

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Scientists led by Prof Brent Seales at the University of Kentucky read the ink on surface and hidden layers of scrolls by training a machine-learning algorithm to spot differences in the papyrus. Contest Launched to Decipher Herculaneum Scrolls Using 3D X-Ray Software
The Guardian (U.K.)
Ian Sample
March 15, 2023

The Vesuvius challenge, a global contest to read charred papyrus scrolls from a buried luxury villa in the Roman city of Herculaneum, which was destroyed by a volcanic eruption in 79 AD, has been launched. The contest offers $250,000 in prizes to research teams that can translate the scrolls by scanning X-ray images with artificial intelligence (AI) software. Researchers led by the University of Kentucky's Brent Seales trained the algorithm to read the ink on the scrolls' surface and hidden layers by noticing nuanced differences in the X-ray-rendered papyrus structure. The researchers are releasing the software and thousands of three-dimensional X-rays of two rolled-up scrolls and three papyrus fragments. They hope to enhance the AI and expedite the scrolls' deciphering through the contest.

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CoDe Tool Makes Vaccine Development Faster, More Accurate
Texas Biomedical Research Institute
March 10, 2023

Researchers at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, and the Center for Animal Research in Spain developed a software tool that allows for quick, precise edits to a genetic sequence to make certain genes less functional. This would be useful for vaccine developers to deoptimize specific genes to improve the safety and effectiveness of live attenuated vaccines, the team said. After users input the genetic sequence to be deoptimized, CoDe (Codon Deoptimization) determines which nucleotides to change. CoDe also can convert edits automatically to attenuate a vaccine for a different species. Texas Biomed's Luis Martinez-Sobrido said, "With CoDe we can precisely mutate thousands of nucleotides in a single gene, which makes it extremely difficult for the virus to revert. It also enables us to modulate gene expression of small sections, rather than knocking out entire genes completely. That is very helpful for vaccine design as well as basic research."

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Gatik self-driving trucks that will start deliveries from warehouses to Kroger store locations in Dallas, Texas. Driverless-Truck Deliveries to Start at Kroger's Dallas Stores
Brendan Case
March 15, 2023

Driverless technology company Gatik and the Kroger retail chain announced that self-driving trucks will soon begin delivering goods from a Kroger fulfillment center to certain groceries in Dallas. A safety driver will initially man the vehicles, which will travel up to 70 miles (113 kilometers) per hour on highways while also navigating urban environments. Four Gatik trucks with 20-foot trailers for transporting refrigerated and frozen goods will make at least four daily trips along 60-mile circuits between the stores and the fulfillment center; Gatik's Gautam Narang said this will permit more frequent deliveries since the vehicles will replace 18-wheelers that make fewer trips. Kroger said it will advance toward its goal of facilitating a "seamless shopping experience" through the partnership with Gatik.

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Saline Student Wins Prestigious $250,000 Science Award
The Detroit News
March 14, 2023

The Society for Science's Regeneron Science Talent Search named senior Neel Moudgal at Detroit's Saline High School recipient of its $250,000 top prize for creating a computer model that can predict RNA molecular structure from easily accessible data. Current RNA structure-predicting tools rely on measuring magnetic vibrations from atoms gathered from nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometers. Regeneron said this depends on assigning chemical shift values to individual atoms, which sometimes cannot be done. Moudgal's model features various RNA molecule shapes based on atomic structure, and removes the need to assign chemical shift values by assigning weights to each structure. The model could made it easier to diagnose and treat certain diseases.

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Password Mismanagement Still at the Heart of Security Issues
Chris Teale
March 14, 2023

According to researchers at the threat intelligence firm SpyCloud, government employees in the U.S. and internationally often reuse passwords. The report found that 61% of those with more than one password exposed in the last year reused them in multiple places, including government work and personal accounts. Among government emails, the most common exposed passwords were "123456," "12345678," and "password." The report also revealed that close to 74% of stolen government credentials involved malware-infected devices. Meanwhile, a report from the cybersecurity software firm Ivanti found that 32% of U.S. government employees used the same work password for longer than a year.

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Lowe's is testing Knightscope autonomous security robots (shown in photo) to help deter crime and promote safety at its stores. Lowe's Is Testing 400-Pound, Egg-Shaped Autonomous Robots to Patrol Parking Lots at Some of Its Stores
Business Insider
Ben Tobin
March 13, 2023

Lowe's is testing K5 robots from robotics company Knightscope to patrol its parking lots, with pilots underway in Philadelphia, Washington state, North Carolina, Washington, D.C., and California. Said Lowe's Scott Draher, "This pilot is part of Lowe's continuing efforts to utilize new and innovative technologies to keep our associates and customers safe." Knightscope's Stacy Stephens said the robots are not replacements for security guards but assist with situational awareness and criminal prosecution. Stephens explained that the 400-pound autonomous robots are "looking for known threats, people to whom you've issued criminal trespass warnings, terminated employees, or domestic abusers."

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