Welcome to the August 30, 2023, edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Top Programming Languages of 2023
IEEE Spectrum
Stephen Cass
August 29, 2023

IEEE Spectrum's annual ranking of Top Programming Languages shows a widening lead by the first place-ranked Python, a result of it becoming a generalist language and the premiere language for artificial intelligence. The top language in the "Jobs" listing is SQL, which employers value along with skills in languages like Java or C++ because significant business-critical data resides in SQL databases in modern distributed architectures. Java and the many C-like languages are more popular collectively than Python for high-performance or resource-sensitive tasks, due to Python's excessively expensive interpreter overhead. Cobol also is an option for programmers who prefer a well-established language, but cannot obtain a security clearance, as they must for languages like Fortran.

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NIST to Standardize Encryption Algorithms That Can Resist Attack by Quantum Computers
August 24, 2023

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has released draft standards for three of four algorithms chosen last year for their resistance to attacks by quantum computers. The global cryptographic community has until Nov. 22 to submit comments on the draft standards. The three algorithms for which standards have been released are CRYSTALS-Kyber, an algorithm for general encryption purposes, and CRYSTALS-Dilithium and SPHINCS+, which are designed to protect digital signatures. A draft standard for the fourth algorithm, FALCON, which also is intended to protect digital signatures, is expected within a year. Meanwhile, NIST researchers continue to evaluate a second set of algorithms, with draft standards to be published next year if any are chosen for standardization.

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Wildfire monitors at the University of California, San Diego, observe a fire in Topanga Canyon in Los Angeles. Can AI Detect Wildfires Faster Than Humans? California Is Trying to Find Out
The New York Times
Thomas Fuller
August 24, 2023

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) is using DigitalPath's artificial intelligence (AI) software to monitor its network of more than 1,000 mountaintop cameras to identify wildfires and improve firefighter response times. The software, which analyzes billions of megapixels per minute, detected the presence of smoke before 911 calls were received about 40% of the time during the pilot program. However, humans are still needed to determine whether the AI actually has detected smoke or was triggered by fog, dust, or other conditions. The AI also does not understand when fires are deliberately set by farmers or vintners, for instance, and do not require a response. University of California, San Diego's Neal Driscoll said the system will help Cal Fire achieve its mission of suppressing 95% of fires at 10 acres or less.

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In Stephen Hilton’s virtual laboratory, students using virtual reality are represented as robot avatars; here, three users are working together to learn how to use a 3D printer. Why Scientists Are Delving into the Virtual World
Rachael Pells
August 24, 2023

A growing number of scientific researchers are using virtual reality (VR) technology in the lab, often to more easily collaborate with distant colleagues, or simply to work remotely. VR headsets are used in the School of Pharmacy at the U.K.'s University College London to train students through hands-on experiments in a virtual environment. Researchers at South Africa's University of Pretoria have incorporated extended reality training tools so engineering students can explore mines, tunnels, and other potentially hazardous spaces virtually. Medical students at the U.K.'s Cardiff University and the University Hospital of Wales are training to diagnose and treat sepsis using a VR education tool, which Cardiff's Simran Sharma said "offers a repeatable, standardized clinical training method that is not reliant on the quality of the trainer."

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An influx of cheap Chinese robot waiters like this one has provoked anxiety in South Korea. Chinese Robot Waiters Fuel Korean Anxiety Over Labor Shortages
Financial Times
Song Jung-a; Christian Davies
August 27, 2023

South Koreans are anxious over a flood of cheap Chinese robot waiters amid labor shortages, population declines, and growing rivalry with Chinese technology firms. The Korean Association of Robot Industry estimated roughly 5,000 server robots—over 70% of Chinese manufacture—were operating in South Korean restaurants last year, a number that could double this year. Executives say government programs designed to fuel robot adoption irrespective of the devices' country of origin were harming South Korea's domestic robotics industry. Chinese robots can be up to 20% less expensive than similar South Korean units, and the Korea Institute of Science and Technology Information predicted the national market for service robots could soar from $53 million this year to $1 billion in 2026.

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Sensors Harnessing Light Give Hope in Rehabilitation
Pohang University of Science and Technology (South Korea)
August 24, 2023

Sung-Min Park and Sunguk Hong at South Korea's Pohang University of Science and Technology led the integration of computer vision into optical sensors to address the shortcomings of conventional strain sensors used in assistive robots for muscle and joint rehabilitation. The researchers developed computer vision-based optical strain (CVOS) sensors that can analyze microscale optical patterns and exfiltrate data regarding changes. CVOS sensors use real-time multiaxial strain mapping to identify three-axial rotational movements, facilitating single-sensor detection of various bodily motions. The university’s Sung-Min Park said, “The CVOS sensors excel in distinguishing body movements across diverse direction and angles, thereby optimizing effective rehabilitative interventions.”

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Twelve Nations Urge Social Media Giants to Tackle Illegal Data Scraping
Eileen Yu
August 25, 2023

A joint statement from a dozen countries, including Australia, Canada, the U.K., Hong Kong, and Switzerland, called on social media platforms to address illegal data scraping, emphasizing that local laws require them to protect user information. The nations are seeking feedback from the parent companies of these platforms on how they will comply or plan to comply with the "expectations and principles" set forth in the statement, which in some jurisdictions are "explicit statutory requirements." The joint statement indicated that platforms including YouTube, TikTok, Facebook, Weibo, X, and LinkedIn should, among other things, limit the number of visits per hour or per day by a single account to other account profiles, develop teams or roles tasked with formulating and implementing measures to prevent scraping, and identify and take legal action against scrapers.

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A team of computer scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst recently unveiled a Python profiler that can help make Python code run thousands of time faster. Python Programming Language Accelerated
University of Massachusetts Amherst
August 28, 2023

The University of Massachusetts Amherst's Emery Berger and colleagues have accelerated the Python programming language thousands of times by using the open source Scalene profiler to identify the parts of programs that slow it down. Scalene is designed to identify inefficiencies in Python programs and uses artificial intelligence (AI) to offer suggestions for improving code. Said Berger, "Scalene first teases out where your program is wasting time. It focuses on three key areas—the CPU [central processing unit], GPU [graphics processing unit], and memory usage—that are responsible for the majority of Python's sluggish speed." After identifying the parts of a Python program hindering performance, Scalene applies AI to suggest how to optimize individual lines or code groupings, Berger added.

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Quantum Computer Reveals Chemical Reaction in 100-Billionth-Speed Slow-Mo
New Atlas
Michael Irving
August 29, 2023

Researchers at Australia's University of Sydney used a quantum computer to slow down a molecular reaction by 100 billion times, making it possible to observe a single atom encountering a conical intersection. Such interactions are common in chemical reactions, but are difficult to observe because they occur within femtoseconds (quadrillionths of a second). The use of a trapped-ion quantum computer slowed the process 100 billion times to milliseconds. Said University of Sydney's Christophe Valahu, "Our experiment wasn't a digital approximation of the process—this was a direct analogue observation of the quantum dynamics unfolding at a speed we could observe."

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Facebook Labels of Government-Controlled Media Reduced Users' Engagement When Noticed
Carnegie Mellon University Heinz College
August 21, 2023

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, Indiana University (IU), and the University of Texas at Austin investigated Facebook's "state-controlled media" labels to rate users' engagement with posts bearing those labels. The researchers showed 1,200 U.S. Facebook account-holders posts with and without state-controlled media labels; those who saw labeled headlines originating from China and Russia were less likely to believe, like, read, share, and comment on the posts than those who saw them with unlabeled headlines, but only if they actively observed the label. The researchers also showed nearly 2,000 account-holders labeled and unlabeled posts, associating their behavior with public sentiment toward countries listed on the label. A third experiment showed account-holders shared labeled posts 34% less and liked them 46% less than before Facebook added the labels.

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P&G Enlists IoT, Predictive Analytics to Perfect Pampers
Paula Rooney
August 25, 2023

Consumer products giant Proctor & Gamble Co. (P&G) has deployed Internet of Things technology and edge analytics to leverage real-time data to predict manufacturing failures and reduce losses in its diaper-making business. P&G's Hot Melt Optimization platform combines proprietary assembly-line sensors with Microsoft's predictive analytics and Azure cloud for manufacturing. Implemented in 11 plants, the platform has reduced the number of diapers that must be trashed due to manufacturing glitches by 70%. The system uses Rockwell programmable logic industrial controllers and other sensors to collect glue stream temperature and pressure data, which is analyzed in real time to detect errors or anomalies that can be resolved automatically without halting manufacturing.

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An innovative bimanual robot displays tactile sensitivity close to human-level dexterity by using AI to inform its actions. Dual-Arm Robot Achieves Bimanual Tasks by Learning from Simulation
University of Bristol News (U.K.)
August 24, 2023

The Bi-Touch system created by researchers at the U.K.'s University of Bristol reads the environment through tactile and proprioceptive feedback from an artificial intelligence (AI) agent, facilitating precise perception, sensitive interaction, and effective object manipulation by a dual-arm robot. Bristol's Yijiong Lin said the system allows users to "easily train AI agents in a virtual world within a couple of hours to achieve bimanual tasks that are tailored towards the touch," as well as to "directly apply these agents from the virtual world to the real world without further training." In a simulation featuring a robot with two arms equipped with tactile sensors, the researchers were able to teach the robot to safely lift items as delicate as a potato chip.

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U.S. authorities said an international law enforcement operation had taken down the notorious U.S. Says It, Partners Have Taken Down 'Qakbot' Hacking Network
Christopher Bing; David Ljunggren
August 29, 2023

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the "Qakbot" financial fraud malware platform has been taken down through an international law enforcement operation. DOJ said the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) worked with officials in France, Germany, the Netherlands, the U.K., Romania, and Latvia in the "Duck Hunt" operation to disrupt the botnet, which security researchers think originates from Russia. U.S. attorney Martin Estrada said Qakbot malware had infiltrated more than 700,000 computers, deployed ransomware, and harmed businesses, healthcare providers, and government agencies to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. The FBI said it crippled Qakbot by rerouting its Internet traffic to bureau-controlled servers that removed malware from victim computers without viewing or collecting personal information. Said FBI director Christopher Wray, "The FBI neutralized this far-reaching criminal supply chain, cutting it off at the knees."

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