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Welcome to the April 16, 2021 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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2020 ACM Prize in Computing recipient Scott Aaronson. ACM Prize Awarded to Pioneer in Quantum Computing
ACM
April 14, 2021


ACM has named Scott Aaronson the recipient of the 2020 ACM Prize in Computing for his pioneering contributions to quantum computing. Aaronson helped develop the concept of quantum supremacy, which is when a quantum device is able to solve a problem that classical computers cannot solve in a reasonable amount of time. The University of Texas at Austin professor established many theoretical precepts of quantum supremacy experiments, and has researched how such experiments could facilitate the generation of cryptographically random bits. ACM president Gabriele Kotsis said, "Importantly, his contributions have not been confined to quantum computation, but have had significant impact in areas such as computational complexity theory and physics."

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App Calculates Corona Infection Risk in Rooms
Max Planck Gessellschaft (Germany)
April 9, 2021


A free Web application designed by researchers at Germany's Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization (MPIDS) and the University Medical Center Göttingen can calculate the risk of coronavirus infection indoors. The app employs a method called HEADS (Human Emission of Aerosol and Droplet Statistics) to calculate infection risk via aerosols. Users input a few parameters, like the size of a room, how many people are present, and whether they are breathing, talking loudly, or perhaps singing. HEADS accounts for the fact that larger aerosol droplets can be more harmful when released, because they can contain multiple viruses. MPIDS' Mohsen Bagheri said, "With our holographic and particle tracking measurements, we now know the large aerosols very well. This allows us to determine the viral load in an indoor environment very well."

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The Federal Bureau of Investigation logo on a building. FBI Launched Operation to Wipe Out Hacker Access to Hundreds of U.S. Servers
The Washington Post
Tonya Riley
April 14, 2021


The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) said the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has launched a campaign to eliminate hacker access to hundreds of U.S.-based servers exposed by a bug in Microsoft Exchange software discovered earlier this year. The flaw gave hackers back doors into the servers of at least 30,000 U.S. organizations. Although the number of vulnerable servers have been reduced, attackers have already installed malware on thousands to open a separate route of infiltration; DOJ said hundreds of Web shells remained on certain U.S.-based computers running Microsoft Exchange by the end of March. The department's court filing said Microsoft identified the initial intruders as members of the China-sponsored HAFNIUM group.

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Illustration of a raised, clenched robotic fist. 'Master,' 'Slave,' and the Fight Over Offensive Terms in Computing
The New York Times
Kate Conger
April 13, 2021


The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is working to eliminate computer engineering terms that evoke racist history, including "master," "slave," "whitelist," and "blacklist." Some companies and technology organizations already have started changing some of these technical terms, raising concerns about consistency as the effort has stalled amid conversations about the history of slavery and racism in technology. IETF's Lars Eggert said he hopes guidance on terminology will be released later this year. In the meantime, GitHub is now using "main" instead of "master," and the programming community that maintains MySQL opted for "source" and "replica" to replace "master" and "slave."

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The snake-like robot in water. CMU's Snakebot Goes for a Swim
Carnegie Mellon University
Aaron Aupperlee
April 13, 2021


A snake-like robot developed by Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers can move smoothly and precisely while submerged in water. Developed with a grant from the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute, the Hardened Underwater Modular Robot Snake could be used to help the military inspect ships, submarines, and infrastructure for damage while at sea, saving time and money by not needing to wait until a ship enters its home port or dry dock. CMU’s Nate Shoemaker-Trejo said the robot’s main distinguishing features are its form factor and flexibility, explaining, "The robot snake is narrow and jointed. The end result is that an underwater robot snake can squeeze around corners and into small spaces where regular submersibles can't go."

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Ford Retools Headquarters for Hybrid Work
The Wall Street Journal
Angus Loten
April 13, 2021


Automaker Ford is redesigning its Dearborn, MI, corporate headquarters to accommodate a hybrid workforce. Ford's Maru Flores said her team has devised a check-in application requiring workers to fill out a health questionnaire to access the Dearborn campus; the main building also has ambient sensors connected by Internet of Things software to notify floor managers when too many people are in any one space. Flores' team also is testing a system to let employees reserve predefined spaces in common areas for informal meetings, while mobile videoconferencing carts will support the availability of virtual meeting rooms. Said Flores, "The key thing about a hybrid workplace model is making sure workers in the office and at home feel equally connected to the workplace."

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Mathematical Technique Creates Synthetic Hearts to Identify Whether Heart Shape is Linked to Disease
King's College London (U.K.)
April 15, 2021


Researchers at the U.K.'s King's College London (KCL) made three-dimensional (3D) replicas of full-sized healthy adult hearts from computed tomography scans, which they used to analyze how cardiac configuration relates to function. The team used statistical shape analysis to generate an average heart from a cohort of 20 healthy adult hearts, which they adjusted by deforming the heart to produce 1,000 new and synthetic 3D whole hearts. The KCL researchers open-sourced these models, enabling scientists to download and use them to test new algorithms and in-silico therapies, conduct further statistical analyses, or generate specific shapes from the average models.

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The IBM Q quantum system. IBM Releases Qiskit Modules That Use Quantum Computers to Improve ML
VentureBeat
Chris O'Brien
April 9, 2021


IBM has released the Qiskit Machine Learning suite of application modules as part of its effort to encourage developers to experiment with quantum computers. The company’s Qiskit Applications Team said the modules promise to help optimize machine learning (ML) by tapping quantum systems for certain process components. The team said, "Quantum machine learning (QML) proposes new types of models that leverage quantum computers' unique capabilities to, for example, work in exponentially higher-dimensional feature spaces to improve the accuracy of models." IBM expects quantum computers to gain market momentum by performing specific tasks that are offloaded from classic computers to a quantum platform.

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Amazon Expanding 'Upskill' Training for Software Developer Roles to Workers Outside Company
GeekWire
Kurt Schlosser
April 13, 2021


Amazon is expanding its Amazon Technical Academy to train people outside the company for jobs in software engineering. The company’s training partners, Kenzie Academy, which offers software engineering and UX design programs, and Lambda School, will adopt the Amazon Technical Academy curriculum; they also plan to recruit a diverse student body. Both will offer full-time, fully remote courses, with the Lambda School's Enterprise Backend Development Program lasting nine months and Kenzie Academy's Software Engineering Program lasting nine to 12 months. Amazon's Ashley Rajagopal wrote in a blog post, "We have intentionally evolved our curriculum and teaching approach to be accessible to participants who didn't have the opportunity, either because of background or financial limitations, to pursue a college degree in software engineering."

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A synthetic bat ear. Researcher Uses Bat-Inspired Design to Develop Approach to Sound Location
Virginia Tech News
Alex Parrish
April 15, 2021


Inspired by bats' ears, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech)'s Rolf Mueller and colleagues have developed a new technique for identifying the point of origin of a sound. The Virginia Tech researchers created a soft synthetic ear inspired by horseshoe and Old-World leaf-nosed bats, and affixed it to a string and a motor timed to make the ear flutter when receiving an incoming sound. A deep neural network was trained to interpret the incoming signals and provide the source direction associated with each received audio input. Mueller said, "Our hope is to bring reliable and capable autonomy to complex outdoor environments, including precision agriculture and forestry; environmental surveillance, such as biodiversity monitoring; as well as defense and security-related applications."

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A trio of flower heads. International Research Collaboration Solves Centuries-Old Puzzle of Pattern Formation in Flower Heads
University of Calgary News (Canada)
Mark Lowey
April 15, 2021


Computer scientists at Canada's University of Calgary (UCalgary), along with researchers at Finland's University of Helsinki, have solved the riddle of the formation of patterns in flower heads using genetic, microscopy, and computational modeling methods. The authors examined the emergence of phyllotactic patterns in flower heads of Gerbera hybrida, a member of the daisy family. The UCalgary team developed mathematical models founded on experimental data obtained by the Helsinki team, and determined that phyllotactic patterns in the flowers are induced by molecular processes that are governed by the plant hormone auxin, at the rim of the flower head. UCalgary’s Przemyslaw Prusinkiewicz said, “The patterning is not occurring in a static, pre-formed head structure. It occurs concurrently with the growth of the structure—when the flower head develops—and this plays a major role.”

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The new material Digory (right), and real ivory. 3D-Printed Material to Replace Ivory
Technical University of Wien (Austria)
April 13, 2021


A substitute for ivory has been engineered by researchers at Austria's Technical University of Wien (TU Wien) and three-dimensional (3D) printing spinoff Cubicure, in cooperation with the Archdiocese of Vienna's Department for the Care of Art and Monuments and Addison Restoration. "Digory" combines synthetic resin and calcium phosphate particles, processed in a hot, liquid state and cured layer by layer in a 3D printer with ultraviolet light. After printing, the object can be polished and color-matched to give the material an authentic ivory appearance. Cubicure's Konstanze Seidler said, "It is further proof of how diverse the possible applications of stereolithography are."

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A robot scanning shelves in a food store. Pandemic is Pushing Robots into Retail at Unprecedented Pace
ZDNet
Greg Nichols
April 15, 2021


A survey by retail news and analysis firm RetailWire and commercial robotics company Brain Corp. indicates the Covid-19 pandemic has ramped up development and adoption of automation. The poll estimated that 64% of retailers consider it important to have a clear, executable, and budgeted robotics automation strategy in place this year; almost half plan to participate in an in-store robotics project in the next 18 months. Brain Corp.'s Josh Baylin said, "The global pandemic brought the value of robotic automation sharply into focus for many retailers, and we now see them accelerating their deployment timelines to reap the advantages now and into the future." Heightened focus on cleanliness is one of the key drivers of adoption.

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