Tech Roundup - April 23, 2021

Fri, 04/23/2021

This is our sixth edition of the ‘Tech Roundup,’ where we highlight some of the most significant/thought-provoking news items from the world of tech, especially at the nexus of law and technology. We are particularly interested in foregrounding tech news that is happening in Nebraska, and our region more broadly. If you have a news item you would like to see in the Roundup, please email


Monolith Seeking 2 Million Megawatt-Hours of Renewable Energy Annually for Planned Expansion

Monolith Materials

  • “When its OC2 expansion is complete, Monolith will be Nebraska’s largest consumer of electricity – and the company wants it all to be renewable.”
  • Monolith utilizes a proprietary, carbon-neutral process to produce anhydrous ammonia, the building block of nitrogen fertilizer. Currently, “Corn Belt” states, including Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Nebraska, import 1.7 million metric tons of ammonia per year.
  • “To facilitate the proposed $1 billion expansion of its Olive Creek facility, Monolith Materials, Inc. (Monolith) and Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) signed a letter-of-intent to procure enough renewable energy resources to generate two million megawatt-hours annually.”


Lasers and flames: Technique could refine performance of high-tech materials

Nebraska Today

  • Nebraska’s Yongfeng Lu and colleagues discovered that, by firing a finely tuned laser at a flame, they could create a diamond laced with boron with a higher degree of crystalline integrity than without the use of a laser.
  • Balancing the benefits of doping (adding impurities to a crystal) and crystallinity could help refine materials critical in microelectronics, optics, sensing and energy storage, in addition to “widen(ing) the crystalline bottleneck that has long constrained the semiconductor industry.”


Nutrient compound shows promise for halting mother-to-fetus Zika transmission

Nebraska Today

  • Dr. Sathish Kumar Natarajan and Dr. Asit K. Pattnaik, conducted a successful trial in which they determined that a nutrient compound, palmitoleate, could disrupt the placental cell death that causes children born to mothers infected with the Zika virus to be born with birth defects.
  • “Our goal is to develop a dietary nutrient compound to prevent Zika virus damage to the placenta, which would protect the fetus,” said Natarajan.


UNL students honored for work on climate change project

Lincoln Journal Star

  • A University of Nebraska-Lincoln climate change project garnered 11 awards — five for first place and six for second — in a regional competition honoring the best in student journalism.
  • The UNL College of Journalism and Mass Communications depth-reporting project garnered awards across a wide range of categories — from newspaper feature writing, general news and depth reporting to online feature writing, online depth reporting and best online website.


Local Startup Spotlight


  • OpsCompass is a secure web app built uniquely for Microsoft Azure that automates key operational and security functions so that organizations can adapt Azure quickly and confidently. The OpsCompass platform was designed to help modern IT and DevOps teams automate and enforce policies that maintain security
  • OpsCompass allows companies to safely automate deployments by continuously checking environments against known approved states.



Intel CEO Sees Prolonged Chip-Supply Constraints

BBC News

  • Intel Corp.’s new chief executive said a global chip-supply shortage could stretch two more years as the U.S. semiconductor giant posted weaker quarterly earnings.
  • Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger said the supply constraints that have affected some sectors of the global economy for months will continue until more capacity comes online to meet chip demand for everything from automobiles to electronics.


Big Tech $100 Billion Foreign-Profit Hoard Targeted by Tax Plan

Bloomberg Law

  • Technology giants led by Apple Inc. and Microsoft Corp. disclosed more than $100 billion in profit outside the U.S. in their last fiscal years, making them prime targets of President Joe Biden’s proposals to boost taxes on earnings stashed overseas.
  • The tech industry is particularly adept at shifting profits to tax-friendly locales because its main assets -- software code, patents and other intellectual property -- are relatively easy to move around compared to factories and other physical assets.


AI unlocks ancient Dead Sea Scrolls mystery

BBC News

  • Researchers say Artificial Intelligence (AI) has for the first time shown that two scribes wrote part of the mysterious ancient Dead Sea Scrolls.
  • In a paper published by scholars Mladen Popovic, Maruf Dhali and Lambert Schomaker, they said they had "succeeded at extracting the ancient ink traces as they appear on digital images".
  • "The ancient ink traces relate directly to a person's muscle movement and are person specific," they said, using a technique which helped produce evidence that more than one scribe was involved.


SpaceX, Blue Origin Can Use Airwaves During Rocket Launches

Bloomberg Law

  • The plan, adopted unanimously Thursday, marks the first time the FCC has allocated spectrum to be used during commercial space launches, which increased from seven in 2012 to 39 in 2020, according to the agency.
  • The agency will also seek public input on whether to allocate additional frequencies to support commercial space launches, under the plan.


Police technology under scrutiny following Chicago shooting

The Hill

  • The police shooting of Adam Toledo in Chicago has raised scrutiny of the use of a technology called ShotSpotter, an acoustic gunshot detection system that uses a series of microphones and sensors. The sounds are fed through a verification process that involves both artificial intelligence and human review and takes less than 60 seconds, according to the manufacturer.
  • A preliminary report shared with The Hill suggested that more than 85 percent of ShotSpotter-initiated deployments do not lead to evidence of reportable incidents or crimes.


FCC Updates Broadcast Disclosure Rules for Foreign Programming

Bloomberg Law

  • The Federal Communications Commission has voted to tighten rules requiring TV and radio stations to disclose programming that is sponsored by a foreign government.
  • The order, adopted unanimously Thursday, is aimed at ensuring consumers are aware when stations lease airtime to foreign governments, including Russia and China. Federal law bars foreign governments and their representatives from holding broadcast licenses, but they can get around the restriction by leasing airtime from stations.


Nebraska Governance and Technology Center

Ep. 15 – Doctors and Lawyers and Such: Professional Speech and Platforms

  • In our 15th episode of ‘Tech Refactored,’ host Gus Hurwitz, Director of the NGTC, was joined by Tabrez Ebrahim, Associate Professor at California Western School of Law, to discuss how digital platforms may create access to justice, followed by Cassandra Burke Robertson and Sharona Hoffman, Professors at Case Western Reserve School of Law, to discuss the regulation of professional speech.
  • The conversation is the first of our ‘Regulation at Scale’ episodes, looking at challenges that arise when new rules or technologies affect broad swathes of society all at once.


What We Are Reading

Current International Law Is Not an Adequate Regime for Cyberspace


  • In his article in Lawfare, Michael P. Fischerkeller argues that the U.N. Charter, and customary rules of international law, are inadequate for regulating and constraining the hostile actions of states in the cyber realm.
  • Citing “cyber persistence theory,” Fischerkeller notes that “the core features of the cyber strategic environment comprise interconnectedness (not segmentation), a condition of constant contact (not the prospect of episodic action), an abundance of organic vulnerabilities, and macro-resilience (an ability to recover from exploitation of those vulnerabilities),” a set of conditions that are distinct from conventional national security paradigms.
  • A set of international norms have developed where states are frequently engaged in acts of cyber espionage, both for national-security and economic purposes; actions which, when uncovered, often do not result in any open acknowledgement, let alone a conventional national security response.

Neil Rutledge, Research Associate at the NGTC, offered the following observation:

In the absence of an international agreement to the contrary (and no agreement seems immediately forthcoming) states will continue to exploit vulnerabilities in their adversaries cyber infrastructure, especially in ways that do not lead to the sorts of obvious disruptions that would precipitate a conventional national security response. As long as thresholds of permissible conduct remain undemarcated, states will continue to test one another’s tolerances, in a way that seems problematic from the standpoint of maintaining (or, in the case of cyber, creating) a stable, rules-based international order.

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