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Welcome to the March 29, 2017 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Phone being scanned by credit card scanner New Quantum Gadget Could Make Contactless Payment More Secure
University of Oxford
March 28, 2017


Researchers at the University of Oxford in the U.K., in collaboration with Nokia and Bay Photonics, have developed a prototype gadget that transmits secret quantum keys to encrypt data sent from a mobile device to a payment terminal. The prototype employs movable mirrors and ultrafast light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to send a secret PIN-code at a rate of more than 30 kilobytes per second across 0.5 meters. The system features six pairs of resonant-cavity LEDs, each filtered to a different polarization and position. Circularly polarized LEDs supply the main key, while the other pairs are used to quantify the security of the channel and to fix any errors. Code hacking is prevented via a lengthy quantum key used in conjunction with a laser beam-steering system that accounts for hand movements. Oxford's Iris Choi thinks the gadget could be turned into a practical element for a mobile phone.

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Open office scanner Scanners Can Be Hijacked to Perpetrate Cyberattacks
American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
Andrew Lavin
March 28, 2017


Researchers from the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel have found a typical office scanner can be infiltrated and an organization's network compromised using different light sources. The researchers demonstrated how to use a laser or smart bulb to establish a covert channel between an outside attacker and malware installed on a networked computer, according to BGU researcher Ben Nassi. He warns a scanner with the lid left open is sensitive to changes in the surrounding light and might be used as a backdoor into an organization's network. The researchers demonstrated using direct laser light sources up to a half-mile away, as well as a drone outside the building, to successfully transmit a message to trigger malware through the scanner. The researchers recommend organizations connect a scanner to the network via a proxy server, which would prevent establishing a covert channel.

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A cluster of computer servers U.K. Antes Up £20 Million for Six New Supercomputer Centers
Top 500
Michael Feldman
March 28, 2017


The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) of the U.K. has apportioned more than $24 million (£20 million) for six tier 2 supercomputing centers designed to support academic and industrial users and contain medium-sized supercomputers for scientific research and engineering. The new centers will "address an existing gulf in capability between local university systems and the U.K. National Supercomputing Service ARCHER," says EPSRC CEO Philip Nelson. "Many universities are involved in the six new centers, and these will give more researchers easy access to high-performance computing [HPC]." One facility will house the world's first "decent-sized" ARM processor-powered HPC system, while another will be used for materials and molecular modeling for energy, healthcare, and environmental applications. A third facility will constitute the largest graphical-processing-unit-powered HPC center in the country, primarily committed to machine learning, artificial intelligence, and related data science applications.

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A flying drone A Novel Hybrid UAV That May Change the Way People Operate Drones
ECN Magazine
March 27, 2017


Researchers at the National University of Singapore say they have developed U-Lion, a novel hybrid unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that can take off and land vertically in the manner of a helicopter, while cruising horizontally like a normal airplane. Developed over a period of four years, U-Lion is equipped with wings that can be fully retracted or expanded, to best support stability in the various flight modes. In addition, U-Lion can fly autonomously, including vertical take-off and landing, cruise flight, and transitions. The researchers achieved optimal performance in both flying modes by designing U-Lion in tail-sitter configurations with reconfigurable wings and vectoring thrust. They say U-Lion can adopt different flying modes based on mission requirements, and will adjust the wings to achieve optimal performance. This ability enables U-Lion to fly much longer than traditional UAVs and to possess greater maneuverability compared to fixed-wing models.

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Flexible Electronic Devices With Roll-to-Roll Overmolding Technology
VTT Technical Research Center
March 28, 2017


Researchers from the VTT Technical Research Center of Finland have demonstrated the suitability of a flexible in-molded light-emitting diode (LED) foil-in roll-to-roll process for highly cost-effective manufacturing of products such as flexible LED displays containing printed electronics. The roll-to-roll technique enables electronics to be printed on a plastic or elastomeric foil, which has a range of benefits including thinness, lightness, elasticity, and transparency. "This enables the mass manufacture of small-sized, easy-to-use, flexible electronics in a cost-effective manner," says VTT researcher Sami Ihme. The roll-to-roll overmolding of a printed electronic foil involves feeding an LED foil with a foilfeeder into a mold, which is where the overmolding is completed. In the first test of the overmolding of 186 LEDs, the researchers say they achieved a 100-percent yield.

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Harvard Launches Data Science Initiative
Harvard Crimson
Mia C. Karr; Akshitha Ramachandran
March 29, 2017


Harvard University's just-launched Data Science Initiative is a university-wide program designed to encourage cross-discipline collaboration among data scientists. "It will facilitate cross-fertilization in both teaching and research, paving the way to methodological innovations and to applications of these new tools to a wide range of societal and scientific challenges," says Harvard University Provost Alan M. Garber. Under the guidance of Harvard professors Francesca Dominici and David C. Parkes, the initiative seeks to empower and enable junior faculty and postdoctoral fellows focusing on data science to make impactful gains in their respective fields of research. "The goal is to make the existing departments stronger and more competitive to hire the best possible talent," Dominici says. "By having a cross-discipline platform, the goal is to facilitate and empower these departments to hire better candidates."

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A robotic hand tipping over a chess piece Computers Learn to Cooperate Better Than Humans
Science
Jackie Snow
March 28, 2017


Computers have for the first time trained themselves to cooperate in games in which the goal is to achieve the best possible outcome for all players. Brigham Young University professor Jacob Crandall and colleagues brought humans and computers together to play digital versions of chicken, prisoner's dilemma, and a third collaborative game called "alternator." Teams consisted of two people, two computers, or one human and one computer. Twenty-five different machine-learning algorithms were tested, but no one algorithm was capable of collaborating. The researchers then imbued communicative ability among the computers by adding 19 prewritten phrases to be sent back and forth between partners after each term. Over time, the computers had to learn the phrases' definition in the context of the game. The S# algorithm learned to cooperate with its partner in a few turns, and the machine-only teams cooperated at a higher rate than humans by the end of the game.

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Microsoft Encourages Girls to Study STEM
U.S. News & World Report
Anzish Mirza
March 27, 2017


Microsoft's recently unveiled #MakeWhatsNext campaign concentrates on the aspirations of girls in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. "We want to challenge and encourage girls to stay in STEM so that they are empowered to solve the problems they care about most, from finding solutions to climate change to curing cancer and beyond," says Microsoft Philanthropies' Mary Snapp. The #MakeWhatsNext campaign estimates only 6.7 percent of women graduate with STEM degrees, and Snapp cites "a lack of female role models young girls see in the day-to-day, unequal access to computer science education, and cultural stereotypes" as contributing factors to the STEM gender gap. Cindy Kohlleppel, a National Center for Women & Information Technology Aspirations in Computing (NCWIT) award winner, says Microsoft programs such as DigiGirlz encouraged her to study STEM-related subjects. DigiGirlz provides free technology education and interactive experiences in high schools throughout the world.

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New Machine Learning Program Recognizes Handguns in Even Low-Quality Video
Motherboard
Michael Byrne
March 25, 2017


Researchers from the University of Granada in Spain have developed a machine-learning program, called VGG-16, which can reliably detect handguns based on visual recognition and classification. The new system is capable of identifying guns from even low-quality YouTube footage in under a quarter-second. Machine learning facial-recognition systems have been successful because there are many millions of images of faces from which the systems can learn. However, the University of Granada researchers only had about 3,000 images of handguns. In recent years, other researchers created a technique called transfer learning, which involves the creation of visual-recognition models even when data is scarce. The VGG-16 model is based on a 1.28-million-image dataset known as ImageNet. By fine-tuning the VGG-16 model with the approximately 3,000 handgun images, the Granada researchers were able to create essentially new classes of objects.

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The Future of AI: 10 Scenarios IBM Is Already Working On
TechRepublic
Jason Hiner
March 23, 2017


A research team led by Michael Karasick at IBM Research is focused on using artificial intelligence (AI) to develop industrial-strength solutions, use people more efficiently, and improve time-to-value. Among the AI projects IBM is currently engaged in are better understanding unstructured PDFs and recognizing and flagging changing rules, laws, and obligations. Other areas of concentration include the automatic construction of film trailers by pairing video imagery with natural-language processing, cognitive assistants for data researchers that conduct large-scale data cleansing and natural-language data searching, speeding up operational research, and interpretation of medical imagery by training IBM's Watson system. In addition, IBM is developing chatbots that combine AI and natural-language processing to operate with "deep instance knowledge," as well as cognitive software to enhance DevOps. The scaling of deep learning is possibly the most wide-reaching focus area for IBM's AI projects, with the goal of boosting the connections that can be made and the speed of innovation.

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Protecting Web Users' Privacy
MIT News
Larry Hardesty
March 23, 2017


Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and Stanford University have developed Splinter, a new encryption system that disguises users' database queries so they reveal no private information. The new system splits up a query and distributes it across copies of the same database on multiple servers. The servers return results that make sense only when recombined according to a procedure that only the user knows. If at least one of the servers can be trusted, it is impossible for anyone other than the user to determine what query the servers executed. Splinter users a technique called function secret sharing, first described in 2015 by a trio of Israel computer scientists. The researchers found Splinter could return a result from a database with millions of entries in about a second.

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Robots Could Help Children Give Evidence in Child Abuse Cases
New Scientist
Timothy Revell
March 22, 2017


Researchers at Mississippi State University want to use robots to help question children in investigations of child abuse. Children can be very suggestible to saying what they think someone wants to hear, making it difficult for even specially trained police interviewers to stay neutral. The Mississippi State researchers think robots could reduce bias and lead to more reliable outcomes. Best-practice guidelines for police interviewers in child abuse cases include asking open-ended questions and maintaining neutral body language, facial expressions, and vocal tones. Although these techniques are often difficult for humans to maintain, robots will always follow the procedure, no matter the situation, according to Mississippi State's Cindy Bethel. In addition, robots could monitor a child in ways an interviewer cannot, using sensors to record body movement to determine if the child is upset or uncomfortable. The researchers presented their work this month at the ACM Conference on Human-Robot Interaction (HRI 2017) in Vienna, Austria.

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5 Burning Questions With New IETF Chair and Cisco Fellow Alissa Cooper
Network World
Michael Cooney
March 27, 2017


New Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) chair and Cisco Fellow Alissa Cooper lauds the IETF as "a very special place because of the standards work it has done in the past and how that work is affecting the growth and will impact the Internet in the future." Cooper foresees her primary challenges and goals as representing "to the rest of the world what the IETF consensus is on a topic, whether it be the design of IPv6 or the security of the DNS protocol or whatever the topic may be." Cooper cites developing standards technology around areas such as the Internet of Things, software-defined networking, and network function virtualization as continuing challenges for the group. "The IETF looks to build standards with some recognition of what the privacy impact would be but the technology needs to be used anywhere in the world," she notes.

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