Welcome to the December 23, 2015 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
U.S. Expects Drop in Programming Jobs, but Gains in IT Jobs Overall
Computerworld (12/22/15) Patrick Thibodeau
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is expecting a 12-percent gain in information technology (IT) jobs over the next 10 years, but programming jobs will contract as more work is outsourced to lower-wage countries, according to the biennial update of the Occupational Outlook Handbook. BLS anticipates an 8-percent decline in computer programming jobs over the next decade. Meanwhile, the bureau forecasts software developer jobs will climb 17 percent over the same period. Programmers' primary concentration on coding and implementing requirements may make them more vulnerable to offshoring, while software developers may be more focused on business, needs analysis, and collaboration. The U.S. National Science Foundation estimated the U.S. awarded some 48,000 computer science bachelor degrees in 2012, which is about the same as the number of jobs all computer occupations will grow by annually. However, not all occupations need a bachelor of science degree; for example, there currently are 767,000 computer support specialists in the country, for which an associate's degree or some post-secondary education may be sufficient. According to an Economic Policy Institute study, slightly more than one third of IT employees lack four-year college degrees, while only 38 percent of those who have such degrees have them in math or computer science.
Legacy Voting Machines Ripe for Tampering, Breakdowns
Government Computer News (12/22/15) Derek Major
Nearly every U.S. state is using electronic touchscreen and optical-scan voting systems that are at least a decade old, while six states employ machines at least 15 years old, according to a Wired article. SRI International computer scientist Jeremy Epstein wrote a report earlier this year on why the Virginia State Board of Elections decertified AVS WinVote touchscreen Direct Recording Electronic voting machines. Recurrent crashes and other problems were cited by the Virginia Information Technology Agency (VITA) in a study that uncovered a host of issues, including easily guessable and unchangeable encryption keys, a lack of patching since 2004, a weak set of controls, and only marginal physical safeguards against tampering for physical connections. Since the VITA report, some firms have created updated systems and protections to help voters sign and vote faster and more securely. Blockchain Technologies aims to replace existing systems with secure, open source voting machines that use block chain, which would employ quick response codes to represent a block chain address, the ballot ID, and the election ID. Meanwhile, Microsoft is using its tablets and cloud technology in certain elections. For example, a mobile-enabled system built on Microsoft Azure will be utilized by Iowa precincts to report their voting results on caucus night in 2016.
Teaching Machines to See: New Smartphone-Based System Could Accelerate Development of Driverless Cars
University of Cambridge (12/21/15) Sarah Collins
Two technologies developed by University of Cambridge researchers that apply deep learning to machine vision could be used to develop automated cars and autonomous robotics. The complementary systems can orient a user's location in areas outside of global-positioning system (GPS) coverage, and identify the features of a road scene in real time on a regular camera or smartphone. The SegNet system can take an unfamiliar image and accurately classify it, sorting objects into multiple categories in real time while also contending with light, shadow, and nighttime settings. SegNet was trained on 5,000 images in which each pixel was diligently labeled by developers. For driverless vehicles, SegNet addresses the question of enabling the vehicle to determine its surroundings, while a separate system tackles the challenge of localization via the use of images. The system can pinpoint the whereabouts of a user and ascertain their orientation from a single color image in a busy urban scene, offering greater accuracy than GPS. It also can function indoors, in tunnels, or in cities where a reliable GPS signal is unavailable. The solution employs the geometry of a scene to infer its precise location, and co-developer Alex Kendall notes, "this is the first time this has been done using deep learning."
China Set for Quantum Leaps in Spook-Proof Communications
South China Morning Post (Hong Kong) (12/19/15) Chow Chung-yan; Stephen Chen
China is on schedule to launch the world's biggest spook-proof quantum communications system in the next six months. Project chief scientist Pan Jianwei says the network will stretch 2,000 kilometers (over 1,200 miles) from Beijing to Shanghai, and will be the longest and most extensive quantum communications system in the world. The project's applications will be experimental and small scale at first, but the quantum communications network could eventually cover Hong Kong. "We hope the Chinese network can be extended to cover the whole globe in one or two decades," Jianwei says. He notes the research team is working with Alibaba, ZTE, and other Chinese tech companies to commercialize the technology, and potential non-government clients include banks, financial institutes, and research centers. China has been investing heavily in developing quantum technology. Beijing plans to send the world's first quantum communications satellite into space in June, and a Chinese quantum computer could match the power of Tianhe 2, the world's fastest supercomputer, in some areas in five years, according to Jianwei. Tsinghua University professor Luo Donggen says he is interested in quantum technology's applications in the life sciences, such as building artificial brains to model or even surpass human brains.
Southampton Links With Singapore to Address Cyberthreats
University of Southampton (United Kingdom) (12/21/15)
A collaboration between Britain's University of Southampton and Singapore's Nanyang Technological University (NTU) is expected to yield cybersecurity solutions for smart traffic control systems. Under the guidance of Southampton professor Nick Jennings, the project will examine human-agent collectives, in which people work in partnership with highly interconnected computational elements. Game theory also will be applied to discover and analyze major attack situations and concentrate on resource-limited online machine learning to develop real-time defensive measures. "With the increasing popularity of Internet of Things [IoT] technologies, there is a higher demand to make these systems more secure, in order to gain trust and acceptance from the wider communities," notes project coordinator Long Tran-Thanh. "As such, the success of our project would be a proof of concept that our cybersecurity solution could be efficiently applied to IoT systems." NTU professor Bo An says traffic systems are vital infrastructures whose high level of automation and computerization makes them desirable targets, and the combination of game theory and machine learning would flag suspicious activity ahead of time and help devise cyberattack mitigation mechanisms. The Southampton/NTU project is one of six new joint efforts between Britain- and Singapore-based scientists to address cyberthreats, funded by the UK's Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and Singapore's National Research Foundation.
How Twitter Bots Turn Tweeters into Activists
Technology Review (12/18/15) Signe Brewster
A recent Microsoft study details the use of Twitter bots to engage Twitter users with political activism. The researchers, including West Virginia University professor Saiph Savage, were inspired to use Twitter bots by Latin American politicians. In one example, Mexican politicians used Twitter bots to drown out public outrage over the disappearance of a group of students in 2014. The researchers wondered if Twitter bots could be tuned to more pro-social tasks. They created different kinds of bots that tweeted various messages at Twitter users who tweeted phrases such as "corruption" and "impunity." The bots tweeted different types of requests for people to take action and tried to organize volunteers. Forty-five percent of all contact efforts by the bots were met with a response, but direct requests for participation had a reply rate of 81 percent. Twitter users also were more likely to respond if the bots acted more like bots, with the reply rate plummeting if the bots tried to adopt a more human tone. The research resulted in a system called Botivist, which is being used by partner groups such as PETA, climate change activists, and workers' rights activists in Mexico.
Protecting Data Against the Threats of Tomorrow
Ruhr-University Bochum (Germany) (12/18/15) Julia Weiler
Researchers in Germany say they have identified cryptographic techniques that can be used to secure computing devices from attackers using quantum computers. Highly powerful quantum computers may exist in a few years, says University of Bremen professor Tim Guneysu. During their research at Ruhr University in Bochum, Guneysu and colleagues used primarily alternative representations of cryptographic techniques that, for example, introduce additional structures aiming at reducing the key size. Post-quantum cryptography techniques require extremely long cryptographic keys, and that has been a challenge, according to the researchers. For the "Post-Quantum Cryptography" project, the Ruhr University in Bochum's Hardware Security Group also optimized the algorithms for the respective target platform. Depending on the techniques used, the researchers were able to merge complex steps with other computations or even omit them completely, without reducing the security margin of the cryptographic scheme. The researchers note the techniques can be implemented in microdevices such as electronic health cards.
Improving Machine Learning With an Old Approach
Duke University News (12/21/15) Grayson York
Duke University professor Rong Ge has designed a machine-learning algorithm that he says works well across many datasets, instead of only a specific dataset, by leveraging the imprecision of a common algorithm called stochastic gradient descent. Typically, this algorithm is used to accelerate a slow learning process by only approximating the right solution instead of working harder to get precision. Ge and colleagues learned a small amount of "noise" generated by the algorithm enables it to transcend a "saddle point" on the function the stochastic gradient is trying to optimize, which resembles a sine wave. Ge's experimental results tie into unsupervised learning, which often suffers from "clustering," in which the algorithm tries to identify clusters of points that are similar to each other while differing from the other points in the dataset. The algorithm then labels each of the clusters it has found and delivers its solution to the coder. A key requirement for the final outcome of the algorithm to be right is the two slopes terminate at low points of equal depth, representing optimal solutions. The results are guaranteed to hold provided the dataset is not supplied by someone who has designed it to break the algorithm, which then makes the dataset "NP hard" and virtually impossible to solve.
Online Hackathon Challenges You to Fix World's Biggest Urban Issues
Network World (12/20/15) Bob Brown
Developers from around the world have until Dec. 31 to register for an online Smart Cities hackathon in January organized by TiE Silicon Valley. Scheduled for Jan. 11-31, the hackathon will challenge developers to solve real-world issues--smart parking, waste management, and water management--that stem from urbanization. The challenges call for developers to help countries efficiently identify, gather, and transport solid waste to landfills and prevent random dumping, create apps that help improve water access, and help manage parking spaces and pricing in order to optimize revenue. The challenges potentially involve Internet of Things (IoT) solutions. Participants can use any language or platform, and the servers and simulators for the IoT sensors and other technologies will be provided by TiE, a nonprofit that supports entrepreneurship in the Bay Area and beyond. Winners will be invited to attend TiECon 2016 in May in Santa Clara, CA, and will have an opportunity to win prizes.
Making Mobile Health Effective and Secure
National Science Foundation (12/17/15) Aaron Dubrow
The U.S. National Science Foundation is funding a project that seeks to protect patients and preserve the confidentiality of medical data as paper health records move to electronic form. The Trustworthy Health and Wellness project conducts research related to mobile and cloud technology for health and wellness applications. In examining how common apps handle medical data, the project found a variety of vulnerabilities a malicious party could exploit to gain access to sensitive data. The team discovered many apps send sensitive information over the Internet in ways that are fundamentally insecure. In addition to the lack of security involving mobile health apps, the researchers discovered critical vulnerabilities in some healthcare environments, including hospitals, where workstations used by clinicians can be susceptible to unwarranted access. The Bilateral Recurring Authentication Conducted Effortlessly (BRACE) project is now developing a usable authentication method that would enable users to log into their terminals with familiar and quick actions. Dartmouth graduate student Shrirang Mare developed a potential wearable solution: a user wears a device such as a smart watch or fitness band while a terminal monitors wrist movements to know who is logged in, and when that person is finished. The team also is exploring techniques for usable authentication and automatic de-authentication for smartphones.
A Fish May Hold the Key to More Efficient Wireless Networks
UGA Today (12/18/15) Mike Wooten
Researchers at the University of Georgia (UGA) think the eigenmannia, a small South American fish, could hold the solution to radio frequency interference, a pressing problem as wireless networks become more ubiquitous. UGA professor Mable Fok says eigenmannia are able to "locate objects by generating an electric field and detecting distortions in the field." A neural circuit in the fish enables them to detect the frequency emitted by other fish and regulate their own electric field so it does not interfere with those of the fish around it. Fok and her colleagues believe this jamming avoidance response (JAR) could be used as a model for a system that would enable wireless networks to automatically detect surrounding networks and select an unused frequency if they detect interference. "If we can borrow the JAR circuit from the eigenmannia and replicate it in our communications frequency bands, then we can create a communications system that allows automated interference mitigation," Fok says. Along with graduate researcher Ryan Toole, Fok has designed an artificial neural model using photonics that mimics the function of the eigenmannia's JAR circuit. The next step is to build a physical prototype.
International Telecommunication Union, Georgia Tech Execute Agreement to Cooperate on Internet of Things Standards, Applications
Georgia Tech News Center (12/16/15)
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) have signed a memorandum of understanding to jointly monitor global Internet of Things (IoT) activities and collaborate on developing IoT standards. Georgia Tech president G.P. Peterson says the institution has a "proven track record of expertise" when it comes to IoT, including a significant background in "sensors, signal processing, cybersecurity, autonomous systems, and computer applications." The new initiative will primarily involve collaboration between ITU's Standardization Sector Study Group 20, which is focused on IoT technologies and their applications, and the Georgia Tech Center for the Development and Application of Internet of Things Technologies, a technological think tank focused on the challenges facing IoT. The agreement calls for the formation of a joint steering committee composed of two representatives each from Georgia Tech and the ITU Standardization Sector. Among the goals of the collaboration is engagement with standards groups and trade associations with interests in IoT and the planning of events such as conferences, workshops, and webinars that will deal with developing IoT standards. Developing these standards is another goal, as is promoting research and education related to IoT.
Graphene Proves a Perfect Fit for Wearable Devices
University of Manchester (12/17/15) Daniel Cochlin
University of Manchester researchers have developed a method for printing inexpensive, flexible, and wireless graphene communication devices directly into clothing and skin. The researchers say the technology demonstrates how graphene could be crucial to wearable electronic applications because it is highly conductive and ultra-flexible. They say the research could lead to smart, battery-free healthcare and fitness monitoring, phones, Internet-ready devices, and chargers that can be incorporated into clothing and "smart skin" applications. Graphene is perfect for the wearables market because of its broad range of applicable qualities. The Manchester researchers, led by Zhirun Hu, printed graphene to construct transmission lines and antennae and experimented with these in communication devices, such as mobile and Wi-Fi connectivity. They attached graphene-enabled antennae to each arm of a mannequin, and found the devices were able to "talk" to each other, effectively creating an on-body communications system. "This is a significant step forward--we can expect to see a truly all graphene-enabled wireless wearable communications system in the near future," Hu says. The researchers also think graphene conductive ink can be affordably mass-produced and printed onto various materials, including clothing and paper.
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