Welcome to the December 30, 2015 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Driverless Cars Are Colliding With the Creepy Trolley Problem
The Washington Post (12/29/15) Joel Achenbach
The infamous Trolley Problem raises the issue that programmers must decide how driverless vehicles can behave appropriately in life-threatening situations in which some decisions may cost more lives than others. In the case of self-driving cars, this scenario could take the form of the vehicle swerving to avoid pedestrians or cyclists at the risk of its occupants. "As we are about to endow millions of vehicles with autonomy, taking algorithmic morality seriously has never been more urgent," note the authors of a recent study. Adding to the challenge is the need for automated vehicles to be programmed to be sufficiently flexible in their actions to account for human motorists' quirks. Daniela Rus, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Artificial Intelligence lab, suggests avoiding the Trolley Problem altogether by giving driverless cars enough control and situational awareness to avoid collisions entirely. She thinks this might be accomplished by perception and planning systems supplemented by sensors that can spot non-line-of-sight obstacles. Meanwhile, the Washington Post's Matt McFarland urges overcoming people's fear of machines killing humans by realizing the odds of this happening are far lower than human drivers killing humans.
Workshop on 'Computer Vision for Healthcare Applications' Held
The Peninsula (Qatar) (12/30/15)
A workshop on "Computer Vision for Healthcare Applications" recently was conducted at Qatar University (QU), organized by the Kindi Center for Computing Research at the QU College of Engineering. The event gave college faculty and students an opportunity to meet experts and researchers and share their experience and concepts on developments in computer-based healthcare research. "The Kindi Center for Computing Research is investing thoroughly in healthcare applications to develop new programs and solutions for the field which is developing progressively," noted Kindi Center research director Qutaiba Malluhi. "In this context, the event reflects the center's mission to provide community and industry with new findings in computing research that meet the needs of users in their daily life." Presenters discussed subjects such as "Intelligent Position Monitoring System to Prevent Pressure Ulcers for Long-Term Bed-Ridden Patients," "Reconfigurable Computing for Medical Imaging Systems," "Locating and Profiling Cancer Cells in Solid Tumor Tissue Slides," "Automated Multichannel EEG Abnormality Detection for Improving Newborn Health Outcomes," and "Medical and Computer-Aided Approaches for the Diagnosis of Colorectal Cancer." "This...event...paves the way for dialogue on a topic that is of interest to the industry and healthcare sectors," said Computer Science and Engineering Department head Summaya Al Maadeed. "It also engages students to reflect on issues relevant to the community's needs and aspirations and find solutions to its everyday challenges."
UW Working on Device That Could Help the Paralyzed Move Again
The Seattle Times (12/29/15) Katherine Long
Researchers at the University of Washington (UW) Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering have received a four-year, $16-million grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) to create an implantable device that enables paralysis victims to move their limbs by interpreting their brain signals. The device would function by transmitting impulses between areas of the brain or nervous system where communication is blocked due to spinal-cord injury or stroke. The UW lab already has developed "bidirectional" devices, which can pick up and decode brain waves and send them to other parts of the nervous system. The goal is the creation of an artificial pathway that enables the signals to circumvent neural damage. Lab director Rajesh Rao says algorithms will need to be devised to decipher the brain signals and route the information to the appropriate bodily region, while the hardware must be embedded within neural tissue without being rejected or hindering operation. The center plans to have evidence that implanting such a system is feasible in animals and some human patients within five years. In addition, Rao says the NSF grant is underwriting studies on the ethical implications of such devices.
Disney's VertiGo Combines Car, Helicopter to Drive Up Walls
IEEE Spectrum (12/29/15) Evan Ackerman
Researchers at ETH Zurich and Disney Research have been developing multimodal robots that can move around a variety of terrains. Their latest invention is VertiGo, a lightweight, propeller-driven wheeled robot that can climb vertical walls. The four-wheeled robot is powered by a pair of steerable propellers, which can direct thrust along both pitch and roll axes. VertiGo moves around on the ground and climbs vertical walls by using its rear propeller to thrust against the wall while the front propeller thrusts upward. The propellers then push the robot against the wall as it drives around. Because it is actively being pushed against the wall, VertiGo can traverse walls with different textures, ranging from smooth to rough and even curved, while robots that use adhesion often can only cling to smoother surfaces. One of the keys to the robot's design is keeping it as light as possible. The researchers accomplished this by using lightweight carbon fiber and 3D-printed parts. Disney Research's Paul Beardsley suggests the robots could be used to carry lights "for entertainment effects or for wall games."
Researchers Advance Software-Defined Radio Technology
University of Electro-Communications (Japan) (12/29/15)
Japanese researchers from the University of Electro-Communications have developed the Appliance Defined Ubiquitous Network (ADUN) to deliver unlimited broadband radio-wave information to clients via a distribution server. The researchers built the networks by implementing virtualized wireless transceivers using cloud computing and the broadband Internet. During testing, the researchers found ADUN worked effectively as a scale-out solution to deliver radio space information, but large numbers of clients receiving information at any one time was limited by the number of physical central processing units (CPUs) in the distribution server. The researchers learned a CPU is needed for each client, and adding logical CPUs made little difference to performance. The researchers note this field of software-defined radio (SDR) technology has potential in future cognitive radio systems, as SDRs can comply with various wireless protocols without hardware modification. In addition, it may be possible to both virtualize the wireless transceiver and compensate for the instability of the wireless protocol on the receiving end, as well as to automatically launch the wireless transceiver corresponding to the signal. The researchers' findings have implications for the development of global networks of distribution servers that can deliver unlimited radio data to multiple clients at the same time, because limitations lie within the hardware instead of software.
Brain's Mysteries Involving Alzheimer's and "Brain Maps" Resolved
Jerusalem Post (12/28/15) Judy Siegel-Itzkovich
Neuroscientists at Hebrew University's Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences say they have developed an algorithm that could be used to analyze functional MRI (fMRI) brain scans for signs of Alzheimer's or other neurodegenerative diseases. It has long been known the brain uses topographic organization, with the brain forming "spatial computation" or "brain maps," in which similar functions are situated close to each other within the brain. The researchers found fMRI can be used to spot signs that these brain maps are being disturbed or disrupted due to brain disease. "Behavioral and functional neuroimaging examination of this system may therefore enable early detection of Alzheimer's disease far before clinical signs are evident, which is crucial for presentation of preventive treatment," says Shahar Arzy, director of Hebrew University's computational neuropsychiatry lab. The researchers developed an algorithm that can quantify the continuity of a patient's brain maps and show that pathological changes were reflected in changes to these maps. The researchers hope this method could be used diagnostically to identify patients with early Alzheimer's disease and have designed an Android app that can apply the test.
A New Metamaterial Will Speed Up Computers
Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (12/28/15) Valerii Roizen
Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology researchers have proposed a two-dimensional metamaterial consisting of silver elements that refracts light in an unusual way. The researchers say these structures could be used to develop compact optical devices and "invisibility cloaks." The researchers used computer simulations to show it would be a high-performance material for light with a wavelength of 400 to 500 nanometers, which represents violet, blue, and light blue on the color spectrum. The efficiency of the material, which in this case is defined as the percentage of light scattered in a desired direction, is approximately 70 percent for refraction and 80 percent for reflection of light. The researchers say the results can be applied to control optical signals in ultra-compact devices, such as optical transmission and information-processing technologies. An experimental demonstration of anomalous scattering using a lattice requires the development of smooth metal cylinders separated by less than 10 nanometers. The researchers note this is a very difficult practical problem, but the solution could be a breakthrough for modern photonics.
This Browser Upgrade Could Block Users in Developing Nations From Most of the Web
Technology Review (12/29/15) Signe Brewster
Starting Jan. 1, 2016, browsers will begin blocking access to websites that use the SHA-1 algorithm, with the goal of replacing it with the SHA-2 algorithm by 2017. Technology providers would like to allow users with SHA-2-incompatible devices to continue using SHA-1, while still phasing out SHA-1 for the rest of the world. When Internet users browse an encrypted website, the two-way exchange of information is protected in part by an encryption toll called a hash function. Since the mid-1990s, consumers' browsers have been protected by two primary hash functions: SHA-1 and the MD5 algorithm, which was retired in 2008 after researchers discovered serious security flaws. SHA-2 was released in 2001, which means users with older devices--predominantly low-cost feature phones used in developing nations in Asia and Africa--could be cut off from access to encrypted websites and not have the resources to upgrade. However, experts say interrupting these users' experiences could be good for the Web. "Using old software is dangerous; in addition to requiring broken cryptography, old software usually has other security problems that have been fixed in more current versions," says Mozilla's Richard Barnes.
Images and Codes Provide Alternative to Multiple Device Password Systems
Plymouth University (12/23/15) Alan Williams
Plymouth University researchers have developed GOTPass, a multi-level authentication system that uses images and a one-time numerical code to provide an alternative to multi-factor security methods dependent on hardware or software and one-time passwords. The researchers tested GOTPass against 690 hacking attempts and found only 23 successful break-ins. "The GOTPass system is easy to use and implement, while at the same time offering users confidence that their information is being held securely," says Plymouth University's Hussain Alsaiari. Users could set up a GOTPass system by choosing a unique username and drawing any shape on a 4x4 unlock pattern; they then would be assigned four random themes and be prompted to select one image from 30 in each. Going forward, every time a user logs in, they would enter their username and draw the pattern lock, with the next screen containing a series of 16 images, among which are two of their selected images, six associated distractors, and eight random decoys. Correctly identifying the two images would lead to the generated eight-digit random code located on the top or left edges of the login panel, which the user would then need to type in to gain access to their information.
University of Alberta Researchers Achieve Data Transfer Land Speed Record
Cantech Letter (12/22/15) Terry Dawes
University of Alberta researchers demonstrated a record-breaking data transfer speed of 928 Mbps at the recent SC15 supercomputing conference in Austin, TX, using Canada's National Research and Education Network (NERN) and an enterprise-class range extender that spreads InfiniBand across a wide area network. The researchers note the demonstration, which transferred data between Edmonton, Alberta, and Austin, Texas, represents a first-of-its-kind demonstration of InfiniBand technology over large distances. The file the researchers transferred was 300 GB of genetics research data provided by the University of Alberta's Department of Biological Sciences. The transfer sites in Edmonton and Austin were configured with a dedicated server and solid state driver rated to transfer data at a speed of 900 Mbps. CyberaNet, the Alberta component of NERN, also collaborated on the data transfer, along with the International Center for Advanced Research (iCAIR) and Compute Canada. "With the participation of iCAIR, they routed the network from Austin to Chicago, [Canada's Advanced Research and Innovation Network] routed it to the province of Alberta, and Cybera picked it up as our Alberta network provider," notes University of Alberta professor Paul Lu. The researchers relied on a 10 Gbps network connection on either end to move the 300 GB file across a distance of 3,500 kilometers in less than six minutes.
China Successfully Developed 'Darwin,' a Neuromorphic Chip Based on Spiking Neural Networks
Researchers from Zhejiang University and Hangzhou Dianzi University in China have developed the Darwin Neural Processing Unit (NPU), a neuromorphic chip based on Spiking Neural Networks. The Darwin NPU is a hardware co-processor designed to provide hardware acceleration of intelligent algorithms, with target application domain of resource-constrained, low-power embedded devices. The team fabricated the Darwin NPU with standard complementary metal-oxide semiconductor technology. The researchers note the development of Darwin demonstrates the feasibility of real-time execution of Spiking Neural Networks in resource-constrained embedded systems. Darwin supports the flexible configuration of a multitude of parameters of a neural network, and can be used to implement different functionalities as configured by the user. The technology has potential applications in intelligent hardware systems, robotics, and brain-computer interfaces. Darwin uses spikes for information processing and transmission, similar to biological neural networks, and the researchers say it may be suitable for analysis and processing of biological spiking neural signals, and building brain-computer interface systems by interfacing with animal or human brains.
LiU Researchers Reveal Security Hole
Linkoping University (12/21/15) Monica Westman Svenselius
Researchers at Linkoping and Stockholm universities found energy-time entanglement, the method that forms the basis for many systems of quantum cryptography, is vulnerable to attack, and this security hole could enable hackers to eavesdrop on data traffic without being detected. The energy-time entanglement technology for quantum encryption is based on testing the connection at the same time as the encryption key is created. Two photons are sent out at exactly the same time in different directions; at both ends of the connection is an interferometer where a small phase shift is added, a feature that provides the interference that is used to compare similarities in the data from the two stations. If the photon stream is being eavesdropped on there will be noise, which can be revealed using Bell's inequality, a theorem from quantum mechanics. However, if the connection is secure and free from noise, the remaining data can be used as an encryption key to protect the message. The researchers demonstrated if the photon source is replaced with a traditional light source, an eavesdropper can identify the key and read the message without detection. The Stockholm University researchers were then able to illustrate in practical experiments that it is possible to replace the light source and thus also eavesdrop on the message.
Wearing a Smartwatch Could Give Hackers Your PIN
Wired (12/21/15) Matt Burgess
Hackers could use the tiny movements of wrists and fingers, picked up by a smartwatch, to determine what smartwatch wearers are typing. A student at the IT University of Copenhagen who collected movement data from a Sony SmartWatch 3 reports he was able to determine what was being typed on an external keypad. Researcher Tony Beltramelli showed a user entering a numerical code and then decrypted what was typed from accessing the watch's gyroscope and accelerometers. Analyzing the data using machine-learning algorithms, which have been posted to GitHub, enabled patterns to be picked out from "unavoidably noisy data," according to Beltramelli. He warns hackers could potentially eavesdrop on what is being typed to steal passwords and other credentials, Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, and read messages. "The goal of this work is to raise awareness about the potential risks related to motion sensors built in wearable devices and to demonstrate abuse opportunities leveraged by advanced neural network architectures," Beltramelli says.
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