Welcome to the January 8, 2016 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Microsoft, Rambus Collaborate on Quantum Computing
EnterpriseTech (01/05/16) George Leopold
Microsoft Research and Rambus have partnered on the development of future memory systems for next-generation quantum computers. The partners say memory needs are impelled by exploding system demand as real-time data usage grows. This "is driving the need to explore new high-performance, energy-efficient computer systems," notes Rambus Labs vice president Gary Bronner. "By working with Microsoft on this project, we can leverage our vast expertise in memory systems to identify new architectural models." The companies have pledged to pool their resources to investigate future computing architectures that can improve memory capabilities for numerous future-use cases, as well as explore how memory technologies can raise overall system performance as data volumes soar and the list of data sources grows. Microsoft's research into quantum computing mainly concentrates on deployment and developing new applications based on the technology. The alliance with Rambus expands on previous work developing real-world quantum algorithms and designing software architectures for programming new algorithms on scalable quantum machines. Application development at Microsoft Research takes aim at technologies that include machine learning, scalable quantum computation, and cryptography.
Computer Scientists Launch Campaign to Guarantee Bug-Free Software
Princeton University (01/07/16) Doug Hulette
A multi-university consortium led by Princeton University computer scientist Andrew Appel aspires to stamp out software bugs with the help of a five-year, $10-million grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation. The goal of the Expeditions in Computing: The Science of Deep Specification (DeepSec) project is to develop integrated tools to eliminate uncertainty from software development, with implications for reshaping industry by bridging the chasm between researchers and educators. The team will initially focus on learning what factors determine how various computer elements interoperate. They then will devise "deep specifications" to enable engineers to build bugless programs as well as confirm they behave as intended. Appel says his work in an earlier project yielded a program that can accurately translate programming language into machine instructions, which are executable on a computer chip. "The logical next step is to connect verified components--compilers, operating systems, program analysis tools, processor architectures--so no bugs can creep in because of misunderstandings at component boundaries," he says. DeepSec will accomplish this by improving how specifications are written using formal logic. "But to test whether this approach is really an improvement, we need a big consortium with multiple components to connect together," Appel says.
Computing and Information Science Receives $10M Grant
Cornell Chronicle (01/07/16) George Lowery
Cornell University professor Carla Gomes, director of Cornell's Institute for Computational Sustainability, this week received a $10-million grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF). Gomes leads one of three Expeditions in Computing projects, each of which has been awarded $10 million over five years by NSF. Gomes' project will develop CompSusNet, a large international research network, which will explore new research directions in computational sustainability. CompSusNet will partner with 11 U.S. academic institutions and other key organizations in the areas of conservation, poverty mitigation, and renewable energy. "Research will focus on cross-cutting computational topics such as optimization, dynamical models, big data, machine learning, and citizen science, applied to sustainability challenges," Gomes says. She says advances in computational sustainability could produce new strategies for helping herders and farmers in Africa, save endangered species, and scale renewables up to meet 21st-century energy demand. "The Expeditions in Computing program enables the computing research community to pursue complex problems by supporting large project teams over a longer period of time," notes NSF's Jim Kurose.
Project to Engineer Cells that Compute Awarded $10M NSF Grant
Boston University (01/07/16) Michael G. Steele
Boston University professor Douglas Densmore is using a $10-million U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) "Expeditions in Computing" grant to lead the Living Computing Project, a comprehensive effort to quantify synthetic biology via a computer-engineering approach to create a toolbox of carefully measured and cataloged biological parts. The parts will enable the synthetic biology field to better understand what computing principles can be applied repeatedly and reliably to synthetic biology. Densmore will lead a team of researchers from Boston University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Lincoln Laboratory over the course of the five-year grant. "We want to build a foundation that's well understood, built to use software tools, and that can serve as an open source starting place for many advanced applications," Densmore says. His research has focused on applying the kinds of tools used in computer engineering to synthetic biology, and the NSF grant will enable an expansion of that research. "This puts a stake in the ground to make synthetic biology more rigorous," Densmore says. "We're trying to build a library based on computing principles for the whole community, an open source repository of biological pieces that use those principles reliably, repeatedly, and with broad applicability."
New Internet of Things Research Hub Announced
Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (01/06/16)
Britain is creating a new interdisciplinary Research Hub to drive research in the Internet of Things (IoT). The Hub is a consortium of nine universities led by University College London (UCL), which will spend the next three years exploring key issues in privacy, ethics, trust, reliability, acceptability, and security (PETRAS). UCL, Imperial College London, Lancaster University, Cardiff University, and the universities of Oxford, Warwick, Southampton, Surrey, and Edinburgh will receive substantial support from more than 47 partners from industry and the public sector. The research will focus on challenges associated with IoT, including the interactions, policy and governance, beliefs, and behaviors between people and IoT systems. The Hub is backed by grants from the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and industry partners. "By harnessing our world-leading research excellence, this PETRAS Research Hub will accelerate IoT technology innovation and bring benefit to society and business," says EPSRC CEO Philip Nelson. The first 17 projects include large-scale experiments at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, the cybersecurity of low-power body sensors and implants, understanding how individuals and companies can increase IoT security via better day-to-day practices, and ensuring connected smart meters are not a threat to home security.
Artificial Intelligence: A Force for Good or Evil?
Imperial College London (01/05/16) Nancy W. Mendoza
In an interview, Imperial College London (ICL) professor Murray Shanahan discusses his work with the Leverhulme Center for the Future of Intelligence, which will explore the opportunities and challenges of artificial intelligence (AI) and its possible ramifications for mankind. "I'm compelled to look at what AI might mean from a social and a philosophical point of view," Shanahan notes. He says a smart AI will likely obey an instruction to fulfill a specific goal, which it can do by studying the problem from various perspectives. However, Shanahan warns of unexpected side-effects. He says ICL's participation in the center concerns the transparency of decision-making in intelligent machines to enable human intervention and supervision when necessary. Shanahan also notes the center will examine such innovations as driverless cars and autonomous weapons to articulate their various challenges and both malevolent and benevolent applications. In terms of long-term challenges, Shanahan raises the question of whether human-level cognition in AI will expand the "space of possible minds" to make AI a peer of humans and animals. "What might be the implications of that for rights or personhood of AI?" he asks.
Bug Eyes: Tiny Glasses Confirm 3D Vision in Insects
Newcastle University (UK) (01/07/16)
Newcastle University researchers have found the praying mantis uses stereopsis, or three-dimensional (3D) perception, for hunting. The researchers developed a specially designed insect cinema, and equipped the mantises with custom-made glasses with one blue and one green lens instead of the traditional red and blue lenses, because red light is poorly visible to mantises. "Despite their minute brains, mantises are sophisticated visual hunters which can capture prey with terrifying efficiency," says Newcastle professor Jenny Read. The research could lead to possible new algorithms for 3D depth perception in computers. In the experiments, the mantises were shown short videos of simulated bugs moving around a computer screen. The insects did not try to catch the bugs when they were displayed in two dimensions, but when the bugs were shown in 3D, apparently floating in front of the screen, the mantises struck out at them. The researchers note this proves mantises do use 3D vision. The researchers say they will continue examining the algorithms used for depth perception in insects to better understand how human vision evolved and to develop new ways of adding 3D technology to computer systems.
Former AAAI Chair Discusses Future of AI Research and What's Coming Up at AAAI Next Month
TechRepublic (01/06/16) Hope Reese
University of Maryland, Baltimore County professor Marie desJardins, a former chair of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI), says in an interview her main research focus is interactive AI. She describes the field as an area where "you're really trying to have human beings work in partnership with the computer to solve some problems," and cites decision support as a critical function. "The system is helping to analyze the problem and point out possible paths of action, identify contingencies in case of failure, have backup plans in case something goes wrong, draw attention to things that maybe are going off track as you carry out the plan, and find opportunities for either using resources more efficiently or combining tasks to make things faster," desJardins says. She notes she wants to solve practical problems with AI instead of predicting how the technology could shape humanity. "If we have a computer program that behaves like a really great administrative assistant who's pleasant and we can talk to and get things done and we feel they care about us, what difference does it make whether they're self-aware or not?" desJardins asks. Near-future AI trends she foresees include the deployment of self-driving vehicles, and personalized medicine and education enhanced with AI.
Cryptographers Honored With Levchin Prize at Real World Cryptography Conference
The Stanford Daily (01/06/16) Augustine Chemparathy
University of California, Davis professor Phillip Rogaway and the international miTLS research team on Wednesday received the inaugural Levchin Prize for Real World Cryptography during the Real World Cryptography Conference (RWCC), which was held at Stanford University. A steering committee composed of researchers from universities worldwide selected Rogaway for his work on authenticated and format-preserving encryption. The international miTLS research team received the honor for developing miTLS, a reference implementation of the Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocol, which provides added security to communications over computer networks. Rogaway and the international miTLS research team each received $10,000 for their work on cryptography. Max Levchin, co-founder of PayPal and CEO of Affirm, established the prize in 2015 to honor cryptography researchers and bring greater public visibility to the field. He believes computer security would benefit from greater integration of cryptography into high school and undergraduate computer science curricula.
NYU Researcher's 'Time Machine' for Analyzing Computer Code Honored By R&D Magazine
New York University (01/05/16)
New York University Tandon School of Engineering professor Brendan Dolan-Gavitt has developed the Platform for Architecture-Neutral Dynamic Analysis (PANDA), an open source tool built on the Quick Emulator (QEMU) system, a whole-system emulator that enables researchers to run complex software in a safe "sandbox" environment and record the system in action. "When we run a piece of software in PANDA, we can record everything and view it as many times as we want," Dolan-Gavitt says. "It's almost like having magical powers." Dolan-Gavitt thinks PANDA could be especially useful to researchers studying malware because malicious software is, by its nature, ephemeral and difficult to trace. However, PANDA can isolate the malware, making it possible to endlessly play and replay the code. Researchers already have used PANDA to identify vulnerabilities in the digital rights management systems used on Spotify, and to uncover censorship mechanisms in an Asian instant-messaging service. The technology was honored by its inclusion in the R&D 100, an annual roundup of top technology breakthroughs published by R&D Magazine.
School in Silicon Valley Aims to Train More Software Engineers
Government Computer News (01/04/16) Bianca Spinosa
Industry veterans from Apple, Docker, and LinkedIn have launched a software engineering school in Silicon Valley designed to encourage more women to pursue technology careers and to help meet the nationwide shortage of information technology talent. The Holberton School plans to be an alternative to both colleges and coding boot camps, training students to become software engineers in two years. The school will use a project-based, peer-learning system modeled after the European Institute of Technology in France. "We believe we offer a program that is a very good alternative to college for a lot of people--who like us when we were students--found school boring and did not want to sit for hours in amphitheaters, but rather spend most of their time creating and building applications," says Holberton School co-founder Julien Barbier. Students will take classes on-site at the school, where they will work with mentors and learn from each other doing group-based projects. The admissions process consists of a three-tiered system. The first level tests a prospective student's ability to read a problem and solve it, the second level involves a project, and the third is an interview. The school is getting much of its funding from venture capitalists. The inaugural class, which starts this month, includes 32 students who will attend the school tuition-free.
The 'Internet of Touch' Will Require a Network Revolution
The Stack (UK) (01/04/16) Martin Anderson
Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) researchers are proposing changes both in the way haptic information is transmitted and received, and in leveraging 5G's multiplexing capabilities to enable near-real-time feedback without the high overhead of a Transmission Control Protocol approach or the unreliability of a system based on the User Datagram Protocol. "A fundamental challenge in context of the Tactile Internet is the development of a standard haptic codecs family, similar to the state-of-the-art audio (ITU-T H.264) and video (ISO/IEC MPEG-4) codecs," the researchers note. "Embracing both kinesthetic as well as tactile information, such a codec family would be a key enabler for scalability at the network edge and universal uptake." The researchers say the feasibility of a reliable haptic network is facilitated by 5G networks' versatility, specifically via the use of Network Function Virtualization and Software Defined Networking (SDN). The "network function can be managed as a software module that can be deployed in any standard cloud computing infrastructure," they report. "On the other hand, SDN provides an architectural framework wherein control and data planes are decoupled, and enables direct programmability of network control through software-based controllers."
Meet the Woman Leading the Race to Build the World's First Quantum Computer
The Guardian (01/01/16) Melissa Davey
The University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia continues to make strides in developing the world's first practical quantum computer. In October, researchers demonstrated calculations between silicon bits for the first time, and a month later demonstrated a quantum version of computer code could be written on a silicon microchip, doing so at the highest level of accuracy recorded. "Now, we're aiming to build the first quantum integrated circuit, which we're aiming for by 2020," says Michelle Simmons, director of UNSW's Center of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology. "Beyond that, we must do error correction, so that if errors come into the chip, you can run multiple processes in parallel to eliminate those errors--and that error correction will take another five years or so." Simmons notes it has now been proven that quantum states can be controlled at the fundamental level. "The big killer is, at what point do we build a processor big enough that it's faster than a classical computer?" she says. "That means moving away from small-scale models to integrated processing devices and prototypes."
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