Welcome to the April 11, 2016 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Tech Companies Help Women Get Back to Work
The Wall Street Journal (04/10/16) Georgia Wells
Major technology companies as well as startups are leveraging internships and other programs to help women return to work and update their skills to use the latest technologies they need to be competitive. "The war for talent is so extreme that we're seeing CEOs sitting around, saying, 'Who have we not gone after? Maybe we need to find women who are at home with kids?'" says Frederickson Pribula Li CEO Valerie Frederickson. The tech industry is confronted with a shortfall of qualified job candidates, and companies looking for women who have been out of the workplace for a prolonged period say they are easier to hire because they face less competition. For example, IBM started an alumni network of former employees to help women return to work at the company. The Center for Talent Innovation estimates almost 90 percent of such women attempt to resume their careers, yet only 40 percent obtain full-time jobs. In addition, about 25 percent of women who attempt to resume their careers accept part-time jobs. Initiatives to bring such women up to speed include GSVlabs' Reboot Career Accelerator for Women, an eight-week program that teaches skills such as design thinking, shared calendars, and personal branding. Through such efforts, tech companies are striving to correct the endemic underrepresentation of women in the industry.
Silicon Valley Could Gain $25 Billion by Narrowing Gender Gap
TechCrunch (04/07/16) Megan Rose Dickey
Closing the gender gap could net Silicon Valley $25 billion in gross domestic product (GDP) by 2025, according to a new McKinsey study. In comparison to other metropolitan areas, Silicon Valley could improve in overall gender parity, with McKinsey reporting the Valley has a gender parity score of 0.57 versus 0.69 in San Francisco and 0.61 in New York. In terms of single mothers, Silicon Valley is the best performing metropolitan statistical area in California, and San Francisco has a substantial opportunity to boost women's presence in the workforce. There currently are only 80 women for every 100 men in the San Francisco labor pool. Narrowing the gender gap at the California state level could lead to a $272-billion gain in GDP by 2025, while achieving full gender parity could increase GDP $648 billion by 2025. Nationally, the country could add $2.1 trillion in 2025 GDP by closing the gender gap in work, and national gender parity would elevate that figure to $4.3 trillion. McKinsey analyst Kweilin Elligrud says the dual purpose of the report is to spur government, businesses, and nonprofits to proactively work toward gender equality, and to "bring more people to the table to talk about this and act on this."
Using Data From Social Networks to Understand and Improve Systems
MIT News (04/07/16) Stefanie Koperniak
The Institute for Data, Systems, and Society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is pursuing research merging social science with data processing and analysis. Researchers are examining interactions and dynamics over large networks of interconnected individuals with the aim of understanding how ideas evolve over networks, quantifying the influence of individuals in the networks, and making better predictions. At the heart of efforts to unravel some of the complexities and implications of social networks is "connection science," which is an attempt to create a link between data, real-world situations, and theory. "Out of this, comes the notion of the 'living lab;' rather than having something happen and we record data and only then try to fit theories to it, we're looking at something that is ongoing, living," explains Alex Pentland, director of MIT's Human Dynamics Laboratory. "We can interact with it to understand it better." One initiative, involving the design of mobile phone software, enabled Pentland's team to identify communication patterns that indicate effective collaboration, providing insight into the chemistry of high-performing groups.
A Fleet of Self-Driving Trucks Rumbles Across Europe
Computerworld (04/07/16) Lucas Mearian
A fleet of about 12 self-driving trucks from six manufacturers for the first time completed a trip across parts of Europe this week to meet a challenge hosted by the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment. The caravan traveled from manufacturing facilities in Belgium, Denmark, Germany, and Sweden to the port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands. A semi-trailer from Volkswagen's Scania subsidiary traveled furthest, more than 2,000 miles across four national borders. The autonomous trucking technology includes a vehicle-to-vehicle communications system from NXP Semiconductors called RoadLINK. It employs wireless communications plus NXP radar technology so trucks in a convoy can securely exchange information in real time and automatically brake and speed up in response to the lead truck. The high speed of communication and responsiveness of the autonomous system enabled very close distances and synchronous driving between the platooning trucks. The trucks are networked with Wi-Fi so they can brake faster than a human driver could. Navistar International's Darren Gosbee says the European event is a significant milestone, but widespread use of autonomous truck fleets requires more development, especially in terms of redundancy and failure mitigation.
Moore's Law's Ultraviolet Savior Is Finally Ready
Technology Review (04/07/16) Katherine Bourzac
Factories operated by Intel, Samsung, and other companies are testing a tool that could offset the deceleration of Moore's Law. Companies have pushed the existing lithography technology to the limits, as the latest generation of chips use multiple patterning steps for each layer in a chip, and each step adds time, complexity, and expense. The use of shorter-wavelength extreme-ultraviolet (EUV) light would bring some relief, and the Dutch chip-making-equipment company ASML announced it has overcome the biggest technological hurdle to implementing the technology. Advances in plasma and laser physics, as well as a better understanding of the materials involved, enabled ASML to make the light source brighter. A laser is used to heat up a droplet of tin and turn it into plasma, and as it cools it emits EUV light. The addition of a pre-pulse step has made conversion five times more efficient. The first pulse shapes the tin into a pancake that is better at absorbing the energy from the second pulse. With brighter light, the manufacturing speed doubles, and although it is still slower than existing technology, current technology will slow down in the coming years. Industry leaders are optimistic the technology could be used in high-volume chip manufacturing as early as 2018.
Turning Cities Into Innovation Engines
Research@SMU (04/08/16) Sim Shuzhen
Singapore Management University (SMU) professor Rajesh Balan has a vision for driving innovation by leveraging connectivity via mobile computing for social good. "I see a future where everyone is connected with everyone else, and where those connections can be used to improve society as a whole," Balan says. He and fellow SMU professor Archan Misra founded the SMU LiveLabs Urban Lifestyle Innovation Platform as a mobile-based behavioral testbed for such technologies. One of Balan's early projects concerned building a real-time trip information system for a Singapore taxi service, with the ability to search a massive database of historical data so it could predict the duration of any taxi trip to within one minute, and the fare to within 50 cents. The system also accounted for factors such as traffic conditions and Singapore's taxi fare structure. LiveLabs currently is the site of trials for many diverse mobile technologies, ranging from detecting the whereabouts of free tables and chairs in a library to automatic tracking of food consumption using a smartwatch to peer-to-peer mobile gaming that enables train commuters to play games with each other without using data networks. Balan says the exploitation of mobile connectivity will enable a near-future concept in which "each individual will play a much stronger role in the welfare and upkeep of their environment."
Italians, Helped by an App, Translate the Talmud
The New York Times (04/05/16) Elisabetta Povoledo
The first-ever Italian translation of the Babylonian Talmud has been completed after five years of work by an army of scholars, linguists, philologists, editors, and computer scientists. The completion of "Project Talmud" was celebrated at a presentation at the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei by Riccardo Di Segni, Rome's chief rabbi and chairman of the translation committee. "There is now a group of scholars of the Talmud that speak the Italian language," he notes. "These pages are now part of Italian history." The Babylonian Talmud encompasses 5,422 pages written in Hebrew and Aramaic. Funding for Project Talmud was provided by Italy's national government, and participating in the project were the Ministry of Education and the Italian Jewish community. Project director and professor Clelia Piperno put together the team of experts that handled the translation. "We were 12 at first, now we're more than 80," Piperno says. A collaborative Web application from the National Research Council's Institute for Computational Linguistics enabled dozens of translators to translate the Talmud concurrently. The "Traduco" app, which means "I translate" in Italian, supports translation of ancient texts using a multidisciplinary strategy that merges software engineering and computational linguistics. Emiliano Giovannetti with the institute's research unit says the project required an interpretive translation with explicative integrations.
UW Team Stores Digital Images in DNA--and Retrieves Them Perfectly
University of Washington News and Information (04/07/16) Jennifer Langston
Researchers at the University of Washington (UW) and Microsoft have developed a technique that could shrink the space needed to store digital data by encoding, storing, and retrieving data using DNA molecules. The UW researchers detailed how they successfully encoded digital data from four image files into the nucleotide sequences of synthetic DNA snippets, and also were able to reverse the process, retrieving the correct sequences from a larger pool of DNA and reconstructing the images without losing any information. DNA molecules have the potential to store information many millions of times more densely than existing technologies for digital storage, such as flash drives, hard drives, and magnetic and optical media. The DNA-based approach involves converting the long strings of binary code in digital data into the four basic building blocks of DNA sequences. The digital data is divided into pieces and stored by synthesizing a massive number of DNA molecules. To retrieve the stored data later, the researchers also encode numeric identifiers into the DNA sequences, and use Polymerase Chain Reaction techniques to help find the identifiers. "We are drawing from a diverse set of disciplines to push the boundaries of what can be done with DNA," says UW professor Karin Strauss.
Watch an Autonomous Fencing Drone Dodge Sword Attacks
Inverse (04/06/16) Jack Crosbie
Stanford University researcher Ross Allen specializes in training robots to dodge obstacles at high speeds. He notes much of his research is focused on quadcopters because they are one of the most adaptable, dynamic, and controllable platforms to develop collision-avoidance technology. "[Quadcopter drones] are a great research platform in that they're complex enough that they add all these challenges that researchers like to see," Allen says. His research is applicable to all robotic systems, but especially those that are fast-moving, or have behaviors they have to obey, such as cars. Allen demonstrates the new technology by swatting at it with a dueling sword. The autonomous dodging software, called real-time kinodynamic motion planning, can help vehicles or equipment navigate from point to point on a plotted course, while responding to obstacles as they appear. The software enables a delivery drone or self-driving car to swerve and avoid an obstacle and then automatically re-plot its course to find its way back on track. The software also could help autonomous boats, heavy robotic cranes, or spaceships react to small variables during complicated procedures, according to Allen.
As Election Nears, Candidate Language Gets Simpler
Futurity.org (04/07/16) Byron Spice
Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers recently conducted a study analyzing the readability of presidential candidates' speeches and found most use words and grammar typical of students in grades six through eight. The researchers used a readability model called REAP, which examines how often words and grammatical constructs are used at each grade level. A historical review of their word and grammar usage suggests Republicans Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio (who has since suspended his campaign), and Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders—have been using simpler language as the campaigns have progressed, with Trump tending to lag behind the others. A comparison of this year's candidates with previous presidents found none of them match up to Abraham Lincoln, who used 11th grade grammar in his speeches, while the grammar of President George W. Bush was at a 5th grade level. "Assessing the readability of campaign speeches is a little tricky because most measures are geared to the written word, yet text is very different from the spoken word," says CMU researcher Maxine Eskenazi. Trump and Clinton's speeches showed the greatest variation, suggesting they may work harder than the others in tailoring speeches to particular audiences, notes Eskenazi.
U-M, IBM Collaborate on Data-Centric High Performance Computing System
University of Michigan News Service (04/06/16) Dan Meisler
The University of Michigan (U-M) is collaborating with IBM to develop and deliver real-time data-centric supercomputing systems. IBM and U-M researchers designed a computing resource called ConFlux to enable high-performance computing clusters to communicate directly and at interactive speeds with data-intensive operations. The project is hosted at U-M and establishes a hardware and software ecosystem to enable large-scale data-driven modeling of complex physical problems. In an internal comparison test conducted by U-M, IBM's POWER8 system significantly outperformed a competing architecture by providing low-latency networks and a novel architecture that enables the integrated use of central and graphics processing units. One of U-M's initial projects will involve working with the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration to use cognitive techniques to simulate turbulence around aircraft and rocket engines. Large amounts of data from wind tunnel experiments and simulations will be used to form computing models for predicting the aerodynamics around new configurations of an aircraft wing or engine. Studies also are planned to examine how clouds interact with atmospheric circulation, the origins of the universe and stellar evolution, and predictions of the behavior of biologically inspired materials.
5 Ways Cyber Experts Think the FBI Might Have Hacked the San Bernardino iPhone
IEEE Spectrum (04/05/16) Amy Nordrum
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) says it has turned to a third party to break into the San Bernardino shooter's passcode-protected iPhone 5C. Experts say the easiest approach to achieve this is exploiting a vulnerability in iOS 9, the version of Apple's operating system installed on the phone. Using a zero-day exploit, a hacker could potentially switch off functions that prevented the FBI's entry, including a built-in delay that prohibits a user from trying too many incorrect password combinations at once. Once a security hole is identified, there are many ways to deploy a bug to take advantage of it. The iPhone 5C also contains an A6 chip that features both processors and RAM, so investigators could tamper with the physical line of communication that carries password recovery instructions between the two. Another approach is to use a replay or reset attack on the memory chip, which is protected by NAND. Another method to break into the iPhone could be to extract the handset's unique ID, which could be used to decode an iPhone's memory. Finally, in a side-channel attack, experts can use specialized tools to monitor such properties as power consumption, acoustic capabilities, electromagnetic radiation, or the time it takes for a specific component to complete a task and use the data to infer what is happening inside a device.
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