Welcome to the May 18, 2016 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
More Than 30 States Offer Online Voting, but Experts Warn It Isn't Secure
The Washington Post (05/18/16) Sari Horwitz
More than 30 states will be hosting online voting systems by the time of the U.S. presidential election, but experts warn such systems are still insecure and will likely continue to be for years to come. "Online voting in large scale...introduces great risk into the election system by threatening voters' expectations of confidentiality, accountability, and security of their votes and provides an avenue for malicious actors to manipulate the voting results," says Neil Jenkins with the Office of Cybersecurity and Communications at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Advocates of online voting cite its convenience and its potential to boost voter turnout, but Jenkins says these benefits are far outweighed by the risks, which include undetectable vote and election rigging, and privacy and confidentiality infringement if votes are intercepted or stolen from servers. Verified Voting president Pamela Smith supports more traditional voting, noting "when something is online, you don't have that physical record of voter intent." Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Ron Rivest says hackers, including foreign nations, could tamper with U.S. elections because states have no means of protecting their online voting systems. Last year, a Utah task force cited online voting's security risks as too high, noting although companies may accept security breaches "as the cost of doing business, an election cannot."
Middle-School Girls Are Pretty Good at STEM--So Why Are There So Few Women Working in Those Fields?
MarketWatch (05/17/16) Jillian Berman
Cultural notions about women's interest and competence in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields has no basis in reality, according to research conducted by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Its test involved 21,500 eighth-graders across the U.S. who were asked to tackle real-world technology and engineering challenges such as planning for a safer bike route. The test found 45 percent of eighth-grade girls were at least proficient at these tasks, versus 42 percent of their male counterparts. "Girls do better," says National Center for Education Statistics acting commissioner Peggy Carr. Middle-school girls appear to have less difficulty with engineering- and technology-related tasks, yet they comprise only a small portion of those who ultimately earn degrees or work in these disciplines, according to the American Society for Engineering Education. The researchers speculate this disparity may be attributable to girls' internalization of societal messages at a very young age that they are unsuitable for STEM fields. Even those who are passionate about engineering or biology can be confronted with discrimination and bias. Attempts to remedy this situation include efforts by nonprofits to teach girls programming, colleges pushing to swell their science ranks with women, and tech firms committing to workforce diversification.
Foreign Students Outpacing Americans for STEM Graduate Degrees
U.S. News & World Report (05/17/16) Alan Neuhauser
The number of U.S. citizens and permanent residents earning graduate degrees in science and engineering declined 5 percent between 2008 and 2014, while the number of students on temporary visas earning the same degrees climbed 35 percent, according to survey data collected by the U.S. National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. "It's a big concern: We bring a lot of students here, we train them, and then they leave," notes Project Lead the Way CEO Vince Bertram. Only 65,000 graduates are allocated H-1B work visas annually, and an additional 50,000 students and recent graduates get science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)-specific visas for on-the-job training. The remainder has to re-enroll in another academic program to stay in the U.S., or go back to their homelands. "We have to continue to expand our domestic pipeline of students going into these areas," Bertram says. The 2016 U.S. News/Raytheon STEM Index posted a 6-percent gain in the number of STEM-degree-earning graduate students last year, representing the largest growth area in the overall index, yet it implies "we might be importing more and more of our future STEM workforce," according to University of Texas at Austin professor Catherine Riegle-Crumb.
You Start 'Doing' Diversity by Using the Data
The Huffington Post (05/12/16) Brian Krzanich
The key to instilling true workplace diversity within the organization is data, according to Intel CEO Brian Krzanich. He cites a recent Intel/Dalberg Global Development Advisors study finding the correlation between workforce racial/ethnic diversity and financial performance is such the technology sector could generate a 20- to 22-percent increase in revenue if its workforces more fully mirrored the racial/ethnic diversity of the modern engineering talent pool. "Evolving diversity to be about both diversity and inclusion will play a central role in the continued proliferation of technology globally," Krzanich says. He recommends showing more diversity data--such as hiring rates, turnover, and pay parity--publicly, as transparency sparks action. Krzanich says public airing can debunk such myths as there not being sufficient eligible candidates in the pipeline to infuse diversity in large numbers, as well as unconscious bias. Moreover, this data should be immediately applied toward employee retention and development. "It's about looking at our corporate cultures and creating environments in which our people spend their energy solving complex and challenging problems, not struggling to fit in," Krzanich says. "It's about saving a valuable but disheartened employee from leaving by making meaningful changes in their job and environment."
We Know Where You Live
MIT News (05/17/16) Larry Hardesty
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Oxford University have demonstrated that snoopers armed with little in the way of sophisticated technology can expose the home and workplace addresses of Twitter users by exploiting the location stamps of only a handful of tweets. "We wanted to show...that when you send location data as a secondary piece of information, it is extremely simple for people with very little technical knowledge to find out where you work or live," says Ilaria Liccardi, a research scientist at MIT's Internet Policy Research Initiative. The researchers presented the tweet-associated time/location data as a static Google map, an animated map, and a table listing geographical coordinates, street names, and times of day. Study participants generally identified users' homes and workplaces correctly more often with the maps than with the table, while having five days' worth of data yielded more accurate guesses than having three or one. Although the default setting of Twitter's location-reporting service is deactivated, many users opt to turn it on. The researchers presented their work at last week's ACM CHI 2016 conference in San Jose, CA. Harvard University professor Latanya Sweeney says the research is valuable because it "shows people can learn sensitive information from seemingly innocuous facts, and...people will easily share information they believe is innocuous."
It's Coming! The Internet of Eyes Will Allow Objects to See
The Next Web (05/13/16) Evan Nisselson
Visual technology experts will discuss the Internet of Eyes (IoEyes) at the LDV Vision Summit scheduled for next week in New York City. The IoEyes is a network of cameras and visual sensors connected via the Internet enabling the collection and exchange of visual data on a scale unimaginable before. Different types of visual data from photographic, thermal, computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, x-ray, ultrasound, and white light will be combined with computer vision, machine learning, and artificial intelligence to deliver high-quality signals unlike anything seen previously. The IoEyes will empower and connect various inanimate objects, so everything from clothing to mirrors, refrigerators to buildings, and possibly the paint on walls will have the ability to see. Every inanimate object people interact with may not only have the ability to see, but also could improve people's lives. Dozens of tiny cameras and eventually nano cameras will soon be built into objects, providing devices the ability to see from every angle and in real time, according to experts. Virtual reality, manufacturing, e-commerce, augmented reality, fashion, publishing, gesture recognition, robotic imaging, importing and exporting, mapping, and financial markets stand to benefit from the technology.
Technique Makes Holograms Highly Efficient, Secure
Harvard University (05/13/16) Leah Burrows
Harvard University researchers have programmed polarization into compact holograms, enabling devices to produce different images based on the polarization of incident light. The researchers say the technology could be used to improve anti-fraud holograms as well as those used in entertainment displays. "By using nanotechnology, we've made holograms that are highly efficient, meaning that very little light is lost to create the image," says Harvard professor Federico Capasso. The new holograms work like traditional holograms, but the image produced depends on the polarization state of the illuminating light, adding an extra degree of freedom in design for versatile applications. The researchers built silicon nanostructured patterns on a glass substrate, which act as superpixels that each respond to a certain polarization state of the incident light. More information can be encoded in the hologram by designing and arranging the nanofins to respond differently to the chirality of the polarized incident light. "By using different nanofin designs in the future, one could store and retrieve far more images by employing light with many states of polarization," Capasso says. In addition, he notes the system is so compact it has applications in portable projectors, three-dimensional movies, and wearable devices.
Robots Learn How to Make Friends and Influence People
Technology Review (05/17/16) Will Knight
Stanford University researchers have developed a computer-vision algorithm that predicts the movement of people in a busy space. The researchers trained the deep-learning neural network using several publicly available datasets containing video of people moving around crowded areas. The Stanford team, led by researcher Silvio Savarese, found the software is better at predicting peoples' movements than existing approaches for several of those datasets. The researchers now are testing the algorithm on JackRobbot, a two-wheeled mobile robot equipped with cameras, range sensors, and a global-positioning system. The Stanford algorithm adds to other research focused on making robot behavior more human-like. "Much research in human-robot interaction has looked at whether we can replicate the norms of human social interaction," says Carnegie Mellon University professor Jodi Forlizzi. Her own research has involved trying to get robots to move around spaces in such a way that they form natural-seeming clusters with people. "There's a whole class of robots that will be working with people and close to people also, so we need to understand how they should behave," Forlizzi says.
A New Challenge for Caregivers: The Internet
Northwestern University Newscenter (05/11/16) Julie Deardorff
New research examines the role of caregivers in the online lives of adults with cognitive impairments such as Alzheimer's disease and other conditions. Researchers used focus groups consisting of 20 people informally caring for loved ones to describe the main ways caregivers currently use the Internet--guiding, stimulating, connecting, and protecting--and offer guidelines on how to improve their efforts. Caregivers could set up family accounts to support home computer use among family members, and researchers recommend caregivers learn how to recognize when vulnerability may be transitional, such as a gradual recovery after a stroke. Caregivers also should implement a system that would enable them to detect risky use of passwords or credit cards online. Technological caregiving is a new form of work, says Northwestern professor Anne Marie Piper. "We hear about the physical, financial, and social stress of caregiving, but no one ever talks about the burden caregivers feel to keep people active online, which we feel is a fundamental part of participating in society," Piper says. The researchers' initial findings were presented last week at the ACM CHI 2016 conference in San Jose, CA.s
Study of U2 Could Help Music Fans Find What They're Looking For
University of Strathclyde (05/10/16)
Online music providers could use music fans' emotions to inform searches, recommendations, and playlists, according to research from the University of Strathclyde. Lecturer Diane Pennington studied 150 music videos made by fans of U2, and found a range of musical and visual methods used to convey emotion. She found the videos, and viewers' responses to them, were highly individual but often also social, with shared emotions creating a sense of community. "The emotion music evokes is the main reason people listen to it and many would like to be able to search for music videos that meet an emotional need, such as a desire to be cheered up," Pennington says. However, she notes current information-retrieval systems do not support this well. "To advance these systems, new systems need to be envisioned that go beyond traditional keyword-based or subject-based queries and process information requirements in new ways," Pennington says. She says the ability to search, browse, and retrieve by positive emotions could contribute to music therapy.
'I Want to Talk to You:' See the Creepy, Romantic Poetry That Came Out of a Google AI System
Quartz (05/12/16) Thu-Huong Ha
Researchers from Google Brain, Google's deep learning branch, are developing ways to make its search applications understand and adapt to the way people actually speak. The researchers worked to accomplish this goal by feeding 11,000 unpublished books into an artificial intelligence system. After analyzing the novels, which included nearly 3,000 romance and 1,500 fantasy titles, the researchers presented the system with two sentences from the books and asked it to generate sentences that could create a meaningful progression between the two. The only parameters were that each sentence in the series should be similar in meaning to the one before and after it to create a smooth transition, and they have to make sense grammatically and syntactically. The researchers found the repetitive language of romance fiction makes it especially useful for this kind of research. The goal is to create a system that can generate new and varied sentences, even if the initial results include some creepy, strangely tense poems.
In a Connected World, Privacy Becomes a Group Effort
Penn State News (05/11/16) Matt Swayne
Pennsylvania State University (PSU) researchers say collaboration is playing an increasingly valuable role in privacy management in the face of a more social and connected world. "Most people think of privacy as being individualistic, but privacy is no longer just about the individual, it's also a collaborative and coordinated process," says PSU postdoctoral researcher Haiyan Jia. She and her colleagues conducted a study that found social media users act autonomously on some privacy issues, but are interdependent when information is co-owned by multiple users. Jia notes among the strategies study participants depended on to deal with privacy rights for group content were collective specification of who can access certain content, sharing information only within a particular group, and carefully adding only trusted people to private groups. She also observes current social media sites are missing tools for collaborative privacy management, and the researchers suggest social media developers may want to investigate new ways to make content ownership more effective and transparent. "A technological solution could include offering smart suggestions for privacy settings, which balance the preferences of individual members and the cohesion of the group," Jia says. The researchers presented their findings last week at the ACM CHI 2016 conference in San Jose, CA.
How to Hack the Hackers: The Human Side of Cyber Crime
Scientific American (05/12/16) M. Mitchell Waldrop
With researchers and security experts lagging behind cyberattackers in the ever-escalating online security arms race, it is imperative for them to not only explore internal system weaknesses, but also external factors such as the hacker economy. "We've had too many computer scientists looking at cybersecurity, and not enough psychologists, economists, and human-factors people," argues the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Douglas Maughan. Experts say social science offers insights into how cybercriminals structure their business, and how hackers have a much better understanding of user psychology than the institutions tasked with defending them. For example, companies tend to impose security rules, such as password authentication, that are out of line with how people work. In the above case, employees are more likely to use shortcuts and subversion to avoid the aggravation of following password policy to the letter, which wastes their time and mental energy. Carnegie Mellon University's CyLab Usable Privacy and Security Laboratory seeks to make password policies more human-compatible, and there is hope that research exposing vulnerabilities in user behavior also can reveal weaknesses among hackers. For example, research uncovered an underground economy for hackers conforming to an affiliate business model, and also found vulnerabilities in the banks that processed credit card payments to the profit centers.
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