Welcome to the July 27, 2016 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Encryption Breakthrough: Scientists Derive Truly Random Numbers Using Two-Source Extractors
TechRepublic (07/25/16) Michael Kassner
Researchers at the University of Texas-Austin (UT Austin) recently announced a new method for generating truly random numbers. The researchers say their method is "a breakthrough that could be used to encrypt data, make electronic voting more secure, conduct statistically significant polls, and more accurately simulate complex systems." UT Austin professor David Zuckerman and graduate student Eshan Chattopadhyay devised the mathematics for what they call a two-source extractor, which mathematically combines a pair of weakly random sequences of numbers into one sequence of truly random numbers that is completely unpredictable. Zuckerman expects significantly improved encryption to be derived from the technique. "One common way that encryption is misused is by not using high-quality randomness," he notes. "So in that sense, by making it easier to get high-quality randomness, our methods could improve security." The UT Austin researchers presented their work at last month's ACM Symposium on Theory of Computing (STOC 2016) conference in Cambridge, MA, where it received the STOC Best Paper Award. "When I heard about it [the research of Zuckerman and Chattopadhyay], I couldn't sleep," says Microsoft Research New England senior researcher Yael Kalai. "I ran to the (online) archive to look at the paper. It's really a masterpiece."
College Board Hopes to Broaden Access to Coding With New 'AP Computer Science Principles' Course
EdSurge (CA) (07/25/16) Mary Jo Madda
The College Board plans to launch a new Advanced Placement (AP) course in computer science this fall. AP Computer Science Principles is "designed to meet students where they are, getting them to use algorithms and data, and enhance their own passion in computer science," says Trevor Packer, head of the AP Program. Packer notes the goal is to engage more girls and students of color in computer science. After cancelling AP Computer Science AB as a course option in 2009, Packer and his team began to work with teachers in 2014 on creating a course that focused less on a specific programming language and more on general computing concepts. Packer says students will learn more about abstraction, creating computational artifacts, and the global impact of the Internet. He notes participants will take a short exam at the end of the year on topics that include data security and ethics, but projects and applications will make up the largest component of their grade. During the year, students work on projects and create "a computer science innovation that's related to their interest," eventually moving onto physically building an application in code, says AP Program senior director Maureen Reyes. Packer's team has piloted the course for the last three years in 45 high schools across the U.S.
European Scientific Community Seeks Support for 5.3-Million-Euro Hybrid Cloud Build
ComputerWeekly.com (07/27/16) Caroline Donnelly
Ten European research organizations support The Helix Nebula-The Science Cloud (HNSciCloud) initiative to create a 5.3-million-euro hybrid cloud platform for the European scientific community. The HNSciCloud is designed to meet the challenges researchers face when building information technology environments that support their projects' complete lifecycle. "The European Cloud Initiative will unlock the value of big data by providing world-class supercomputing capability, high-speed connectivity, and leading-edge data and software services for science, industry, and the public sector," says Gunther H. Oettinger, European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society. A pre-commercial procurement tender says the environment must be capable of supporting many virtual machines and container configurations, offer identity and access management capabilities, and provide participants access to a spectrum of workload-specific purchasing and payment options. Although HNSciCloud initially will benefit research organizations, access to the data stored in it will eventually be required by the private sector, in accordance with the goals of the European Commission's Digital Single Market vision. Amazon Web Services' Brendan Bouffler says the cloud has inverted the economic model of conducting scientific research. "The big thing is that if we use cloud to help minimize the amount of money and time [scientists] spend on infrastructure, they could spend more money on scientists," he says.
Solving Big Data's 'Fusion' Problem
UCLA Newsroom (07/22/16) Matthew Chin
Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and Purdue University have developed a theoretical solution to the problem of combining multiple big datasets from various sources to determine cause-and-effect relationships in new and untested scenarios. UCLA professor Judea Pearl, who received the 2011 ACM A.M. Turing Award, and Purdue professor Elias Bareinboim say the conventional strategy of using statistical methods to average out differences among the various sets of information blur these distinctions instead of leveraging them for more insightful analyses. "It's like testing apples and oranges to guess the properties of bananas," Pearl says. "How can someone apply insights from multiple sets of data, to figure out cause-and-effect relationships in a completely new situation?" Pearl and Bareinboim's structural causal model chooses how information from one source should be fused with data from other sources, enabling researchers to establish traits of yet another source. Structural causal models outline similarities and distinctions between the sources and process them using causal calculus. An analysis also determines whether the findings from a given study can be generalized to apply to other conditions. For example, Pearl and Bareinboim's technique will enable medical researchers conducting a clinical trial to predict the effects of a treatment administered to an intended real-world population.
Transistors Will Stop Shrinking in 2021, Moore's Law Roadmap Predicts
IEEE Spectrum (07/22/16) Rachel Courtland
The 2015 International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS) predicts the transistor could stop shrinking in only five years. The report predicts that after 2021, it will no longer be economically feasible for companies to continue to shrink the dimensions of transistors in microprocessors. Transistor miniaturization was still a part of the long-term forecast as recently as 2014, but three-dimensional (3D) concepts have gained momentum. A company could continue to make transistors smaller well into the 2020s, but the industry wanted to send the message that it is now more economic to go 3D, says ITRS chair Paolo Gargini. In the years before 3D integration is adopted, ITRS predicts leading-edge chip companies will seek to boost density by turning the transistor from a horizontal to a vertical geometry and building multiple layers of circuitry, one on top of another. The report also predicts the traditional silicon channel will be made with alternative materials. The changes will enable companies to pack more transistors in a given area, but keeping to the spirit of Moore's Law is another matter.
New Movie Screen Allows for Glasses-Free 3D at a Larger Scale
MIT News (07/25/16) Adam Conner-Simons
Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab and Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science have demonstrated a display on which audiences can watch three-dimensional (3D) films in a movie theater without additional eyewear. The Cinema 3D prototype employs a special mirror-lens array, which overcomes the impracticalities of conventional 3D theaters, according to MIT professor Wojciech Matusik. The Cinema 3D concept is based on the insight that people in cinemas move their heads only over a very small range of angles, constrained by the width of their seat. Therefore, displaying images to a narrow range of angles and replicating that to all seats in the theater should be sufficient, the researchers believe. They say Cinema 3D encodes multiple parallax barriers in one display, so each viewer sees a parallax barrier customized to their position. That range of views is then reproduced across the cinema by a series of mirrors and lenses within Cinema 3D's unique optics system, an approach that enables viewers in different parts of an auditorium to see images of consistently high resolution. "We are optimistic that [scaling up the system] is an important next step in developing glasses-free 3D for large spaces like movie theaters and auditoriums," Matusik says. The researchers will present the Cinema 3D concept this week at the ACM SIGGRAPH conference in Anaheim, CA.
Diversity Shines at XSEDE16 Conference
HPC Wire (07/25/16) Travis Tate
Last week's XSEDE16 Conference in Miami, FL, highlighted the discoveries, advances, challenges, and achievements of those who use and support the U.S. National Science Foundation-funded XSEDE project, along with other digital resources and services. The fifth annual conference boasted participation from nearly 100 students from across the U.S., with almost half coming from minority-serving institutions. The event's theme was diversity and inclusivity in scientific fields and across underrepresented minorities, with XSEDE16 chairperson Kelly Gaither noting, "if we're going to solve big problems...we're going to need teams of dynamic, diverse people." This mindset was echoed by the opening plenary from the University of Central Florida's Pamela McCauley, who said innovation is impossible without collaboration that truly welcomes diversity. "We need to make sure we are bringing in everyone, bringing in women, bringing in people from diverse backgrounds," she said. Meanwhile, Meredith Drosback, the science division staff director at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, cited training for faculty, graduate students, undergrads, and K-12 students as crucial for bringing computer science learning opportunities to all students. XSEDE16's Campus Champions Networking Event involved interaction between attendees and institutional computing/data-intensive research advocates to discuss best practices.
Upcoming Tor Design Battles Hidden Services Snooping
Threatpost (07/25/16) Michael Mimoso
Northeastern University researchers discovered more than 100 malicious Tor Hidden Services Directories (HSDirs) snooping on the services they host, and in some cases operators were actively using the data collected to attack the services. However, Tor project representatives say the issue has been addressed in an upcoming redesign, and has only been an "annoyance" in the meantime. The representatives also say the attack does not unmask the operator behind a hidden service, which has long been a law enforcement and intelligence agency goal. The Northeastern researchers developed a framework called Honey onions (HOnions), which detects and identifies malicious HSDirs. The researchers ran the framework in separate daily, weekly, and monthly trials between Feb. 12 and April 24 and found 110 malicious HSDirs, most of which were located in the U.S., Germany, France, Britain, and the Netherlands. The HOnions expose Tor relays with HSDir capabilities that have been modified to spoof on hidden services. "What the attack allows you to do is learn about the existence of a hidden service," says Tor developer Sebastian Hahn. "This does not mean that the identity of the operator is revealed or anything catastrophic like that."
Physicists Find a Way of 'Bundling Together' Multiple Elements of a Quantum Computer
Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (07/22/16)
Physicists from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology and the Russian Quantum Center (RQC) have discovered a way of using multilevel quantum systems (qudits), each of which is capable of working with multiple "conventional" quantum elements, or qubits. The researchers say instead of trying to maintain the stability of a large qubit system, they attempted to increase the dimensions of the systems required for calculations. Qudits are quantum objects in which the number of possible states, or levels, is greater than two. RQC's Aleksey Fedorov and colleagues demonstrate that on one qudit with five levels, created using an artificial atom, it is possible to perform full quantum computations, in particular the realization of the Deutsch algorithm designed to test the values of a large number of binary variables. To run a two-qubit Deutsch algorithm, for example, the researchers proposed using a nuclear spin of 3/2 with four different states. "We are making significant progress, because in certain physical implementations it is easier to control multilevel qudits than a system of the corresponding number of qubits, and this means that we are one step closer to creating a full-fledged quantum computer," Fedorov says.
UW-Madison Engineers Will Shape 5G Wireless Networks
University of Wisconsin-Madison (07/19/16) Sam Million-Weaver
University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) researchers have received four U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) awards to develop cutting-edge wireless communications technologies, enable fundamental wireless research, and encourage collaborations among experts in academia and industry. The grants are part of NSF's program to establish research platforms and collaborations between academia and industry to investigate, develop, and begin implementing key components for the future of communications infrastructure. "The need for research advances in wireless communication and mobile systems is stronger than ever before, especially as users continue to expect robust anytime, anywhere access through their personal devices," says UW-Madison professor Suman Banerjee. In addition to being a collaboration hub, UW-Madison will host two wireless testbeds to evaluate the performance of new innovations. One project, called WiNEST, will establish infrastructure throughout the city of Madison to enable large-scale experiments in real-world settings at currently used frequencies. Another project, called Multi-beam MIMO, will develop a network using a state-of-the-art millimeter-wave prototype technology for simultaneously steering multiple signal beams at millimeter-wave frequencies. "We are not only doing basic theory development, but also scaling up the prototypes to big testbeds and working toward commercialization," says UW-Madison professor Akbar Sayeed.
New Method Reconstructs Highly Detailed 3D Eyes From a Single Photograph
EurekAlert (07/20/16) Jennifer Liu
Disney researchers say they have developed a technique that can capture the important, yet subtle details of human eyes with a single facial scan or photo. The researchers note the method requires much less time and hardware than existing eye-capture techniques because it employs a parametric model of the eye, which can reproduce the variations in the size and shape of the eyeball, the spots, craters, and banding of the colored iris, in addition to the red veins of the white sclera. The model can be used to automatically duplicate the details of an actor's eyes as captured in a scan or photo, and then can be manipulated as needed to accommodate a storyline. "This new method of eye capture enables us to create highly realistic animations for films, games, and medical applications and to do so with as little fuss as possible," says Disney Research's Markus Gross. The parametric model is based in large part on a database of 30 eyes, which were captured in high resolution using that exhaustive process. The database provides details about the white sclera and the colored iris, while a separate model represents variations in the size and shape of the eyeball itself. The researchers will present the new method this week at the ACM SIGGRAPH 2016 conference in Anaheim, CA.
NSF Awards Engineers $705K to Improve Wi-Fi, Smartphones
University at Buffalo News (07/19/16) Cory Nealon
University at Buffalo researchers have received two U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) grants totaling $705,000 to help develop next-generation wireless networks and improve the performance of smartphones. The grants will support research and educational outreach to help solve problems such as crowded bandwidth, the security of mobile devices, and inefficient operating systems. The first award focuses on creating software, hardware, and other tools that take advantage of unoccupied, high frequency bands, which provide an opportunity to greatly increase the rate at which wireless data is shared. The second award supports PhoneLab, an existing smartphone platform testbed originally built with a $1.3-million NSF grant. The award will help PhoneLab continue to develop more powerful, secure, and efficient smartphones and smartphone applications, improve wireless networking, and educate students and the public about mobile devices. Both projects align with President Barack Obama's $400-million Advanced Wireless Research Initiative, which aims to spur innovations that lead to advanced mobile devices. "Fundamental research on advanced wireless will be transformative and take us beyond the current and next generation of wireless--beyond what has been envisioned thus far," says NSF's James F. Kurose. NSF also is working with an industry consortium to plan and deploy Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research, four city-scale research platforms, to enable at-scale and use-inspired experimentation.
Research Team Led by NUS Scientists Develops Plastic Flexible Magnetic Memory Device
National University of Singapore (07/19/16)
A team led by National University of Singapore (NUS) researchers has successfully embedded a magnetic memory chip into a flexible plastic material. The device operates on magnetoresistive random-access memory (MRAM), which uses a magnesium oxide (MgO)-based magnetic tunnel junction (MTJ) to store data. The team first grew the MgO-based MTJ on a silicon surface, and then etched away the underlying silicon. Using a transfer printing approach, the team implanted the magnetic memory chip on a flexible plastic surface made of polyethylene terephthalate while controlling the amount of strain caused by placing the memory chip on the plastic surface. "Our experiments showed that our device's tunneling magnetoresistance could reach up to 300 percent-- it's like a car having extraordinary levels of horsepower," says NUS professor Yang Hyunsoo. "We have also managed to achieve improved abruptness of switching. With all these enhanced features, the flexible magnetic chip is able to transfer data faster." Yang says the malleable memory chip will be a critical component for the design and development of flexible and lightweight devices, which have potential applications in automotive, healthcare electronics, industrial motor control and robotics, industrial power and energy management, and military and avionics systems.
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