Welcome to the August 10, 2016 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
NSF Invests $12 Million in Quantum Technologies for Secure Communication
National Science Foundation (08/08/16) Sarah Bates
The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded $12 million to develop systems that use photons in pre-determined quantum states as a way to encrypt data. The awards, which are directed by NSF's Office of Emerging Frontiers and Multidisciplinary Activities (EFMA), signal a major investment in quantum information science. "Investments in frontier, and potentially transformative, fundamental science and engineering research, such as quantum communication, are essential to compete in the global innovation economy," says EFMA's Sohi Rastegar. The $12 million will be divided among six interdisciplinary teams consisting of 26 researchers at 15 institutions to perform research under the Advancing Communication Quantum Information Research in Engineering (ACQUIRE) research area in the NSF Directorate for Engineering's Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation (EFRI) program. EFRI aims to inspire and enable researchers to expand the limits of knowledge in the service of grand engineering challenges and national seeds. The ACQUIRE researchers will focus on major challenges associated with engineering a quantum communication system on a chip. "A growing interest in quantum photonics and a new understanding of quantum physics and nanomaterials make this the perfect time to pursue significant engineering advances in quantum communication," says NSF program director Dominique Dagenais.
Traditional Colleges Enter the Coding Boot Camp Market
Inside Higher Ed (08/10/16) Maxine Joselow
Traditional U.S. colleges such as Bellevue College and Northeastern University are entering the coding boot camp market via partnerships with boot camp providers or by establishing their own programs. "The whole premise of the coding boot camp is there's a big skills gap," says Coding Dojo's Kevin Saito. "The need for developers in our economy exceeds institutions' ability to produce them." This summer, Bellevue College has teamed with Coding Dojo on a boot camp in which students meet two days a week, as well as completing online assignments via Coding Dojo's online learning management system. Saito says the boot camp's students are typically working professionals seeking to augment their skills, while staffing firm Insight Global will help graduates find permanent jobs or contract work. Bellevue product manager Mark Veljkov says the college can offer some students money to attend the boot camp through a federal grant. Meanwhile, Northeastern University opted to implement a solo boot camp program in four cities, and the school's Nick Ducoff says the program concentrates on a high-demand area with an emphasis on experiential learning, pairing students with an employer partner. Ducoff notes 100 percent of students from the first group of students are now working, according to a survey taken six months after graduation.
Data Mining Reveals First Evidence That Absence Really Does Make the Heart Grow Fonder
Technology Review (08/09/16)
A project led by Aalto University's Kunal Bhattacharya to data-mine mobile phone records found people invest more in relationships where there exists a risk of the relationship weakening. The researchers analyzed a dataset of call records from a European nation spanning a seven-month period to test the hypothesis that the strength of relationships is mirrored in the number and duration of calls between individuals. "Friendships require constant time investment for their maintenance, and failure to match quite specific investment schedules leads inexorably to a rapid reduction in relationship quality," the researchers note. They first quantified the frequency with which pairs of people contact each other and how the gaps between calls varied over time. The researchers focused on pairs who were geographically separated and could not meet easily, and then they measured how the length of the calls varied as the gap in time and distance increased. A definite increase was observed in the duration of calls between people when the time since the last call was greater than average. However, the effect is more pronounced when males call other males and females call other females and when younger people, especially those in their 30s, call each other.
Toward Practical Quantum Computers
MIT News (08/08/16) Larry Hardesty
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and MIT Lincoln Laboratory in a paper describe a step toward practical quantum computing via a prototype chip that can trap ions in an electric field and direct laser light toward each of them using built-in optics. Lincoln Lab researcher Jeremy Sage thinks surface traps--chips with embedded electrodes--are an essential technology for enabling systems to scale to the number of ions needed for large-scale quantum computing. The ions are only about 5 micrometers apart in a surface trap, which makes laser-striking an individual ion without affecting its neighbors very complicated. MIT professor Rajeev Ram and graduate student Karan Mehta have designed and constructed a suite of on-chip optical components that channel laser light toward single ions which, in conjunction with a retooled surface trap, was used to test the new system. The researchers assessed the performance of the chip's diffraction gratings and ion traps, but they lacked a mechanism for varying the amount of light sent to each ion. They are exploring the addition of light modulators to the diffraction gratings so different quantum bits (qubits) can simultaneously receive light of different, time-varying intensities, thus boosting the efficiency of qubit programming.
Camp Hopes to Close Tech Industry Gender Gap by Teaching Girls to Code
The Washington Post (08/09/16) Perry Stein
The Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program is a seven-week camp aimed at encouraging more young women to enter technology fields and challenging the stereotype that computer programming is only for men. By 2020, there will be 1.4 million computer science job openings but only 400,000 people with the skills to fill them, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Girls Who Code says girls are on pace to fill only 3 percent of those jobs. The national nonprofit has worked to close that gap by providing coding instruction to more than 10,000 high school girls through camps and after-school programs nationwide since its founding in 2012. A Washington, D.C., camp, which drew 120 teenagers from the city and its Maryland and Virginia suburbs, is free for all students to attend thanks to funding from corporate sponsors. The program includes field trips to Capitol Hill and Symantec Corporation, as well as female speakers from Microsoft, IBM, and the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The program concludes with students breaking into small groups and creating websites, applications, and programs of their own from scratch.
Cloud Innovations Signal the Future for Urban Mobility
CORDIS News (08/09/16)
The European Union-funded European Cloud Marketplace for Intelligent Mobility project has built upon the success of the European Platform for Intelligent Cities to create a marketplace for transport solutions so service providers, data providers, and developers can work together to create applications for citizens. Throughout the project, 14 partners from five countries worked with mobility service providers and public authorities to enable cities and organizations to migrate their services to the cloud and to enable new service creation. Pilot projects were carried out in Barcelona, Paris, and Brussels, while the project also sought to encourage cross-border adoption of cloud-based services in Europe and around the world. In one project, researchers used cloud-based platforms to combine real-time management of on-street and off-street parking availability with public-sector transport options. The project enabled cities to encourage more environmentally friendly modes of transport and save citizens time. After the platform was up and running, a set of common application program interfaces (APIs) was promoted through the SmartMobility.io initiative to standardize the ways in which mobility services could be made available to developers. The APIs provide a framework enabling developers to create new apps for cities and citizens, and the multimodal apps integrate mobility services.
Study Highlights Serious Security Threat to Many Internet Users
UCR Today (08/09/16) Sarah Nightingale
Researchers at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) have spotted a vulnerability in the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) of all Linux operating systems since late 2012 that enables attackers to remotely hijack users' Internet communications. The team found a subtle "side-channel" weakness in the Linux software that allows hackers to deduce the TCP sequence numbers linked to a specific connection with no more data than the Internet Protocol (IP) addresses of the communicating parties. The researchers say the flaw could be exploited to launch targeted attacks that monitor users' online activity, forcibly terminate a communication, commandeer a conversation between hosts, or degrade the privacy guarantee by anonymity networks such as Tor. The attack is quick and reliable, often taking less than 60 seconds and having an approximately 90-percent success rate. "The unique aspect of the attack we demonstrated is the very low requirement to be able to carry it out," says UCR professor Zhiyun Qian. "Essentially, it can be done easily by anyone in the world where an attack machine is in a network that allows IP spoofing." Qian's advice while Linux works on remediation is to apply a temporary path to both client and server hosts.
Caring Computers Set to Respond to Human Emotions in Dementia Project
Irish Times (08/07/16) Dick Ahlstrom
Researchers at the Cork Institute of Technology (Cork IT) and Ulster University are working on a four-year, 504,000-euro project funded by the European Union (EU) to develop SenseCare, an affective computing system to monitor patients with dementia. Affective computing, a blend of computer science, psychology, and cognitive science that helps the computer to interpret human behavior and interact with the patient, is a major research theme for the EU's Horizon 2020 budget and includes elements such as the development of emotional robotics and robot companions. "It is a way to make a machine have feelings so the machine understands people better," says Cork IT researcher Alfie Keary. SenseCare will serve as a platform to handle all of the incoming data from voice- and face-recognition systems, wearable sensors, and health data such as heart rate or blood pressure. The researchers say about 20 percent of the project depends on hardware, while the remaining 80 percent is software-based. They also note the platform will be open for others to build technologies, such as companion robots, and add these to the care system. The system will be able to detect the emotional states of patients, and will provide information needed by medical staff to decide the best treatment options.
Cooling Breakthrough Could Improve Performance of Quantum Computers
USC News (08/05/16) Amy Blumenthal
The University of Southern California (USC)-Lockheed Martin Quantum Computing Center is a supercooled, magnetically-shielded facility built to house the first commercially available quantum optimization processors. Due to the exotic way in which quantum computers process information, they are highly sensitive to errors of different kinds, and USC researchers have developed a method to minimize errors. Their solution focuses on reducing and correcting errors associated with heating, which is common and particularly detrimental to quantum optimizers. By coupling several quantum bits (qubits) together on a quantum optimizer, without changing the hardware of the device, the researchers found the qubits act effectively as one qubit that experiences a lower temperature. As more qubits are coupled, the temperature experienced drops, enabling researchers to minimize the effect of heating as a source of noise or error. They say this nesting scheme can be used with other future quantum optimization devices with different hardware architectures. "Our work is part of a large-scale effort by the research community aimed at realizing the potential of quantum information processing, which we all hope might one day surpass its classical counterparts," says USC professor Daniel Lidar.
Boosting Swimming Performance With Sound Data
Bielefeld University (08/04/16)
Researchers at Bielefeld University have developed a system that offers new training opportunities for swimmers by expanding their perception and feel for the water. The "Swimming Sonification" system converts into sound how the pressure of water flow changes while swimming in real time, and the sound is played back to swimmers over headphones so they can then adjust their movements based on what they hear. The user develops a kind of harmony, or melody, says Bodo Ungerechts, a biomechanist in Bielefeld's School of Psychology and Sports Science. "If a swimmer very quickly masters a lap, they can use the recording of the melody to mentally re-imagine and retrace the successful execution of this lap," he says. The system also includes two gloves with thin tube ends that serve as pressure sensors, which are fixed between the fingers. The researchers say the swimmer wears these gloves during practice. The tubes are linked to a measuring instrument that transmits data about water flow pressure to a laptop, and software then converts the data into sound. Thomas Hermann of the university's Cluster of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology says the researchers plan to develop a wearable system that can be used independently by the user.
Disaster-Resilient Cloud Architecture
Government Computer News (08/05/16) Stephanie Kanowitz
University of Missouri (MU) researchers are developing a visual cloud computing architecture focusing on disaster scenarios and the security cameras, mobile devices, and unmanned aerial systems video that provide data for first responders and law enforcement officials. The researchers say the data can help officials determine where to send help, where hazardous materials pose a threat, and where injured victims might be found. However, there may not be enough network capacity to process so much data during disasters. To ensure computing and networking power is available, the MU researchers want to develop a cloud architecture that links devices at the network edge of the cloud processing system, or "collection fog," with scalable computer and big data resources at the cloud's core. The researchers say the data moves from the fog at the disaster site to the cloud and then to the consumption fog, where it can be processed by devices used by first responders and other officials. "There are challenging network management problems to pertinently import visual data from the incident scene and deliver visual situational awareness," says MU professor Prasad Calyam. What is needed, according to the researchers, are algorithms that can determine what information the cloud needs to process and what information local devices can handle.
Welch Works to Optimize Data Storage
Texas A&M Engineering News (08/04/16) Rachel Rose
Texas A&M University professor Jennifer Welch is exploring how relaxing the specifications of shared data can improve the performance of distributed systems. Having shared data has become a necessity, but it is not provided off the shelf in large-scale distributed systems. As an example, consider the classic queue data structure, and the possibility that several users of distributed systems can simultaneously try to access a shared queue. "When this occurs it is important to define what kind of behavior we want when there are simultaneous, overlapping operations," Welch says. "This is called a consistency condition." Linearizability, the most common consistency condition, requires that the return values of operations be the same as if the operations happened one after the other on the classic queue in an order that is consistent with the order of non-overlapping operations. Welch and her group are developing algorithms to implement relaxed data structures with provably optimal time performance. Correct and optimally efficient algorithms for implementing shared data could lead to improved software that has the ability to run on multiple processors, these distributed applications would be able to utilize greater storage space using cloud computing.
Sprinkling of Neural Dust Opens Door to Electroceuticals
Berkeley News (08/03/16) Robert Sanders
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) have developed dust-sized, wireless implants that could one day scan and stimulate brain activity to control prosthetics and treat disorders of the brain and body. The neural dust mote, which can be shrunk to a 1-millimeter cube, contains a piezoelectric crystal that converts ultrasound vibrations into electrical power for a transistor connected to a nerve or muscle fiber. Voltage spikes change the vibration of the crystal, altering the echo detected by an ultrasound receiver, which also generates the vibrations; the resulting backscatter enables researchers to determine the voltage. "Having access to in-body telemetry has never been possible because there has been no way to put something supertiny superdeep," says UC Berkeley professor Michel Maharbiz. "But now I can take a speck of nothing and park it next to a nerve or organ, your GI tract or a muscle, and read out the data." Experiments have been conducted in the peripheral nervous system and muscles of rats, and the researchers say the neural dust also could function in the central nervous system and brain, possibly replacing implantable, wired electrodes. The motes will need to be miniaturized to 50 microns before the technology can be tested in the brain, and the team also will focus on finding more biocompatible materials for the implant.
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