Welcome to the September 21, 2016 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Researchers Show Off Remote Attack Against Tesla Model S
IDG News Service (09/20/16) Lucian Constantin
Researchers in China found a series of vulnerabilities in the software of Tesla Motors' cars that, when combined, enabled them to remotely take over a Tesla Model S car and control its sunroof, central display, door locks, and braking system. In addition, the attack enabled the researchers to access the car's controller area network (CAN) bus, which lets the vehicle's specialized computers communicate with each other. "We have verified the attack vector on multiple varieties of Tesla Model S," according to Tencent's Keen Security Lab researchers. "It is reasonable to assume that other Tesla models are affected." The researchers also created a demonstration video showing what can be achieved through the attack, which works either while the car is parked or being driven. While the car was parked, the researchers used a laptop to remotely open its sunroof, activate the steering light, reposition the driver's seat, take over the dashboard and central display, and unlock the car. In a second demonstration, which took place while the car was being driven at low speed in a parking lot, the researchers turned on the windshield wipers, opened the trunk, and folded the side-view mirror. However, the most dangerous attack the researchers were able to execute was to engage the car's braking from 12 miles away.
A Tight Squeeze for Electrons--Quantum Effects Observed in 'One-Dimensional' Wires
University of Cambridge (09/15/16) Sarah Collins
Researchers from the U.K.'s University of Cambridge observed quantum effects in electrons by squeezing them into one-dimensional "quantum wires" and monitoring the interactions. They found they were able to control electrons by packing them so tightly they start to exhibit quantum effects. Squeezing electrons into a one-dimensional quantum wire amplifies their quantum nature to the point they can be observed, by measuring at what energy and wavelength electrons can be injected into the wire. Electrons in a quantum wire "repel each other and cannot get past, so if one electron enters or leaves, it excites a compressive wave like the people in the train," says University of Cambridge professor Maria Moreno. The researchers tested predictions of what should happen at high energies, in which traditional theories break down, namely that there would be a hierarchy of modes corresponding to the variety of ways in which the interactions can affect the quantum mechanical particles, and the weaker modes should be strongest in short wires. By varying the magnetic field and voltage, they could map the tunneling from the wires to an adjacent sheet of electrons. The researchers note this breakthrough revealed evidence for the extra curves predicted, where it can be seen as an inverted replica of the spin curve.
University of Calgary Manages to Teleport Photons, Paving Way for Quantum Internet
Calgary Herald (Canada) (09/20/16) Shawn Logan
Researchers at Canada's University of Calgary have successfully teleported a photon about six kilometers (about 3.7 miles) at the speed of light along fiber-optic lines, a new distance record. The method transfers the quantum state of the photon, and any information encoded within it, to a different location using entanglement. "Being entangled means that the two photons that form an entangled pair have properties that are linked regardless of how far the two are separated," says University of Calgary professor Wolfgang Tittel. He notes one photon was sent to City Hall, and it remained entangled with a photon that stayed at the University of Calgary. "What happened is the instantaneous and disembodied transfer of the photon's quantum state onto the remaining photon of the entangled pair, which is the one that remained six kilometers away at the university," Tittel says. He also notes the data transfer destroys the initial message, making the breakthrough potentially beneficial to ultra-secure communications. "If you're using quantum teleportation it's impossible for an eavesdropper to tap into a connection without the encrypted key," Tittel says. "It also opens the door to building a network of quantum computers that could have computing powers completely unmatched by any classical computer."
Federal Officials Plan Aggressive Approach to Driverless Cars
The Washington Post (09/19/16) Ashley Halsey III; Michael Laris
U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Anthony Foxx on Monday announced plans to aggressively influence the launch of driverless car technology. Foxx released a policy paper asking manufacturers to document for the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration how and where they expect their vehicles to operate, how they will engage with other automobiles and the road, how they validate their testing, how they plan to protect privacy and thwart hacking, and how they would share data gathered by onboard computers. Foxx says DOT will cooperate with automakers to "ensure that safety is appropriately addressed in the front end of development." States' regulatory role seems likely to shrink with the federal government's expanding authority. Foxx says the latter would regulate in cases where software is operating a vehicle, while the former would hold sway when a human is driving the car. Carnegie Mellon University professor Raj Rajkumar wants to avoid a patchwork of state laws applying to autonomous vehicles, which he says could become a nightmare for motorists. Foxx notes federal authorities intend to discuss with automakers and policymakers explicit powers to measure vehicle safety before self-driving cars hit the market. Incremental deployment of autonomous systems in specific design domains also is expected initially.
Banking on Innovative IT Tools to Help Data Centers Save Energy
CORDIS News (09/19/16)
A project funded by the European Union has launched a new tool that will enable data centers to analyze the costs and benefits of energy efficiency measures and energy sources for users. The RENEWIT project consortium worked with large data-focused businesses to develop the technology. The project's researchers say the tool accesses details from more than 60 locations across Europe, making it easy for users to compare facilities on electricity costs, access to renewables, and other factors that influence decisions when planning the site of a new facility. "It not only allows data center operators to model the benefits and costs of on-site and grid renewables, but also the efficiency gains from technologies such as free cooling, and even workload management, can also be assessed in detail," says RENEWIT project spokesperson Andrew Donoghue. He notes the tool has been made available for free. RENEWIT researchers say they successfully demonstrated how a financial institution could improve the efficiency of one of its carbon-neutral facilities via a biogas fuel cell and by raising the operating temperature in its data center. The consortium spent three years researching and developing the tool, and it could be extended to North America and Asia in the future.
An Autonomous Fleet for Amsterdam
MIT News (09/19/16)
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has partnered with the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS) in the Netherlands to test a fleet of autonomous boats in Amsterdam's canals. The research team says the first prototypes of "roboats" are expected to be tested next year. MIT and AMS also will develop a logistics platform that would superimpose a dynamic infrastructure over the city's waterways. Moreover, the team will deploy environmental sensing to monitor water quality and other data for assessing and predicting issues related to public health, pollution, and the environment. "This project imagines a fleet of autonomous boats for the transportation of goods and people that can also cooperate to produce temporary floating infrastructure, such as on-demand bridges or stages that can be assembled or disassembled in a matter of hours," says Carlo Ratti, a professor in MIT's Department of Urban Studies and Planning. He notes the results of the ROBOAT effort could encourage other cities around the world to look to such autonomous technology to address transportation, mobility, and water-quality issues.
A Lesson of Tesla Crashes? Computer Vision Can't Do It All Yet
The New York Times (09/19/16) Steve Lohr
The recent crashes of Tesla's self-driving automobiles underscore the constraints of computer-vision technology, which is mainly reliant on advances in image recognition, according to University of California, Berkeley professor Jitendra Malik. He and other scientists agree the next challenge to be met is in developing algorithms that can understand actions and behaviors in addition to objects. Massive image databases have been tapped to train neural-networking software, but Stanford University professor Fei-Fei Li cautions the current approach to computer-vision advancement is limited by its dependence on human-labeled training data. "So much of what we humans possess as knowledge and context are lacking in this deep-learning technology," Li says. Tomaso Poggio, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's McGovern Institute for Brain Research, is constructing computational models of the brain's visual cortex in order to digitally mimic its structure, its operation, and its experiential learning ability. Researchers say safer driverless cars could be enabled via continuous system improvements instead of a breakthrough in artificial intelligence. They believe computer-vision innovations are likely only part of the solution, with more high-definition digital mapping, and advancements in radar and lidar, also contributing significantly.
The Cryptographic Key That Secures the Web Is Being Changed for the First Time
Motherboard (09/19/16) Joseph Cox
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) next month will make the first-ever revision of the Root Zone Signing Key, the cryptographic key pair that underlies the trust of the Domain Name System (DNS). DNS converts domain names into numerical Internet Protocol addresses, which gives rise to the problem of DNS cache poisoning or DNS spoofing. Many domains attempt to mitigate these vulnerabilities via DNS Security Extensions (DNSSEC), in which cryptographic keys authenticate that DNS data is coming from the correct point of origin. ICANN manages the top-level DNS root zone, and each entity in this hierarchy has its own keys for generating signatures, and must sign the key of the entity below it. "ICANN wants to be very transparent in the operation of [the Root Zone Signing Key] because it's important that the community trusts it," says Matt Larson, ICANN's vice president of research. Internet Architecture Board chair Andrew Sullivan thinks the possibility exists the key has been cracked without ICANN knowing, and changing it is a sensible idea in the same way passwords should be changed every so often. Security researcher Dan Kaminsky agrees, noting the key's enlargement from 1,024 bits up to 2,048 is another imperative.
Inside Google's Internet Justice League and Its AI-Powered War on Trolls
Wired (09/19/16) Andy Greenberg
Online public forums and social media platforms are havens for trolls and bullies--some of them agents of repressive governments--who launch campaigns of mass harassment that in many cases lead to the self-censorship of the people they target. With the looming launch of its Conversation AI toolkit, Google's Jigsaw technology incubator hopes to "level the playing field," says Jigsaw president Jared Cohen. He notes the Conversation AI software uses machine-learning artificial intelligence to automatically detect abusive and harassing language with unmatched accuracy. The software was trained on a vast corpus of comments supplied by The New York Times and Wikipedia, and it can assess the tone of a string of text with more than 92-percent certainty and a 10-percent false-positive rate, according to Google. Jigsaw also will open source Conversation AI for use by any Web forum or social media platform. Cohen says Jigsaw's projects are linked by a common focus on what he calls "vulnerable populations" that researchers are advised to become intimately familiar with so they are personally invested in the projects' success. By striving to tackle such problems as organized crime, terrorism, and human trafficking, Jigsaw signals Google's intent to become a positive force for empowerment.
Professor Awarded NSF Grant to Identify Best Practices for K-12 Computing Education
Rochester Institute of Technology (09/16/16) Scott Bureau
Researchers at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and Bradley University have received a $1.19-million U.S. National Science Foundation grant to study the long-term impact of computing activities students have engaged in prior to college. The study will examine the growing number of groups devoted to increasing interest in computing among K-12 students. "To increase the number of skilled tech workers, we need to have effective practices for engaging students, as well as piquing and holding their interest so that they pursue it as a career," says Bradley professor Monica McGill. The researchers collected pilot data with an online survey at six universities, asking participants if they had completed any of these programs, what they remember, and how it impacted them. The researchers are now trying to understand the past and current state of affairs of all activities that focus on teaching computer science before college. The project will show how investments in these pre-college computing activities are paying off, and the researchers expect to identify best practices for long-term success. "Best practices could include making sure the program schedules an hour of outdoor activity during the day or perhaps that students have an assignment to complete at home," says RIT professor Adrienne Decker.
Staying the Course on a MOOC
The advent of massive open online courses (MOOCs) has seen millions of people signing up for classes, hoping to improve their education, skills, job prospects, and their lives in general, according to researchers from the U.K.'s University of Warwick. For example, Coursera, one of the leading MOOC platforms, offers more than 1,000 courses to about 22 million registered students. In addition, edX, a not-for-profit platform, offers 300 courses to more than 3 million students. Although attrition and low completion rates are often cited as failures of MOOCs, the Warwick researchers argue there are other positive outcomes that a low completion rate would not account for, such as the formation of new contacts and friendships among students. However, the researchers also identified an intrinsic problem with MOOCs. "It appears that learners on many MOOCs are spending much of their learning time on activities which are not generally associated with high learning gain," the researchers say. They note people who analyze the effectiveness of MOOCs should focus on the level of meaningful, high-impact engagement activity.
Researchers Eye Gaming as Tool for Boosting Computer Science Skills, Diversity in Middle Schools
NCSU News (09/14/16) Matt Shipman
Researchers from North Carolina State University (NCSU) and the University of Florida plan to use a custom-designed video game to improve educational outcomes in middle schools. The team has used a three-year, $2.49-million grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation to test and develop the game, called Engage, and its related educational curriculum. The team says the game can boost computational thinking in middle school science classrooms. The researchers say Engage also will include life science elements. The team also wants to use Engage to improve diversity in computer science and other science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. For example, the team says they will design Engage to create experiences that are effective in connecting with young girls. "We will be working to ensure that the game and related resources resonate with all students--not just advantaged ones," says NCSU researcher Bradford Mott. The researchers plan to test the game and the related curriculum on 5,000 middle school students in North Carolina and Florida.
UCI Study Links Selfies, Happiness
UCI News (09/13/16) Brian Bell
University of California, Irvine (UCI) researchers say photographing selfies and sharing them with friends can help smartphone users feel better about themselves. The team conducted a four-week study to gauge the psychological and emotional states of users of smartphone photo technology. Forty-one college students loaded a survey app onto their phones to document their moods during the first "control" week of the study, and used a different app to take photos and record their emotional states over the following three-week "intervention" phase. During the course of the day, participants took selfies while smiling, a photo of an object that made them happy, and a picture of something they believed would bring happiness to another person. The researchers collected nearly 2,900 mood measurements and found subjects in all three groups experienced increased positive moods. For example, some participants in the selfie group reported an increase in confidence, the researchers note. "There have been expanded efforts over the past decade to study what's become known as 'positive computing,' and I think this study shows that sometimes our gadgets can offer benefits to users," says UCI professor Gloria Mark.
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