Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the October 28, 2016 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Precise Quantum Cloning: Possible Pathway to Secure Communication
Australian National University (10/26/16) Kristin O'Connell

Researchers from The Australian National University (ANU) and University of Queensland (UQ) have produced near-perfect clones of quantum information using a new method to surpass previous cloning limits. The new cloning method involves using high-performance optical amplifiers to clone light encoded with quantum information, which makes it possible to enable quantum encryption to be implemented with existing fiber-optic infrastructure. One problem other researchers faced in attempting to send quantum information is that the quantum state degrades before reaching its destination. "Our cloner has many possible applications, and could help overcome this problem to achieve secure long distance communication," says ANU professor Ping Koy Lam. The researchers used a probabilistic method to demonstrate it is possible to produce clones that exceed theoretical quality limits. "By designing our experiment to have probabilistic outputs, we sometimes 'get lucky' and recover more information than is possible using existing deterministic cloning methods," says UQ professor Timothy Ralph. The probabilistic cloning method generates higher-quality quantum clones than have ever been made before, with a success rate of about 5 percent. "We hope this technology could be used to extend the range of communication, and one day lead to impenetrable privacy between two communicating parties," Lam says.


Autonomous Search Agents Could Support Researchers
University of Strathclyde (10/26/16)

Autonomous digital assistants could soon help researchers in reviewing massive volumes of literature in subjects such as law and medicine, according to a new study conducted by researchers at the universities of Strathclyde and Glasgow in the U.K. "In this type of information-intensive review, [an autonomous search agent] could read through and assess information while the researcher is working on other things, then suggest other sources of information that would be relevant," says Strathclyde lecturer Leif Azzopardi. The study involved simulated search agents vying against humans in a computer search challenge, in which the digital agents proved more effective. "Previously the simulated users we created were unrealistic and lacking in agency," Azzopardi says. "Their decisions were made stochastically--by the 'roll of dice'--rather than based on the actual information found and the underlying need for information. The model we have developed takes account of what the autonomous agent knows, has done, and has seen, along with what it considers to be relevant. It is constantly evolving." University of Glasgow postdoctoral researcher David Maxwell points to the possibility of creating realistic simulations of how humans search.


UTS Researchers Working on 5G, and Beyond
Computerworld Australia (10/27/16) Stuart Corner

The next generation of cellular technology is being developed and deployed at breakneck speed to meet demand for bandwidth data volumes and device numbers that are increasing at exponential rates. However, the technologies being incorporated into 5G standards will not meet surging demand indefinitely. Researchers at the Australia's University of Technology in Sydney are working to boost the capacity of future networks by making much more efficient use of spectrum and by enabling very high frequencies, in excess of 100 GHz, to be used for mobile communications. Professor Eryk Dutkiewicz envisions maximum use of spectrum becoming such a priority in the years to come that users' devices will be co-opted to provide information to identify "holes" of unused spectrum. He says a sensor network could be built to gather and process spectrum information, which would be sold to mobile network operators. Another possibility is of future iPhones having a smart sensor and an app that users could switch on to provide information on spectrum availability. The 5G standards are expected to be finalized in 2018, Dutkiewicz notes.


Could Playing Pokémon Go Make You Live Longer?
BBC News (10/26/16)

Researchers at Stanford University and Microsoft have found playing the Pokémon Go augmented reality game significantly increases users' activity levels regardless of their age, sex, or weight, and could even extend life expectancy if kept up indefinitely. The team analyzed movement data shared by 32,000 users who also wore the Microsoft Band device, as well as Web queries on Bing over a three-month period. The findings show the average Pokémon Go player took 192 more steps per day for each of 30 days after they started playing, rising to 1,473 extra steps being taken by highly engaged players. The total equaled about 25-percent more steps taken by users than before they started playing Pokémon Go. The researchers estimate Pokémon Go has added a total of 144 billion steps to physical activity in the U.S. over the period of the study. They also note the game has increased physical activity in men and women of all ages, weights, and prior activity levels. "One of the things I'm most excited about is that the game was played by lots of people that are overweight or obese, and who were not very active prior to playing the game," says Stanford researcher Tim Althoff.


Internet Voting: Not Ready for Prime Time
The Huffington Post (10/27/16) Barbara Simons; Jeremy Epstein; Alec Yasinsac

The hacking of any widely used Internet voting system is not a possibility, but an inevitability, write former ACM president Barbara Simons, vice chair of ACM's U.S. Public Policy Council (USACM) Jeremy Epstein, and chair of the USACM Security Committee Alex Yasinac. "There is no required federal government oversight of Internet voting vendors, and there is no special legal accountability," they note. "When asked to develop standards for Internet voting, the [U.S.] National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) concluded that today's technology cannot mitigate against many of the threats." In addition, NIST said ballot secrecy or integrity could be compromised by malware on voters' computers. Phishing attacks are another threat to online voting Simons and colleagues cite. They point to the hypothetical case of an attack that could draw prospective voters to a bogus Internet voting site where the application could collect voter credentials, jettison the voter's choices, and vote on behalf of the voter at the official voting site. Meanwhile, distributed denial of service attacks could block voters from an election server by clogging it with communications. "Despite hopes to the contrary, evidence suggests that Internet voting will likely not appreciably increase turnout in general or voting by young people in particular," Simons and her colleagues agree.


Making It Easier to Collaborate on Code
MIT News (10/25/16) Adam Conner-Simons

A team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory has developed an interface that addresses many of the core problems of the powerful open source tool Git. The Git version control system enables multiple programmers to track changes to code, including making "branches" of a file that can be worked on individually. The team developed the interface, called Gitless, in part by looking at nearly 2,400 Git-related questions from the popular programming site StackOverflow, and then outlining some of its biggest issues and proposed changes to minimize problems. For example, Gitless eliminates "staging," enabling developers to save certain parts of a file, and removes "stashing," making it easier and less confusing for those who have to constantly switch between tasks. During testing, Gitless users more successfully completed tasks than Git users. "What's particularly encouraging about this work is that it suggests that the same approach might be used to improve the usability of other software systems, such as Dropbox and Google Inbox," says MIT graduate student Santiago Perez De Rosso. He will present a paper on the research next month at the ACM Systems, Programming, Languages, and Applications: Software for Humanity (SIGPLAN 2016) conference in Amsterdam.


The Gender Gap in Tech Is Getting Worse but It's Fixable
CIO (10/26/16) Sharon Florentine

A study from Accenture and Girls Who Code presented at last week's Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Houston, TX, points to an exacerbation of the information technology (IT) gender gap in the U.S. However, interventions to encourage girls and women to pursue a computer science education could triple the number of women in computing to 3.9 million by 2025, growing their share of technology jobs from 24 percent now to 39 percent. The study suggests three courses of action to reverse the expected shrinkage of women in technology: cultivating interest in computer science in junior high school, sustaining that interest through high school, and inspiring a post-college career. One recommendation is to increase girls' hands-on experience in junior high via computer games geared for girls. To prevent girls' engagement from flagging in high school, the researchers suggest hosting summer camps where they can study computing with their female friends, and/or further investment in programs such as Girls Who Code. Offering all college graduates on-campus and summer immersion programs in computing and/or programming can help keep momentum for an IT career building. Also urged is improving the recruiting, interviewing, and hiring process once women enter the tech workforce, so that it no longer reflects bias.


Computer Smarter Than Humans When Telling Asian Faces Apart
Stuff.co.nz (New Zealand) (10/25/16)

Fifteen years ago, Japanese-American Web designer Dyske Suematsu investigated the stereotype that all Asians look alike by putting pictures of friends on the Internet and asking strangers to guess their ethnicity. On average, people identified seven out of 18 photos correctly, for an accuracy rate of about 39 percent, which is barely better than pure guessing. University of Rochester professor Jiebo Lu and his students suspected that a trained artificial intelligence program might be able to perform as well, or even better. They collected hundreds of thousands of pictures of East Asian faces and fed them through an algorithm to determine what made Chinese, Japanese, and Korean faces look different. To their surprise, the computer achieved accuracy rates of more than 75 percent. Lu says the computer has the advantage of being able to draw on a vast library of faces. He notes many clues that stood out were cultural features, such as hairstyles, glasses, or facial expressions. Lu thinks the research could potentially be used for targeted ads and counterterrorism.


Computer Scientist Ross Tate Working to Tame Java 'Wildcards'
Cornell Chronicle (10/25/16) Bill Steele

Cornell University professor Ross Tate has discovered that the Java computer language, designed to be safe, is actually quite insecure. Tate suggested solutions and is working with a team at Oracle on revisions to the language. Java enforces security by requiring that all variables have a "type." For example, a variable labeled "string" must contain text, and not a number or anything else. Without these "types," a malicious program could turn a piece of text into an address in computer memory to bypass Java's security system and manipulate the host computer. "What is scary is that this bug has been sitting there for 12 years," Tate says. In 2004, Java introduced "wildcard" types, which when combined with the already-present "null" types, could fabricate impossible and deceptive types. These wildcards made it possible to bypass Java's existing safeguards. "The challenge is to fix this and not break what other people have done," Tate says.


Robotic Tutors for Primary School Children
Science Daily (10/24/2016)

Researchers from Spain's Department of Artificial Intelligence in Madrid have developed an integrated computational architecture for use with software applications in schools. "The main goal of our work was to design a system that can detect the emotional state of primary school children interacting with educational software and make pedagogic interventions with a robot tutor that can ultimately improve the learning experience," says Department of Artificial Intelligence researcher Luis Imbernon Cuadrado. The researchers identified three cognitive states--concentrating, distracted, and inactive--that influence the course of learning. They used keyboard strokes and mouse actions of children using educational software to predict which of these states the child is experiencing. The software was linked to an algorithm that chooses the correct form of pedagogic intervention, which could be words and gestures of encouragement or attempts to raise interest and motivation for a specific learning objective, all of which can be delivered by a robot tutor. One robotic tutor platform integrates educational software with a commercially available robot through the computational architecture developed by the researchers. "The next step will be to implement methods for detecting a more complex range of emotions with cameras and microphones and to test the longer-term impact of robot tutors on children's learning curves," Cuadrado says.


NSF Grant to Increase Computer Science Graduates in Florida
FIU News (10/24/16) Jean Milan

Three Florida universities will receive $1 million each in student scholarships from the U.S. National Science Foundation as part of a five-year, $5-million grant to increase computer and information technology (IT) graduates. Florida International University (FIU) and the universities of South Florida and Central Florida will use the grant to support the Florida IT Pathways to Success project. The initiative seeks to recruit, retain, and offer scholarships and other support to talented students in IT-related disciplines who are in need of financial aid. Some scholarships will be used to relieve students close to completing degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) from financial pressures that may otherwise derail them. "This grant will support our commitment to those students at risk of dropping out of college when they are within striking distance of graduation," says FIU professor Mark Weiss, recipient of the 2015 ACM SIGCSE Award for Outstanding Contribution to Computer Science Education. All three schools make up the Florida Consortium of Metropolitan Research Universities, which serve nearly half of the students and produce about 65 percent of the IT graduates in the State University System. Last year there was a shortage of people to fill more than 600,000 high-paying U.S. tech job positions, and 51 percent of all STEM jobs are expected to be computer science-related by 2018.


A New Class of Materials Could Realize Quantum Computers
Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (10/21/16) Nik Papageorgiou

Researchers at Switzerland's Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) identified a new class of materials whose electronic properties could be ideal for spintronics. The researchers led a study on the electronic and spin structure of a new material made of germanium and tellurium (GeTe) and doped with manganese (Mn). This material belongs to a small class of multiferroic materials in which ferromagnetic and ferroelectric properties are directly coupled. The combination of spin-orbit interaction and magnetism produces some exotic properties that have been long sought by researchers from around the world. As part of their study, the EPFL researchers used thin films of the GeTe material, each about 200 nm thick. They used a technique called photoemission, which uses the photoelectric effect predicted by Einstein. The study revealed the intertwined nature of the electric and magnetic properties of the new class of materials, known as multiferroic Rashba semiconductors. "So when we switch one the other is affected too, which paves the way to future spintronic devices, since we can switch the magnetic orientation using just a small electrical field," says EPFL researcher Hugo Dil.


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