Welcome to the December 14, 2016 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
UTS Opens Center for Quantum Software Development
ZDNet Australia (12/12/16) Asha McLean
Australia's University of Technology Sydney (UTS) on Monday officially launched its Center for Quantum Software and Information (CQSI) to specialize in development of the software and information processing infrastructure for running quantum-scale applications. "It's the efforts of the Center for Quantum Software and Information in collaboration with other centers and industry that will prove to be powerful tools for when large-scale quantum information processing becomes a reality," says UTS deputy vice chancellor of research Glenn Wightwick. The facility's research programs will focus on algorithms and complexity, artificial intelligence applications, programming and verification, intermediate quantum computing and architectures, and information theory and security. Wightwick says CQSI will concentrate less on hardware and more on quantum software, quantum information, and quantum cryptography. He notes this will complement the work of other Australian teams, including the University of New South Wales' (UNSW) Center for Quantum Computation & Communication Technology. A team at the UNSW center is in a race to build the world's first silicon-based quantum computer. Their efforts follow a team of UNSW engineers' breakthrough in writing and manipulating a quantum version of computer code using two quantum bits in a silicon microchip.
TSU Scientists Discovered How to Avoid Congestion of Mobile Network
Tomsk State University (12/09/16)
Researchers at Tomsk State University (TSU) in Russia have developed a universal mathematical approach to queuing theory that permits the calculation of the most efficient operation of the systems where the processing of incoming flow takes place. They say the new method can be used to eliminate lines in shops and banks and eliminate mobile communication congestion. The researchers, led by TSU professor Anatoly Nazarov, for several years have been developing models and methods to choose a rational structure for the service system. These types of problems are normally solved by creating a program for each specific case. The TSU researchers developed a universal method, which is suitable for solving a broad range of problems associated with queuing. "We have derived the general formula for the calculation: it is enough to substitute for the variables specific parameters, such as the number of servers, towers, communication channels, and others and you can find out under what conditions the system will run smoothly," Nazarov says. He notes the new method can be applied to different service systems and it could be used to predict the functioning of such systems to make effective management decisions.
Paving the Way for Light-Based Circuits
Asian Scientist (12/07/16)
Researchers from the Institute for Basic Science in Korea have developed three key components for building circuits that work with light instead of electrons, a breakthrough that could help speed up how computers process information. Scientists have long hypothesized that computers of the future could use nanophotonics to work almost at the speed of light. However, at nanometer dimensions, the wavelength of light is larger than the diameter of the silicon fiber, which could lead to some light being lost. Surface plasmons can control the propagation of light in matter by transmitting optical information at nearly the speed of light, and in extremely small volumes. The Institute for Basic Science researchers used surface plasmons in silver nanowires and two-dimensional semiconductors such as molybdenum disulphide (MoS2) to build three core components for optical communication--optical transistors, optical multiplexers, and optical signal detectors. These devices work thanks to a phenomenon called plasmon-exciton-plasmon interconversion. The researchers constructed the optical transistor by interconnecting the silver nanowire to a flake of MoS2. Light striking the device is converted to surface plasmons, then to excitons, back to surface plasmons, and eventually emitted as light with a shorter wavelength compared to the initial input.
Wikipedia 'Facts' Depend on Which Language You Read Them In
New Scientist (12/13/16) Matt Reynolds
Researchers from the University of Koblenz-Landau in Germany have developed Wikiwhere, a website that lets users uncover geographical biases in Wikipedia articles by determining where editors of different languages source their information. The researchers designed the tool to compare how Wikipedia articles about the same topic but in a different language might be influenced by different sources. The differences in sourcing mean people reading about the same topic in different languages may be confronted with very different versions of the truth, says Koblenz-Landau researcher Martin Korner. Wikipedia uses bots to undo malicious edits and flag potential hate speech, but volunteer editors are free to source their material from anywhere. Wikiwhere identifies a source's location by analyzing the language, Internet Protocol address, and top-level domain of the URL referenced. Although sources are not necessarily biased based on where they come from, Wikiwhere could offer a starting point for a more thorough analysis of the reliability of other information sources. "It is not necessarily in the interest of many biased parties to have an independent source of neutral information, so Wikipedia ends up playing a very important role," says Harvard University professor Shane Greenstein.
Blind Man Sets Out Alone in Google's Driverless Car
The Washington Post (12/13/16) Ashley Halsey III; Michael Laris
Google on Tuesday announced its driverless car successfully transported an unaccompanied legally blind man around Austin, TX, in a milestone for the technology after years of testing. Google estimates this testing process involved driving such vehicles more than 2 million miles on public roads. The car's performance evaluation prior to the test with the blind passenger took six months, says Google engineer Nathaniel Fairfield. The vehicle was equipped with a backup computer and multiple control systems, a necessity when the driver is removed from the equation, according to Google's Dmitri Dolgov. The blind man, Steve Mahan, hopes autonomous automobiles will help restore independence to people such as himself. Google also announced the driverless car project will be spun off into Waymo, an independent subsidiary of Alphabet whose CEO, John Krafcik, sees the blind man test as a sign that "we're close to bringing this to a lot of people." Carnegie Mellon University automation expert Costa Samaras says Google's move suggests the company is confident that computer control of the vehicle will be free of errors. The Google announcement coincides with the Obama administration's proposal requiring all new cars to have wireless vehicle-to-vehicle communication as a safety measure.
Two Electrons Go on a Quantum Walk and End Up in a Qudit
Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (12/12/16)
Scientists from the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT) have demonstrated for the first time how quantum walks of several electrons can help to implement quantum computation. The researchers released two electrons into a system of quantum dots to create a quantum computer memory cell of a higher dimension than a quantum bit (qubit), dubbed a qudit, which refers to higher-level quantum systems with more than two states. MIPT professor Leonid Fedichkin and Ph.D. researcher Alexey Melnikov obtained a system of two qudits implemented as two entangled electrons quantum-walking around the cycle graph. They say the quantum walks approach is convenient because it is based on a natural process. Moreover, the proposed system is characterized by a relatively high degree of stability. "By studying the system with two electrons, we solved the problems faced in the general case of two identical interacting particles," says Fedichkin. "This paves the way toward compact high-level quantum structures."
A Blueprint for Getting More Women Into Information Technology
The Economist (12/12/16)
The rise in qualified U.S. information technology (IT) graduates is far from fast enough to keep up with industry demands for IT skills, and the outsourcing of many such jobs overseas is likely to continue. This trend is compounded by the large number of female graduates opting for careers in the life, physical, and social sciences instead of computer and information sciences. Encouraging more young women to pursue IT careers would involve significant cultural change, eliminating the factors that tend to push them out of the field. Possibly the most responsible factor is the long-held and wrongheaded perception that boys are superior to girls at math, a view reinforced by popular culture as well as by parents. A CompTIA report says schools must shoulder some of the blame for girls' low IT interest, with staff members qualified to teach computer science seriously lacking. Harvey Mudd College president Maria Klawe, a former president of ACM, has drafted a blueprint for correcting these biases and shortcomings, mainly by removing intimidation in classrooms and barring all notions that some people are better at computer science than others. Klawe's suggestions for encouraging more women into IT include hosting early internships and recruiting many female faculty to serve as role models and mentors.
IEEE Publishes Draft Report on 'Ethically Aligned' AI Design
ZDNet (12/13/16) Stephanie Condon
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has published the first draft of a report on ethical challenges in artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomous systems (AS). "AI/AS have to behave in a way that is beneficial to people beyond reaching functional goals and addressing technical problems," the report says. "By aligning the creation of AI/AS with the values of its users and society we can prioritize the increase of human well-being as our metric for progress in the algorithmic age." Listed in the report's first section are general principles, including the assurance AI does not infringe human rights, along with responsibility, transparency, and education and awareness. The next section covers the challenges of incorporating values within AI, such as the possibility of multiple, conflicting values. The following two sections investigate methods for guiding ethical research and design, and the security and beneficial potential of artificial general intelligence and artificial superintelligence. The fifth section concerns the basic need for people to define, access, and manage personal data, while section six deals with reframing autonomous weapons. The seventh section discusses AI's economic and humanitarian implications, and the last section considers legal ramifications.
Optimizing Physics, Computational Science at Princeton University
Scientific Computing (12/12/16) Ken Strandberg
Princeton University professor Jim Stone, director of the Princeton Institute for Computational Science and Engineering, has seen computational science and software engineering for astrophysics evolve from vector processor machines to x86 clusters to vector units in central-processing units (CPUs) to large vector processors. "Our codes have evolved over the last 20 years along with the CPU architectures," Stone says. "In the last two years, we've completely rewritten our programs from scratch to take advantage of vector processing in the x86 architecture." Princeton performance tuning analyst Ian Cosden was recruited by Stone to boost code efficiency by a factor of four via optimizations with Intel Advanced Vector Extensions 512 and the Intel Xeon Phi processor. Stone's team worked on the algorithms and software while Cosden offered guidance on code optimization. Cosden envisions a future for processing large computing jobs with many integrated core architectures in multiple nodes on a single server or cluster. He says researchers can design and optimize their codes on x86-based workstations, and immediately run them on Intel Xeon Phi processor-based clusters with little to no extra work. Stone says the end result of these advancements is the ability to run more sophisticated models and add more physics to the simulations.
Helping Policy and Technology Work Together
MIT News (12/12/16) Rachel van Heteren
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) graduate student Keertan Kini is working to ensure technology and policy can function together and enrich each other. Kini joined Daniel Weitzner, a principal research scientist at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, in preparing a big data and privacy workshop for the White House following Edward Snowden's leak of classified information from the U.S. National Security Agency. One of Kini's undergraduate research projects focused on making it easier for organizations to share cybersecurity breach information with other organizations without sharing confidential data. Kini's prototype could automatically scan information about breaches and determine which data had to be checked by a human before sending it to a separate organization. Kini later was involved in the development of Votemate, a Web application designed to simplify the voter registration process and increase voter turnout in the U.S. After completing MIT's StartMIT startup course, Kini looks forward to starting his own company. "I see starting a company not only as an option, but the option," he says. "It's a way to make sustainable change in the world."
Flexible Device Captures Energy From Human Motion
MSUToday (12/09/16) Andy Henion
Michigan State University (MSU) researchers say they have developed a new method for harvesting energy from human motion, using a film-like device that can be folded to create more power. The researchers used a low-cost nanogenerator to operate a liquid-crystal display touchscreen, a bank of 20 lights, and a flexible keyboard, all with a touching or pressing motion and with no battery. The new method starts with a silicone wafer that is fabricated with several thin sheets of environmentally friendly substances, and then ions are added so each layer in the device contains charged particles. Electrical energy is created when the device is compressed by mechanical energy, such as human motion. The device, called a biocompatible ferroelectret nanogenerator (FENG), is as thin as a sheet of paper and can be adapted to many applications and sizes. The researchers say FENG provides benefits that could make the device a promising and alternative method in the field of mechanical-energy harvesting, and they note the device becomes more powerful when folded. "Each time you fold it you are increasing exponentially the amount of voltage you are creating," says MSU professor Nelson Sepulveda. The researchers currently are developing technology that would transmit the power generated from a heel striking the ground to a wireless headset.
Engineers Get Under Robot's Skin to Heighten Senses
Cornell Chronicle (12/08/16) Tom Fleischman
Stretchable optical waveguides could enable a soft robot to feel its surroundings internally, in much the same way as humans, according to Cornell University researchers. They say the technology acts as curvature, elongation, and force sensors in a soft robotic hand. "Our sensors are integrated within the body, so they can actually detect forces being transmitted through the thickness of the robot, a lot like we and all organisms do when we feel pain, for example," says Cornell doctoral student Huichan Zhao. He notes fabrication should not be complicated due to the development of elastomeric sensors, which are easily produced and incorporated into a soft robotic application. The team used a four-step soft lithography process to produce the core, through which light propagates, and the cladding or outer surface of the waveguide, which also houses the light-emitting diode and the photodiode. Zhao says as the prosthetic hand deforms, light is lost through the core. That variable loss of light, as detected by the photodiode, enables the prosthesis to "sense" its surroundings. The researchers say the technology has potential uses beyond prostheses, including bio-inspired robots.
ACM CEO Questions Ethical Computing Future
The Oredigger (12/12/16) Katrina San Nicolas
ACM CEO Bobby Schnabel last week considered the ethical ramifications of computer science's evolution as it pertains to society at a colloquium of students and professors. "I would argue that [computing] has become more of a socio-technical discipline than a purely technical discipline," he said. Schnabel said cautious ethical consideration is necessary with the field's growing role in many industry sectors, including transportation, entertainment, health, and biology. "There is a crazy tradeoff between privacy and security," he noted, voicing the contradiction of some people opposing technological surveillance while others laud the technology's ability to promote safety. Schnabel cited driverless cars as an example of computing's capacity to strengthen and weaken other industries at the same time. Some audience members voiced concerns about how technology can add costs to families on a budget, the notion there will always exist a barrier between technology and society, and social media's potential to become an outlet for bogus news. Speaking at the Colorado School of Mines, Schnabel said in the midst of these anxieties, the promotion of diversity is a key focus for ACM. He warned a lack of diversity in technology design can have calamitous effects, noting "the biggest point by far is the creativity that comes from diversity."
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