Welcome to the October 6, 2017 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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New Data Structure Allows Rapid Tracking and Policing of Network Data
A*STAR Research
October 5, 2017


Researchers at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) in Singapore have developed Resilient and Efficient data Structure (REX), which they say is a new way to structure data that is robust against cyberattacks and enables it to be processed very quickly. A*STAR researcher Vrizlynn Thing says REX improves on widely-used data structures called "hash tables," which map values to specific locations, labeled with indices. Traditional hash tables are becoming inefficient as the Internet grows and data flows get larger. Researchers have previously developed data structures known as Cuckoo and Peacock, but when they are under attack, these hash tables fill up quickly, degrading performance. REX exploits some inherent characteristics of Internet traffic, such as taking into account the "heavy tail" behavior of data flows, by employing a hierarchy of subtables increasing in size from top to bottom. In addition, "our design features both fast, expensive Static RAM and slower, cheaper Dynamic RAM," Thing says.

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A digital countdown timer Warning: This Algorithm Will Self-Destruct After It's Used
Technology Review
October 5, 2017


Marie-Christine Roehsner at the University of Vienna in Austria and Joshua Kettlewell at the National University of Singapore say they have built a proof-of-principle algorithm that destroys itself after use. "We...allow some probability of error in the output and show that quantum mechanics offers security advantages over purely classical resources," the researchers note. In this setup, one party encodes sensitive information in the states of a set of quantum bits on a quantum computer programmed to compare this data with information entered by another party in order to perform a calculation. The researchers say reverse engineering via determination of the logic gates' wiring is prevented "because our approach is to encode the truth table for individual gates as a one-time program in its own right." They note the prototype shows "that quantum physics allows for better security trade-offs for certain secure computing tasks than are possible in the classical world, even when perfect security cannot be achieved."

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Gelatin gripper for ingestible robots An Edible Actuator for Ingestible Robots
IEEE Spectrum
Evan Ackerman
October 5, 2017


Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne in Switzerland's Laboratory of Intelligent Systems recently unveiled a prototype for a soft, edible pneumatic actuator fabricated from gelatin, which can serve as a crucial mechanism for ingestible robots. The element bends when inflated and straightens out again when pressure is lowered. The researchers note because gelatin can melt, the edible actuator also could repair itself. "The components of such edible robots could be mixed with nutrient or pharmaceutical components for digestion and metabolization," they say. "Potential applications are disposable robots for exploration, digestible robots for medical purposes in humans and animals, and food transportation where the robot does not require additional payload because the robot is the food." The researchers also note edible robots could be used to study the collective behavior of animals in the wild, while autophagy (self-eating) is another potential application, which would extend the robot's lifecycle.

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Scottish Researchers Make Optical Computer Breakthrough
Electronics Weekly (UK)
Richard Wilson
October 6, 2017


Researchers at Heriot-Watt University in Scotland say they have come a step closer to manufacturing novel photonic computing components by demonstrating that a compound employed in touchscreens called aluminum zinc oxide reacts to light when simultaneously struck with ultra-fast laser pulses of different hues. "Each color can induce strong and ultra-fast alteration on both the transparency of the material and the speed at which light propagates into it," notes Heriot-Watt professor Marcello Ferrera. He also observed behavior that could have ramifications for the design and fabrication of optical computing and telecommunication devices. "The induced alterations, which are typically opposite in sign, can be algebraically summed up one to another," Ferrera says. "If the material becomes more transparent with one color and more absorptive with the other, it will not show any appreciable alteration when the optical stimuli occur simultaneously." Ferrera notes his team's findings point the way toward "the full miniaturization of photonic components."

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Filling the Pipeline for Computer Science Teachers
Science
Zahra Ahmad
October 2, 2017


A shortage of computer science teachers is impeding state and local educators' adoption of new computer science (CS) mandates for students. Code.org's Cameron Wilson says the only recourse for providing school districts with sufficient CS teachers is to specify funding for CS education and teacher training. Wilson notes Code.org and other organizations are pressuring states "to think about allocating funding so they can take in-service teachers and prepare them to teach computer science." School officials in some areas are helping to prepare teachers by implementing short training programs, including Code.org workshops. The U.S. National Science Foundation also underwrites activities via the federal Computer Science for All program. Others say more initiatives are needed. "We need targeted funding specifically for computer science education," says Indiana University's Anne Leftwich. "If we don't have targeted funding, school officials won't feel inclined to invest in computer science education."

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Man using virtual reality headset Teleoperating Robots With Virtual Reality
MIT CSAIL
Adam Conner-Simons
October 4, 2017


Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have developed a virtual reality (VR) system that enables robot teleoperation via an Oculus Rift headset. CSAIL's Jeffrey Lipton says the system "could eventually help humans supervise robots from a distance." The team notes its methodology falls in the middle between a "direct" model and a "cyber-physical" model. Team members say there is no delay problem because the user constantly receives visual feedback from the virtual space, while the cyber-physical issue of being distinct from the robot is addressed because once a user puts on the headset and logs in, they will feel as if they are inside the robot's head. Using Oculus' controllers, users can engage with controls appearing in the virtual space to open and close grippers to pick up, move, and retrieve items. Mapping the human's space into virtual space and virtual space into the robot's space facilitates a sense of colocation.

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Integrating Data to Learn More
Leiden University (The Netherlands)
October 4, 2017


In an interview, Leiden University professor Katy Wolstencroft in the Netherlands says the combination of existing datasets into a collective archive requires data integration technology, and key to this "is making data [Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable]." Wolstencroft notes this process "involves publishing datasets in a format that can be understood by humans and computers." She cites Leiden's FAIRDOM project as one such tool, serving as a platform in which systems biology scientists can share their data and mathematical models with whomever they please, supporting structuring and annotation of research results. Wolstencroft says because data management is often too complicated for many biologists, tools such as FAIRDOM aim to make the task simpler. "I hope that in the future, allowing your data to become part of the pool of our collective knowledge will be part of every researchers' workflow," she says. "Then we could learn a lot more, and more quickly."

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Two small robots with ants Robotic Bugs Train Insects to Be Helpers
Horizon Magazine
Aisling Irwin
October 4, 2017


Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, working as part of the European Union-funded CyBioSys project, are developing mobile robots that are learning to work with insects to help serve humans. "The idea is to be able to solve [a] problem with a better solution than they [the robots and insects] can produce individually," says EPFL's Bertrand Collignon. The robots, which "live" with a colony of ants, spot signs that food has been discovered with a camera mounted inside the nest. The camera alerts the robots when it detects an increasing number of ants leaving, which is a sign that food has been found. After the ants have led the robots to the food, the robots carry it home much faster than ants could by themselves. Collignon says this can be described as a "cyber-biological system," which improves both on the natural order and on what robots could achieve on their own.

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UMass Amherst Computer Scientists Play Prominent Role in $25 Million Army Research Grant
UMass Amherst News
Janet Lathrop
October 4, 2017


A research team at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass Amherst) has received a $4.5-million grant from the U.S. Army Research Labs (ARL) to develop the scientific foundations for a next-generation Internet of Battlefield Things (IoBT). ARL is planning to provide $67.6 million in funding over the next 10 years to a four-institution IoBT consortium that includes the UMass Amherst team. The IoBT will connect soldiers with smart technology in armor, radios, weapons, and other objects to give troops extra sensory perception, offer situational understanding, give fighters predictive abilities, provide better risk assessment, and develop shared intuitions. "This is a terrific collaboration of top institutions that will greatly expand the opportunities for innovation and impact, not only in the envisioned applications, but I am sure in areas that no one has yet imagined," says UMass Amherst's Michael Malone. He notes the UMass Amherst researchers will focus on computer networking and machine learning.

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The Computers Being Trained to Beat You in an Argument
BBC News
Chris Reed
October 2, 2017


In the last several years, researchers have started focusing on simulating certain aspects of human argumentation and incorporating them into algorithms, writes University of Dundee professor Chris Reed in the U.K. He says these advances are being led by rapid growth in the volume of datasets used to train computers in the art of debate. Reed notes computerized argument technology is particularly improving in two areas, one of which is developing digital assistants for "making sense of the conflicting views around and allowing us to dig into the justifications for different standpoints. The second is to develop artificial intelligence that can play dialogue games--following the rules of interaction that can be found everywhere from courtrooms to auction houses." Reed says his team at the University of Dundee is using the idea that such games could inform important decision making to conceptualize more complex models, which might help improve the quality of debate.

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Good Vibrations for the Future of Computing
KAUST Discovery
October 1, 2017


Researchers at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia say they have demonstrated a new technology based on mechanical vibrations to perform logic operations. The team notes the technique uses microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), which have been studied in the past for logic operations, based on frequency mixing, which holds great potential for cascading. "Electromechanical systems offer a major advantage over existing technology in that they are leakage-free; that is, unlike electrical transistors, they only consume power when switched," says KAUST's Saad Ilyas. KAUST's Nizar Jaber notes, "We use an electrical signal as an input, which causes a clamped polymer microbeam to vibrate at a certain resonance frequency." Jaber says this could then be cascaded into the input of another MEMS logic gate. The researchers demonstrated various logic operations at a single operating frequency, which they say marks an important step toward cascading as the next breakthrough in MEMS resonator-based computing.

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A polished trumpet with sheet music Scientists Store Miles Davis and Deep Purple Audio Recordings on DNA in a Historic First
International Business Times
Aristos Georgiou
October 2, 2017


Researchers at the University of Washington (UW) and Microsoft say they have successfully encoded two high-quality audio recordings onto artificial DNA, which they say is the first time this has been accomplished for the purposes of long-term data storage. The researchers stored "Tutu" by Miles Davis and "Smoke on the Water" by Deep Purple, and were then able to decode and read back both recordings with 100-percent accuracy. The two songs equate to 140 MB of stored data, and the researchers hypothesize that storing 6 petabytes of data would result in an artificial DNA strand smaller than a grain of rice. In addition, the total estimated amount of data in all of the accessible Internet could fit onto a DNA storage device the size of a shoebox, says UW professor Luis Ceze. "DNA, nature's preferred information storage medium, is an ideal fit for digital archives because of its durability, density, and eternal relevance," he notes.

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Forget Killer Robots--Bias Is the Real AI Danger
Technology Review
Will Knight
October 3, 2017


John Giannandrea, Google's chief of artificial intelligence (AI), sees a clear hazard of machine-learning algorithms responsible for making millions of decisions becoming infected with prejudices that are baked into their code by human programmers. "The real safety question...is that if we give these systems biased data, they will be biased," Giannandrea warns. He stresses the need to instill and maintain transparency in the data used to train AI, and to be constantly vigilant for concealed biases. Google is one of several major companies promoting the AI capabilities of its cloud computing solutions to a wide diversity of businesses, and Giannandrea is concerned about bias easily creeping into those platforms as the technology becomes more accessible. To tackle the complexity and opacity of so many of the most powerful emerging machine-learning methods, researchers are investigating how to make these systems provide some approximation of their mechanisms to engineers and end users.

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