Welcome to the January 26, 2018 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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memristor memory Technology Standard Could Shape the Future of Electronics Design
University of Southampton
January 26, 2018


Researchers at the University of Southampton in the U.K. say they have found a way to enhance emerging memristor nanotechnology that could clear a path for a new generation of electronics. The team has demonstrated a new memristor technology that can store a maximum of 128 discernible memory states in each switch, which is almost four times more than previously disclosed. They achieved this by evaluating several configurations of functional oxide materials, which let the memristor change its resistance. "Memristors are a key enabling technology for next-generation chips, which need to be highly reconfigurable yet affordable, scalable, and energy-efficient," says Southampton professor Themis Prodromakis. He notes memristors have the potential to enable new electronics by being both smaller and simpler in form than transistors, requiring less power, and having the capability to retain data by "remembering" the amount of charge that has passed through them. "This technology is ideal for developing novel hardware that can learn and adapt autonomously," Prodromakis says.

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Quantum Race Accelerates Development of Silicon Quantum Chip
Delft University of Technology
January 25, 2018


Researchers at the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in the Netherlands have demonstrated that the quantum information of an electron spin can be transported to a photon in a silicon quantum chip. TU Delft professor Lieven Vandersypen says this represents a milestone for linking quantum bits (qubits) across the chip and enabling the scaling-up to large numbers of qubits. With silicon, "we can use electrical fields to capture single electrons in silicon for use as [qubits]," notes TU Delft's Guoji Zheng. The team has shown that a single electron spin and a single photon can be paired on a silicon chip, although TU Delft's Nodar Samkharadze says the electrons that are captured as qubits in silicon currently can only make direct contact with their immediate neighbors. "My team achieved this result in a relatively short time and under great pressure from worldwide competition," Vandersypen notes.

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Chinese pupils at abacus contest When It Comes to Teaching Coding, China's Parents Won't Get With the Program
The Wall Street Journal
Li Yuan
January 25, 2018


The Chinese government wants to cultivate programming skills in children, but parents are reluctant to encourage it while the education ministry's plan to establish national standards for science, technology, engineering, and math education and provide teacher training and other tools is challenging. Venture capitalist Zhang Lijun says this is understandable, as coding, unlike English and math, is not yet a critical subject tested in Chinese college entrance exams. A Peking University survey of more than 40,000 families found Chinese families spent $298.3 billion on pre- through secondary-school education for the 2016-2017 school year, with 33 percent going to extracurricular tutoring courses such as English and math. Shenzhen Dianmao Technology CEO Li Tianchi says more parents have to understand that coding has become as vital an area for upward mobility and economic success in China as knowing English. "Learning to code isn't about becoming a programmer," he contends. "It's the key to the future."

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Ultralow Power Consumption for Data Recording
Tohoku University
January 24, 2018


Researchers at Tohoku University in Japan and Hanyang University in South Korea have developed a new phase change material with electrical characteristics that behave differently from conventional materials. They say the material enables a significant reduction in power consumption for data recording in non-volatile random-access memory, and they think phase change random-access memory (PCRAM) will replace flash memory and could be used for storage-class memory. PCRAM relies on the change in electrical resistance between high-resistance amorphous and low-resistance crystalline states in phase change materials. The newly developed phase change material exhibits an inverse resistance change from low-resistance amorphous to high-resistance crystalline states. The researchers demonstrated the material can achieve a reduction of more than 90 percent in power consumption for data recording versus a conventional Ge-Sb-Te memory cell. The new material also was found to combine a faster operational speed and a higher data retention property than conventional materials.

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ProjectDR demo mannequin Augmented Reality System Lets Doctors See Under Patients' Skin Without the Scalpel
University of Alberta
Katie Willis
January 24, 2018


Researchers at the University of Alberta (UAlberta) in Canada have developed ProjectDR, a system that enables medical images to be displayed directly on a patient's body in a way that moves as the patient does. UAlberta's Ian Watts says ProjectDR can show clinicians a patient's internal anatomy within the context of the body. Watts notes the new technology includes a motion-tracking system using infrared cameras and markers on the patient's body, and a projector to display the images. The researchers also developed software so the image can track properly on the patient's body even as they move. "There are lots of applications for this technology, including in teaching, physiotherapy, laparoscopic surgery, and even surgical planning," Watts notes. He says ProjectDR also has the capacity to present segmented images depending on the clinician's needs. The team plans to deploy ProjectDR in an operating room of a surgical simulation laboratory to test its real-life surgical applications.

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Retrospective Test for Quantum Computers Can Build Trust
Center for Quantum Technologies (Singapore)
January 23, 2018


Researchers at the Center for Quantum Technologies in Singapore and Kyoto University in Japan have developed a test to ensure the correctness of quantum computations after completion. "We try to produce a state which can be used as a witness to the correctness of the computation," says Singapore University of Technology and Design professor Joseph Fitzsimons. "The previous approaches had some kind of trap built into the computation that gets checked as you go along." The researchers note the witness state registers each step of the computation, so it must have as many bits as the computation has steps. The team offers two post-hoc verification schemes, one of which requires the customer to send and measure quantum bits with the requisite hardware and a transmission line. The other scheme supports communication over the regular Internet, but the quantum computer performing the calculation must be networked with five other quantum systems to check the witness state.

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A drone hovering above a building. New Opportunities for Drone Detection With 5G Networks
Aalto University
January 23, 2018


Researchers at Aalto University and Tampere University of Technology in Finland have found new possibilities for the efficient detection of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) by relying on future 5G communications systems. The researchers say modern technologies and materials permit the construction of smaller and more functional drones, but they also pose a potential threat to humans and urban infrastructure. They also note recent regulations have been unable to fully protect against illegal actions involving UAVs, and more dangerous situations with disastrous consequences could arise if a malfunctioning drone is carrying a hazardous payload. In order to prevent dangerous situations and detect errant drones as early as possible, it is necessary to integrate multistatic radar techniques with extremely high frequency 5G infrastructure, a strategy that would partly employ radio resources for early drone detection, according to the researchers. They have developed novel techniques for effective drone detection in urban environments where 5G networks are expected to be deployed soon.

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New Metal-Semiconductor Interface for Brain-Inspired Computing
University of Groningen
January 22, 2018


Researchers at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands say they have coupled a niobium-doped strontium titanate semiconductor with ferromagnetic cobalt to produce a spin-memristor with storage abilities at the interface. They note the device combines the memristor effect of semiconductors and tunneling anisotropic magnetoresistance (TAMR), and an electroresistance effect is enabled via non-volatile variable resistance. Meanwhile, applying a magnetic field across the interface exhibited tunability of the TAMR spin voltage. "This means we can store additional information in a non-volatile way in the memristor, thus creating a very simple and elegant integrated spin-memristor device that operates at room temperature," says Groningen professor Tamalika Banerjee. The team believes such devices could be embedded in a brain-like computer architecture, acting as synapses. "We are also thinking of building a more complex system with such spin-memristors to test actual algorithms for specific cognition capabilities of the human brain," Banerjee notes.

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Bitcoin Wallets Vulnerable to Security Hacks
University of Edinburgh
January 23, 2018


Researchers at the University of Edinburgh in the U.K. say they have conducted an in-depth security analysis of the communications systems used in popular models of Bitcoin wallet. The team identified some security flaws, but also determined how some of them might be rectified. They created a piece of malware that could intercept messages sent between hardware wallets and computers where users manage their bitcoin accounts, and tests confirmed that users' privacy is unprotected, and also showed how easy it is to access bitcoin funds managed by such devices and divert them to a different account. Based on the research, the team has proposed a solution for improving the security of such systems by encrypting specific messages sent between bitcoin wallets and computers, which they say makes them much more secure. The researchers say their technology could be incorporated into all bitcoin hardware wallets to offer better protection against hackers.

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Thomas Schon, professor of automatic control at Uppsala University. The Algorithms of Our Future Thinking Machines
Uppsala University
Anneli Bjorkman
January 19, 2018


Researchers at Uppsala University (UU) and the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden are building algorithms for dynamic systems under the NewLEADS project. "Uppsala's focus in this project is to build mathematical models of dynamic systems that can identify and deal with uncertainty," says UU professor Thomas Schon. Among KTH's areas of concentration are designing experiments that extract as much data as possible from a particular system that is to be modeled, notes KTH professor Hakan Hjalmarsson. "I hope...that KTH and UU will be able to build a good theoretical base that is easy to implement in various applications of dynamic systems such as smart climate control of buildings and self-driving vehicles, and that we get to see them put to good use," he says. Schon notes his team's latest area of focus is medical applications, particularly automated diagnosis as a tool for doctors.

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Real-World Intercontinental Quantum Communications Enabled by the Micius Satellite
University of Science and Technology of China
Jane Fan
January 19, 2018


Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences say they have developed a promising solution to the limitations of quantum communication due to the optical channel losses of fibers or terrestrial free space. The solution exploits the Micius satellite and space-based link, which can connect two remote terrestrial points with greatly reduced channel loss because most of the photons' propagation path is in empty space, with negligible loss and decoherence. The researchers combined a satellite-based quantum key distribution with metropolitan quantum networks, in which fibers efficiently and conveniently connect numerous users inside a city over a distance of about 100 kilometers. The Micius satellite also can be used as a trustworthy relay to connect any two points on Earth for high-security key exchange. As a proof of concept, a 5.34-kbit picture of Micius was sent from Beijing, China, to Vienna, Austria, and a 4.9-kbit picture of Schrodinger was transmitted from Vienna to Beijing, using an approximately 80-kbit secure quantum key for one-time-pad encoding.

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Man pointing smartphone toward the night sky Smartphones Come in Handy for Rare Cosmic Particles Search
Higher School of Economics (Russia)
January 18, 2018


Researchers at the Laboratory of Methods for Big Data Analysis (LAMBDA) at the National Research University Higher School of Economics in Russia say they have improved a method for analyzing ultra-high-energy cosmic rays (UHECR) with mobile phones. The research was performed for a project that proposes using a distributed mobile phone network to detect UHECRs. To accomplish this, the researchers developed an algorithm for constructing convolutional neural networks that can be used with mobile phones. The phones' cameras use technology similar to that in particle detectors, giving them the ability to detect Extended Atmospheric Showers (EAS) formed when UHECRs interact with air particles. The researchers say the EAS particles interact with the camera and leave traces of weakly activated pixels, which can be difficult to differentiate from interference and random noise. If millions of phones are used in the experiment, the researchers will use a trigger algorithm to eliminate background data, and a neural network to detect muon signals.

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A cyber grid Artificial Agent Designs Quantum Experiments
University of Innsbruck
January 17, 2018


Researchers at the University of Innsbruck in Austria say they have developed an artificially intelligent (AI) agent that autonomously designs quantum experiments, and that could independently rediscover experimental techniques that are standard in modern quantum labs. The team used a projective simulation model to study the potential of artificial learning agents and the applicability of AI to research. The agent tries to develop new experiments by virtually placing mirrors, prisms, or beam splitters on an empty lab table, and if these actions lead to meaningful results, the agent has a higher chance to conduct a similar sequence of actions in the future. The team notes the AI agent performed tens of thousands of experiments on the virtual table, leading to the development of certain structures, some of which were already known as useful tools from modern quantum optical laboratories. Other structures were found to be completely original and could be tested in an actual lab.

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