Welcome to the March 2, 2018 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Hacker Expo Offers Computer Science Students Chance to Present Projects Hacker Expo Offers Computer Science Students Chance to Present Projects
Daily Bruin
Joy Harjanto
March 2, 2018

Hacker Expo 2018, hosted by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) ACM chapter and the UCLA Tech + Innovation initiative at Carnesale Commons, showcased 25 programming projects completed by UCLA students. Among the projects was one that helps first-year students connect with upperclassmen mentors in their preferred majors, and another that provides students with a platform to trade and sell textbooks. UCLA ACM board members preselected 25 projects, and Facebook engineers judged the projects on criteria including communication, creativity, design and technical challenge. Ankur Papneja, UCLA ACM director of operations, said he thinks the exposition helps publicize various projects university computer science students have worked on over the past year. “We put it on to celebrate the remarkable tech skills fellow Bruins have developed,” he said. Papneja added students are able to apply the skills they have learned in class to projects that positively impact society.

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Quantitative Analysis of Population-Scale Family Trees with Millions of Relatives
Joanna Kaplanis; Assaf Gordon; Tal Shor
March 1, 2018; et al.

When commercial genealogy and social networking website Geni.com launched in 2007, it aimed to create a “family tree of the world.” Today, amateur genealogists have created more than 115 million individual profiles on the free site, linking them together by marriage or birth when they can. Recently, the company allowed scientists from the New York Genome Center, Columbia University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Harvard University to scrape these crowdsourced public records into family trees the size of small nations. Their analysis includes the single largest known family tree, containing 13 million people. The team, made up mostly of geneticists and bioinformaticians, was also able to establish a new perspective on the genetic basis for longevity. It’s a hot topic, especially around Silicon Valley, where numerous, well-funded startups have devoted themselves to finding the secrets to aging in DNA. The main goal of the study, however, was to show that this kind of data could offer up the same analytical insights as more traditional demographic datasets, which are more labor- and cost-intensive to produce.

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The 5 Most Popular Programming Languages Among Female Developers
Alison DeNisco Rayome
March 1, 2018

More women are majoring in computer science than in the past, according to HackerRank's 2018 Women in Tech Report, released Thursday. HackerRank surveyed more than 14,000 professional software developers, including about 2,000 women and 12,000 men, and found that computer science is growing in popularity among young women and that the gender gap in age of learning to code is also shrinking. Java, JavaScript, C, C++, and Python topped the list of the most common programming languages that female developers said they have proficiency in, the report found.

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Sleuth Talent Contest Unveils New Generation of Cybersecurity Stars Outwitting Hackers
Daily Express (UK)
Maisha Frost
March 1, 2018

The Cyber Security Challenge U.K.'s latest Masterclass final highlighted defensive strategies by amateurs against simulated cyberthreats, which included an attempt to cripple an international shipping line and application of digital forensics to trace an enemy mole. Sponsors say the goal of the program is to nurture next-generation cyber experts. "We protect some of the best-known brands around the world as well as the critical national infrastructure in the U.K.," notes BT Security CEO Mark Hughes. "Only by attracting the best talent can we stay ahead and keep the nation safe from cyberthreat." Participants went through five qualifying rounds, deploying the latest cybersecurity tools, performing live network monitoring, and building a legal case against an insider. Computer science student Mo Rahman, who won the top prize (training courses and seats at closed industry events), said "the experience here cannot be obtained outside these real-world settings. This has kickstarted my career."

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SEMS Group Research to Be Presented at the Houses of Parliament SEMS Group Research to Be Presented at the Houses of Parliament
University of Southampton
February 28, 2018

A joint project between the University of Southampton's Department of Electronics and Computer Science and the university's Faculty of Health Sciences will be presented at the Houses of Parliament in the U.K. at the upcoming "STEM for Britain" poster competition. The annual event seeks to encourage greater engagement between early-stage scientists and members of Parliament (MPs). The Southampton interdisciplinary research effort combined printed smart fabrics, intelligent control, and healthcare methods to realize wearable electrical stimulation technology to enhance arm movement in stroke survivors, both in clinical environments and at home. "STEM for Britain is an excellent platform from which to advocate the need for low-cost solutions to rehabilitation and to showcase our research to address this which was developed with stroke survivors," says Southampton's Katie Meadmore. "I hope that my day in Parliament will raise awareness amongst MPs of this need for rehabilitation, as well as the consequences of living with stroke more generally."

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NTU Singapore Partners With Alibaba to Set Up Joint Research Institute for AI Technologies
OpenGov Asia
Priyankar Bhunia
March 1, 2018

Researchers at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore and China's Alibaba Group have launched the Alibaba-NTU Singapore Joint Research Institute to create and test artificial intelligence (AI) solutions to address societal challenges. The institute seeks to combine NTU's human-centered AI technology with Alibaba's natural-language processing, computer-vision, machine-learning, and cloud computing technologies. NTU and Alibaba also will collaborate on a crowdsourcing platform to connect researchers and industry partners around the world within an AI-focused research and development ecosystem. The technologies will be tested on the NTU Smart Campus to demonstrate their effectiveness before they are distributed. The overall goal is to deploy AI solutions over the next five years in a range of scenarios to help people live healthier, smarter, and happier lives. "Using AI technologies, we can address fundamental societal challenges such as aging population, which is a huge issue for cities with a rapidly aging population such as Singapore," says NTU professor Subra Suresh.

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Basic Password Guidance Can Dramatically Improve Account Security, Study Shows Basic Password Guidance Can Dramatically Improve Account Security, Study Shows
Plymouth University
Alan Williams
February 28, 2018

Researchers at Plymouth University in the U.K. found technology users who receive basic password guidance were up to 40 percent more likely to make their choices secure. Those users who were given feedback such as how likely it was that hackers could guess their passwords also were up to 10 times more likely to change their original choice to something more secure. In one experiment, 300 users creating an Internet account were offered either no feedback or a range of advice including a standard password meter, emojis, or an emotive feedback message. The researchers found the number of password choices rated as "weak" fell from 75 percent when users were given no guidance to about 33 percent when they were shown more emotive messages. In a second study, 500 U.S. volunteers presented with more specific security-related advice had a significantly greater understanding of the risk, which led them to create passwords that were longer and up to 10 times stronger.

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Paul Allen Wants to Teach Machines Common Sense
The New York Times
Cade Metz
February 28, 2018

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen on Wednesday announced he would pour another $125 million into the non-profit Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence to fund a project to teach computers common sense. He notes the additional funding should help to underwrite existing research as well as the common sense initiative, called Project Alexandria. Artificial intelligence (AI) "recognizes objects, but can't explain what it sees," says Allen Institute CEO Oren Etzioni. "It can't read a textbook and understand the questions in the back of the book." The Allen Institute wants to compile a database of fundamental knowledge that humans take for granted but which machines have always lacked, which will be fed into efforts such as Project Alexandria. "To make real progress in AI, we have to overcome the big challenges in the area of common sense,” Allen contends.

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A New Data Trove Could Teach Computers to Tell Blind People What They Need to Know A New Data Trove Could Teach Computers to Tell Blind People What They Need to Know
Technology Review
February 27, 2018

Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) are publishing a database of 31,000 images along with questions and answers about them, and challenging the machine-vision community to use this dataset to train machines as effective assistants for those with visual disabilities. The dataset comes from the VizWiz application designed by Carnegie Mellon University scientists to help the blind. The UT Austin team analyzed photos collected by VizWiz, and then presented the images and questions to Amazon's Mechanical Turk workers to supply a short-sentence answer. A preliminary analysis of the data offers unique insights into the challenges machine vision faces in providing this kind of assistance. "We introduce this dataset to encourage a larger community to develop more generalized algorithms that can assist blind people," say the researchers. "Improving algorithms on VizWiz can simultaneously educate more people about the technological needs of blind people while providing an exciting new opportunity for researchers to develop assistive technologies that eliminate accessibility barriers."

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Chipmakers Test Ferroelectrics as a Route to Ultralow-Power Chips
IEEE Spectrum
Katherine Bourzac
February 26, 2018

Semiconductor companies are investigating ferroelectrics, with semiconductor maker GlobalFoundries recently detailing ferroelectric-frosted transistors fabricated via 14-nanometer manufacturing technology. Ferroelectrics are seen as a way to get a strong signal at lower voltage, saving power and extending battery longevity. Researchers have worked out a method to encourage friendlier materials such as hafnium dioxide, already used in chip components, to function as ferroelectrics. Instead of using these materials to substitute for insulators, engineers usually layer them on top of existing insulators. In GlobalFoundries' experimental transistors, clouds of electrons around silicon-doped hafnium dioxide undergo polarization, while the ring oscillators achieve a 10-fold increase in the current. However, the odd behavior of electrical charges in ferroelectric materials slows things down, and some researchers are doubtful that transistors built with ferroelectrics will top 100 MHz, while others think building these devices will require impractically thick ferroelectric layers.

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Helping Communities Hit 'Restart' Through STEM Helping Communities Hit 'Restart' Through STEM
The Temple News
Ian Walker
February 27, 2018

Temple University's Jamie Bracey has nurtured middle and high school students' interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) via after-school programs. With the launch of the university's Center for Inclusive Competitiveness (CIC), Bracey plans to extend such efforts to underserved communities. "[We] hope that every urban center that we are all active in can press restart, but beyond that, can also compete using STEM in really creative ways to sustain themselves," she says. The CIC will offer programs on local, national, and international levels, and will partner with several Philadelphia high schools to build and maintain aquaponics labs that raise fish and grow plants together to cut waste. To cultivate more employment in minority communities, the CIC will develop a national "inclusivity index" in collaboration with consultancy ScaleUp Partners; this index will show how certain urban populations are underserved. Bracey hopes civic institutions will apply the index to improve employment opportunities for communities of color.

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