ACM TechNews


Welcome to the October 17, 2018 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Paul G. Allen Paul G. Allen, Microsoft's Co-Founder, Is Dead at 65
The Business Times
Steve Lohr
October 15, 2018


Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen died Monday in Seattle, WA, from complications of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Allen, 65, helped usher in the personal computing era in the 1980s by arranging a deal to acquire (and later tweak) an operating system that served as the basis for the Microsoft Disk Operating System (MS-DOS), a forerunner of today’s Windows operating system. Said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, "In his own quiet and persistent way, he created magical products, experiences and institutions, and in doing so, he changed the world." In addition, over the course of his life, Allen donated more than $2 billion toward nonprofit groups dedicated to the advancement of science, technology, education, the environment, and the arts. He also funded scientific research organizations such as the Allen Institute for Brain Science and the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence.

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MIT’s Great Dome MIT Plans College for Artificial Intelligence, Backed by $1B
The New York Times
Steve Lohr
October 15, 2018


The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has announced a plan to establish the MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing, a new artificial intelligence (AI) college backed by a planned investment of $1 billion, 66% of which has already been raised, including a gift of $350 million from Blackstone Group's Stephen A. Schwarzman. The AI college will create 50 new faculty positions and many more fellowships for graduate students. MIT president L. Rafael Reif says the college will "educate the bilinguals of the future," people in fields such as biology, chemistry, politics, history, and linguistics who also have computing skills. The college is an attempt to embed computing into the curriculum, rather than tacking it on to existing courses. MIT’s Melissa Nobles said, “We’re excited by the possibilities. That’s how the humanities are going to survive, not by running from the future but by embracing it.”

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Felten Confirmed as Member of U.S. Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board
Princeton University
Steven Schultz
October 12, 2018


The U.S. Senate has confirmed the appointment of Princeton University computer science and public affairs professor Ed Felten to the executive branch's bipartisan Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. Felten, who is Robert E. Kahn Professor of Computer Science and Public Affairs at Princeton and director of the university’s Center for Information Technology Policy, will serve on the board on a part-time basis. The board is tasked with assessing and advising on executive branch anti-terrorism measures with respect to privacy and civil liberties. Felten previously was deputy chief technology officer for the Obama administration from 2015 to 2017, during which he spearheaded work on the societal implications of artificial intelligence. The first computer scientist to serve on the board, Felton said, "National security is one of the areas where that participation is particularly needed."

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monitoring treadmill vibrations Two Systems Allow Smart Devices to Have Environmental Awareness
Electronics360
Siobhan Treacy
October 15, 2018


Two teams of Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers have developed two new systems that give smart devices environmental awareness by analyzing either sound or vibrations to register their surroundings. The Ubicoustics system uses the microphones in smart devices to register and classify environmental sounds, having been trained on sound-effect archives used by the entertainment industry. Says CMU's Gierad Laput, "We can transform and project [these sound libraries] into hundreds of different variations, creating volumes of data perfect for training deep learning models." The other system, Vibrosight, classifies sounds by detecting vibrations via an integrated sensor, laser, and motorized steerable mirror. Ubicoustics and Vibrosight were both presented this week at the ACM User Interface Software and Technology Symposium (UIST2018) in Berlin.

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robot watching TV Watching YouTube Videos May Someday Let Robots Copy Humans
ZDNet
Tiernan Ray
October 10, 2018


Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have trained a neural network to reconstruct human acrobatics in YouTube video clips and manipulate a simulated humanoid to ape those movements. The research has implications for training robotic systems to mimic human behavior. Motion reconstruction was based on earlier Google research in which a single image of a human could be analyzed by a convolutional neural network, deciphering limb positions even though body parts were partly obscured. By rotating the image of each frame, the computer's understanding of atypical body poses improved, enabling the assembly of a "trajectory" of limbs from one frame to the next. Reinforcement learning refined the humanoid avatar's replication by rewarding it when its limbs increasingly approximated the filmed human motion.

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Google-Supported Program in Netherlands Helps Primary Schools With Computational Thinking
ComputerWeekly.com
Kim Loohuis
October 10, 2018


Google is backing a program in the Netherlands to support primary schools in providing instruction in computational thinking and programming. With $500,000 from Google, the Dutch National Expert Center on Girls/Women and Science/Technology (VHTO) aims to enable 2,000 primary schools to participate for free in the two-day DigiLeerKracht (DigiTeacher) training program. VHTO DigiLeerKracht was jointly developed with experts from Delft University of Technology and Codeklas. In training sessions, teachers are introduced to the possibilities of computational thinking and applying it in their own education, then they each draft a 10-point plan of how to embed computational thinking at their own school. VHTO's Cocky Booij said the program initially focuses on schools that are not so far along in adding digital skills to their curriculum, noting that "We want to reach female teachers, because 90% of primary school teachers are women."

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Study Exposes Security Vulnerabilities in Terahertz Data Links
News from Brown
Kevin Stacey
October 15, 2018


Malicious actors can intercept a signal from a terahertz transmitter without the intrusion being detected at the receiver, according to a study by researchers at Brown University, Rice University, and the University at Buffalo. This contradicts conventional wisdom in the terahertz community that it was virtually impossible to surveil a terahertz data link without being noticed. The Brown team showed undetected eavesdropping in the terahertz realm is easier than previously thought, and researchers should consider security issues as they design terahertz network architectures. Said Rice University’s Edward Knightly, “Securing wireless transmission from eavesdroppers has been a challenge since the days of Marconi. While terahertz bands take a huge leap in this direction, we unfortunately found that a determined adversary can still be effective in intercepting the signal.”

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Neural Networks Don't Understand What Optical Illusions Are
Technology Review
October 12, 2018


Researchers at the University of Louisville have found that machine vision systems cannot process optical illusions in the same way humans can. The researchers compiled a database of more than 6,000 images of optical illusions and trained a neural network to recognize them, then built a generative adversarial network to create optical illusions for itself. After seven hours of training, however, they found nothing of value was created. The researchers believe generative adversarial networks are unlikely to be able to learn to trick human vision without being able to understand the principles behind such illusions, the result of crucial differences between machine vision systems and the human visual system.

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An illustration of how a silicon chip guides light around the device’s edge. Pristine Quantum Light Source Created at the Edge of Silicon Chip
IEEE Spectrum
October 10, 2018


University of Maryland researchers have developed a silicon chip that steers light around its edge to reliably generate high-quality single photons, and reduce the probability of optical signal degradation. The researchers said they used silicon to render infrared laser light as pairs of different-colored single photons. They injected light into a chip containing an array of tiny silicon loops, and the light circulated around each loop thousands of times before going on to a neighboring loop. To avoid degraded photon quality from fabrication defects, the team configured the loops to ensure light travels undisturbed around the chip's edge, safeguarding it from disruptions and limiting how single photons form within the edge channels. The researchers say their results could open up a new avenue of research uniting quantum light with photonic devices equipped with built-in protective features.

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A young woman viewing several computing screens. EdX Launches Nine Master's Degrees Through Major University Partners
EdScoop
Colin Wood
October 11, 2018


EdX, the online education platform backed by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has expanded its graduate course offerings to include nine new programs through partnerships with several major universities. The new degrees include data science, cybersecurity, and computer science. The partnering institutions include Arizona State University, the Georgia Institute of Technology, Indiana University, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of California, San Diego, and Australia's University of Queensland and Curtin University. The new courses can be stacked with an on-campus master's degree or online degrees. Said EdX CEO Anant Agarwal, “Digital technology is revolutionizing every aspect of our society and changing the nature of work. Existing industries are evolving while new fields are emerging, and there is a clear demand for the advanced knowledge needed to succeed in this new workplace."

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High-Performance Flexible Transparent Force Touch Sensor for Wearable Devices
KAIST
October 15, 2018


Researchers at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) in South Korea have developed a thin, flexible, transparent hierarchical nanocomposite (HNC) film that can be used to create a high-performance, transparent nanoforce touch sensor. The researchers say the sensor features high sensitivity, transparency, bending insensitivity, and manufacturability. The device's sensing electrodes are on the same plane as the neutral plane, which allows the force-touch sensor to operate even when bent to the radius of a ballpoint pen, with no change in performance. Said KAIST's Jae-Young Yoo, "We successfully developed an industrial-grade force touch sensor by using a simple structure and fabrication process. We expect it to be widely used in user touch interfaces and wearable devices."

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Stringent Password Policies Help Prevent Fraud, IU Study Finds
IU Bloomington Newsroom
Amanda Roach
October 11, 2018


Indiana University (IU) researchers have found that requiring longer and more complicated passwords results in a lower likelihood of password reuse on multiple websites. The researchers analyzed password policies from 22 U.S. universities, and extracted sets of emails and passwords from two large datasets that were published online and contained more than 1.3 billion email addresses and password combinations. The team compared the passwords against each university's official password policy, and the results showed that stringent password rules significantly lower a university's risk of personal data breaches. Specifically, passphrase requirements such as a 15-character minimum length deter 99.98% of users from reusing passwords or passphrases on other sites. The team offered the following recommendations to safeguard passwords: increase the minimum length beyond eight characters; increase maximum password length; disallow the user's name or username inside passwords; and consider multi-factor authentication.

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Ellen Kuhl, professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford. Stanford-Led Team Simulates How Alzheimer's Disease Spreads Through the Brain
Stanford News
Tom Abate
October 12, 2018


Researchers at Stanford University, the Stevens Institute of Technology, and Oxford University in the U.K. have developed a computer model of the accrual of defective proteins in the brain that causes neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease over a 30-year period. The team believes the method can be applied to other brain disorders involving misfolded proteins. Protein data inferred from postmortem brain slices was fed into a computer, then mathematical modeling was conducted to simulate the accumulation of defective protein clumps. Said Stanford's Ellen Kuhl, "What our model does is connect the dots between the static data points, mathematically, to show disease progression in unprecedented detail." Kuhl plans to work with neuroscientists to determine how the proteins misfold, and will make the modeling software freely available to other scientists.

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