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Welcome to the July 20, 2015 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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NSA Summer Camp: More Hacking Than Hiking
The New York Times (07/17/15) Nicholas Fandos

The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has long recruited on college campuses and run collegiate programs, but with a new summer camp program supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation, NSA is seeking to cultivate middle- and high-school student interest and proficiency in cybersecurity. NSA began its GenCyber summer camp program last year by sponsoring six cybersecurity camps at colleges and universities. This year the program has expanded to 43 camps and its director, Steven LaFountain, hopes the program will include 200 camps in all 50 states by 2020. The program has flexible guidelines, as NSA largely allows the colleges and universities running the camps to decide what topics and exercises to cover, although it does mandate the GenCyber camps be offered free of charge. For example, one of the camps focuses on building and programming drones, while another involves campers building their own computers. "These kids are the ones that are going to be building the next products that we all rely on, the things we can't even imagine will exist in the future," LaFountain says. The camps have proven popular so far, with long waiting lists in place.
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Hitchhiking Robot Embarking on Coast-to-Coast Tour Across U.S.
ABC News (07/17/15) Collin Binkley

HitchBOT set out on its first cross-country tour of the U.S. on Friday. Created by two researchers in Canada, the humanoid robot already has hitchhiked across that country, as well as Europe. The kid-sized robot will rely on the kindness and curiosity of strangers to travel from Salem, MA, to quintessential U.S. sites such as Times Square, Mount Rushmore, and the Grand Canyon, with the goal of reaching San Francisco. Built for play rather than performance, the robot was intentionally given whimsical attire--yellow gardening gloves and matching rubber boots--to make it approachable, but also to deter thieves. The researchers have dubbed the talking traveling companion's low-tech look the "yard-sale aesthetic." "We want to be very careful to avoid surveillance technologies with this; that's not what we're trying to do here," says David Harris Smith, a professor at McMaster University in Ontario. The robot's global-positioning system tracks its location and a camera randomly snaps photos about every 20 minutes to document its travels for social media. The robot has more than 30,000 followers on Twitter.

IBM's Machine-Learning Crystal Ball Can Foresee Renewable Energy Availability
Computerworld (07/16/15) Lucas Mearian

Researchers at IBM's T.J. Watson Research Center and the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory have developed a machine-learning algorithm that uses weather models and data to predict days or weeks in advance how much power solar and wind plants will generate for the U.S. power grid. The researchers say the new system, called Self-Learning Weather Model and Renewable Forecasting Technology (SMT), is about 30 percent more accurate than the state-of-the-art weather forecasting systems used by the U.S. National Weather Service. The algorithm relies on massive amounts of data, more than 1 terabyte every day, gathered from weather-monitoring stations, solar and wind plants, and weather satellites, to constantly improve its models. "It's providing a forecast for solar, wind, and other environmental parameters," says Hendrik Hamann, research manager at the Watson Research Center. "It learns from solar plants [and] weather stations, and constantly adjusts and improves the forecast." Renewable energy from solar and wind plants currently accounts for 5 percent of the electricity generated in the U.S., but that share is expected to increase to more than 25 percent by 2050. However, the amount of power wind and solar facilities can generate varies depending on the weather, making systems such as SMT crucial to maximizing their use.

Researchers Prove HTML5 Can Be Used to Hide Malware
Help Net Security (07/16/15) Zeljka Zorz

The upcoming HTML5 standard could enable hackers to execute drive-by download attacks, according to researchers in Italy. The team developed new obfuscation techniques in an effort to motivate developers to strengthen malware detection systems. The obfuscation techniques are based on some functionalities of the HTML5 standard, and can be leveraged through the JavaScript-based HTML5 application programming interfaces (APIs). The techniques follow the original drive-by-download malware scheme, but the delivery and de-obfuscation phases use the APIs to avoid typical and well-known de-obfuscation and malware assembly patterns. The techniques enable users to trigger the execution of the preparation code, distribute the preparation code over several concurrent and independent processes running within the browser, or delegate the preparation of a malware to the system APIs. The researchers report in tests on existing malware-detection systems, the Web malware that was detected without obfuscation consistently went undetected when processed with their obfuscation techniques. The researchers have proposed countermeasures for their techniques.
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The Unintended Consequences of Rationality
Harvard University (07/16/15) Leah Burrows

In an interview, Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences professor David C. Parkes contends rational models of economics are applicable to artificial intelligence (AI). He notes, for example, the revelation principle--which theorizes that the design of economic institutions can be limited to those where it is in the best interest of participants to truthfully reveal their utility functions--may become more manifest in AI systems. Still, Parkes acknowledges, "we don't believe that the AI will be fully rational or have unbounded abilities to solve problems. At some point you hit the intractability limit--things we know cannot be solved optimally--and at that point, there will be questions about the right way to model deviations from truly rational behavior." Parkes notes rational AI systems could potentially make better property sale and purchase decisions than people, based on research to develop an AI to build a model of people's preferences via elicitation. He also notes an AI observing someone's behavior can start building a preference model through the process of inverse reinforcement learning. Parkes says economic AIs must solve problems that are given complexity due to other system participants, and he warns rationality can lead to unintended results.

Robot Homes in on Consciousness by Passing Self-Awareness Test
New Scientist (07/15/15) Hal Hodson

Robots programmed by researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have made one small step toward robot consciousness by passing the so-called wise-men puzzle. Three robots, off-the-shelf Nao models, were presented with the following problem: they were told two of them had been given a "dumbing pill" that made them unable to speak (in reality they were muted manually), and were asked if they were one of the two. In order to solve the puzzle, all of the robots attempted to say "I don't know," and the one that was actually able to speak had to recognize it was the one that was speaking and this meant it had not been given the "dumbing pill." Although an impressive achievement, the robots used by the Rensselaer researchers are still far from anything resembling human intelligence; for example, they are unable to recognize their own feet. The project was led by Selmer Bringsjord, who says human-like consciousness in robots is a long way off, in part because they lack the ability to crunch enough data. Bringsjord's research will be presented next month at the RO-MAN conference in Kobe, Japan.
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Google Proposes Open Source Beacons
InformationWeek (07/15/15) Thomas Claburn

Google's Eddystone protocol uses an open specification for Bluetooth low energy (BLE) beacons, with the goal of encouraging developers, marketers, and hardware makers to adopt its technology. The Eddystone software supports Android, iOS, and many BLE devices, and it is compliant with the Bluetooth Core Specification. Google also is releasing the Nearby application programming interface (API) for Android and iOS, which enables developers to create publish and subscribe methods to share messages and connections between nearby devices, and the Proximity Beacon API, to manage data associated with a BLE beacon through an REST interface. "Just like lighthouses have helped sailors navigate the world for thousands of years, electronic beacons can be used to provide precise location and contextual cues within apps to help you navigate the world," say Google researchers Chandu Thota and Matthew Kulick. Although beacon implementations are being tested, their current value to the general public is limited because the use-cases being produced by vendors are not meeting customer needs, according to Forrester analyst Adam Silverman. However, analysts note many organizations see real value in being able to engage people in retail and public settings.

Mobile Robots and RFID Tags Internet-of-Things-ify the Outdoors
IEEE Spectrum (07/14/15) Evan Ackerman

A team of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, the University of Washington, and Duke University have demonstrated how a mobile robot could read data from radio-frequency identification (RFID) sensors spread over a wide area, providing an outdoor Internet of Things that can be deployed quickly and costs less than other approaches. The researchers' hybrid approach uses long-range UHF RFID sensors combined with a mobile robot that can communicate with them. The researchers placed several RFID sensors in a field and noted each one's global positioning system (GPS) coordinates. The mobile robot then moves to each of the GPS coordinates collecting data. The challenge in reading passive UHF RFID sensor tags is the antenna has to be positioned fairly close to the tag. In addition, the tags have to charge up with power for a couple of seconds before they are able to transmit data. The challenges of power and range could be solved as RFID technology improves, according to the researchers. Mobile robots also can place tags because they do not require any infrastructure and they can be positioned almost anywhere.

Hootenanny Crowdsources Geospatial Data Analysis
Government Computer News (07/14/15) Mark Pomerleau

The U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) has publicly released Hootenanny, a software toolkit designed to harness the power of crowdsourced mapping for geospatial big data analytics. NGA posted Hootenanny on GitHub; the open source project provides a scalable processing engine and interactive editing interface for rapidly conflating map features generated from satellite imagery, unmanned aerial vehicles, and mobile devices. "The commercialization of [geospatial-intelligence] is leading to exponential growth of publicly available geospatial information," says NGA's Chris Rasmussen. "Hootenanny as an open source project will enable new levels of data sharing across the community that will increase our nation's ability to quickly respond to emerging threats." Leveraging the open architecture of the OpenStreetMap collaborative project, Hootenanny integrates diverse geospatial datasets into common data structures. Reconciled datasets can be exported in several global information system formats.

Paving the Path From Increased Trust to More Powerful Cloud Applications
CORDIS News (07/13/15)

The TRustworthy Embedded systems for Secure Cloud Computing Applications (TRESSCA) consortium seeks to build trust among cloud stakeholders in new hardware security and virtualization methods so they can delegate the processing of sensitive data to a remote processing engine while avoiding a paradigm shift requiring replacement of legacy solutions, according to TRESSCA project coordinator Andreas Herrolz. He says in an interview a lack of trust between cloud providers and users on account of a dearth of security and data protection guarantees is hindering the cloud market's potential. "On the hardware level, TRESCCA is developing security components that are integrated into so-called system-on-chips," Herrolz notes. He says these Hardware Security Modules safeguard communications inside and outside the chip, while a secure software execution environment created via virtualization technology isolates applications in virtual machines and also can be used to securely transfer trusted applications between devices. Herrolz says the local processing of sensitive data by trustworthy devices can enable meaningful computation on the cloud-stored data, as only the results have to be sent to the service provider. "This may introduce a paradigm shift on how cloud services are designed today, reduce data-monopolies of providers, and lead to more decentralized architectures," he says.

Rice Tests Wireless Data Delivery Over Active TV Channels
Rice University (07/13/15) Jade Boyd

Rice University researchers have developed Wi-Fi in Active TV Channels (WATCH), which they say is the first system that enables wireless data transmission over UHF channels during active TV broadcasts. The researchers note if the technology can be incorporated into next-generation TVs or smart remotes, it could significantly expand the reach of "super Wi-Fi" networks in urban areas. WATCH requires no coordination with or changes to legacy TV transmitters. As normal TV signals are broadcast, the WATCH system actively monitors whenever a nearby TV is tuned to a channel to avoid interfering with reception. One aspect of WATCH uses signal-canceling techniques to insert wireless data transmissions into the same channel, which eliminates TV broadcasts from interfering with the super Wi-Fi data signals being sent to computer users, according to Rice professor Edward Knightly. WATCH also ensures data transmissions do not interfere with TV reception. "Our tests showed that WATCH could provide at least six times more wireless data compared with situations where we were limited only to the traditionally available white-space spectrum," Knightly says. He notes technology such as WATCH will become increasingly important as the demand for wireless data services grows and the number of broadcast TV viewers decreases.

Engineering Professor Wins Borg Early Career Award for Outreach
University of Toronto (07/13/15) Tyler Irving

University of Toronto associate professor Natalie Enright Jerger received the Borg Early Career Award in June during the International Symposium on Computer Architecture in Portland, OR. Nominated by Li-Shiuan Peh, who received the award in 2007, Enright Jerger was recognized for her commitment to outreach, helping young women discover computer engineering, and supporting them in their studies. "Outreach is really important to me because I wouldn't have chosen or stayed in this career path if it wasn't for the mentoring and outreach that I received," Enright Jerger says. She became involved with women in computer architecture (wicarch) during graduate school and remains one of the group's key organizers. Enright Jerger also gives talks to high school students, especially young women, about the value of engineering. Moreover, she has organized discipline-specific mentoring programs for the Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research (CRA-W). Her research focuses on designing new ways of arranging the components of computer processors in order to optimize performance, and her projects help manufacturers build faster devices while keeping power usage, device weight, and cost low. The result is smarter smartphones and more powerful computers for use in medicine, banking, and other fields.

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