Welcome to the September 23, 2016 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
5 Tech Trends That Have Turing Award Winners Worried
IDG News Service (09/23/16) Katherine Noyes
A panel of ACM A.M. Turing Award winners convened on Thursday at the Heidelberg Laureate Forum in Germany to discuss technology trends they find troubling. Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Barbara Liskov cited technology encouraging people to selectively filter out news and opinions differing from their own as a worrisome trend. Another concern of Liskov's is how the Internet has empowered malevolent hackers and other malefactors to target children. Meanwhile, Carnegie Mellon University's Raj Reddy discussed criminals' ability to attack freedom technologically, noting terrorists and other evildoers "can communicate with impunity with encryption today." Google chief Internet evangelist and former ACM president Vint Cerf said bug-ridden software could undermine control of devices comprising the Internet of Things. "It's ordinary devices that have a lot of software in them that don't work the way we expect them to" that constitute a major threat, he warned. Cerf also worries about the obsolescence of the software needed to access online content, and a partial solution may be to employ virtual machines in the cloud to mimic outdated hardware. However, Cerf said other issues are in need of resolution, including ownership of intellectual property and business models to support long-term preservation.
The Growing Problem of Bots That Fight Online
Technology Review (09/20/16)
The Web is rife with software bots, and their interaction with each other is being studied by Taha Yasseri and his colleagues at the U.K.'s University of Oxford. Using Wikipedia, the researchers say they have learned that "although Wikipedia bots are intended to support the encyclopedia, they often undo each other's edits and these sterile 'fights' may sometimes continue for years." The team focused on disagreement between bots, and they assessed this tendency by measuring reverts, or edits that revert an article to an earlier state before a previous edit. Throughout the course of a decade, humans reverted each other an average of three times, but bots on English Wikipedia reverted each other 105 times on average. The researchers also found dissimilarities between humans and bots in their revert habits, with humans most likely to make a revert either within two minutes after an edit, after 24 hours, or after 12 months. In comparison, bots have an average response time of one month. Yasseri thinks bot disagreement stems "from the bottom-up organization of the community, whereby human editors individually create and run bots, without a formal mechanism for coordination with other bot owners." The team cites coordination problems likely attributable to different naming conventions in different language editions.
In a Lab in Poland, Plastic That Can Crawl
The New York Times (09/22/16) Rick Lyman
Researchers at Poland's University of Warsaw have developed a robotic caterpillar that can move across a surface by itself when it is exposed to a specific shade of green laser light. When the light strikes the robot, it scrunches into a series of undulating shapes that run down its length in wavelike spasms. In addition, the robot can carry 10 times its weight while in motion. The robotic caterpillar consists of a type of plastic known as liquid crystalline elastomers. The laser light powers the robot by pinpointing and changing the shape of specific molecules in the plastic. Other types of soft robots draw energy from ordinary visible light or electromagnetic fields rather than lasers. "The idea is just starting in science that robots can be something without wires and batteries and motors," says University of Warsaw researcher Mikolaj Rogoz. "It can be just fragments of plastic and energy, and the energy source can be provided from outside the robot." Although it is difficult to know how this kind of invention will be used, Rogoz suggests the robot could be inserted into the human body to transport medicines to the right organs.
We Have to Start Thinking About Cybersecurity in Space
Help Net Security (09/22/16) Zeljka Zorz
U.K.-based researchers are studying the cybersecurity of space-related technologies. "An insecure environment in space will hinder economic development and increase risks to societies, particularly in crucial sectors such as communications, transport, energy, financial transactions, agriculture, food and other resources management, environmental and weather monitoring, and defense," according to Chatham House researchers David Livingstone and Patricia Lewis. They say space-related cybersecurity gaps and weaknesses need to be addressed as a matter of urgency. Cybersecurity in space includes satellites, rockets, space-based systems and vehicles, space stations and ground stations, as well as the associated networks and data centers, all of which the researchers warn could be targeted by hackers. "Possible cyberthreats against space-based systems include state-to-state and military actions; well-resourced organized criminal elements seeking financial gain; terrorist groups wishing to promote their causes, even up to the catastrophic level of cascading satellite collisions; and individual hackers who want to fanfare their skills," according to the researchers. The researchers suggest an international multi-stakeholder space security organization would provide the best opportunity for developing a sectoral response to match the range of threats. However, such an effort should avoid basing policies on technology alone. "An effective regime requires a comprehensive technological response that is integrated into a wider circle of knowledge, understanding, and collaboration," according to the researchers.
From Tim Berners-Lee to Kim Dotcom: A Who's Who of Internet 2.0 Innovators
V3.co.uk (09/22/16) John Leonard
Internet mavericks and pioneers such as Sir Tim Berners-Lee who met in June for the first Decentralized Web Summit have a mission to "re-decentralize" the Web to return it to first principles as a free and open network for secure information exchange and storage. Berners-Lee is adamant that a technological, not a legal solution, is needed to solve such challenges as a lack of net neutrality and online surveillance, as well as the expanding global reach of the Internet. To that end he is developing "social linked data" conventions and tools for building decentralized social applications founded on existing World Wide Web standards and protocols. Also pushing for Internet decentralization are Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle and Google chief Internet evangelist and former ACM president Vint Cerf, who envisions a self-archiving Web. Other notable persons supporting a decentralized Web include the creator of the decentralized bitcoin cryptocurrency and its underlying blockchain data storage technology, and MaidSafe CEO David Irvine, whose company's peer-to-peer networking-based SAFE Network promotes autonomy, security, and self-resilience while being server-free. Also attending the summit was Storj CEO Shawn Wilkinson, whose firm uses a decentralized, end-to-end encrypted cloud storage system, and who hopes to forge partnerships with other decentralized platforms.
Modern Technology Unlocks Secrets of a Damaged Biblical Scroll
The New York Times (09/21/16) Nicholas Wade
Biblical scholars in Israel used technology developed by University of Kentucky computer scientists to examine an ancient charred scroll virtually with a digital model. Experts in the Dead Sea Scrolls Project at the Israel Antiquities Authority say this new technique could enable them to digitally unroll and accurately read other ancient scrolls that are too damaged to risk opening physically. The software programs that made this breakthrough possible have been developed over the last 13 years by University of Kentucky professor W. Brent Seales. He says his Volume Cartography suite uses a "virtual unwrapping" method to model a scroll's surface as a mesh of small triangles. Each triangle can be resized until the modeled surface makes the best fit to the internal structure of the scroll, as revealed by computed tomography scanning. Ink blobs are assigned to their proper place on the structure, and the computer then unfolds the three-dimensional structure into a two-dimensional sheet. Seales says he will open source the software suite once his current government grant concludes.
Google to Open Oakland Tech Lab Amid Diversity Push
USA Today (09/21/16) Jessica Guynn
Google is working with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab to launch the Code Next lab, a technology laboratory in Oakland, CA, that will help mentor the next generation of African-American and Latino computer scientists. The lab, which already has run a pilot program and is slated to officially open in October, will focus on teaching young people in Oakland about the educational and career opportunities computer science can offer. Google has leased space in Oakland's Fruitvale Transit Village, a 255,000-square-foot complex near the Fruitvale BART railway station. "It's incredibly exciting to have Google's presence in the Fruitvale," a busy and highly visible spot, giving students passing by a window into high-tech they normally would only get in Silicon Valley, says Oakland Unified School District manager of computer science Claire Shorall. She says the Code Next lab will offer an engaging after-school program for middle-school students, mirroring the school district's push for a computer science curriculum for children in those grades. "This really allows us to have a meaningful experience and exposure for middle-school students that plants the seeds of college and career readiness while still being in an environment that is sponsoring joy and creativity," Shorall says.
Microsoft's 'Biological Computing' Lab Aims to Fight Diseases By Reprogramming Cells
Fast Company (09/20/16) Christina Farr
By conceptualizing living cells as programmable computers, Microsoft's biological computation team is working to crack the code of unhealthy cells so they can be reprogrammed. The unit specializes in biological modeling, a branch of systems biology that involves using computation to map the complex interactions of cell networks. One project currently underway is an effort to model the computational processes within cells. Researchers are creating a programming language to represent the relationships between biological components and compare the processes of healthy cells with diseased cells so they can learn how to control a cell's behavior and potentially trigger a response to fight a disease before it spreads. A second project is the development of a tool that will enable researchers to create their own computer models of biological systems. The Bio Model Analyzer could be used to better understand drug interactions and resistance in cancer patients. AstraZeneca's Jonathan Dry says the tool may help his pharmaceutical company predict which patients will form a resistance to a drug and determine alternate therapies. "I'm hoping this is the beginning of changing the way we do drug discovery," Dry says.
University of Calgary Physicists Create Nano-Sized Device With Huge Potential in Field of Quantum Computing
University of Calgary (09/20/16) Mark Lowey
University of Calgary researchers say they have made the first-ever nano-sized optical resonator, or optical cavity, from a single crystal of diamond that is also a mechanical resonator. The researchers say the technology could lead to huge advances in computing, telecommunications, and other fields. They say the microdisk looks like a microscopic hockey puck supported by a very tiny hourglass-shaped pillar in the center. Professor Paul Barclay and colleagues fabricated the microdisk from commercially available synthetic, single-crystal diamond chips. The group used light to vibrate the disk to a gigahertz frequency. The team also designed and built the system to measure the device's optical and mechanical properties. "The ability to trap light in nanoscale volumes in an optical cavity creates high electromagnetic intensity from tiny amounts of light, and amplifies light-matter interactions that are typically nearly impossible to study," Barclay says. He notes diamond optomechanical devices hold great promise for realizing an on-chip platform to control the interaction of light, vibrations, and electrons. Barclay says such devices have potential applications in state-of-the-art sensing, quantum information, and computing technologies.
Brain to Robot: 'Move, Please'
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (09/17/16) Roland Baumann
Researchers in Switzerland are developing robots that can help paralyzed stroke victims regain the use of their arms and hands. Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich professor Roger Gassert has designed robotic devices that train hand functions, but these robot-assisted therapy sessions are limited to infrequent appointments at a clinic. Gassert and professor Jumpei Arata from Kyushu University in Japan built a lightweight, portable device that could be used at home and integrated into a patient's daily life. They say the hand exoskeleton wraps around a patient's fingers, leaving the palm free to grasp objects, while the system's motor is strapped to the patient's back. The researchers' next task is to find a solution for stroke patients whose neural connections between the brain and the hand have been weakened or completely disrupted. To build a system that can detect in the brain a patient's intention to move a limb, Gassert is considering the feasibility of using functional near-infrared spectroscopy as an inexpensive imaging technique. If the researchers succeed in establishing a connection between the brain and the hand exoskeleton, the device would be ideally suited for paralysis therapy.
Expressing the Value of Data Science in an ROI Framework
Notre Dame News (09/16/16) William G. Gilroy
University of Notre Dame researchers are studying how organizations can quantify decision making in data science. They have developed a solution for measuring the value of data acquisition and modeling in a return-on-investment (ROI) framework. The solution, called the NPV model, enables users to translate a machine learning-based predictive model's performance over time from traditional empirical measures into dollar values by combining machine learning, data acquisition, operational costs, and investment parameters. "Our paper expands this cost-sensitive classification framework by incorporating costs to acquire external data, modeling costs, and operational costs, all of which are essential for the real-world deployment of these machine-learning models," says Notre Dame professor Nitesh Chawla. He notes data-driven organizations may make predictions on millions of instances of streaming data every day using an in-house predictive model. Chawla says the NPV model enables organizations to ascribe a value to their entire data science operation and develop a strategy for the future. "If organizations want to investigate the possibility of tying in external data into their operations, they can use our technique, run it on their current data alongside their in-house data, and get the value of the new model," says Notre Dame doctoral student Saurabh Nagrecha.
New Hikari Supercomputer Starts Solar HVDC
Texas Advanced Computing Center (09/14/16) Jorge Salazar
The Hikari computing system at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) in Austin, TX, is the first supercomputer in the U.S. to use solar and high-voltage direct current (HVDC) for power. Launched by the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization in Japan, NTT FACILITIES, and the University of Texas at Austin, the project aims to demonstrate the potential of HVDC, which allows for ease of connection to renewable energy sources, including solar, wind, and hydrogen fuel cells. During the day, solar panels shading a TACC parking lot provide nearly all of Hikari's power, up to 208 kilowatts, and at night the microgrid connected to the supercomputer switches back to conventional AC power from the utility grid. The Hikari power feeding system, which is expected to save 15 percent on energy consumption compared to conventional systems, could change how data centers power their systems. The new supercomputer came online in late August, and it consists of 432 Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) Apollo 8000 XL730f servers coupled with HPE DL380 and DL360 nodes interconnected with a first-of-its-kind Mellanox End-to-End EDR InfiniBand system operating at 100 Gbps. More than 10,000 cores from Intel "Haswell" Xeon processors will deliver more than 400 teraflops.
Living a Perfect Facebook Life Isn't Worth the Real-World Stress
New Scientist (09/14/16) Sally Adee
Previous research suggests people tailor their online interactions to highlight only the best parts of their personality, but a new study from researchers at the University of Tasmania in Australia found that trying to be someone you are not carries an emotional and mental toll, just as it would offline. Researchers Rachel Grieve and Jarrah Watkinson asked 164 people to take two personality tests, one as their true selves and one as the person they present on Facebook. Grieve says your "true self" encompasses fundamental aspects of your identity. "This could be something as light-hearted as confessing a secret love of daggy (out of fashion) music or a celebrity crush," or more serious confessions about panic attacks, she notes. Grieve and Watkinson say the more people's true selves diverged from the persona they presented online, the less social connectedness they reported, and the more stress they experienced. These findings are intriguing because they show established principles in psychology, such as the self-verification theory, playing out online. Experts say if the study can be replicated, then the finding that self-verification applies online would have implications for anonymity. The finding also would be positive news for marketers, potential employers, landlords, and credit agencies that want to know more about people.
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