Welcome to the April 7, 2017 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Icons for facebook and twiter apps on a phone screen Social Networking Sites Could Be Used to Monitor and Respond to Global Disease Outbreaks
A*STAR Research
April 7, 2017

Researchers at the Agency for Science, Technology, and Research (A*STAR) in Singapore are studying how social networks can be used to guide the public health response to disease outbreaks. The A*STAR researchers assessed the efficacy and accuracy of social media in reporting incidents by comparing the timing of reporting new cases of avian flu during the 2013 outbreak in China from conventional news agencies, public health agency reports, and posts from Sina Weibo, a popular social networking site in China. The study found Weibo was significantly faster in reporting new cases of infection than conventional reporting sites and public health agency reports. The researchers say significant potential exists for social media monitoring to be included in mainstream disease surveillance and response systems. Their research also indicates social media could provide an early warning system for unusual public health events overseas.

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A robotic fish swimming in deep sea Chinese Scientists Engineer Flexible, Faster-Swimming Robot
The Wall Street Journal
Daniela Hernandez
April 5, 2017

Chinese researchers have developed a flexible, remote-controlled robotic ray that can swim through water nearly twice as fast as previous robo-swimmers without being tethered, giving it more freedom to move around its surroundings. The robot moves using bendable materials instead of hard motors, making it lighter and better able to squeeze into tight spaces and adjust to extreme environments. The silicone robot can withstand a variety of cold and warm temperatures and can swim for about three hours on a single battery charge, according to the researchers. The robotic ray moves by flexing its "muscles," which are made up of dielectric elastomers, a type of flexible material that can harness electric currents to create movement. Tufts University's Barry Trimmer says the underwater robot is "quite interesting" because it combines "standard soft robot technologies," such as dielectric elastomers, to work out "novel solutions."

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Algorithms Can Exploit Human Perception in Graph Design
Aalto University
April 5, 2017

Researchers at Aalto University in Finland have used an algorithmic approach, an optimizer, to automatically improve the design of scatterplots by exploiting models and measures of human perception. "As the owner of a dataset, you do not necessarily know how others will perceive the scatterplot and large datasets are also difficult to visualize," says Aalto professor Antti Oulasvirta. "With our new algorithmic method, we can optimize the design of the scatterplot for any data and analysis tasks the user requires." The researchers say the new approach was most successful in terms of task completion time. They also note even neophytes in visualization design can use the optimizer to produce effective scatterplot designs, reducing unintended miscommunication in the future. "We are in the middle of a shift where we automate at least parts of our data analysis, necessitated due to the sheer size of the data alone," says Aalto's Gregorio Palmas.

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Learning to Think Like a Computer
The New York Times
Laura Pappano
April 4, 2017

The number of computer science majors has more than doubled since 2011, according to the Computing Research Association, a phenomenon some say is due to an emphasis on "computational thinking," which is finding its way into all levels of education. Brown University professor Shriram Krishnamurthi, the inaugural winner in 2012 of the ACM Special Interest Group on programming languages (SIGPLAN) Robin Milner Young Research Award, says this mindset demands reframing research so "instead of formulating a question to a human being, I formulate a question to a dataset." Microsoft's Jeannette M. Wing put computational thinking into vogue by implying it can be used to improve people's daily lives and reduce stress. Adherents describe this mode of thinking as a way to make the fundamentals of working with computers a teachable blueprint. The ease with which human-computer communications has improved is one factor underlying the growing advocacy of computational thinking. The goal of many initiatives is for people to be able to effortlessly acquire computational thinking skills.

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Report Now, Report Often: Overcoming the Challenges Within Cybercrime Reporting
CCC Blog
Helen Wright
April 4, 2017

Morvareed Bidgoli at Pennsylvania State University's College of Information Sciences and Technology conducted a study of how cybercrimes affect undergraduates, and found undergrads had little knowledge about reporting cybercrimes despite their access to appropriate resources. "The focus of my work has not only been on finding ways to alleviate the underreporting of cybercrimes, but also to find ways in which we can raise more awareness about cybercrimes and cybercrime reporting since neither of these issues are formally taught to private citizens," Bidgoli says. She also has conducted two studies on the prevalence of cybercrime victimization among college students. "There is a disparity between [students'] positive inclination towards cybercrime reporting and their self-efficacy with regards to cybercrime reporting," Bidgoli notes. "These findings emphasize...that we must continue to find ways to propose and implement initiatives that will better educate the public about how to formally report cybercrimes."

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Quantum Computing Now Has a Powerful Search Tool
Technology Review
April 5, 2017

Researchers at the University of Maryland have announced the first-ever execution of the Grover search algorithm on a scalable quantum computer. The team used a system composed of a thread of five ytterbium ions in an electromagnetic field, with each superpositioned ion capable of storing data. Ionic interaction also enables the qubits to interact to process information. The researchers employed the system to generate a three-qubit quantum computer that can store up to eight items in a database, and then they executed Grover's algorithm to demonstrate it is possible to find an item significantly faster than a classical computer, which would need a minimum of eight bits. "This paves the way for more extensive use of the Grover search algorithm in solving larger problems on quantum computers, including using the circuit as a subroutine for other quantum algorithms," the team says.

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A human brain  Electronic Synapses That Can Learn: Towards an Artificial Brain?
Alexiane Agullo
April 3, 2017

European researchers from several institutions have developed an artificial synapse on a chip that can learn autonomously. The researchers created a physical model that explains this learning capacity, a breakthrough they say could lead to the development of a network of synapses and intelligent systems. The artificial synapse, called a memristor, consists of a thin ferroelectric layer sandwiched between two electrodes, whose resistance can be tuned using voltage pulses similar to those in neurons. If the resistance is low the synaptic connection will be strong, and if the resistance is high the connection will be weak. The researchers say this ability to adapt to resistance enables the synapse to learn. The team notes the research will be used for real-time shape recognition using an innovative camera in which the pixels remain inactive, except when they see a change in the angle of vision.

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Google Uses Neural Networks to Translate Without Transcribing
New Scientist
Matt Reynolds
April 4, 2017

Researchers at Google Brain are using neural networks to translate text free of transcription, which could potentially yield faster and more precise translations. The team trained a translation system on hours of Spanish audio with corresponding English text, employing several layers of neural networks to pair sections of the audio with the text. The system analyzed the audio's waveform to learn which sections appeared to correspond with the text. A translation instruction triggered the neural layer to apply this knowledge to manipulate the waveform until it was converted into the corresponding written-English section. The system eventually generated a better-quality English translation of Spanish speech than one that transcribed the speech into written Spanish first. The researchers think the system could be useful in translating both rarely-spoken and rarely-written languages, while Sharon Goldwater at the University of Edinburgh in the U.K. believes it could set a new standard for machine translation.

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'Spray-On' Memory Could Enable Bendable Digital Storage
Duke Today
Kara Manke
April 3, 2017

Researchers at Duke University have developed a new "spray-on" digital memory device using an aerosol jet printer and nanoparticle inks, which they say could be used to create low-cost, flexible electronics. The researchers say their device is the first fully-printed digital memory that would be suitable for practical use in devices such as environmental sensors or radio-frequency identification tags. In addition, because it is jet-printed at relatively low temperatures, it could be used to build programmable electronic devices on bendable materials. The researchers note the device includes a new copper nanowire-based printable material, which is capable of storing digital information. The new material encodes information in states of resistance, instead of in states of charge. By applying a small voltage, the material can be switched between a state of high resistance, which stops electric current, and a state of low resistance, which enables current to flow.

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Three kookaburras perched on a tree branch Kookaburra Has Last Laugh to Solve Traveling Salesman Problem
The Lead (Australia)
Caleb Radford
April 4, 2017

Researchers at Flinders University in Australia say their new Kookaburra algorithm works in conjunction with two other models to solve the traveling salesman problem (TSP) in computer science by calculating the best possible candidate to multiple problems, and ensuring it is the best outcome. Earlier TSP solutions concentrated on solving one specific TSP challenge, but Kookaburra has been employed to solve more than 20 problems. Working in tandem with the North American Concorde computer code and the Danish algorithm LKH, Kookaburra is one of the most efficient tools for developing better software systems to enable cost-effective manufacturing, drone mission planning, ordering features of the human genome, and driverless cars, according to the researchers. Flinders professor Vladimir Ejov calls Kookaburra the best and most reliable tool for solving the TSP. "We'll keep improving Kookaburra but it's already remarkably the best bird in the world," he says.

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New Columbia Symposium Charts the Frontiers in Computing Systems
Columbia University
Jesse Adams
March 31, 2017

More than 150 participants discussed the application of massive and extreme-scale parallel computing systems to various interdisciplinary challenges at the first symposium for Columbia Engineering's new Frontiers in Computing Systems working group. "Interesting and unexpected breakthroughs come when computer systems and diverse applications researchers come together and collaborate," says group chair Steven Nowick. He notes looming exascale data volumes are inundating systems' processing, storage, and analysis capabilities, and reining in this explosion is key to enabling many societal advances. "Computing is coming out of an era of transaction processes and business automation to a more dimensional future of understanding the world in addition to automating it," says IBM's Ruchir Puri. Sharing and processing vast data volumes are among the big data challenges the new group is investigating. Continuum Analytics' Peter Wang predicts future computers "will not be individual nodes but containers connecting users to cloud computing."

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Information Storage With a Nanoscale Twist
King Abdullah University of Science and Technology
March 28, 2017

Researchers at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia have discovered a rotational force inside magnetic vortices, which they say could make it easier to design ultrahigh-capacity disk drives. The researchers found swirling objects known as magnetic vortices and skyrmions can be miniaturized without sacrificing mobility. They say the research could be applied to future "race-track" memory technologies that feature massive densities of moveable magnetic bits. One of the most appealing qualities of skyrmions is their ability to avoid defects in thin films that would normally trap a magnetic charge, according to KAUST professor Aurelien Manchon. The researchers found that additional non-adiabatic torque intensifies when the size of the whirlpool is reduced, which is a driving force that could offer a way to overcome defect pinning at nanoscale. "This might be an interesting compromise to seek, especially in the context of skyrmion-based data storage," Manchon says.

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Tim Berners-Lee: Selling Private Citizens' Browsing Data Is 'Disgusting'
The Guardian
Sam Thielman
April 4, 2017

In an interview, World Wide Web creator and 2016 ACM A.M. Turing Award recipient Sir Tim Berners-Lee says he is appalled by the Trump administration's decision to dismantle net neutrality rules and let Internet service providers sell their customers' browsing data to advertisers. "When people use the Web what they do is...reveal absolutely everything, more about them than they know themselves sometimes," Berners-Lee notes. He expects the rollback of net neutrality to result in "a massive pushback" from the public. He also thinks people's growing aggravation with online ads and clickbait could engender a backlash. "I think we might get a world in which certainly those who can afford it block out a space where their children can learn online without spending most of their time watching ads, for example, and therefore get a better education," he says.

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MIT Advances in CAD for Manufacturing

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