Welcome to the April 12, 2017 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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A computer chip on a table It's Time to Dump Moore's Law to Advance Computing, Researcher Says
IDG News Service
Agam Shah
April 11, 2017

R. Stanley Williams, a senior fellow at Hewlett Packard Labs, proposes no longer following Moore's Law in chipmaking, saying in a recent research paper the end of Moore's Law "could be the best thing that has happened to computing in decades." Williams argues Moore's Law has constrained innovation in computer design, and moving past it will enable engineers and researchers to think more creatively. He envisions computers patched together from chips and accelerators, and memory-driven computing enabled by a faster bus. Williams also sees much potential in neuromorphic computing. "Although our understanding of brains today is limited, we know enough now to design and build circuits that can accelerate certain computational tasks," he notes. Williams says machine learning and similar applications make a strong case for developing new types of chips, and he suggests application-specific integrated circuits and field-programmable gate arrays could contribute significantly to pushing computing beyond Moore's Law.

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Recent Advances and New Insights Into Quantum Image Processing
April 11, 2017

Fei Yan and colleagues at the Changchun University of Science and Technology in China have comprehensively reviewed recent innovations in quantum image processing (QIP). The researchers provide an overview of advances in the areas of image representation, related operations, and the likely protocols and algorithms for their use. Specific concentration is given to recent progress on QIP-based security technologies, including quantum watermarking, quantum image encryption, and quantum image steganography. The study focuses on providing researchers with an effective compendium of such advances in an attempt to encourage further interest aimed at developing more advanced algorithms and experimental validations for available technologies and extensions to other domains. A discussion following the overview is designed to enumerate open questions in published literature that target QIP scientists, as well as to concentrate on upcoming researchers that may have an interest in pursuing advanced research in the field of QIP.

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Photo of a phone’s lock screen How Criminals Can Steal Your PIN by Tracking the Motion of Your Phone
Newcastle University (UK)
April 11, 2017

Researchers at Newcastle University in the U.K. have demonstrated that malicious websites and installed applications can spy on people by exploiting movement data from smartphone sensors. The researchers say the movement data can be used to compromise people's four-digit PINs with 70-percent accuracy on the first guess. "Because mobile apps and websites don't need to ask permission to access most of them, malicious programs can covertly 'listen in' on your sensor data and use it to discover a wide range of sensitive information about you," says Newcastle's Maryam Mehrnezhad. The researchers found 25 distinct sensors that are standard elements on most smart devices, providing information about devices and users. "Because there is no uniform way of managing sensors across the industry, they pose a real threat to our personal security," Mehrnezhad notes. "One way would be to deny access to the browser altogether, but we don't want to lose all the benefits associated with in-built motion sensors."

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Image of a gps route Crowdsourcing a Practical Indoor GPS
Asian Scientist
April 11, 2017

Researchers at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology are using crowdsourced Wi-Fi fingerprints from smartphones to inexpensively build a highly accurate indoor global-positioning system. The research is based on an earlier method for automatically labeling resting-space locations from signals collected in various contexts such as homes, shops, and offices using people's home or office address information. The technique enables automatic labeling of transient-space locations without any additional location data. The team analyzed indoor space usage to accurately glean and label the location information of the Wi-Fi fingerprints, and from there they transitioned to technology that classified indoor spaces as places used for stationary tasks and spaces used to reach such locations while applying separate algorithms to optimally and automatically gather location-labeling data. Testing found the technology is accurate up to three or four meters with sufficient training data.

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Image of a woman standing between two men Science, Engineering Studies Are Still a Hard Sell to Women
The Wall Street Journal
Melissa Korn
April 11, 2017

Women earned just 21 percent of U.S. undergraduate engineering degrees and an even smaller share of computer science degrees, according to new data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Although almost half of all bachelor's degrees earned in the sciences and engineering in the 2015-2016 academic year went to women, more than twice as many women received bachelor's degrees in psychology last year as they did undergraduate degrees in computer science, engineering, and the physical sciences combined, according to the Clearinghouse study. University of Michigan professor Erin Cech says reframing the skills needed to succeed in hard sciences and engineering, including communication, teamwork, and creative problem-solving, rather than just technical capabilities, could help draw more women to the subjects. Cech notes the biases that erode women's confidence in science and engineering are "pernicious and stubborn."

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That Fingerprint Sensor on Your Phone Is Not as Safe as You Think
The New York Times
Vindu Goel
April 10, 2017

Researchers at New York (NYU) and Michigan State universities suggest counterfeit digital fingerprints can easily deceive smartphones under computer simulation. They devised a set of artificial "MasterPrints" that could match real prints similar to those used by phones up to 65 percent of the time. When a user implements fingerprint security on an Apple iPhone or a phone operating Google's Android software, the device usually captures eight to 10 images of a finger to ease matching, while many users record multiple fingers. A finger-swipe only has to match one stored image to access the phone, which makes the system susceptible to false matches. NYU professor Nasir Memon says a glove equipped with a full set of MasterPrints potentially could unlock 40 percent to 50 percent of iPhones within five attempts. Chris Boehnen with the U.S. Defense Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity's Odin program says a larger fingerprint sensor could lower the risk.

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A pair of earbuds resting on a cellphone Earbud Lets You Control Your Phone With a Wink or Smile
New Scientist
Timothy Revell
April 6, 2017

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research in Germany have developed a prototype earbud that can identify facial expressions and turn them into smartphone commands. The electrode-equipped earbuds recognize changes in ear-canal shape that occur when the user makes different facial expressions. The deformations to the earbud generate an electrical-field change that can be mapped to the corresponding expression. "We're not trying to replace current input methods, just complement them," says Fraunhofer's Denys Matthies. The prototype earbuds currently can detect five distinct expressions with 90-percent accuracy, and the researchers think the device could give disabled people more smartphone interaction options. In addition, they say a consumer version could account for context to prevent the phone from acting on false positives. "It's currently still just a research project, but something as simple as answering a call with a facial expression could be possible soon," Matthies says.

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Dutch Smallest Computer
Astronomie.nl (Netherlands)
April 5, 2017

Researchers at Leiden University in the Netherlands have constructed a small supercomputer, the Little Green Machine II, from four servers with four professionalized graphics cards, which provides more than 0.2 petaflops in computing power. The PCs were linked via a high-speed network, and Leiden's Simon Portegies Zwart says the system consumes only about 1 percent of the electricity of a similar large supercomputer. "This technology is essential for the construction of a supercomputer, but not very useful for playing video games," says Leiden's Jeroen Bedorf. The researchers adopted IBM's OpenPower architecture for the Little Green Machine II, and tested the system by modeling a galactic collision. The supercomputer is about 10 times faster than its predecessor, the Little Green Machine I. The team says oceanography, computer science, artificial intelligence, financial simulation, and astronomy are some of the areas in which the supercomputer will be used.

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NUS Researchers Invent Ultra-Thin Multilayer Film for Next-Generation Data Storage and Processing
NUS News (Singapore)
April 10, 2017

Researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS) have created an ultra-thin multilayer film that could take advantage of skyrmion properties as information carriers for next-generation magnetic data storage and processing. The NUS team determined a large Dzyaloshinskii-Moriya interaction could be maintained in multilayer films of cobalt and palladium, which is sufficiently large for stabilizing skyrmion spin textures. They applied Lorenzt transmission electron microscopy (L-TEM) to observe skyrmions in multiplayer geometries. "This experiment not only demonstrates the usefulness of L-TEM in studying these systems, but also opens up a completely new material in which skyrmions can be created," says NUS professor Yang Hyunsoo. "The small size of the skyrmions, combined with the incredible stability generated here, could be potentially useful for the design of next-generation spintronic devices that are energy efficient and can outperform current memory technologies."

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DARPA Semantic Program Seeks to Glean Truth From Obfuscation
Network World
Michael Cooney
April 7, 2017

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) Active Interpretation of Disparate Alternatives (AIDA) initiative aims to develop a "semantic engine" that produces alternative interpretations of real-world events, situations, and trends based on data gleaned from a wide range of channels. AIDA would aggregate and map pieces of information automatically derived from multiple media sources into a common representation or storyline, and then generate and investigate hypotheses about the actual nature and ramifications of those events, situations, or trends. The prototype system is expected to run in an endlessly streaming data setting, with incoming data items analyzed on an individual basis. The prototype also will produce all plausibly pertinent theories about the real-world event, situation, or trend supported by some interpretation of the input data items.

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New Software Can Track Many Individuals in a Crowd
Matthew Hutson
April 10, 2017

Afshin Dehghan and Mubarak Shah at the University of Central Florida have written software capable of concurrently tracking hundreds of individuals in a crowd. The software employs a mathematical function that analyzes five variables based on previous frames of a video--appearance, target motion, neighbor motion, spatial proximity, and grouping--to predict where each person will be in the current frame. In addition, the program incorporates collective movements. Dehghan and Shah tested the method by analyzing nine videos featuring groups ranging from 57 to 747 individuals. The researchers say the software's accuracy at tracking all video subjects ranged from 67 percent to 99 percent, matching or surpassing five comparison algorithms. Denghan says the software could have potential as a tool to inform the design of public spaces to optimize crowd flow, or to program rules to recognize anomalous behavior in security footage.

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Why Are UCSD Scientists Disguising Themselves as Empty Car Seats?
The San Diego Union Tribune
Gary Robbins
April 4, 2017

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) are observing driver and pedestrian responses to "driverless" research vehicles on campus by wearing costumes resembling empty car seats. UCSD professor Jim Hollan says road users' interaction with driverless cars is a complicated research issue, and "just as important is how autonomous cars communicate their intent to other road users as well as to passengers." Hollan, who received the 2015 award for Lifetime Achievement in Research from ACM's Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction (SIGCHI), also notes achieving an appropriate level of trust--not too much or too little--is as important as communication. "We have recommended...that cars should signal their intention," says Don Norman, director of UCSD's Design Lab. The campus experiment found many people did not notice the cars with the disguised scientists aboard, which Norman attributes to students "just walk[ing] without looking, while reading their cell-phones." However, Norman acknowledges people in non-campus environments would have different reactions, and determining those reactions is the goal of further research.

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Internet Inventor: Make Tech Accessibility Better Already
Joan E. Solsman
April 10, 2017

Google chief Internet evangelist Vint Cerf, who shared the 2004 ACM A.M. Turing Award with Robert E. Kahn, says technology has a poor record of accommodating people with disabilities, and he would like to see more progress made. "It's almost criminal that programmers have not had their feet held to the fire to build interfaces that are accommodating for people with vision problems or hearing problems or motor problems," he says. Although there are many guidelines for accessible tech design, Cerf laments their deployment is frequently an afterthought. The former ACM president says accessibility "can't be a pixie dust that you sprinkle on top of the program and suddenly make it accessible," but should instead be a design choice that is rewarded. Still, Cerf notes awareness of accessibility issues appears to be growing among engineers and designers, as well as within the larger tech community.

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MIT Advances in CAD for Manufacturing
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