Welcome to the October 25, 2017 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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American flag on a flag pole U.S. Should Invest More in Global Quantum Race, Researchers Tell Congressional Committee
The Wall Street Journal
Sara Castellanos
October 24, 2017

Researchers and government officials on Tuesday told the U.S. House Science Committee that global progress in quantum computing technologies has reached an "inflection point," and stressed that more federal funding is required to train specialists and advance real-world applications. "The U.S. government investment in driving this critical technology is not sufficient to stay competitive," warned IBM's Scott Crowder. Witnesses at the hearing noted the U.S. faces a formidable rivalry from China, where this year scientists made progress in building an "unhackable" quantum-based global communication network. Crowder also cited the recent groundbreaking of a Chinese research facility for quantum applications, and he also noted a multifaceted European initiative to develop quantum technology. "Now is the time to get ahead of the curve," said IonQ chief scientist Christopher Monroe, who proposed a five-year, $500 million federal investment in a National Quantum Initiative, which would develop four quantum innovation labs focusing on separate quantum computing approaches.

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Inside Australia's Supercomputing Journey
Aaron Tan
October 24, 2017

Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organization (CSIRO) has upgraded its high-performance computing (HPC) infrastructure to maintain its ability to conduct supercomputing research with the potential to transform humanity. "To keep pace with global research, we need to provide Australia's scientists and engineers with [HPC] systems that give them efficiencies in their line of scientific inquiry," says CSIRO's Angus Macoustra. "The quicker they can analyze a dataset, model a system, or simulate an experiment, the quicker they can draw a conclusion to their hypothesis." CSIRO has transitioned from the outdated Bragg supercomputer to the more advanced Bracewell system, which Macoustra notes has enabled it "to double the total aggregate performance available from all our HPC systems." CSIRO's efforts coincide with mounting interest in running HPC workloads on the cloud, and Macoustra says cloud-based HPC aligns well for certain types of analysis and processing.

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Home page for the ‘speech presentation in homeric epic’ site Preservation for the (Digital) Ages
Texas Advanced Computing Center
Aaron Dubrow
October 24, 2017

Researchers at the Texas Advanced Computing Center and the University of Texas at Austin have collaborated to enhance the preservation of digital humanities databases. The researchers say their solution preserves a vast database of Homeric speeches, including multivariate links between the texts and the insights developed over years of research. The team's preservation approach enables the database to be relaunched in various settings--from individual computers to virtual machines to future Web servers--while keeping its interactive features intact. The researchers note the data is saved independently from the interactive application, so students can reuse it in other technical and functional capacities. The process dissociates the Web code from the data and re-implements the full application on different platforms. A scholar can reboot the application at a later date by activating a virtual machine image containing the application. The solution was presented in June at the ACM/IEEE Joint Conference on Digital Libraries (JCDL 2017) in Ontario, Canada.

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Class'Code Wins 2017 Best Practices in Education Award
Informatics Europe
October 24, 2017

Researchers at Nantes University in France have won the Informatics Europe 2017 Best Practices in Education Award for their Class'Code project, an open training solution for members of the French educational and informatics communities. The project is designed to train educators working with children ages eight to 14 in basic programming and computer science, including creative programming, information coding, familiarization with networks, fun robotics, and the related impacts of technology in society. Class'Code helps introduce young people to the concept of algorithms and computational thinking, enabling them to understand the digital world from an early age. The researchers want Class'Code to provide answers that "live up to our expectation and that our choices will allow the project to help France reach its ambitious goals in other contexts, countries, or topics." Since its launch in September 2016, the Class'Code project has reached 15,000 subscribers, and about 3,200 students have attended meetings set up by more than 40 institutions across France.

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Quantum Computing Breakthrough: Imperial Scientist Reveals Latest Findings
Imperial College London
Colin Smith
October 24, 2017

In an interview, Jonathan Breeze of Imperial College London in the U.K. discusses his work to make quantum computers operable at room temperature. Breeze notes currently such systems can only run at temperatures 100 times colder than deep space at approximately -275 degrees Celsius (-462 degrees Fahrenheit). "As a consequence, these computers can only process a few qubits (quantum bits)," he says. "Warming things up creates a different problem in that the qubits get disturbed by their environment." Breeze says he has overcome this obstacle by using maser technology to generate quantum Rabi oscillations at room temperature. "Specifically, we used an organic molecular crystal, a dielectric resonator, and pulse of laser light to produce pronounced Rabi oscillations at microwave frequencies, lasting up to 10 microseconds," Breeze notes. He says this breakthrough could potentially lead to room-temperature quantum information-processing machines with spin memories, and to "new devices for metrology, which could enable more accurate scientific measurements."

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Web browser with mouse icon on website url Bloated Browser Functionality Presents Unnecessary Security, Privacy Risks
UIC News Center
Sharon Parmet
October 23, 2017

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) have identified browser functionalities that are rarely used or needed by Websites, but which pose security and privacy risks. The researchers theorized that blocking Website access to unnecessary browser functionality would help reduce these risks. They examined the costs and benefits associated with sites having access to 74 different types of functionality, collectively known as a Web application programming interface. The team then measured how frequently each of these features was used on Websites, and how likely each was to risk security or privacy. UIC's Peter Snyder says features with a low benefit to users, but a high security risk, were flagged as those that could be blocked to improve security. The researchers then developed a browser extension that enables users to selectively block browser functionality to improve online safety. They will present their findings next week at the ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security (CCS 2017) in Dallas, TX.

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Resistive Memory Components the Computer Industry Can't Resist
Jim Shelton
October 23, 2017

Researchers at Yale University, the National University of Singapore, and the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Sciences in India have developed new memristor devices that last 1 trillion cycles, an achievement they say far surpasses the endurance of commercial flash memories for computing. "The molecular-level understanding of these devices that we have helped generate is unprecedented in a memory device, and this allows us to create design principles for the next generation of devices," says Yale professor Victor Batista. He notes the devices have potential in neuromorphic computing, which attempts to simulate the architecture of the human brain and involves systems with electronic analog circuitry that mimics neural structures. Although this new discovery could prove to be extremely useful, the team says more research must be done to better understand the information-storing properties of the new memristors. "These molecules are like electron sponges and what we still don't understand is how the electrical charges are being balanced," Batista says.

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A Stanford-Led Platform for Crowdsourced Research Gives Experience to Global Participants
Stanford News
Tom Abate; Glen Martin
October 23, 2017

Faculty at Stanford University, the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Cornell Tech spearheaded the Crowd Research Initiative to help students worldwide gain experience in crowdsourced research projects via a Web-based platform for conducting global-scale work. The initiative's goal is to give participants more ways to shape the subjects and directions of research, demonstrating the quality of their thinking and methods. Among student participants who have directly benefited is Chiraag Sumanth, who helped devise a game-like interface to make participation more entertaining. Experiments on the platform over the last two years yielded papers accepted via peer review at top-tier conferences in computer science. The experiments concentrated on human-computer interaction, data science, and computer vision, and resulted in many participants being admitted to top global institutions, while others received research experience that will enhance their careers. The initiative's early results will be presented this week at the ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology (UIST 2017) in Quebec City, Canada.

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City damaged by earthquake Machine Learning Used to Predict Earthquakes in a Lab Setting
University of Cambridge
Sarah Collins
October 23, 2017

Researchers at the University of Cambridge in the U.K., Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Boston University say they have identified a hidden signal that leads up to earthquakes, and have used it to train a machine-learning algorithm to predict future seismic events. The team set up a laboratory apparatus that uses steel blocks to mimic the physical forces at work in an actual earthquake while recording the seismic signals and sounds that are emitted. They then used machine learning to identify the relationship between the acoustic signal coming from the "fault" and how close it is to failing. The algorithm identified a specific pattern in the sound, previously considered noise, which occurs before a quake hits. The researchers note the characteristics of this sound pattern can be used to develop a precise estimate of the stress on the fault and to estimate the time remaining prior to failure.

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Why We Need to Improve Cloud Computing's Security
The Conversation
Robert Deng
October 20, 2017

There is a clear need to augment the security and privacy of cloud computing, writes Singapore Management University professor Robert Deng, who is researching a new cloud security model. "We are aiming at providing cloud data security and privacy protection under a new threat model that more accurately reflects the open, heterogeneous, and distributed nature of the cloud environment," Deng notes. He says the model is founded on the assumption that cloud servers are inherently untrustworthy. "The central approach of our research is thus to embed protection mechanisms, such as encryption and authentication, into the data itself," Deng notes. "In this way, data security and privacy remain even if the cloud itself is compromised, all while enabling authorized [users] to access and process shared data." Deng's team has developed a messaging system to ensure only users with attributes matching a message's access policy can receive and decrypt it.

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Focus Computer Science Funding on Teacher Training, Code.org Founder Says
Emily Tate
October 23, 2017

In an interview, Code.org founder Hadi Partovi says every dollar committed to computer science education should be channeled into teacher training, including all $200 million the Trump administration has authorized the U.S. Department of Education spend on science, technology, engineering, math, and computer science programs annually. Partovi notes professional teacher development is the most cost-effective strategy for expanding computer science access, as there is tremendous value for the money--it only costs about $2,000 for a single teacher's training, which can benefit hundreds of students. He notes 10,000 to 20,000 teachers join Code.org's free online learning platform every month, while Code.org is drawing girls, minorities, and lower-income students to computer science as well. Partovi also advocates for revamping the teaching curriculum in addition to infrastructure. "If you'd start from scratch deciding what kids learn today, computer science would be on that menu for sure," he says. "There is no question."

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Refugees welcome stick on car window New Simulation Technology to Predict Refugee Destinations Could Improve Aid Efforts
Brunel University
Joe Buchanunn
October 17, 2017

Researchers at Brunel University London in the U.K. have built predictive models of refugee migrations and their potential destinations for African countries, using publicly accessible refugee, conflict, and geospatial data. The team says the tool correctly predicted refugee destinations with more than 75-percent accuracy after the first 12 days for three recent African conflicts, while also overtaking alternative existing techniques to forecast where, when, and how many refugees are likely to arrive, and which camps are likely to become full. The researchers note they employed the agent-based Flee modeling program as part of a "generalized simulation development approach," as it can anticipate the distribution of refugee arrivals across camps, given a specific conflict scenario and a total population of expected refugees. "Accurate predictions can help save refugees' lives, as they help governments and [non-governmental organizations] to correctly allocate humanitarian resources to refugee camps, before the refugees themselves have arrived," the team says.

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What's the Future of Programming? The Answer Lies in Functional Languages
Nick Heath
October 23, 2017

In an interview, Microsoft's Simon Peyton Jones says functional programming languages offer a glimpse of features to be incorporated into future mainstream languages. Unlike imperative programming languages, Peyton Jones says functional languages such as Haskell are strictly results-oriented, and can serve as testbeds for new coding ideas. "Functional languages...[are] particularly tractable in your head and because they're tractable that means you can be more ambitious in what you do with them," he notes. Peyton Jones says experimentation within functional languages is ongoing, with developers inventing new ways to tweak mechanisms governing which types of data can be entered into and returned from functions in Haskell. He also thinks functional languages are especially well equipped to execute code in parallel, as there are far fewer opportunities for code to interact. "It forces programmers to be very explicit about all the interactions between the parts of their programs and that leads to fewer bugs," Peyton Jones says.

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