Welcome to the December 8, 2017 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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3d rendering of artery 'Virtual Artery' Takes Us Closer to Improved Prediction of Treatment Side Effects
December 5, 2017

Researchers partly funded by the European Union have developed a multiscale "Virtual Artery" model that incorporates physical, chemical, and biological information to more accurately predict the side effects of treatment for various conditions. Contributing to the model's development were two related projects, A Center of Excellence in Computational Biomedicine (COMPBIOMED) and Computing Patterns for High-Performance Multiscale Computing (COMPAT). The purpose of COMPBIOMED is to harness the increasing power of high-performance computing to extend modeling accuracy and create an automated workflow in which data collected from an individual patient can be entered and processed to generate predicted health outcomes, offering more personalized medicine. Meanwhile, the Virtual Artery team also has made use of COMPAT knowledge taken from its reusable High-Performance Multiscale Computing algorithms, which are scalable to exascale systems. The goal of COMPAT is to develop software that will transform computer modeling into a predictive science.

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Conflicting Views on Social Media Balanced By an Algorithm
Aalto University
December 5, 2017

Researchers at Aalto University in Finland and the University of Rome Tor Vergata in Italy have developed an algorithm that balances information exposure so social media users can be exposed to information from both sides of a discussion. The program uses a greedy algorithm paradigm to find optimal choices at each stage, which works by efficiently selecting a set of influential users who can be convinced to spread information about their viewpoint to the other side. "We use word clouds as a qualitative case study to complement our quantitative results, whereby words in the cloud represent the words found in the users' profiles," says Aalto's Kiran Garimella. He notes the algorithm examines the content of a few influential users to find terms from both sides of a discussion. "Thus, these users can play a significant role in initiating a social debate and help to spread the arguments of one side to the other," Garimella says.

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AP Computer Science Principles Paves the Way to STEM Success
Black Enterprise
Robin White Goode
December 6, 2017

Since the College Board's 2016 rollout of the new Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science Principles course, 104,849 students have taken the course's final exam, compared to the 15,049 students who enrolled in an AP computer science course in 2007. In addition, the population of African American and Latino students more than doubled over that period, as did the number of female students. Meanwhile, the number of African American students earning a 3 or higher (out of a possible 5) on an AP computer science exam nearly tripled this year. The College Board teamed with eight professional development providers to offer teacher training and resources, in order to support a "whole ecosystem of support for these teachers and students," says the College Board's Maureen Reyes. New York math teacher Jeffrey Lowenhaupt notes the new course, unlike the old course's strict focus on programming, "provides a really good perspective on how computer science fits into our daily lives," with areas of concentration that include social implications.

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Still from The Grinch film with actor Jim Carrey 'Grinch Bots' Attempt to Steal Christmas by Driving Up Toy Prices
National Public Radio
Samantha Raphelson
December 5, 2017

Online fraudsters are frustrating Christmas shoppers by using software bots to buy up the most popular toys to resell at inflated prices at third-party websites such as Amazon and eBay. "There is simply no competition between a bot and even the most organized human," says PerimeterX CEO Omri Iluz. He notes these "Grinch bots" use sophisticated software to aggressively search for product pages of popular items before they even go on sale, and then bulk-buy products before customers have time to purchase them. "The problem is these bots find out things are popular before people do themselves," says MSNBC anchor Ali Velshi. "So by the time you've decided this is all the rage because you've heard about it from your kid's friends or from someone else, it's hard to" buy it. U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is urging the retail industry to crack down on Grinch bots by finding and blocking their infiltration of retailers' sites.

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Google's 'Superhuman' DeepMind AI Claims Chess Crown
BBC News
December 6, 2017

Google says its DeepMind unit's AlphaGo Zero algorithm has defeated world-leading specialist software Stockfish 8 in a chess match within hours of teaching itself the game. AlphaGo Zero reportedly became capable of outperforming Stockfish only four hours after being given the rules of chess and being instructed to learn by playing simulations against itself. Each program was given 60 seconds' worth of thinking time for each move in the 100 matches that followed, and AlphaGo Zero won 28 games, while the remaining 72 ended in a draw. "From a scientific point of view, it's the latest in a series of dazzling results that DeepMind has produced," says University of Oxford in the U.K. professor Michael Wooldridge, who received the ACM/SIGART Autonomous Agents Research Award for 2006. He notes while the games AlphaGo Zero is trained to play are "closed" in the sense that they have limited sets of rules, "things will get even more exciting when DeepMind moves on to more open problems."

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Researchers Devise Better Recommendation Algorithm
MIT News
Larry Hardesty
December 6, 2017

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a new recommendation algorithm based on a theoretical analytic framework using cosine similarity, which they say should work better than current algorithms. The researchers note the algorithm should be especially effective when ratings data is "sparse." Sparse data means there may be so little overlap between users' ratings that cosine similarity is rendered meaningless, making it necessary to aggregate the data of many users. MIT professor Devavrat Shah says the framework assumes the relative weight a user assigns to ratings remains the same, and each user's function is running on the same set of features. Shah notes this yields sufficient consistency to extrapolate statistical inferences about the probability that one user's ratings will predict another's. The team used the framework to demonstrate that, in instances of sparse data, their "neighbor's-neighbor" algorithm should return more accurate predictions than any known algorithm.

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Towards Data Storage at the Single Molecule Level
Kiel University
December 6, 2017

Researchers at Kiel University in Germany have developed a process for storing information on a single spin-crossover molecule. In addition to depositing a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface, the team also leveraged interactions that were previously deemed obstructive to enhance the molecule's capacity. Kiel's Manuel Gruber says the new molecule is only one square nanometer in size, which could enable a bit to be encoded in an area 100 times smaller than what is currently possible. Not only can the molecule assume two magnetic states, it also can change its linkage to a special surface that lets it be flipped between high and low magnetic states, and turned by 45 degrees. "When transferred onto storage technology, we would be able to depict information on three states--those being 0, 1, and 2," says Kiel's Torben Jasper-Tonnies. The researchers think the storage space of conventional hard drives could theoretically be enlarged 100-fold or more.

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Office worker putting belongings from desk into a box AI Will Replace Coders by 2040, Warn Academics
Nicholas Fearn
December 6, 2017

Coders and programmers could find themselves becoming marginalized by emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, with humans being replaced in these jobs by 2040, according to a study from academic researchers published by Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The report predicted by 2040, machine learning and natural language processing technologies will have become so advanced they will be able to write better software code faster than the best human coders. In addition, "the major technologies that will drive the creation and adoption of machine-generated code already exist, either at research institutions or in the marketplace," the researchers note. The researchers also predict there will be discrepancies between hardware architectures and software requirements, which will result in systems that cater to these disparities. "Extreme heterogeneity, along with the rest of the computing world, will be required to move with the demands of usability and productivity in interesting ways," the study says.

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Researchers Found a Security Flaw That Had 10 Million Banking App Users at Risk
University of Birmingham
Luke Harrison
December 6, 2017

Researchers at the University of Birmingham in the U.K. have developed a tool to perform semi-automated security testing of mobile phone apps. They used the tool to analyze 400 security critical apps, and found a significant vulnerability in banking apps. The vulnerability enables an attacker connected to the same network as the victim to perform a "man-in-the-middle attack" and retrieve important credentials. The researchers found although banks had put considerable effort into app security, certificate pinning, which normally improves security, resulted in standard tests failing to detect a vulnerability that could let attackers hijack a victim's online banking. The researchers also discovered "in-app phishing attacks," which enable an attacker to take over part of the screen while the app is running and use it to phish for the victim's login credentials. The team suggests all users of banking apps ensure they are always using the most recent version of the app.

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Gears made using 3d printer In First, 3D Printed Objects Connect to Wi-Fi Without Electronics
UW News
Jennifer Langston
December 5, 2017

Researchers at the University of Washington (UW) have for the first time three-dimensionally (3D) printed plastic objects and sensors that can collect data and interact with other Wi-Fi-linked devices entirely by themselves. Enthusiasts of 3D printing also will be able to produce such objects from off-the-shelf plastics thanks to open source computer-assisted design models. "Our goal was to create something that just comes out of your 3D printer at home and can send useful information to other devices," says UW's Vikram Iyer. The researchers used backscatter methods to initiate information sharing between devices, replacing certain functions normally performed by electrical components with mechanical motion activated by 3D-printable components. The object contains an antenna, with physical motion triggering elements that cause intermittent connection/disconnection by a conductive switch. The system was presented last month at the ACM SIGGRAPH Conference and Exhibition on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques in Asia (SIGGRAPH Asia 2017) in Bangkok, Thailand.

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Virtual Reality Users Must Learn to Use What They See
UW-Madison News
Chris Barncard
December 4, 2017

A study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) found virtual reality (VR) users need training to effectively perceive and use VR imagery. The researchers previously found people were failing a simple test of three-dimensional (3D) perception using a flat screen and standard 3D movie glasses, and demonstrated poor performance at discerning the direction in which a target was moving. Applying this test to VR yielded more realistic indications of 3D motion in three dimensions, such as binocular cues and parallax. The experiments found that when most people wear a VR headset, they still treat what they see as if it is happening on a conventional TV screen. The researchers note the addition of visual and audible feedback to the test enabled participants' success rates to nearly double, and they found small head movements and typical binocular cues of motion are only used by people when they are actively shown how VR differs from a flat computer screen.

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Intelligent Algorithms Can Help Reduce Disruptions in Online Services
Umea University (Sweden)
Ingrid Soderbergh
December 4, 2017

Researchers at Umea University in Sweden say they have developed automated troubleshooting algorithms to prevent prolonged delays or disruptions in servers hosted in cloud computing environments. The researchers say the algorithms introduce an automated approach for addressing two key problems caused by inadequate server resources and the effects of having multiple applications sharing the same servers in cloud computing systems. The first problem is how to detect and diagnose symptoms of problems, such as unexpected spikes or dips, in service status over time. The second problem involves determining and executing corrective actions to completely restore services back to operation. "I have developed and investigated techniques that automatically uncover symptoms of problems and intelligently rank them with limited human intervention, adapt to changes in the state of the systems, and resolve service delays by incrementally adjusting the capacity of server resources in response to demand," says Umea University's Olumuyiwa Ibidunmoye.

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Person with brain interface helmet on Advances to Brain-Interface Technology Provide Clearer Insight Into Visual System Than Ever Before
Carnegie Mellon University
Shilo Rea
December 4, 2017

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) say they have developed a high-density electroencephalogram (EEG) that can quantify the brain's neural activity at a higher spatial resolution than was previously possible. The researchers say the "super-Nyquist density" EEG represents the first non-invasive, high-resolution brain-interface technology of its type. It was tested by having 16 participants watch pattern-reversing black and white checkerboards while wearing the new device. According to the results, the interface collected more information from the visual cortex than any of the four standard "Nyquist density" versions tested. The new tool is composed of a modified EEG head cap connected to a 128-electrolode system, which expanded sensor density by two- to threefold over occipitotemporal brain regions. "Ultimately, capturing more neural information with EEG means we can make better inferences about what is happening inside the brain," says former CMU researcher Amanda K. Robinson. "This has the potential to improve source detection, for example in localizing the source of seizures in epilepsy."

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Here's to the Women of Eniac for Giving Us Modern Programming Tools
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