Welcome to the December 11, 2017 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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tech toolbox, illustration NUS Scientist Develops 'Toolboxes' for Quantum Cybersecurity
NUS News (Singapore)
December 8, 2017

Researchers led by National University of Singapore professor Charles Lim have developed efficient "toolboxes" for gauging the security of high-speed quantum communication. Lim's team has developed a quantum key distribution (QKD) system based on time and phase bases that enables more secret bits to be contained within a single photon. Lim and colleagues were able to realize two secret bits in one photon, with a secret key rate of 26.2 Mbps. Although encoding quantum data in time and phase bases could theoretically enable many bits to be arbitrarily stuffed into a single photon and generate extremely high secret key rates for QKD, deploying such systems would be technically challenging and tools for measuring the security of high-dimensional QKD are limited. Lim's team combined security-proof techniques Lim developed with an interferometry method from Ohio State University and Duke University professor Daniel Gauthier's research group to overcome these limitations.

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dolphins Tracking Dolphins With Algorithms You Might Find on Facebook
The New York Times
Steph Yin
December 8, 2017

Researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography have used a machine-learning algorithm similar to Facebook's friend recommender program to track dolphins. The program analyzed 52 million dolphin clicks and identified seven distinct groups of sound, which the researchers think correspond to different kinds of dolphins. Scripps' Kait Fraiser and colleagues first ran a detection program though years of audio recordings and extracted all segments with dolphin clicks, which their algorithm segmented into five-minute blocks, generating an average click rate and frequency shape for each time window. The algorithm then clustered five-minute chunks with similar average click rates and frequency profiles, and Frasier says it took only about four days to sort through several years of data from five sites. The unsupervised algorithm extrapolated seven discrete click clusters, one of which was consistent with the singular click profile of the Risso's dolphin species, which Frasier notes was a "good sanity check" suggesting their method might work.

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Reading a Neural Network's Mind
MIT News
Larry Hardesty
December 10, 2017

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and the Qatar Computing Research Institute have used an interpretive method to analyze neural networks trained for machine translation and speech recognition. The team took a trained network and used the output of each of its layers, in response to individual training examples, to train another neural network to perform a specific task so researchers could determine the task for which each layer is optimized. Among empirical insights into likely network functionality is the systems' apparent concentration on lower-level tasks, such as sound recognition or part-of-speech recognition, before moving to higher-level tasks, such as transcription or semantic interpretation. A surprising finding was the presence of an omission in the type of data the translation network considers, the correction of which improves network performance, suggesting analyzing neural networks could help enhance the accuracy of artificial intelligence systems.

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stretchable battery Scientists Create Stretchable Battery Made Entirely Out of Fabric
Binghamton University
December 7, 2017

Researchers at Binghamton University have created an entirely textile-based biobattery that can generate maximum power similar to that produced by previous paper-based microbial fuel cells. In addition, the textile-based biobatteries exhibit stable electricity-generating capability when tested under repeated stretching and twisting cycles. The researchers say the device could establish a standardized platform for textile-based biobatteries and could be integrated into wearable electronics in the future. They hypothesize that human sweat could be a potential fuel to support bacterial viability, providing the long-term operation of the microbial fuel cells. "There is a clear and pressing need for flexible and stretchable electronics that can be easily integrated with a wide range of surroundings to collect real-time information," says Binghamton professor Seokheun Choi. "If we consider that humans possess more bacterial cells than human cells in their bodies, the direct use of bacterial cells as a power resource interdependently with the human body is conceivable for wearable electronics."

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First Step Toward Practical Application of Holographic Memory With Magnetic Assist
Toyohashi University of Technology
December 6, 2017

Researchers at the Toyohashi University of Technology in Japan have employed magnetic assist recording technology with magnetic-holographic memory, successfully reducing recording energy consumption and enabling non-error data reconstruction for the first time. The team used simulation to model the size of the stray magnetic field needed for magnetization reversal in magnetic hologram recording and found the thinner the medium, the smaller the needed field and the more noisy the recording. The researchers also demonstrated that magnetic assist recording produces a clear magnetic hologram even with a thin medium, and the magnetic hologram generates a brilliant reconstruction beam upon irradiation with a reference beam. The team also found that magnetic assist recording and reconstruction of two-dimensional data returns clear reconstruction images, achieving a substantial reduction in data recording/reconstruction errors with a small amount of energy as well as non-error recording/reconstruction with magnetic-holographic memory. "This technology is promising for the future application of magnetic-holographic memory," says Toyohashi's Zen Shirakashi.

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speech processing techniques team Researchers Launch Moon Mission Audio Site
UT Dallas News Center
Kim Horner
December 5, 2017

Researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas' Center for Robust Speech Systems (CRSS) are using a 2012 grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation to develop Explore Apollo, a public website featuring audio from the Apollo moon missions. The team used novel speech-processing techniques to reconstruct and digitally convert thousands of hours of analog recordings from the lunar missions. After they had transferred the audio from reels to digital files, the researchers needed to create software for detecting speech activity, including tracking each talker and what they said and when. They also had to create algorithms to monitor speaker characteristics to help researchers analyze how people react under tension. "CRSS has made significant advancements in machine learning and knowledge extraction to assess human interaction for one of the most challenging engineering tasks in the history of mankind," says CRSS director John H.L. Hansen.

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New Algorithm Repairs Corrupted Digital Images in One Step
University of Maryland
Matthew Wright
December 5, 2017

Researchers at the University of Maryland (UMD) and the University of Bern in Switzerland have developed an algorithm that incorporates artificial neural networks to simultaneously apply a wide range of fixes to corrupted digital images. The algorithm can be trained to recognize what an ideal, uncorrupted image should look like, enabling it to address multiple flaws in a single image. The researchers tested the algorithm by taking high-quality, uncorrupted images, purposely introducing severe flaws, and using the algorithm to repair the damage. In many cases, the new algorithm outperformed other conventional methods, very nearly returning the images to their original state. Other researchers have used artificial neural networks to address problems piecemeal, but the new algorithm can simultaneously address a wide variety of problems, notes UMD professor Matthias Zwicker. The researchers trained the algorithm by exposing it to a large database of high-quality, uncorrupted images widely used for research with artificial neural networks.

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Diagram of a new cell phone Computerized Biology, or How to Control a Population of Cells With a Computer
December 5, 2017

Two studies from European researchers detail their use of hybrid experimental platforms for enabling the production of new and reprogrammable behaviors of cell populations. The researchers have developed two platforms linking a microscope to a computer, while cells are placed in a microfluidic device in which the chemical environment can be varied, or exposed to light. A computer program then decides which alterations should be made in the chemical or light environment based on cellular behavior and the goal of the experiment. One study applied optogenetics to activate gene expression by exposing cells to light, with a controller, using a model of the system, making real-time decisions about which dynamic disturbances to exert according to the cells' expected future behavior. For the second study, the experiment involved placing a cellular system in an unstable configuration via the use of a computer program designed to force the cells to randomly take binary decisions.

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A 'Holy Grail' of Computing Hidden in Human Speech
College of William & Mary
Adrienne Berard
December 4, 2017

College of William & Mary professor Denys Poshyvanyk's team has drawn parallels between the semantics and syntactical makeup of human speech and source code to span the human-to-computer language gap. "What we're doing is taking some of the techniques which have been very successful in the area of natural-language processing, information retrieval, and machine learning and adopting them in the field of software development," Poshyvanyk says. Direct translation between source code and human language is the goal of one project under Poshyvanyk's guidance, with researcher Kevin Moran noting, "The way you interact with source code is an abstraction of the way you would normally communicate in natural language." Poshyvanyk's most recent study assessed metrics for testing programmers' understanding of the code they must read, and he found readable pieces of code lack a direct correlation with understanding. He says this means although all programmers are writing in the same language, the meaning of text depends on the author.

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Researchers working on a computer Online Risks Are Routine for Teens, Most Bounce Back
UCF Today
Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala
December 4, 2017

Researchers at the University of Central Florida, Pennsylvania State University, and Ohio State University (OSU) have found the negative impact of exposure to explicit material, such as sexual solicitations and cyberbullying, appears to be temporary, vanishing for most teenagers in less than a week. The research shows most teens seem to be resilient and cope with most online risks, quickly recovering from the temporary negative impacts. The researchers reached this conclusion after conducting a Web-based diary study of 68 teens, chronicling their online experiences for eight weeks and using pre-validated psychological scales to measure how negative online experiences impacted their emotional state and well-being. "We're not exactly sure how they are learning the coping skills, but they are and that's good news," says OSU researcher Bridget McHugh. The researchers hypothesize that such coping could be happening via other online interactions with friends, or via support from social media communities.

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Simulation of the CBRAM computer storage technology. Ideal Size for Computer Memory
Swiss National Science Foundation
December 4, 2017

Researchers at the Swiss National Science Foundation and ETH Zurich in Switzerland say they have determined conductive bridging random access memory (CBRAM) could play a fundamental role in future memory systems by storing data in a non-volatile way. The researchers created a precise simulation of CBRAM, revealing its optimal geometry--an insulator about 10 atoms thick sandwiched between two electrodes. The simulation makes it possible to precisely describe the intensity of the current generated by a metallic nanofilament as it forms and dissolves between the electrodes. The new model accurately reproduces the electric current and the energy dissipated by the cell, enabling calculation of its temperature. The researchers also observed the effect of changes in the thickness of the insulator and the diameter of the metallic filament, and the findings show local power consumption and heat are reduced if the two electrodes are moved closer together.

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An illustration of a cybercriminal walking through a computer center Yale SEAS Works to Usher an Era of Hacker-Proof Computing
William Weir
December 4, 2017

As one way to strengthen computing against hackers, Yale University School of Engineering & Applied Science professor Zhong Shao is spearheading the construction of the Certified Kit Operating System (CertiKOS). CertiKOS is based on formal verification, in which the kernel's interdependent components are carefully untangled, and mathematical specifications are written for each kernel module's intended behavior. "The CertiKOS approach is to apply formal principled techniques to decompose these very complex systems into many carefully designed abstraction layers," Shao notes. "For each complex component, you try to figure out its semantic structure. We build the operating system in a clean way, layer by layer." Shao says CertiKOS seeks to address the unsustainability of the computer industry's current modus operandi as it pertains to security. "For the future, we need to build a new operating system ecosystem that has to be super clean and provides a bug-free and hacker-proof guarantee," he says.

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Edmund Berkeley and the Social Responsibility of Computer Professionals
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