Welcome to the May 30, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Computer Scientists Study Other Computer Scientists
IT World (05/29/14) Phil Johnson
A study and data set from Brown University on computer science faculty at the 50 top U.S. schools yielded several interesting findings. One finding was the Massachusetts Institute of Technology produces the most computer science professors through its Ph.D. programs, while coming in second place was the University of California, Berkeley. Another insight gained from the study came from the categorization of each professor's field of research as either theory, systems, informatics, or scientific computing. The study found private universities offered the greatest concentration of theory study, while public schools had the least. One explanation for this finding is that public universities focus more on engineering, while private universities are more science-oriented. A third finding of the study was the top field of research in terms of computer science faculty hirings remains computer science theory. However, there has been a sharp trend in the last three years toward hiring professors specializing in systems and informatics, while the hiring of faculty who study computer science theory has diminished since 2011.
2014 Computing Innovation Fellows Workshop: Research, Innovation, Impact
CCC Blog (05/27/14) Shar Steed
The Computing Innovation Fellows (CI Fellows) Workshop on May 22-23 in San Francisco gave former CI Fellows from all three cohorts (2009, 2010, 2011) an opportunity to reflect on the success of the program as well as absorb more information and advice from leaders in computing research. The program awarded CI Fellowships to 127 Ph.D. graduates in computer science and related fields, and they are now in the early years of their formal careers. The theme of the workshop was "Research, Innovation, Impact," and Microsoft Research's Peter Lee delivered the opening address. In his research keynote, titled "Why Research Matters, Now More Than Ever," Lee encouraged the CI Fellows to embrace curiosity-driven research and to not lose sight that research is a long-term investment. The U.S. National Science Foundation's Farnam Jahanian gave the innovation keynote on "The Imperative of Research in the Innovation Ecosystem," and Google's Megan Smith gave the impact keynote on "Heroic Engineering, Talent, and Network Effects." The workshop also included sessions on writing a successful research proposal, communicating research with a broader audience, and developing mentoring relationships. The Computing Community Consortium is now administering a follow-up program to support postdocs called Postdoc Best Practices.
Spruce Up Your Selfie
MIT News (05/29/14) Larry Hardesty
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed an algorithm that could enable users to transfer professional photographers' distinctive styles to their own cellphone photos. First, the researchers used off-the-shelf facial-recognition software to identify a portrait, in the desired style, that has characteristics similar to those of the photo to be modified. "We then find a dense correspondence--like eyes to eyes, beard to beard, skin to skin--and do this local transfer," says MIT graduate student YiChang Shih. The researchers found their technique works much better with video than its predecessors, which used global parameters instead of local transfer methods. They also added another feature to the algorithm, called multiscale matching. "Human faces consist of textures of different scales," Shih says. "You want the small scale--which corresponds to face pores and hairs--to be similar, but you also want the large scale to be similar--like nose, mouth, lighting." For each new image, the algorithm generates a representation known as a Laplacian pyramid, which enables it to identify characteristics distinctive of different scales that tend to vary independently of each other. The researchers will present their findings at the ACM SIGGRAPH conference in August.
In Big Step for Robotics, One Robot Repairs Another in Space
Computerworld (05/29/14) Sharon Gaudin
The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) recently conducted a mission in which a robot completed repairs on another robot in space, a breakthrough that could lead to future robots working in deep space, as well as Earth-based robots working in remote and dangerous areas. "Every new repair we do, it further illustrates how useful robotics is and it shows how robotics can contribute to manned and unmanned missions," says CSA's Mathieu Caron. The breakthrough came when Dextre, a Canadian-built robot that stands 12-feet tall and has a 30-foot wing span, was used to repair two malfunctioning cameras on the mobile robotics system, which consists of two robotic arms, as well as a mobile base to which the robots are attached in order to move easily along the outside of the station. "This is the first time we've shown that a robotics system can fix itself," Caron says. He notes the advance also means robots can be used to repair satellites orbiting the Earth, and as the space station needs more critical repairs, robots will be able to take on more of the work. "We send robots where we don't want to send humans," Caron says. "The ability to use robotics to accomplish tasks in hazardous areas is very important and we furthered that."
Quantum Cryptography With Ordinary Equipment
IEEE Spectrum (05/28/14) Martin LaMonica
Japanese researchers have proposed an approach to quantum cryptography they say would theoretically work with commercially available equipment and consume less bandwidth than existing methods. The technique would transmit photons over an optical fiber using ordinary lasers, which would discharge a photonic train while a phase modulator imparts a phase on them. The receiver divides the transmission into two separate signals with a randomly produced delay between them, and then those signals are superimposed and detected on the receiving end. The integrated waves could be out of phase and cancel each out, or they could be in phase and generate a bigger wave, and the phase difference between pulses can function as bits that constitute a key to decrypt the message. The researchers say the technique does not depend on the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and does not require regular transmission measurements to detect key tampering, unlike existing quantum key distribution systems. University of Tokyo researcher Masato Koashi says the technique would substantially lower the communications overhead needed, which is critical in scenarios in which communication channels are noisy.
Get Ready for the Computers of the Future
Sandia National Laboratories (05/27/14) Sue Holmes
Sandia National Laboratories computer scientists are exploring ways next-generation computers can continue to make performance gains while reducing energy consumption. Rob Leland, head of Sandia's Computing Research Center, says the lab's researchers are considering new transistor-level devices and computer architectures as part of the Beyond Moore Computing project on future computing. Energy costs are approaching a point of making more powerful future supercomputers prohibitively expensive. Leland says new architectures are needed to reduce energy costs associated with moving data. Eventually, new technologies that use less energy at the transistor device-level also will be needed. In the future, Sandia predicts multiple computing device-level technologies will replace a single dominant architecture, possibly including tunnel field-effect transistors, carbon nanotubes, and superconductors. Quantum computing, brain-inspired computing, and other new approaches also are possible. Leland says Sandia's challenge is to determine what the next technology will be and to prepare for its implications and necessary architecture. The next technology must be broadly adopted to encourage continual advances, as the transistor did following its invention in 1947. He says industry needs to support the new technology and assemble it into a system that can be deployed for national security. Sandia aims to identify computer designs that leverage new device technologies and to demonstrate technological feasibility to reduce risk for industry.
Free Apps With Follow-Up Costs
Ruhr-University Bochum (Germany) (05/28/14) Julia Weiler
Ruhr University Bochum (RUB) researchers have developed the Permission Watcher, a smartphone application that scans all the apps installed on a smartphone for potential security risks. The researchers created 20 rule sets that evaluate an app's risk potential. "An app that is able to activate pay services is generally problematic; in Germany that might include calling 0190 numbers," says Christopher Wolf, the head of RUB's Emmy Noether Group for Long-Term Security. Permission Watcher users are presented with a list of all the apps installed on their device, sorted by their hazard potential. "Usually, a user is likely to uninstall a program if it tells him: 'You're doing something wrong,' rather than following the program's commands," Wolf says. The researchers also tested the extent to which the pattern login feature can be relied on; "the pattern login feature is more or less as secure as a three-digit PIN," Wolf says. "That's fine, but not great." The researchers also conducted a survey of 100 students and found the login patterns actually used in real life are one or two steps shorter than those used in other tests.
Logic in Computer Science
Vienna University of Technology (05/27/14) Florian Aigner
The Vienna University of Technology (TU Wien)on July 9-24 will host the Vienna Summer of Logic, the largest scientific event in the history of logic, featuring 12 large conferences and numerous workshops, and is expected to draw 2,500 international researchers. Computer science has transformed logic research in recent decades, and the two fields are progressing symbiotically. "Today, most of the research in logic is done by computer scientists, not by mathematicians," says TU Wien professor Helmut Veith. In computer science, logic is a tool with which computer programs can describe the world, for example, to create databases or artificial intelligence. Applied introspectively, logic can help computer codes detect errors in other computer codes. Logic-based quality checks of computer codes are critical because human testers cannot guarantee a program will return correct results in every conceivable scenario. For applications such as security-relevant code and computer chip production, logical checks are necessary.
Robot Linda Will Mingle With Visitors at the Natural History Museum
University of Lincoln (05/27/14) Marie Daniels
A specialist mobile robot will mingle with the public at the Natural History Museum in London during Universities Week 2014. Based at the University of Lincoln, Linda the robot is currently being programmed to act intelligently in real-world environments, with the ultimate goal of supporting security guards or staff in care homes. The celebration of university research, scheduled for June 9-13, will give the research team an opportunity to demonstrate the robot, which already has learned to autonomously map a building and can run for 30 days autonomously. The robot is part of the collaborative STRANDS project, which seeks to create mobile robots capable of operating independently based on an understanding of three-dimensional space and how that space changes over time. The project eventually will deploy the robots for an extended period of time so they have the chance to develop an understanding of how the world should appear and be able to identify deviations from the normal environment. "We are trying to enable robots to learn from their long-term experience and their perception of how the environment unfolds in time," says Marc Hanheide of the University of Lincoln's School of Computer Science.
The Economist (05/24/14)
The informal, crowd-funded OpenWorm project aims to develop the world's first simulated organism, a worm known as Caenorhabditis elegans. With the participation of international biologists and computer scientists, OpenWorm in May raised $121,076 on a crowd-funding website. C. elegans is one of the best-understood organisms in biology, and scientists know the location and the function of all its cells. The researchers plan to create a bottom-up model of the biochemical behavior of the worm's cells and their interactions. If the model is successful, the organism's behavior patterns and movement should emerge as a result of the interactions. Initially, the researchers will work on systems to simulate the worm's muscle cells, neuron behavior, and electrical impulse movement. Using physics algorithms, the team will create a simulated Petri dish for the worm. The virtual worm's behavior will be compared to that of the actual organism via a database of about 12,000 C. elegans videos. The model will be flexible enough to adjust on the fly and modify as science advances. OpenWorm could significantly advance biological and medical research, including efforts to model the human brain.
IBM Patents Fraudster Detection Technology for Websites, Mobile Apps
Network World (05/27/14) Antone Gonsalves
A new technique from IBM researchers could enable website operators, cloud service providers, and mobile application developers to spot fraudsters who have stolen an account holder's credentials. The technology builds a profile on each person using a site or app based on their navigation habits recorded through the browser. Metrics are collected through the computer mouse and keyboard and the touchscreen on a tablet or smartphone. To increase the accuracy of correctly identifying people, details are gathered such as how long they hover over a link or button before clicking, and whether they scroll through pages using a touchpad, mouse, or page-up and page-down keys. "Everyone has a distinct way, at a very subconscious level, of interacting with the browser," says IBM's Keith Walker. The researchers were able to build a profile in about 15 minutes in one session or over several sessions, and the prototype system achieved 100-percent accuracy, although on a large scale the rate would be less but still very high. IBM has received a patent for the technology, called a user-browser interaction-based fraud detection system, which is not intended to replace user names and passwords.
Flexible, Transparent Thin Film Transistors Raise Hopes for Flexible Screens
Argonne National Laboratory (05/23/14) Louise Lerner
Argonne National Laboratory researchers say they have developed the world's thinnest flexible, see-through, two-dimensional thin-film transistor, a type of device often used in screens and displays. "This could make a transparent, nearly invisible screen," says Argonne researcher Andreas Roelofs. "Imagine a window that doubles as a screen whenever you turn it on." The researchers tested the transistor's on/off ratio, which measures how completely it can turn off the current, and its field-effect carrier mobility, which measures how quickly electrons can move through the material. "We were pleased to find that the on/off ratio is just as good as current commercial thin-film transistors, but the mobility is a hundred times better than what's on the market today," says Argonne researcher Saptarshi Das. The researchers also found that when their new transistors are bent, they do not crack. The researchers built the transistors using a strip of adhesive tape to peel off a sheet of tungsten diselenide just atoms thick. "We chose tungsten diselenide because it provides the electron and hole conduction necessary for making transistors with logic gates and other p-n junction devices," says Argonne researcher Anirudha Sumant. The researchers then used chemical deposition to grow sheets of other materials on top, to build the transistor layer by layer.
Why Vint Cerf Thinks Net Security Should Go Back to the Future
eWeek (05/24/14) Chris Preimesberger
In an interview, Google chief Internet evangelist and ACM president Vint Cerf says a look back to the early days of the Internet could help address data security issues for the Web's future. Cerf, co-recipient of the ACM A.M. Turing Award in 2004, says the use of strong authentication and mechanisms for applying cryptographic methods, for example, should be reconsidered, especially as the Internet of Things (IoT) brings a growing number of appliances online. "I am very worried about the headline that says: '100 Million Refrigerators Attack Bank of America,'" he says. "We can laugh at that, but it could happen." Hackers also could use the IoT as a launching platform for malicious actions such as distributed denial-of-service attacks, Cerf warns. To make hardware and software more secure, enterprises and the academic community must refocus on how to make the technology resistant to penetration. However, Cerf says security efforts should not threaten the Internet's freedom and ease of access that has helped businesses flourish. "'Permissionless innovation' is a term I like very much, meaning that one doesn't have to get permission in order to innovate," he says. Cerf says society must consider which social conventions, legal structures, and technical mechanisms will need to be adopted to make the Internet safer, and warns that if the Internet does not become safer, "it will fail."
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