Welcome to the December 1, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
The Race Towards Quantum Computation
CORDIS News (11/27/14)
At the recent Innovation Summit, European quantum computing experts touted the European Union's (EU) achievements in the field and called for further EU investments in quantum computing research and development. The Delft University of Technology's Lieven Vandersypen predicted future Nobel Prizes would be awarded to Europeans for achievements in quantum computing research. Vandersypen and University College London's John Morton said quantum computing will unlock tremendous potential for developing new medicines and complex materials, new diagnostic tools, and energy technologies. However, both said the EU is in danger of falling behind other nations. Morton noted the EU leads all other regions in terms of academic output regarding quantum technologies, but is falling behind in patenting quantum technologies; for example, China patented five times more quantum technologies than the EU between 2009 and 2012. Morton suggested the EU create an advisory board for quantum technology with at least 50-percent representation from the information technology industry to help guide the development and commercialization of quantum technologies. Vandersypen called for a "large-scale EU-wide effort" similar in scale to the Human Brain Project, which is pushing forward brain science.
Using Social Media for Behavioral Studies Is Cheap, Fast, but Fraught With Biases
Carnegie Mellon News (PA) (12/01/14) Byron Spice
Massive data sets taken from social media could be misleading to behavioral scientists and other researchers. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon (CMU) and McGill universities say scientists need to find ways of correcting for the biases inherent in the data gathered from social media, or to at least acknowledge the data's shortcomings. Social media sites often have substantial population biases, according to the researchers. For example, Instagram is dominated by adults between the ages of 18 and 29, African-Americans, Latinos, women, and urban dwellers, while Pinterest is popular among women between the ages of 25 and 34 with average household incomes of $100,000. However, data scientists rarely acknowledge, much less correct, for these built-in sampling biases, according to CMU professor Juergen Pfeffer and McGill professor Derek Ruths. In addition, social media sites create or filter their data streams using proprietary algorithms, which are subject to change without warning. Meanwhile, some researchers have special relationships with the sites and get to examine their inner workings. However, the rise of these "embedded researchers" is creating a divided social media research community, according to Pfeffer and Ruths. "Most people doing real social science are aware of these issues," says Pfeffer, who noted some solutions may come from applying existing techniques already developed in such fields as epidemiology, statistics, and machine learning.
Study: U.S. Attracting Fewer Educated, Highly-Skilled Migrants
University of Washington News and Information (11/24/14) Deborah Bach
The U.S. is no longer drawing as large a share of the world's highly educated and skilled workers as it once did, according to a new University of Washington (UW) study. UW professor Emilio Zagheni and his team used a data-tracking method to study the movements of members of the professional social networking service LinkedIn. Zagheni says it is the first time a worldwide data set has been used to test the view that the U.S. is the number one destination for the world's highly educated and skilled workers; the study found this trend is changing. Although the U.S. attracted 27 percent of migrating professionals and nearly a quarter of the graduates from the world's top 500 universities in 2000, those percentages had dropped to 13 and 12 percent, respectively, by 2012. Meanwhile, the trend is moving in the other direction in Asia, which drew 10 percent of professional migrants in 2000 but 26 percent in 2012. The largest decline in skilled migrants to the U.S. has been seen in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields, falling from 37 percent in 2000 to 25 percent in 2012. The researchers suggest possible causes for the change include the U.S.'s difficult visa system and the economic crashes of 2008 and the earlier dot-com bust.
Studying the Speed of Multi-Hop Bluetooth Networks
University of the Basque Country (Spain) (11/25/14)
Researchers at Spain's UPV/EHU-University of the Basque Country have studied the performance of Bluetooth networks and measured the delays taking place in information transmission time. Standard Bluetooth transmissions can work in various ways, one being with node links permanently open, for gathering and transmitting information. In other modes, the nodes switch themselves on and off from time to time when they are not working, which leads to lower energy consumption. The team also studied the impact of data processing and communication tasks on delays. UPV/EHU's Josu Etxaniz-Maranon performed tests with the platforms and revised the parameters that could affect time performance, such as how the links between nodes work, and the type of data chunk assigned by the standard used for communications. Etxaniz has developed two methodologies for gathering information on the times, and also determined the behavior of some of the support nodes of standard Bluetooth, and how the data processing and communication tasks affect the general delay. "There isn't the slightest delay when the nodes are permanently on; on the other hand, the delay varied between one hop and another," Etxaniz says. The delay shows a parabolic trend, and Etxaniz notes information needs to be transmitted quickly and effectively if sensors are to successfully carry out their functions.
Simple Circuit Could Double Cell-Phone Data Speeds
Technology Review (11/24/14) Tom Simonite
University of Texas researchers have developed a circulator, a simple circuit that could enable smartphones and other wireless devices to send and receive data twice as fast as is currently possible. The new circuit makes it possible for a radio to simultaneously send and receive signals on the same channel in a process known as full-duplex communications, and the researchers say it should translate to a doubling of the rate at which information can be moved around wirelessly. The circulator can isolate signals coming into a device from those it is sending out, acting as a selective filter between a device's antenna and its radio circuitry. The researchers note the circuit design uses only conventional circuit components and avoids magnets. "It's very cheap, compact, and light," says University of Texas professor Andrea Alu. "It's ideal for a cell phone." The circulator is equipped with components called resonators that force signals to travel around in only a clockwise direction. When a wireless device's antenna is connected to one of the wires leading into the circle, it isolates signals that have just been received from those the device has generated for the transmission itself. "It's a very new way to look at a very old problem, and has some very good results," notes Stanford University professor Philip Levis.
Codebreaking Has Moved on Since Turing's Day, With Dangerous Implications
The Conversation (11/24/14) Bill Buchanan
Recent interest in computing and cryptography pioneer Alan Turing surrounding the release of a new movie, "The Imitation Game," which details Turing's work breaking Nazi codes in World War II, offers an opportunity to see the massive gains that have been made in the field of codebreaking, writes Edinburgh Napier University professor Bill Buchanan. In Turing's day, cryptography was a mechanical and intellectual process, relying on complex machines and the genius of Turing and his peers to encipher and decipher messages. The challenge of cracking the ciphers of the Nazi Enigma and Lorenz codes led to the creation of some of the earliest computers: the electromechanical Bombe designed by Turing and Gordon Welchman, and Colossus, the first programmable electronic digital computer. Since WWII, computing power orders of magnitude greater than what Bombe and Colossus were capable of is available to anyone through cloud computing. Encryption also has advanced, but the raw power available is making some methods irrelevant. For example, Buchanan says hashed passwords can be relatively easily defeated by throwing cloud resources at the task. Adding a salt, or random string of text, to the hash can dramatically increase the number of computations needed to decipher a password, but with enough computing power, it is still just a matter of time.
Multi-Million Pound Grant Awarded to Research Secure Communication Technologies
Royal Holloway (11/26/14)
Royal Holloway, University of London has joined seven other universities in a collaborative effort to develop secure communication technologies for consumer, commercial, and government markets. Known as the Quantum Communications Hub, the research effort will focus on how the laws of quantum physics can be harnessed to create new and affordable technologies and services. The Quantum Communications Hub is supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council as part of the U.K.'s National Quantum Technologies Program. "The collaboration of leading researchers is a truly exciting opportunity that will allow Royal Holloway and its partners to transform the security of data and transactions among users such as government departments, industry, and the public," says Royal Holloway professor Kenny Paterson. The hub will feature links to several business and public organizations, including GCHQ, the National Physical Laboratory, BT, Toshiba, Selex, and Kelvin Nanotechnology. Greg Clark, the minister for Universities, Science, and Cities, says, "This investment in quantum technologies has the potential to bring game-changing advantages to future timing, sensing, and navigation capabilities that could support multi-billion-pound markets in the U.K. and globally."
Co-Robots Team Up With Humans
Georgia Tech News Center (11/25/14) John Toon
Henry Evans suffered a stroke 10 years ago that left him with limited mobility, but Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) researchers are working to develop a robot that will help him shave, adjust a blanket when he is cold, and scratch an annoying itch. However, it is still unusual for robots to work directly with people. Most robots today can be found in manufacturing facilities, but are not near humans for safety reasons. The Georgia Tech researchers believe people and robots will be able to accomplish much more by working together, as long as robots have common sense. For example, robots will need to know how much force humans apply when shaving. "A major challenge for health care robots is that they lack so much of the knowledge and experience that people take for granted," says Georgia Tech professor Charlie Kemp. He notes common sense is just one milestone that will need to be met on the path to co-robotics. The researchers say there are numerous benefits of co-robotics, and to produce better products more efficiently manufacturing robots will need to work with humans. Meanwhile, in defense and homeland security, robots increasingly will have to perform hazardous jobs that leverage people's skills while keeping them safe.
Research Center Forges New 'Gang' to Study Science of Language Dynamics
The Age (Australia) (11/24/14) Clare Colley
The Australian National University (ANU) has unveiled its new Center of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language, which it says could help revolutionize the way people learn new languages. The center will bring together linguists, anthropologists, philosophers, psychologists, speech therapists, computer scientists, and roboticists to "forge a new science of language" based on its diversity and evolution. The research could help keep indigenous languages alive, and help people with communication disorders and speech loss from conditions such as Alzheimer's. Roboticists and computer scientists could develop a recording device that combines facial recognition to help prompt older people as they start to lose their power of speech. Global-positioning systems could be combined with recording devices to help researchers better document and save traditional languages, which use compass directions instead of left and right and have different meanings based on eye contact or gesture. "These are all elements of the face-to-face context, which at the moment we are not recording," says ANU professor Nick Evans. "Books and recordings are just a pale reflection of real languages...with robotic technology we can get a much richer capturing."
Virtual Money--At Your Own Risk
University of Luxembourg (11/25/14)
Bitcoin does not protect a user's Internet Protocol (IP) address and it can be linked to transactions in real time, according to a study from researchers at the University of Luxembourg's Laboratory of Algorithmics, Cryptology and Security. Bitcoin entry nodes, to which a user's computer connects in order make a transaction, form a unique identifier for the duration of the session, but the researchers found this unique pattern can be linked to a user's IP address. Moreover, transactions made during one session, even those made with unrelated pseudonyms, can be linked together. The researchers say hackers would only need a few computers and about 1,500 Euros per month for server and traffic costs to carry out the method, which can expose up to 60 percent of the IP addresses behind the transactions made over the Bitcoin network. "This Bitcoin network analysis combined with previous research on transaction flows shows that the level of anonymity in the Bitcoin network is quite low," says Luxembourg professor Alex Biryukov. The team presented a paper on how to prevent the attack at the recent ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security in Scottsdale, AZ. The researchers also have written software patches and discussed them with Bitcoin core developers.
German Study Supports Free 'Super Wi-Fi'
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (11/24/14)
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) researchers recently conducted a study proposing that additional TV frequencies should not be marketed but made available to the population and companies at no cost to extend wireless networks instead of using the frequencies for mobile communication. The researchers want to extend the frequencies for free communication to include lower ranges and even increased transmission power. The researchers note these frequencies are being used less and less for the transmission of TV signals, and they are highly suited for penetrating obstacles such as walls. "Implementation of our approach would have far-reaching consequences," says KIT researcher Arnd Weber. "Individuals, institutions, and companies would be far less dependent on expensive mobile communications networks in conducting their digital communication. This would also be of great economic benefit." Still, Weber says a global and broad debate about the approach is needed, since governments also could use the frequencies to extend the range of state-owned TV channels or auction them to mobile telephony providers at high prices. However, the study's conclusion that low frequency ranges should, as common property, be made available at no cost contradicts an established economic theory represented by economist and Nobel Prize winner Ronald Coase.
What Is Computational Linguistics?
Guardian (United Kingdom) (11/21/14) Shalom Lappin
The goal of computational linguistics (CL) is to develop precise models of how natural languages work, and then to test and use the models to write software to automatically analyze certain aspects of a language, writes Shalom Lappin, a professor of computational linguistics at King's College London. He says it is possible to set a clear-enough description of a set of linguistic properties to enable researchers to translate it into a program that recognizes those properties in real language data. In its engineering aspect, CL focuses on natural-language processing. It seeks to develop systems that facilitate human-computer interaction, and to automate a range of practical linguistic tasks, such as machine translation, text summarization, speech recognition and generation, information extraction and retrieval, and sentiment analysis of text. When examining the scientific aspect of CL, researchers seek to model natural languages as formal combinatorial systems in an effort to identify the procedures through which humans can learn and to represent these systems. Lappin says to successfully build language technology that works reliably over a large range of input, researchers need to explain and model the properties of language the application is designed to identify.
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