Welcome to the March 11, 2015 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Apple Devotes $50 Million to Improving Diversity in Tech Industry
The Christian Science Monitor (03/10/15) Karis Hustad
Apple on Tuesday announced plans to partner with and donate more than $50 million to various nonprofits and the U.S. military with the goal of increasing the number of women, minorities, and veterans in the technology industry. "We are dogged about the fact that we can't innovate without being diverse and inclusive," says Young Smith, head of human resources at Apple. The largest individual donation, $40 million, will go to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which works with students at the U.S.'s historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). The money will go toward scholarships and training for students and faculty, as well as to the creation of a database of computer science majors at HBCUs. Apple also plans to create a paid internship program specifically for students from HBCUs. Another $10 million will go to the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) to help the group bolster its scholarship, internship, and other programs. Apple also will help NCWIT in its efforts to reach out to middle school-aged girls and get them interested in computer science careers. Finally, Apple is meeting with military leaders to explore various ways of getting veterans trained in technology.
The CIA Campaign to Steal Apple's Secrets
The Intercept (03/10/15) Jeremy Scahill; Josh Begley
New secret documents provided to The Intercept by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden reveal a nearly 10-year effort by security researchers at Sandia National Laboratory to crack and subvert the security of Apple's iPhone and iPad mobile devices. The Snowden documents describe presentations given by Sandia researchers at an annual event sponsored by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency called the Trusted Computing Base Jamboree. Several of the presentations by Sandia researchers focus on efforts to extract the essential keys embedded in the hardware of Apple's devices and used to encrypt data stored on them. Gaining access to these keys would enable intelligence agencies to access data stored on Apple devices and to penetrate Apple's firmware, allowing them to implant a wide variety of malicious code on Apple devices. Another project described in the documents created a "whacked" version of Xcode, the software development tool used to create apps for Apple devices. The Sandia researcher's "whacked" Xcode could be used to craft malicious applications that could implant malware, direct data back to "listening posts," and disable core security features. The revelation of these exploits is likely to further strain an already tense relationship between Apple and the U.S. government.
Finger-Mounted Reading Device for the Blind
MIT News (03/10/15) Larry Hardesty
Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have developed a prototype of a finger-mounted device with a built-in camera that converts written text into audio for visually impaired users. The device provides either tactile or audible feedback that guides the user's finger along a line of text, generating the corresponding audio in real time. The researchers will present a paper describing the device at the ACM CHI 2015 conference, which takes place next week in Seoul, Korea. The paper also reports on the results of a usability study conducted with vision-impaired volunteers, during which the researchers tested several variations of the device. One test involved two haptic motors that vibrate to indicate whether the user should raise or lower the tracking finger. A different test used a musical tone that increased in volume if the user's finger drifted away from the line of text. The researchers also tested the motors and musical tone in combination, but found no consensus among the subjects on which types of feedback were the most useful. Going forward, the researchers are focusing on audio feedback because it allows for a smaller, lighter-weight sensor. The software for the device initially was developed for use on a laptop, but the researchers are developing a version that runs on a smartphone in order to increase portability.
Stanford SystemX Seeks to Make Information Technologies Even More Pervasive
Stanford Report (03/09/15) Andy Myers; Tom Abate
Stanford University's Center for Integrated Systems (CIS) has long been a hub for innovations in computer science and collaboration between university researchers and industry. New chip fabrication techniques were pioneered and tested at the university in the '80s and '90s, but technology has since moved forward and the university is looking to keep pace by rechristening CIS as the SystemX Alliance. The new name comes with new areas of focus, but the same basic mission: to facilitate partnerships between industry and the university. SystemX is organized around six focus areas: design productivity, energy and power management, biomedical interfaces, quantum technologies, the "Internet of Everything," and integration of heterogeneous systems. Projects being worked on include new data center architectures, self-driving cars, smartphone-based artificial intelligence, and next-generation biomedical devices. "SystemX is updating [the CIS] model to spur innovation in what we call the technology stack and open up new possibilities for sensing, communication, and computing technologies," says Stanford president John Hennessy. Professors H.-S. Philip Wong and Boris Murmann will serve as faculty co-directors for SystemX and work alongside Yoshio Nishi, who serves as chairman of the SystemX faculty board.
Shortage of Security Pros Worsens
Network World (03/09/15) Ann Bednarz
Cybersecurity job postings grew 74 percent from 2007 to 2013, more than twice the rate of all information technology jobs, according to a Burning Glass study. In addition, U.S. employers posted 50,000 jobs requesting CISSP credentials in 2013, a year in which the population of CISSP holders totaled 60,000. "We're starting to see more executive-level emphasis on cybersecurity, more resources coming into cybersecurity, across all industry sectors," says Advanced Cyber Security Center executive director Charlie Benway. Eighty-six percent of organizations polled by ISACA believe there is a shortage of skilled cybersecurity professionals, and just 38 percent of ISACA members think their organization is prepared to handle a sophisticated cyberattack. "When you've got everybody in the world realizing they need to do something and going to the market, it leads to a skills shortage, especially when we haven't been training people with these skill sets necessarily," says ISACA's Robert Stroud. There also is a renewed focus on security within the industry, as more organizations now have a chief security officer or a chief information security officer whose sole responsibility is security. Another recent organizational trend is the convergence of enterprise risk management and security; these changes require more employees at all levels of the organization.
Apple to Tap iPhone Users for Medical Research
Agence France-Presse (03/10/15)
Apple on Monday unveiled the ResearchKit platform, an initiative to help researchers address some of the world's most serious medical conditions by gathering data from volunteer iPhone users. The program will gather data from medical tracking apps to aid research on asthma, breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and Parkinson's disease. ResearchKit aims to transform medical research by gathering real-time data from millions of users, according to Apple CEO Tim Cook. Apple plans to work with large medical research centers to gather data through apps developed specifically for the ResearchKit platform. "ResearchKit gives the scientific community access to a diverse, global population and more ways to collect data than ever before," says Apple's Jeff Williams. The program aims to advance research by getting more frequent data than is available during conventional studies. The ResearchKit platform is unique because it "empowers consumers rather than healthcare providers and in the process changes the healthcare research model," says Jackdaw Research's Jack Dawson. For example, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai has developed an asthma monitoring app that looks for triggers for the disease to help provide personalized treatment. The ResearchKit platform also has a Parkinson's monitoring app that measures users' dexterity, balance and gate, voice, and memory at multiple times a day.
Computer Scientists' 4-Million-Euro Project Aims to Make Big Data More Productive and Useful
Silicon Republic (03/09/15) John Kennedy
Trinity College Dublin researchers are working on aligned, quality-centric software and data engineering (ALIGNED), a Horizon 2020 research project aimed at creating systems that will enable developers to incorporate big data from the Web into a variety of applications. ALIGNED is expected to boost European information technology industry productivity and competitiveness by providing new tools and techniques to build data-intensive systems on the Web. The researchers say ALIGNED will lay the groundwork for the next generation of big data systems that lower costs and address the challenges of dynamism, complexity, scale, and data inconsistency on the Web. "ALIGNED is an exciting collaboration between leading computer scientists and innovative European companies poised to increase software development productivity and agility," says Trinity College Dublin researcher Rob Brennan. ALIGNED also will offer consultancy services and advice to European organizations seeking to build data-intensive systems. "It builds on our collaboration with Leipzig University on Web standardization at the [World Wide Web Consortium] and our key technology role in the ambitious Seshat Global History Databank, which seeks to revolutionize history, archaeology, and social sciences by publishing expert-curated data on the Web for every human society that ever existed," says Trinity College Dublin researcher Kevin Feeney.
Do You See What I See? Meet the Team Giving Robots an Insight Into Being Human
QUT News (03/09/15) Kate Haggman
Australian Minister for Employment and Training Christopher Pyne on March 8 officially launched the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision (ACRV) at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT). The center is focused on developing robotic-vision technologies that will enable robots to work safely alongside human beings and carry out a broader range of manual labor. QUT was selected to host the ACRV because it is a leader in robotic vision, as demonstrated by Baxter, a robot developed by QUT researchers that uses a range of sensors to detect obstacles and movement around them. The robot's sensors, combined with spring-loaded joints, enable Baxter to stop moving if it encounters obstacles. QUT researchers also have used Baxter's vision technology to help it play games such as Connect Four and to recognize and pick ripe bell peppers. ACRV will build on Baxter and other robotic-vision technologies to help build the next generation of robots and find robotic solutions to agricultural, environmental, and medical issues. ACRV's Sue Keay says robotic-vision technologies will transform numerous industries, including manufacturing, automotive, and retail. "Robots that can see, learn, and respond as humans do will increase productivity in industries critical to Australia's economy," Keay says.
FTC Pits Humans Against Robocalls in New Contest
NextGov.com (03/06/15) Mohana Ravindranath
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is launching two new contests asking the public to develop solutions for blocking, forwarding, and analyzing automated calls. The open competitions engage communities that have not previously examined this problem, according to FTC attorney Patricia Hsue. The U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology last week approved a bill to support federally funded challenge contests, such as those sponsored by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The FTC's first contest asks participants to build a system that can identify incoming robocalls, block them, and then forward them to a honeypot, a system the government can use to analyze the calls. The second competition asks contestants to analyze real data from an existing honeypot by developing an algorithm that can identify which calls are likely to be robocalls. Hsue says submissions could help design better honeypots to lure more robocallers, enabling law enforcement and academics to collect more data on robocalling patterns. Although the FTC tries to combat robocalls, the people who design those systems are constantly changing their strategies. "The reality is, as we refine our tactics, they refine their tactics," Hsue says. "It's just going to be a constant battle between the two."
Just in Time: Tips for Computer Science Teachers When They Need It
National Science Foundation (03/04/15) Aaron Dubrow
Researchers at Michigan State (MSU) and Purdue universities are developing a set of new online professional development resources to provide "just-in-time" support for new computer science (CS) teachers and for experienced CS instructors teaching new courses for the first time. The program provides instruction to teachers via the Web in real time. The project is part of the CS 10K initiative, which aims to build a talent pool of future computer scientists by developing new high school curricula in CS, and implementing that curricula into 10,000 high schools, taught by 10,000 well-prepared teachers. However, training 10,000 CS teachers is difficult because they often do not have pre-service training as computer scientists. "We believe that in order to meet the goal of 10,000 CS teachers, we really need to not only target the pre-service teachers, but also the in-service teachers," says MSU's Aman Yadav. The researchers created a collection of materials for new or still-learning CS teachers in order to supplement their training. The materials include videos, written instructions, slideshows, and links to activities or additional tools. After an initial pilot study, the researchers expanded the program to include 30 new teachers, with whom they will gather impressions and test the efficacy of the professional development on the teachers and their students' performance.
Fujitsu Tech Can Track Heavily Blurred People in Security Videos
IDG News Service (03/06/15) Tim Hornyak
New image-processing technology from Fujitsu can track people in security camera footage, even when the images are blurred to protect their privacy. The technology is the first of its kind that can detect people from low-resolution imagery in which faces are indistinguishable, according to researchers at Fujitsu Laboratories. The company used computer-vision algorithms to analyze the imagery and identify rough shapes, such as heads and torsos, which remain even if the image is heavily pixelated. The system can pick out multiple people in a frame, even if they overlap. Using multiple camera sources, the system can determine if two given targets are the same person by focusing on the distinctive colors of a person's clothing. In an indoor test, the system tracked the paths of 80 percent of the test subjects. Fujitsu plans to commercialize the technology by 2016, and says it could be useful for retail design, reducing pedestrian congestion in crowded urban areas, or improving evacuation routes for emergencies.
Graphene Meets Heat Waves
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (03/06/15) Laure-Anne Pessina
Heat propagates in the form of a wave in graphene and other two-dimensional (2D) materials that behave in unexpected ways compared to their three-dimensional cousins, according to researchers at the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL). Their simulations demonstrate that heat can propagate without significant losses in 2D even at room temperature, due to the phenomenon of wave-like diffusion called "second sound." In that case, all photons march together in unison over very long distances. The use of materials with very high thermal conductivity could serve as a solution to quickly dissipate heat and cool down the circuits of smaller and faster devices. The findings are important for researchers studying graphene and whether to cool down circuits at the nanoscale or to replace silicon in future electronics. "We can show that the thermal transport is described by waves, not only in graphene but also in other materials that have not been studied yet," says EPFL researcher Andrea Cepellotti. "This is extremely valuable information for engineers, who could adapt the design of future electronic components using some of these novel two-dimensional materials' properties."
Glasses-Free 3D Display Is Made With Tiny Spherical Lenses
Phys.Org (03/09/15) Lisa Zyga
Microsphere lenses could replace flat microlenses in three-dimensional (3D) displays, according to researchers in China. The spherical lenses have a larger curvature that can increase the viewing angle from 20 to 30 degrees to 32 degrees, with a theoretical viewing angle of up to 90 degrees. A team from Chengdu Technological (CTU) and Sichuan universities has built a prototype. The strategy could potentially lead to wider viewing angles and eventually to multiview 3D displays. Moreover, displays could be made at low cost and could hold promise for broader applications because microsphere-lens arrays can be easily manufactured by ball placement technology. Microsphere lenses also can keep the right and left channels from leaking light into each other, and interfering with the overall image. "We are planning to improve the performance of 3D display devices further, including improving the resolution ratio, crosstalk, and optical efficiency," says CTU researcher Guo-Jiao Lv. "We are also trying to make 3D display devices thinner because the optical component makes 3D displays much thicker than the conventional 2D displays now."
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