Welcome to the April 20, 2016 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
MIT Reveals AI Platform Which Detects 85 Percent of Cyberattacks
ZDNet (04/18/16) Charlie Osborne
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) on Monday unveiled AI Squared (AI2), an artificial intelligence (AI) platform that detects 85 percent of cyberattacks while also reducing the number of false positives fivefold. The latter ability is critical because false positives erode trust in protective systems while also forcing information technology experts to waste time investigating the problem. The researchers tested AI2 on 3.6 billion log lines generated by more than 20 million users over three months. The AI sifted through this information and employed machine learning to cluster data together to uncover patterns of suspicious activity. Anything flagged as abnormal was passed to a human operator and feedback was issued. "The system...continuously generates new models that it can refine in as little as a few hours, meaning it can improve its detection rates significantly and rapidly," says CSAIL researcher Kalyan Veeramachaneni. AI2 can scan billions of log lines daily, designating each piece of data as normal or abnormal, and the accuracy of its predictions improves as a cumulative effect of mounting attacks and subsequent feedback. According to MIT, AI2 applies three distinct learning techniques to reveal the top events at the end the day for operators to label, and then it constructs a model refined with input in a "continuous active learning system."
The Minecraft Generation
The New York Times Magazine (04/14/16) Clive Thompson
The extremely popular Minecraft computer game is turning children into a generation of computing tinkerers and engineers with its encouragement of experimentation and exploration of computer science principles. Minecraft's main thrust is the construction of structures out of blocks, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art's Colin Fanning notes block-based games have long been advocated by European philosophers as a form of wholesome play that fosters abstract thinking. The complexity of Minecraft culture is embodied in children's use of the game's "redstone" element, which serves as electrical connectivity between blocks designed to mimic real-world electronics. Players use redstone to build logic gates that operate like the Boolean logic programmers routinely use in code, which enables the construction of complex machines. Another key element is the inclusion of a command line that players must learn to use in order to play the game. Such components help stoke children's interest in and cultivation of computational thinking, with Minecraft's emphasis on the need to often debug the devices they produce. In addition, University of California, Irvine researcher Mimi Ito says Minecraft spurs children to consult actual programmers for gameplay advice, with such coders becoming mentors. Ito also says children's impulse to tinker with the game furthers their proficiency in real-world technical skills.
Cybersecurity Is Harder Than Building Bridges
American Scientist (05/16) Vol. 104, No. 3, P. 155 Peter J. Denning; Dorothy E. Denning
Cybersecurity is a complex and messy challenge, but there are indications it can be improved, writes former ACM president Peter J. Denning and Naval Postgraduate School professor Dorothy E. Denning. They say defining the scope and severity of the problem is complicated by a lack of reliable data about cybersecurity extent and trends. Most cyber systems are inaccessible to the public, and require complex authentication mechanisms to ensure only authorized parties can use them. To enforce these constraints, computer systems use various access controls including not only login mechanisms, but also isolation methods enforced by the operating system and hardware. These controls must guarantee users are only permitted to access digital objects for which they are authorized, and they are only allowed to conduct operations and transactions for which they have consent. Network traffic must be protected by a completely different array of security controls and traffic monitors, and cyber systems need constant intrusion monitoring due to the highly valued nature of the data they hold. In addition, cyber systems are highly susceptible to the weaknesses of the people who use them, while their code complexity and interconnectivity exacerbate the situation. Positive developments include software developers taking security much more seriously than before, and the development and distribution of new guidelines for secure cyber system operation from the cybersecurity community.
DARPA: Researchers Develop Chip Part That Could Double Wireless Frequency Capacity
Network World (04/19/16) Michael Cooney
A U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)-funded research team says it has developed a tiny component for silicon-based circuitry that could double the radio-frequency (RF) capacity for wireless communication and lead to faster Web searching and the development of smaller, less expensive and more readily upgraded antenna arrays. The work was led by Columbia University researchers Harish Krishnaswamy and Negar Reiskarimian and funded under DARPA's Arrays at Commercial Timescales program, which is developing wireless electronic components that can quickly be integrated into larger, more-advanced systems. The new component enables two-way or full-duplex communications designs that do not require ferrites and magnets. "This new circulator component could enable full-duplex systems that let you speak and listen all at once," says DARPA's William Chappell. In addition, a compact, efficient, high-performance circulator makes it easier for RF engineers to make their systems smaller, according to Krishnaswamy. In March, DARPA announced a $2 million Grand Challenge called the Spectrum Collaboration Challenge (SC2), whose primary goal is to infuse radios with advanced machine-learning capabilities so they can collectively develop strategies that optimize use of the wireless spectrum in ways currently not possible. The challenge is expected to utilize recent progress in the fields of artificial intelligence and machine learning.
You Can Finally Know How Much Energy That New Refrigerator Saves
Technology Review (04/15/16) Richard Martin
A group of technology providers, working as part of the CalTRACK initiative for advanced home-upgrade software, has developed the Open EE Meter, an open source software platform designed to standardize the calculation of efficiency benefits across groups of buildings. If successful, the Open EE Meter would shift the market from heavily regulated programs that pay for projected energy savings to a pay-for-performance model that quantifies actual savings and pays providers according to their results. Energy savings usually are projected using an engineering or physics model in which the house is built from the ground up and the potential energy savings are estimated. The Open EE Meter collects data at the electricity meter and provides a universal and transparent method of calculating energy savings for a given set of projects. In addition, the Open EE Meter was designed to run on real-time data from smart meters, and it can use monthly data from conventional electricity meters, although this strategy limits the ability to calculate how energy demand fluctuates over the course of the day. Since the Open EE Meter calculates savings across a neighborhood instead of from individual homes, it eliminates the noise of the inherent variance between buildings. "What we're really trying to figure out is how to bring market forces to energy efficiency," says Matt Golden, one of the Open EE Meter's lead developers.
Wireless Signal Sent Through Meat Fast Enough to Watch Netflix
New Scientist (04/14/16) Aviva Rutkin
Andrew Singer from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and colleagues have sent a wireless signal through slabs of pork and beef at speeds fast enough to transmit high-definition video. Singer says the technique has the potential to help physicians interact better with medical devices implanted in a person's body. Singer has spent years building ultrasonic systems for the U.S. Navy and suspected using ultrasound to transmit data would work well in the body. His team suspended the pieces of meat in a water tank and found the ultrasound signal passed through both types of meat at speeds of up to 30 Mbps, which is 1,000 times faster than existing implants. "You could stream Netflix through the pork loin," Singer says. The team plans to test the approach with real medical implants or living tissue. Singer envisions software updates being beamed directly to medical implants without the need to remove them surgically and, eventually, multiple implanted devices connecting over an in-body wireless network.
A 'Big Science' Approach for Australian Cybersecurity Research?
ZDNet (04/19/16) Stilgherrian
Jackie Craig, director of the Defense Science and Technology Group's Cyber and Electronic Warfare Division, recommends the adoption of a big-science approach to cybersecurity in Australia. Big science refers to bold projects with audacious goals, and Craig says the benefits of this approach include the likelihood of yielding many practical inventions, as well as supporting a strong outreach initiative that will improve cybersecurity overall. "Within the cyber area the technical problems are so profound, and so multidisciplinary, that we will have to actually work together as a [science and technology] community to tackle some of those problems," Craig notes. Many of her recommendations are likely to be included in the Australian government's Cyber Security Strategy to be issued on Thursday. "We're investing in a mechanism here that connects the researchers, industry, venture capitalists, and governments as well, so that we can coalesce around the research priorities," says Cyber Security Strategy lead developer Sandra Ragg. She says a Cybersecurity Growth Center will commercialize cybersecurity innovations "to set Australia up both as a cybersecurity export industry, but also to help cybersecurity enable all businesses within Australia." Research areas identified as points of focus for investment include quantum technologies, trusted autonomous systems, and a cyber operations research program.
Ziro Robotics Kit Is 'Success Story' for Purdue, National Science Foundation
Purdue University News (04/18/16) Emil Venere
Through a U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, Purdue University researchers have developed Ziro, a toy-building kit that children can use to construct robots and remotely control them. Ziro is the first commercial application of ZeroUI's gesture-based Natural User Interface technology platform. The kit includes a "smart glove" equipped with sensors that talk to wireless motorized "joint modules," enabling users to direct the robots in real time with the lift of a finger or flick of a wrist. Children build robots using Velcro strips to affix the joint modules to everyday materials and objects, which diverges from conventional kits that feature primarily prefabricated mechanical and structural pieces that children fasten together. "What children are doing with the glove component is to treat it like a puppet and to think about the context in which these robots are then going to be interacting," says Purdue professor and ZeroUI chief scientist Karthik Ramani. "Not only is the glove controller amenable to puppeteering and storytelling, but it's also sort of a natural extension of your body." NSF is funding the Ziro project as part of an initiative to foster a national innovation ecosystem by developing socially beneficial technologies, products, and processes. "Ziro is a way for students to learn about physics and engineering while still having fun," Ramani says.
Moses Organizes 'Swarmathon' Competition at Kennedy Space Center
UNM Newsroom (04/18/16)
University of New Mexico (UNM) professor Melanie Moses is leading a national competition to teach students to program small robots to swarm. Researchers at UNM and the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) built 55 Swarmie robots, giving 36 to schools across the country, with the rest being used for testing or as part of the competition. About 100 students will travel to the Kennedy Space Center to participate in the physical robots portion of the Swarmathon Competition. Twelve teams developed search algorithms for the autonomous robots programmed to communicate and interact collectively as a swarm. The teams will run their algorithms on the Swarmie robots and be judged by the number of resources their search algorithm is able to locate in a finite period of time. Moses says the contest challenges students to develop algorithms in software, and to integrate their code into robotic platforms that could revolutionize space exploration by collectively gathering extraplanetary resources. UNM is using the teams' software in a virtual competition in which the robots interact in a simulated environment, while NASA is testing the software on physical robots at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. The Swarmathon Competition is part of NASA's Minority University Research Program, which aims to ensure underrepresented and underserved students participate in NASA education and research.
Indiana's New Science Standards Require Computer Science
StateImpact (04/18/2016) Claire McInerny
The Indiana State Board of Education approved new sciences standards for K-12 students, making computer science a requirement for elementary and middle school students. The Indiana Department of Education's (DOE) Jeremy Eltz says the biggest focus of the new standards is moving from "concrete standards," which involve reciting facts, to "literacy standards," in which students learn to think critically. For example, under the new standards sixth- through eighth-grade computer science students will learn about the relationship between hardware and software, and apply troubleshooting strategies to identify and solve routine hardware and software problems. In addition, students will be able to describe the major components and functions of computer systems and networks, and describe what distinguishes humans from machines by focusing on the difference between human intelligence and machine intelligence. The skills do not have to be learned in a computer science class, but can be mastered while using computer science programs in any subject, which is what the rewrite means by "literacy standards." "We want to see the computer science standards embedded in English class, math class, social studies, music, things like that," Eltz says. Going forward, the Indiana DOE will provide professional development, support, and resources to make sure the new computer science standards are met.
Research in a Virtual World
UA News (AL) (04/18/16) Adam Jones; David Miller
A growing number of projects from disciplines across the University of Alabama (UA) are using virtual reality (VR) technology. UA researchers Rick Houser and Brandon Dixon are using VR technology to simulate high-thrill activities such as driving a Formula-1 race car to test a theory. They believe people who score high in sensation-seeking activities, such as driving fast or riding a roller coaster, have different neural processes than low sensation-seekers. Amy Traylor with UA's School of Social Work has partnered with the College of Engineering to develop and test virtual environments aimed at providing a novel intervention component for adolescents receiving treatment for marijuana use. She also will work with social scientist Laura Myers and use VR to help storm survivors manage the anxiety they feel. "Virtual reality is a non-invasive way to desensitize you to what scares you--in this case, a severe weather situation," Myers says. The university is building a VR and visualization lab on campus designed to spur research. "This opens up some very interesting interdisciplinary projects,” Dixon says. "The applications are going to grow, and the number of projects is only going to increase."
Cambridge to Research Future Computing Tech That Could 'Ignite a Technology Field'
University of Cambridge (04/15/16) Tom Kirk
Researchers at the University of Cambridge are leading an effort to develop a new architecture for future computing based on superconducting spintronics. The Superspin project is part of a new field of study that combines superconducting materials, which can carry a current without losing energy as heat, with spintronic devices capable of processing large amounts of information very quickly. The researchers will explore how the technology could be applied in future computing architectures, examine fundamental problems such as spin generation and flow, and develop sample devices. "At the moment, research programs around the world are individually studying fascinating basic phenomena, rather than looking at developing an overall understanding of what could actually be delivered if all of this was joined up," says Cambridge professor Jason Robinson. "Our project will aim to establish a closer collaboration between the people doing basic research, while also developing demonstrator devices that can turn superconducting spintronics into reality." The project's initial stages will investigate different ways in which spin can be transported and magnetism controlled in a superconducting state, and by 2021 the project plans to manufacture sample logic and memory devices. The researchers say superconducting spintronics technology has the potential to significantly increase the energy efficiency of data centers and high-performance computing.
A Single-Atom Magnet Breaks New Ground for Future Data Storage
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (04/15/16) Nik Papageorgiou
Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) and ETH Zurich say they have built the world's most stable single-atom magnet, a breakthrough that could lead to the scalable production of miniature magnetic storage devices. The prototype single-atom magnet is based on atoms of the rare-earth element holmium. The researchers, led by EPFL's Harald Brune and ETH Zurich's Pietro Gambardella, placed single holmium atoms on ultra-thin films of magnesium oxide, which were previously grown on a silver surface. This method enables the formation of single-atom magnets with robust remanence because the electron structure of holmium atoms protects the magnetic field from being flipped. The magnetic remanence of the holmium atoms is stable at temperatures around 40 degrees Kelvin, which, although well below room temperature, are the highest ever achieved. The researchers demonstrated the remanence of single holmium atoms at these temperatures is much higher than the remanence recorded in previous magnets, which were composed of between three and 12 atoms. The researchers note the development of the new single-atom magnet sets a world record in terms of both size and stability.
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