Welcome to the April 27, 2016 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Europe's Billion-Euro Bet on Quantum Computing
Newsweek (04/26/16) Anthony Cuthbertson
The European Commission's (EC) just-announced Quantum Flagship project will invest $1.13 billion over the next 10 years to place Europe "at the forefront of the second quantum revolution" via quantum technology development, according to an EC spokesperson. The project seeks to encompass not only quantum computers, but also quantum secure communication, quantum sensing, and quantum simulation. Scheduled to launch in 2018, the Quantum Flagship is a response to the Quantum Manifesto urging substantial quantum technology investment, which was endorsed by several thousand individuals from industry, academia, and government institutions. According to the manifesto, quantum technologies will give birth to a "knowledge-based industrial ecosystem," which will generate long-term economic, scientific, and societal benefits. ETH Zurich professor Matthias Troyer thinks Quantum Flagship recognizes quantum technologies are ready to make the transition from research labs to commercial and industrial applications "that within the next decade will be able to perform tasks that classical devices are incapable of." Cambridge Quantum Computing CEO Ilyas Khan agrees with this assessment. "It has become increasingly clear that it is now only a matter of a relatively short time before quantum technologies become of practical importance at the strategic level for governments and large corporations," Khan says.
Top Business Leaders, 27 Governors, Urge Congress to Boost Computer Science Education
The Washington Post (04/26/16) Emma Brown
Dozens of top U.S. business leaders and a bipartisan coalition of 27 governors are urging Congress to help address a shortage of technologically literate students by providing computer science education in all K-12 schools. They warn a policy of non-action could lead to the loss of the U.S.'s competitive advantage, noting in an open letter to lawmakers that "what is increasingly a basic skill is only available to the lucky few, leaving most students behind, particularly students of color and girls." Federal funding committed to enhancing computer science courses in K-12 schools is virtually nonexistent, despite the fact an estimated 500,000 vacant U.S. jobs require some degree of computer science background. Proponents say federal funding is essential in guaranteeing all students have access to computer science courses, and business leaders say this will give students an edge in almost any occupation by cultivating critical thinking. A movement to treat computer science as a core subject in K-12 education is gaining momentum. Code.org CEO Hadi Partovi says the broad spectrum of industries represented in Tuesday's letter reflects the interest all business sectors have in ensuring children are learning software creation, and not only utilization. "At this point, there's not a single industry or a single state you can look at where the field and the market isn't being changed by technology," Partovi says.
U.S. Efforts to Build Next-Gen Supercomputer Take Shape
Computerworld (04/25/16) Patrick Thibodeau
The U.S. government has set a 2023 deadline to develop an exascale computer that can solve science problems 50 times faster than is possible with currently available 20-petaflop computers. The system will consume between 20 MW and 30 MW of power. "The U.S. faces serious and urgent economic, environmental, and national security challenges based on energy, climate, and growing security threats," says the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). "High-performance computing (HPC) is a requirement for addressing such challenges, and the need for the development of capable exascale computers has become critical for solving these problems." The government plans to spend almost $300 million on exascale system development in 2016, while a 2017 budget calls for a slightly higher allocation. Published DOE planning documents estimate the total cost for an exascale system at about $3 billion. University of Tennessee professor Jack Dongarra notes China is pursuing a 100-petaflop system with two projects, and an announcement is expected soon. The competition to build an exascale system "is really up for grabs at this point," says IDC analyst Steve Conway.
Can Technology Help Teach Literacy in Poor Communities?
MIT News (04/26/16) Larry Hardesty
For the past four years, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Tufts University, and Georgia State University conducted three studies to determine whether tablet computers equipped with literacy applications could improve the reading preparedness of children in economically disadvantaged countries. The results in all three cases, presented this week at the ACM Learning at Scale ([email protected] 2016) conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, show tablet use was effective in improving participants' performance on standardized tests of reading preparedness. One test was set in a pair of rural Ethiopian villages with no schools and no written culture, and another was conducted in a suburban South African school with a student-to-teacher ratio of 60 to 1. The third test took place in a rural U.S. school with predominantly low-income students. In the African tests, students who used tablets scored much better on the tests than those who did not use. In the U.S. deployment, the students' scores improved dramatically after four months of using the tablets. "The whole premise of our project is to harness the best science and innovation to bring education to the world's most under-resourced children," says MIT professor Cynthia Breazeal. She says the researchers are currently analyzing the data collected from the trials.
Georgia Tech's Next Steps
Inside Higher Ed (04/27/16) Carl Straumsheim
The Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) is working to expand its affordable online master's degree program in computer science, with school president G.P. Peterson announcing plans to start another program. The original program was founded on the model of massively open online courses to award credit, and its first students have just graduated more than two years after its launch. Although enrollment has come up short of expectations, Georgia Tech College of Computing professor Charles L. Isbell Jr. calls it a success. "To me the big success is we've been able to take a bunch of people who are already clearly qualified and the vast majority of whom would never have been able to get an advanced degree from a great place because they were not mobile. Now they can," he says. Isbell also reports enrollment is rising, while the fixed costs of running the program are expected to decline. He acknowledges a possible roadblock to the program's rapid expansion is the challenge of growing its support and advisory staff as enrollments increase. The majority of program applicants have been male students based in the U.S., but Isbell says Georgia Tech is investigating how to make the program more appealing to international students.
Will Artificial Intelligence Win the Caption Contest?
Technology Review (04/27/16) Signe Brewster
Microsoft researchers have developed an image-capturing system that mimics humans' style of visual storytelling. They converted a sequence-to-sequence recurrent neural network into a storyteller by training it with images sourced from Flickr. "Rather than giving bland or vanilla descriptions of what's happening in the images, we put those into a larger narrative context," says Microsoft's Frank Ferraro. For example, in a series of five images showing a family gathered around a table, a plate of shellfish, a dog, and images from the beach, the neural network described them with a story: "The family got together for a cookout. They had a lot of delicious food. The dog was happy to be there. They had a great time on the beach. They even had a swim in the water." A similar approach used to label the contents of single photos produced stories that were too generic. The researchers solved this problem by developing a way for the neural network to choose words that were likely to be visually salient, and which required the system to never repeat words. Technology that can imitate humans' techniques for documenting stories needs to be able to cross-reference objects and characters seen in multiple pictures and infer relationships between people, objects, and places, says Stanford University Vision Lab director Fei-Fei Li.
DARPA Is Looking for the Perfect Encryption App, and It's Willing to Pay
Motherboard (04/22/16) Franceschi-Bicchierai, Lorenzo
The Pentagon's blue-sky research program is looking for someone to create the ultimate hacker-proof messaging app. The "secure messaging and transaction platform" would use the standard encryption and security features of current messaging apps such as Signal, but also would use a decentralized Blockchain-like backbone structure that would be more resilient to surveillance and cyberattacks. The goal of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is "a secure messaging system that can provide repudiation or deniability, perfect forward and backward secrecy, time to live/self delete for messages, one-time eyes-only messages, a decentralized infrastructure to be resilient to cyberattacks, and ease of use for individuals in less than ideal situations," according to a recent notice for proposals. DARPA wants "a public wall anyone can monitor or post messages on, but only correct people can decrypt," says Frederic Jacobs, an independent security researcher. He notes one problem with this approach is the structure would have higher latency and be harder to deploy at scale. DARPA's effort also suggests the rise of encryption apps is inevitable.
Researchers Explain How Stereotypes Keep Girls Out of Computer Science Classes
The Washington Post (04/26/16) Allison Master; Sapna Cheryan; Andrew N. Meltzoff
The gender gap in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields is not improving. To solve the problem, educators need to start earlier and set a strong foundation, write University of Washington researchers Allison Master, Sapna Cheryan, and Andrew N. Meltzoff. They say girls are negatively affected by the stereotypes that computer science is for "geeky" guys who sit alone writing code all day and that boys are better at math and science. The researchers recently proved the first stereotype affects girls by high-school age, but they believe it starts before then. They showed girls pictures of computer science classrooms, and found they were three times more likely to want to pursue the subject matter when the classroom was non-stereotypical. Meanwhile, a study in the researchers' lab found children believe the stereotype about ability as early as second grade. Young girls are absorbing these powerful stereotypes and are affected by them, say the researchers. "The best way to encourage girls is to remove the stereotypes keeping them out," they contend.
Quantum Computing Leaps: Sydney University and UNSW as the Best of Frenemies
Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) (04/23/16) Marcus Strom
The University of Sydney recently opened its state-of-the-art $150-million Nanoscience Hub with a quantum science symposium that attracted officials from Microsoft and some of the best minds in physics from around the world. The debut came in the same week the University of New South Wales (UNSW) opened the new $25-million wing of its world-class Center for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology. The researchers in Sydney say it does feel like a race between the two quantum computing laboratories, but more of a collaborative race. Last year, UNSW's team successfully ran an algorithm using two quantum bits in silicon, which was the world's first silicon logic gate in quantum computing. Although UNSW could be described as material fundamentalists, the University of Sydney is agnostic. Sydney professor David Reilly says nobody knows what the ideal material system is to build a quantum computer. He predicts it will be a hybrid, "a combination of the best properties of materials, the best aspects of architectures, and so on."
How Game Theory Can Lead to Energy Efficient Solutions
CORDIS News (04/22/16)
The European Union-funded CASSTING project has developed a new approach to understanding and shaping collective adaptive systems. The researchers have developed mathematical methods for identifying how optimal efficiencies might be achieved in order to design better ordered systems. They first characterized collective adaptive systems through the prism of game theory, which attempts to model strategic situations in which several individuals are interacting and tries to predict which decisions individuals will make given a situation, and assuming rationality. The CASSTING project's overall goal has been to find ways of arranging components in such a way that will produce the best results through the application of game theory. The project has helped the researchers develop new algorithmic analysis methods for predicting the behavior of complex systems. For example, one case study involved the development of a complex system for floor heating, while another focused on the analysis of a block of houses equipped with solar panels connected to the electricity grid. Algorithms were developed to find good consumption and trading behaviors for each household in different contexts. The researchers next want to develop algorithms and programmable components for other complex systems.
Trust in the Cloud Could Be Pinned to Online Scoring System
University of Adelaide (04/22/16) David Ellis
University of Adelaide researchers have developed an online tool to help build users' trust in the cloud. "Trust management is a top obstacle in cloud computing, and it's a challenging area of research," says University of Adelaide professor Michael Sheng. He attributes this lack of faith in the cloud to minimal transparency, and the difficulty in knowing whether cloud-based applications are malicious or genuine. Sheng has been developing Cloud Armor, which aims to show which cloud sites, applications, or providers are more trustworthy than others. "The basic concept behind this is like the website Rotten Tomatoes, which is widely used by people to review and rank films," Sheng says. Cloud Armor relies on a "credibility model," a crawler engine that scans all of the comments made on the Internet about any aspect of the cloud, and the model determines what feedback is credible and what is not. "We've tested this with and without our credibility model--without the model, some cloud applications receive a maximum score of 100; but with the model, that score might only get to 50 or 60," Sheng says.
Meet the Incredible Woman Who Massively Improved the Internet
Forbes (04/25/16) Leo King
Princeton University professor Jennifer Rexford recently was awarded the Athena Lecturer award by ACM's Council on Women in Computing (ACM-W). Rexford's work focuses on finding ways to ensure the Internet performs as intended and the many networks involved in its processes run efficiently, reliably, and securely. "We tend to think of the Internet as a single thing, but really its operation depends on a competitive cooperation of so many different networks across different companies and countries," Rexford says. She and her colleagues are trying to find solutions to problems with the way the Internet works and improving the efficiency of Border Gateway Protocols, which are crucial to routing Internet traffic and binding the system together. Rexford also wants to see more girls and young women pursuing their interests and potential careers in technology, especially in computer science-related fields. "In addition to learning how to program, I'd encourage girls and women to find opportunities to learn about computer science--how to create and analyze algorithms, how protocols and systems work, and so on," Rexford says. She notes computer science research can be combined with a range of other disciplines and can complement interests and high achievement in a variety of different fields. "I think we underestimate how much young college women could inspire junior high school girls to continue their studies in computer science and other technical fields," Rexford says.
Vint Cerf: We Need to Make Room on the Net for All the Machines
Yahoo! Tech (04/26/16) Rob Pegoraro
Google chief Internet evangelist and former ACM president Vint Cerf acknowledged at Saturday's "The Future Is Here" festival the Internet has proven to be highly scalable in the decades since its humble origins, but the Internet Protocol's (IP) current support for about 4.3 billion distinct addresses at a time for online devices is insufficient. Work on the IPv6 protocol aims to vastly expand that number, and Cerf said such a massive body of IP addresses will be necessary to accommodate an estimated 1 trillion connected devices by 2036. He also anticipates the number of Internet users will explode to 8 billion to 10 billion by that time. Cerf described innovative hardware projects Google is working on, such as driverless cars, admitting they are far from ready but suggesting their ability to learn from each other can surpass human drivers' competence. Cerf also predicted the development of an interplanetary data network as more spacecraft go online. He said an interplanetary Internet facilitated by a special set of IPs would help ensure the transmission of data over vast distances across space. "When you're working on stuff like this, it's like living in a science-fiction story and it's really a lot of fun," Cerf said.
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