Welcome to the July 20, 2016 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
More Female International Students Pursue STEM Degrees at U.S. Universities
U.S. News & World Report (07/19/16) Anayat Durrani
More female international students are attending U.S. universities to pursue science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) degrees. The number of active female international students studying STEM in the U.S. rose more than 68 percent, from 76,638 in 2010 to 128,807 in 2015, with most students hailing from India and China, according to the U.S. government's Student and Exchange Visitor Program. Tvisha Gangwani, a student at the University of Southern California, says international students are attracted to U.S. schools partly because of their liberal attitudes about choosing majors. Katepalli R. Sreenivasan, dean of the New York University (NYU) Tandon School of Engineering, cites the U.S.'s global reputation as a higher-education leader as another appealing factor, along with its "can-do attitude, the hands-on experience that is usually incorporated in it, and a culture of confidence it instills." Jennifer Sinclair Curtis, dean of the University of California, Davis College of Engineering, notes international students enrolled in U.S. schools can become more competitive job applicants. She says this is especially true for U.S. companies, which are beginning to proactively hire people traditionally underrepresented in STEM. Meanwhile, University of Tuscia professor Flavia Tauro notes her studies at the NYU Tandon School offered a positive learning experience "in a multiethnic environment."
DARPA Tackling Reusable, Modular Chipset Technology
Network World (07/19/16) Michael Cooney
Researchers at the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) want to build interface standards that would enable modular design and practical circuit blocks that could be reused to greatly reduce electronics development time and cost. The researchers have developed a potential framework, called CHIPS, which uses a modular design flow that subdivides a system into function circuit blocks, known as IP blocks. They note one possible developmental path would be to instantiate IP blocks as chiplets or functional dies that can be assembled onto modular integration platforms. The chiplets would leverage standard layouts and interfaces to seamlessly link to other chiplets. "It is anticipated that the use of standard interfaces will enable access to a large catalog of commercial and government off-the-shelf IP blocks, reuse of existing IP blocks, and heterogeneous integration of blocks in other technologies and nodes," the researchers say. In addition, they predict a fully implemented CHIPS ecosystem will substantially reduce the time and cost to realize new circuit functions. The researchers note the monolithic nature of these designs means any change to a portion of the chip requires a re-spin of the entire chip.
EU Data Protection Law May End the Unknowable Algorithm
InformationWeek (07/18/16) Thomas Claburn
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) scheduled for European Union-wide enactment in 2018 could stipulate companies clarify their decision-making algorithms to avoid unlawful discrimination. This "right to explanation" poses challenges to businesses and opportunities to machine learning scientists, according to a recent report from Oxford Internet Institute researcher Bryce Goodman and University of Oxford Department of Statistics post-doctoral researcher Seth Flaxman. They contend compliance with such rules could be complicated, noting for example that excluding sensitive data about race or religion does not necessarily ensure algorithms will return non-biased results. They say this is because other non-sensitive data points, such as geographic area of residence, may correlate with sensitive information. Moreover, Goodman and Flaxman note many large datasets are derived from multiple smaller datasets, making it extremely difficult for organizations to certify the integrity, accuracy, and neutrality of their data. "The GDPR thus presents us with a dilemma with two horns: under one interpretation the non-discrimination requirement is ineffective, under the other it is infeasible," the researchers caution. Attorney Lokke Moerel acknowledges the existence of dynamic, self-learning algorithms complicates determining how they make decisions at any point in time, let alone conveying this meaningfully to an individual. She suggests companies give individuals impacted by such decisions more control over the implications of data usage, in order to avoid them questioning their logic.
Tiny Hard Drive Uses Single Atoms to Store Data
The Wall Street Journal (07/18/16) Daniela Hernandez
Researchers from the University of Wisconsin, Madison (UW Madison) and the Delft University of Technology report they have manipulated individual atomic interactions to create an atomic-scale memory device that can store a kilobyte of information, equating to hundreds of times more data per square inch than current data-storage technologies. UW Madison professor emeritus Franz Himpsel says earlier attempts at atomic data encoding were able to pack in only about a single byte, and new data could not be added without reformatting. Delft's Sander Otte notes the new device can enable rewriting as frequently as is desired. The team built the prototype by randomly scattering about 60,000 chlorine atoms onto a flat copper bed, leaving about 8,000 unfilled spaces or "holes." They then used a mapping algorithm to guide a copper-coded microscope needle to tug each chlorine atom to a predetermined location. This generated a precise configuration of atoms and neighboring spaces, while the stored information was encoded in the patterns of holes. The needle read the holes as ones and zeros, converting them into regular binary code. A portion of Charles Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" was initially stored on the device, which was then overwritten by 160 words from a lecture by Richard Feynman.
Computational Design Tool Transforms Flat Materials Into 3D Shapes
CMU News (07/18/16) Byron Spice
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology have developed a tool that can enable designers to exploit auxetic materials' ability to expand uniformly in two dimensions. The team used conformal geometry to map the surfaces of auxetic materials. In their study, a series of hexagonal slits were cut into metal and plastic sheets to create triangular elements that were able to rotate relative to their neighbors, allowing them to expand uniformly. Based on a three-dimensional digital model, the computational tool can determine the pattern of slits necessary to make the sheet conform to the desired shape, which can then be transferred to a laser cutter to begin the fabrication process. The researchers used this process to make a woman's high-heel shoe, a sculpture, a woman's fashion top, a lampshade, and face masks. "The ability to design complex objects from auxetic materials could have a wide variety of applications in biomechanics, consumer goods, and architecture," says Swiss Institute professor Mark Pauly. The team will present their tool next week at the ACM SIGGRAPH 2016 conference in Anaheim, CA.
To Catch a Wireless Thief
University of Utah News (07/19/16) Vincent Horiuchi
Crowdsourcing programs one day could help authorities track down unauthorized radio bandwidth and malicious radio disruptions. The University of Utah School of Computing has received a grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation to devise a system that will enable cellphone and laptop users to locate individuals who have stolen bandwidth on radio frequency waves, tightening the security of the radio spectrum. As more mobile devices utilize software-defined radio technology, which adjusts the functions of a radio device by updating its software, unauthorized bandwidth use is expected to rise. Hackers could be able to create software designed to steal radio bandwidth or disrupt radio and satellite communications, potentially staging an attack on emergency-services radio frequencies. The Utah researchers are working on a system in which mobile apps or software can detect unauthorized bandwidth of a certain frequency range, and alert authorities to the strength and originating location of the signal. "We thought that there should be a better way of doing this, and then we started thinking of ideas about crowdsourcing," says Utah professor Sneha Kumar Kasera. "Our goal is to be able to monitor for unauthorized use 100 percent of the time, cover 100 percent of the area, and cover 100 percent of the frequency, and that can only be achieved at that scale through crowdsourcing."
CCC Computing Research Symposium--Learning Health Systems and Successful Aging
CCC Blog (07/19/16) Beth Mynatt
How computing can enable seniors to live at home independently and healthy longer was among the issues discussed at the Computing Community Consortium Symposium on Computing Research: Addressing National Priorities and Societal Needs. Margaret L. Campbell, formerly with the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research, said a systems engineering approach focused on patient needs should be designed, with interoperable systems facilitating data analytics, coordinated decision support, and opportunities for process improvement. University of Michigan Medical School professor Charles Friedman addressed the subject of learning health systems (LHS), described as structures comprised of people, data, processes, and technology that strive toward continuous and routine study and improvement. Friedman said LHS will establish a platform for new forms of medical science based on networking intelligence with rapid, incremental upgrades. He noted these systems are needed to bridge the yawning gaps between best care and care that leads to 75,000 unnecessary deaths each year. Meanwhile, University of Pittsburgh professor Rory Cooper highlighted the role of computing technology to enable disabled people to maintain community participation. He noted technologies for the handicapped often have a wide reach, such as those that promote healthy behavior and exercise, and "smart home" technologies.
Design Tool Transforms Objects Into Intricate Works of Art
EurekAlert (07/18/16) Jennifer Liu
A computational design tool developed by Disney Research helps people create structurally sound, ornamental objects formed from interconnected shapes by a three-dimensional (3D) printer. The design tool enables users to apply shapes to a 3D model, and as the user places the shape, the tool automatically adjusts the shape to fit the object's geometry. Shapes can be mixed, matched, and resized to form a network of curves. "Curve networks are routinely used for embellishing surfaces, but they typically do not carry or transmit any loads," says Disney's Bernhard Thomaszewski. "In this case, however, the curve network itself becomes the structure of the object, leading to a very different and challenging design problem." The tool identifies areas of structural weakness in the design, prompting the user to adjust the connected curves until the design is strengthened. Disney researchers created several ornaments using flexible thermoplastic polymer and a selective laser sintering 3D printer. "This new tool, combined with digital fabrication, makes it possible for the general public to create things of beauty that also will withstand handling and shipping," says Disney Research's Markus Gross. The researchers will present the tool next week at the ACM SIGGRAPH 2016 conference in Anaheim, CA.
Organic Computers Are Coming
Lomonosov Moscow State University (07/14/16)
Researchers at Lomonosov Moscow State University (MSU) and the Institute of Polymer Research in Dresden have discovered a molecule they say could stimulate the development of organic electronics. They say the molecule, derived from -radialene, can be used to produce organic semiconductors. MSU's Dmitry Ivanov says the molecule will make a key contribution to the manufacture of organic light-emitting diodes and new classes of organic solar cells that are less costly than silicon-based modules. The molecule the research focused on is a dopant, which can significantly boost the electrical conductivity of a semiconducting polymer. "We decided to design a completely new type of low molecular weight dopant for the organic semiconductor," Ivanov says. "And here it was important to choose a molecule that it was not only suitable in its energy levels, but...the dopant must be well mixed with the polymer, so that in contact with the polymer it does not segregate in a separate phase, eventually crystallizing and...losing contact with the polymer." The small planar molecule has carbon atoms that form a triangular configuration, and its lowest unoccupied molecular orbital plays a key role in increasing the doped material's conductivity. Experiments determined the material is well combined with a semiconducting polymer, enabling the polymer's conductivity to be raised by several tens and even hundreds of times.
Tougher Turing Test Exposes Chatbots' Stupidity
Technology Review (07/14/16) Will Knight
The results of the Winograd Schema Challenge, presented last week at an academic conference in New York, revealed that much more work needs to be done to make computers truly intelligent. The challenge asks computers to make sense of sentences that are ambiguous but simple for humans to parse. The participating programs were a little better than random at choosing the correct meaning of sentences. Proposed in 2014 as an improvement on the Turing Test, Winograd Schema sentences were first highlighted as a way to gauge machine comprehension by Hector Levesque, an artificial intelligence researcher at the University of Toronto. With the Turing Test, it is often easy for a program to fool a person using simple tricks and evasions. Most of the entrants in the challenge tried to use some combination of hand-coded grammar understanding and a knowledge base of facts. One of the two first-place entries used deep learning to train a computer to recognize the relationship between different events. Nuance researcher Charlie Ortiz says common-sense reasoning will be required to hold even simple conversations with computers. New York University researcher Gary Marcus says common-sense reasoning will grow in importance as devices such as smart appliances or wearable gadgets become more common.
NSF Awards UTEP $1.9 Million to Prepare New Generation in Computer Science
University of Texas at El Paso (07/13/2016) Elizabeth Ashby
The U.S. National Science Foundation has awarded the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) a $1.9-million grant to prepare more computer science professionals over the next five years. The funds will be used to address a 2012 report on undergraduate education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) from President Barack Obama's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. The report cited uninspiring introductory courses and an unwelcoming atmosphere from faculty as major factors contributing to the reduced number of STEM students. The UTEP project will re-imagine what it means to learn, whose knowledge counts, and what counts as knowledge in the context of computer science. The UTEP model transforms faculty into change agents and facilitates the development of positive student identities early in the curriculum. "This grant will make a significant contribution to UTEP's mission of access and excellence," says UTEP's Roberto Osegueda. In addition, UTEP computer science faculty have formed the Computing Alliance of Hispanic-Serving Institutions, which aims to increase the number of Hispanic students who pursue and complete baccalaureate and advanced degrees in the computer and information sciences and engineering and cybersecurity areas.
Putting Software on a Diet
UDaily (DE) (07/18/16) Diane Kukich
Researchers at the University of Delaware (UD) are working to address concerns about battery life, heat creation, fan noise, and overall high energy costs in order to help drive the development of more energy-efficient computers and mobile devices. "Unfortunately, few software engineers design and implement software with consideration for its energy usage," says UD professor James Clause. Studies have shown this trend is due to software engineers not understanding how or why the decisions they make affect the energy consumption of their applications, and they lack tool support to help them discover and apply the modifications that would improve the energy usage of their applications. The researchers are looking to address these needs at the software engineer's level, with a focus on enabling practitioners to improve the energy usage of their applications. "The project will also contribute to the state of the art through the development of novel automatic analyses to support decision-making with regard to energy usage," says UD professor Lori Pollack. In addition, the tools and experimental infrastructure developed within the project will be publicly released, which will enable researchers and practitioners to build on the results.
Researchers Generate 3D Images Using Just One Photon Per Pixel
Phys.org (07/13/16) Lisa Zyga
Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Jeffrey Shapiro and colleagues say they have developed an algorithm that is so efficient it can generate high-quality three-dimensional (3D) images using a single-photon camera that detects only one signal photon for every pixel. The researchers say their approach offers better photon efficiency compared to other camera-based 3D imaging techniques. The team says the method results in a visibly better reconstruction accuracy and an order of magnitude better depth resolution. The key element of the camera is a single-photon avalanche diode array, which detects incoming photons and records their precise times of arrival. In addition, the new single-photon camera captures images very quickly, which would be useful for applications that require fast and accurate imaging using extremely small amounts of light. The technology could potentially have applications in low-light conditions, such as biological imaging, astronomy, and providing 3D vision for self-navigating advanced robotic systems, such as unmanned aerial vehicles and exploration rovers. "Our work shows that we can use these new photon-counting cameras at much lower fluxes and much higher efficiencies than previously thought," Shapiro says.
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