Welcome to the January 31, 2018 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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China's Next Supercomputer May Spoil America's Plans to Retake Top500 Crown
Michael Feldman
January 29, 2018

The People's Daily Online reports China plans to roll out a pre-exascale supercomputer this year that could overtake Summit, a machine developed for the U.S. Department of Energy that is expected to surpass 200 petaflops when deployed later in 2018. The National Supercomputer Center's Zhang Ting says the new Chinese system will be 200 times faster and have 100 times more storage capacity than the 1.2-petaflop Tianhe-1 supercomputer. The new system is expected to deliver 240 peak petaflops, making it the most powerful high-performance computer in China, and perhaps the world. The reigning supercomputing champion on the Top500 list is China's Sunway TaihuLight, which delivers 125.4 peak petaflops. Summit is expected to deliver more than 200 peak petaflops when it comes online, but if the forthcoming Chinese system fulfills its performance promise, China could once again thwart the U.S.'s ambitions of dethroning it from the Top500.

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Prototype of the power source created by scientists as NTU NTU Scientists Create Customizable, Fabric-Like Power Source for Wearable Electronics
NTU News Hub (Singapore)
Ang Hui Min
January 30, 2018

Researchers at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) say they have developed a customizable, fabric-like power source that can be cut, folded, or stretched while maintaining function. They say the wearable power source, or supercapacitor, works like a fast-charging battery and can be recharged many times. When the supercapacitor is edited into a honeycomb-like structure, it can store an electrical charge four times higher than most conventional stretchable supercapacitors. In addition, when stretched to four times its length, the supercapacitor can provide a stable stream of signals, which are then transmitted wirelessly to external devices. The device is made of strengthened manganese dioxide nanowire composite material, enabling the electrodes to withstand the strains during the customization process. The research "opens up all sorts of possibilities in the realm of the 'Internet-of-Things' when wearable electronics can reliably power themselves and connect and communicate with appliances in the home and other environments," says NTU Singapore professor Chen Xiaodong.

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Meet the Expert Guiding the Software Companies of Tomorrow
U of T News
Chris Sorensen
January 29, 2018

As co-founder of the University of Toronto's (U of T) Department of Computer Science Innovation Lab (DCSIL), Helen Kontozopoulos focuses on making the lab an accelerator hub to give software-oriented entrepreneurs and their startups a path to the commercial market. Kontozopoulos sees DCSIL playing a key role in entrepreneurship, given that many modern startups have some kind of software component, if not an entire business built around artificial intelligence (AI) or some other software technology. "Because we're software, we can work with everybody," she says. "I feel like we're like the glue." Meanwhile, U of T professor Mario Grech notes DCSIL is building a reputation for itself in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, with venture capital investors attracted to the accelerator because it is effectively entrenched within the university's computer science department and associated entities such as the newly established Vector Institute for AI Research. "They want to keep their eyes on the trends," Grech says.

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River with forest in background App to Increase Public Involvement in Protecting Rivers
Pune Mirror
Aprajita Vidyarthi
January 29, 2018

Researchers at Fergusson College in India are developing a mobile application that will monitor developments around rivers in order to maximize public participation in revivification. The team says the goal is to track illegal construction and debris dumping. "The idea is to come up with a common platform where residents of the city can come together and actively participate in protecting the rivers," says Fergusson's Vrushali Limaye. He notes the app will help people be well informed when they purchase property near a river, enabling them to know if the property is in a legal and safe zone or not. The app includes an alert system so that whenever water is being released from the Khadakwasla dam, people will be informed about the areas that will be affected, notes Fergusson's Sudesh Patil. The researchers have not involved the Pune Municipal Corporation in their work yet, but after it is launched they will discuss the idea with civic officials.

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U.S. Leads but China Gains in NSF 2018 S&E Indicators Report
John Russell
January 30, 2018

The U.S. National Science Foundation's (NSF) Science and Engineering Indicators 2018 report found the U.S. still leads in science and engineering (S&E) worldwide, although China is advancing. "The 2018 report...provides insights into how science and engineering research and development are tied to economic and workforce development, as well as [science, technology, engineering, and math] education, in the U.S. and abroad," says NSF director France Cordova. The report cited a decline in the number of international students seeking graduate degrees in the U.S., with the largest drops experienced in graduate-level computer science and engineering. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts the number of programmer positions will contract by 8 percent over the 2014-2024 timeframe, while computer and mathematical scientists positions will increase 14.9 percent. Meanwhile, expertise in parallel programming is likely to remain highly valued in the high-performance computing space for some time.

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Job One for Quantum Computers: Boost Artificial Intelligence
Quanta Magazine
George Musser
January 30, 2018

The combination of quantum computing and machine learning is generating enormous interest and investment, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Seth Lloyd notes quantum systems' speed is superior to that of classical systems in manipulating large matrices and large vectors. However, Lloyd says this exponential speed advantage in itself does not translate into a faster quantum computer, and thus far machine learning based on quantum matrix algebra has been demonstrated solely on machines with only four quantum bits (qubits). So far, most successful quantum machine-learning experiments have had the quantum system represent the network, with each qubit standing for a single neuron. On the frontier of machine learning are generative models, which go beyond pattern recognition to produce novel archetypes. Training such a model entails tuning the electrical or magnetic interactions among qubits so the network replicates the sample data via a network/conventional computer integration.

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Two men at sitting in front of computers How Programmers Learn to Code
January 29, 2018

Most coders' programming skills are self-taught, and more than a quarter of 39,441 surveyed developers wrote their first piece of code before they were 16 years old, according to HackerRank's 2018 Developer Skills Report. "Even though 67 percent of developers have computer science degrees, roughly 74 percent said they were at least partially self-taught," the report notes. Respondents know four languages on average, but they want to learn four more. Broken down generationally, developers between the ages of 18 and 24 plan to learn six languages, while developers older than 35 only plan to learn three. Overall, the poll found developers cited a good work-life balance, followed by professional growth and learning, as the most desired requirements from employers. Developers 25 and older rated work-life balance as most important, while those between 18 and 24 gave it a less-important rating. "Developers want work-life balance, but they also have an insatiable thirst and need for learning," the report says.

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Networking, Data Experts Design a Better Portal for Scientific Discovery
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
January 29, 2018

Scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Sciences Network (ESnet) and the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory's Globus team have designed a new data portal to make information sharing faster, more reliable, and more secure. "Our new design preserves...ease of use, but easily scales up to handle the huge amounts of data associated with today's science," says ESnet's Eli Dart. The new portal design is based on Dart's Science DMZ, a high-performance network framework that connects large-scale data servers directly to high-speed networks and increasingly is used by research institutions for data transfer management. Another key platform is the cloud-based Globus service enabling developers to outsource responsibility for complex tasks such as authentication, authorization, data movement, and data sharing. An important system element is Globus Connect, which lets the Globus service transfer data to and from the computer using high-performance protocols as well as HTTPS for direct access.

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Algorithm for Simulating the Structure of Quantum Systems on a Quantum Photonic Chip
University of Bristol News
January 26, 2018

An international research project led by a team from the University of Bristol in the U.K. has developed an algorithm that models the energy structure of quantum systems on quantum computers. The algorithm was tested on a silicon quantum photonic processor that performs the computation using photons, "showing its applicability to simulate more complex systems in realistic short-term quantum devices," says Bristol's Jianwei Wang. The algorithm can find excited-states in a manner that appears to have no direct classical computing analog. The Bristol team notes the algorithm's simulation strategy is based on the concept of "eigenstate witness," a quantity that identifies a given quantum state as being close to an eigenstate of the system or not. "Expanding the toolkit for excited states is crucial if we want quantum computers to make meaningful contributions to important areas such as solar cells and batteries," says contributing researcher Jarrod McClean at Google's Quantum AI Lab.

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Two phones with voice applications open with padlock and code background, illustrated Researchers Propose Novel Solution to Better Secure Voice Over Internet Communication
UAB News
Tiffany Westry Womack
January 26, 2018

Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) have developed a closed-captioning crypto phone (CCCP) to better protect such devices from eavesdropping and other man-in-the-middle attacks. Crypto phones consist of smartphone apps, mobile devices, personal computers, or Web-based Voice over Internet Protocol applications that use end-to-end encryption to protect users' communications. UAB professor Nitesh Saxena says the phones require users to perform authentication tasks, which are prone to human errors, making them highly vulnerable to various attacks. To prevent these attacks, Saxena notes traditional crypto phones rely on the users to verbally communicate and match a key, known as a checksum, that is displayed on each user's device. "CCCP not only eliminates the human errors, but also facilitates use of longer checksums, which further strengthen the security," Saxena says. The researchers presented a paper on their work in November at the ACM Conference on Computer and Communication Security (CCS 2017) in Dallas, TX.

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The Next Big Breakthrough in Robotics
Northeastern University News
Bill Ibelle
January 24, 2018

Northeastern University professor Robert Platt says recent advances in machine learning, big data, and robot perception have put the robotics field on the brink of a major breakthrough in the ability of robots to perform fine motor tasks and function in controlled environments. Platt notes robot dexterity and artificial intelligence have been held back by Moravek's Paradox, which dictates that what is hard for humans is relatively easy for robots, and what is easy for humans is nearly impossible for robots. However, autonomous robots are poised to make a significant leap forward in their ability to manipulate unfamiliar objects. Platt and his team have trained a robot to find, grab, and remove unfamiliar objects from a pile of clutter with 93-percent accuracy. The researchers accomplished this using reinforcement learning, in which the robot learns through trial and error. Platt also says advances in depth perception enable robots to identify individual objects in a crowded field.

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BYU Study Produces 3D Images That Float in 'Thin Air'
BYU News (UT)
Todd Hollingshead
January 24, 2018

Researchers at Brigham Young University (BYU) say they have developed a method to create a three-dimensional (3D) volumetric projection, or a 3D image that floats in air, that a viewer can walk around and see from every angle. The researchers note they developed a free-space volumetric display platform, based on photophoretic optical trapping, that produces full-color, aerial volumetric images with 10-micron image points by persistence of vision. The new technique uses forces conveyed by a set of near-invisible laser beams to trap a particle of cellulose and heat it evenly. This process enables the researchers to push and pull the cellulose around, while a second set of lasers projects visible light onto the particle, illuminating it as it moves through space. "In simple terms, we're using a laser beam to trap a particle, and then we can steer the laser beam around to move the particle and create the image," says BYU's Erich Nygaard.

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Stacks of paper bound with binder clips. Researchers at Cornell Release Paper on Cryptocurrencies
Cornell Sun
Kyla Chasalow
January 23, 2018

Researchers at Cornell University have released a report challenging the idea that bitcoin and Ethereum, the world's two most popular cryptocurrencies, provide decentralized financial systems. The findings are the result of a two-year study of quantitative measures of the behavior of the blockchain technology that supports the cryptocurrencies. From 2015 through 2017, the researchers examined and quantified the decentralization of cryptocurrencies, but there was no one clear number to use as a measure of decentralization. They therefore created and tracked a variety of different metrics, including the distances between participants or "nodes" in the system, and how many nodes were held in data centers compared to personal computers. Although the team found bitcoin and Ethereum are less decentralized than previously thought, they believe a truly decentralized cryptocurrency could create a more efficient financial system based on trust in a network of participants instead of trust in central institutions such as governments and banks.

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February 2018 Issue of Communications of the ACM

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