Welcome to the August 13, 2018 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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police and security camera Holding Law-Enforcement Accountable for Electronic Surveillance
Adam Conner-Simons
August 8, 2018

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT's) Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and Internet Policy Research Initiative have developed a cryptographic system aimed at improving the accountability of government surveillance while maintaining the confidentiality needed for police to do their jobs. MIT's Shafi Goldwasser (co-recipient of the ACM A.M. Turing Award for 2012) developed many of the technical methods for the Accountability of Unreleased Data for Improved Transparency (AUDIT) aggregation system, which uses a multi-party computation approach enabling courts to disclose relevant information without revealing their internal workings or data to one another. In addition, AUDIT can be used to demonstrate that actions by law enforcement agencies are consistent with what a court order permits. The system also aggregates statistical information to allow the extent of surveillance to be studied at a larger scale, enabling the public to ask questions about how their data is being shared. The team will explore how AUDIT could be changed to manage even more complex data requests.

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nanoribbon superlattice Tying Electrons Down With Nanoribbons
Berkeley News
Robert Sanders
August 8, 2018

University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) researchers have used graphene nanoribbons to corral electrons for potential quantum computing applications. The nanoribbons, scaled at about 5 nanometers wide, exhibit unique quantum properties that could make then a potential alternative to silicon chips. UC Berkeley's Felix Fischer and Michael Crommie have experimentally demonstrated that junctions of nanoribbons are occupied by individual localized electrons when their topology is suitable. This proves UC Berkeley's Steven Louie's theory that joining two different types of nanoribbons has this electron-trapping effect, and depending on the strips' distance between each other, the hybrid nanoribbon is either metallic, a semiconductor, or a chain of quantum bits. Fischer says, "This provides us with a completely new system that alleviates some of the problems expected for future quantum computers, such as how to easily mass-produce highly precise quantum dots with engineered entanglement that can be incorporated into electronic devices in a straightforward way."

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Yamen Saraiji Meet the Guy With Four Arms, Two of Which Someone Else Controls in VR
Technology Review
Rachel Metz
August 6, 2018

Yamen Saraiji at Keio University in Japan has led the development of Fusion, a robotic project to explore how people may be able to work together to control, or augment, a person's body. In the Fusion project, a research subject wears a backpack equipped with robotic arms that are controlled remotely by another person who is wearing an Oculus Rift VR headset, enabling the second person to see the world from the perspective of the person wearing the device, as well as controlling the robotic arms and hands via handheld controllers. Saraiji says the system could be useful for activities such as physical therapy and assisted learning. The system includes a PC that streams data wirelessly between the robotic arm-wearer and the person controlling the limbs in virtual reality.

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Chernik reviews a student team’s product mockup in OSPRI Lab. Harnessing the Power of Open Source Research and Teaching to Transform Education
Duke Today
August 7, 2018

Duke University's Open Source Pedagogy, Research + Innovation (OSPRI) program is inverting traditional models of higher education with a collaborative, student-centered environment in which content is shared and computer science students are empowered to pursue their interests. OSPRI's goals include making learning personal, relevant, and fun with open source ideals and technology. The program also aims to make academia more of an open organization, placing students at the center of open content creation. Duke University's Aria Chernik says the program "shines a spotlight on the communal nature of knowledge, and teaches important lessons for today's information age about the legal and ethical issues of reusing information, and how to legally and ethically share it through Creative Commons licensing." She also says OSPRI is designed to be replicable and scalable to other educational institutions.

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A child holding an iPad. Alexa, Be My Friend: Children Talk to Technology, But How Does It Respond?
UW News
Kim Eckart
August 6, 2018

Voice interfaces that repeat or prompt users to communicate could be more useful to children than currently available technologies, according to University of Washington (UW) researchers. The team found that children will persist in the face of a communication breakdown, providing insight to developers for the design of technologies that are more responsive to families. The team recorded 14 children, ages three to five—and, indirectly, their parents—as they played an age-appropriate game on a lab-issued tablet. The researchers configured the tablet to record the children's responses, but they inadvertently shut off the device's ability to "hear" the user. This yielded data on how children communicate with nonresponsive voice technology and how their parents try to help. The researchers grouped children's communication strategies into three categories: repetition, increased volume, and variation. UW's Alexis Hiniker says the work could improve the design of interactive voice technologies by shifting the focus from how to get the response completely right to how to move toward a shared understanding.

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Zen and the Art of Data Structures: From Self-Tuning to Self-Designing Data Systems
George Anadiotis
August 6, 2018

Harvard University's Stratos Idreos is using what he calls a periodic table of data structures to map those structures and their characteristics and probe their many unique combinations. He says data system design is shaped by data structures, workload, and hardware, and his team has produced analytical models supplemented by benchmarks and machine learning that can estimate a design's suitability for certain workloads and hardware configurations. Unlike previous innovations, Idreos' work seeks to not only alter existing data structures, but also reshape them to create new ones dynamically. He says his team at Harvard's Data Systems Laboratory has worked with RocksDB, reconfiguring the software to realize performance that may be up to 10,000 times better for the same workloads. The research will be applied to using open source data formats in the cloud.

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A teapot positioned in front of a mirror. Facebook Made a Camera System That Can Make Better Virtual Mirrors
Ian Hamilton
August 5, 2018

The Facebook Reality Laboratory (FRL, formerly Oculus Research) has demonstrated a method to virtually capture the appearance of mirrors from the real world. The system locates mirrors by seeking a target that is on a camera rig, and then refines the mirror's shape by analyzing various features of the image. FRL says, "Our key idea is to add a tag to the capture rig that can only be observed when the camera faces a mirror or glass surface." Researcher Thomas Whelan says the work addresses the long-standing problem of mirrors hampering 3D reconstruction. The work could facilitate simulations of real-world locales to more realistically combine with digital elements, such as avatars, even in the presence of multiple mirrors and reflective surfaces.

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Samsung Galaxy S7 Smartphones Vulnerable to Hacking
Reuters (China)
Jack Stubbs; Ju-min Park
August 8, 2018

Researchers from Graz Technical University in Austria say they have determined a way to exploit a microchip security flaw in Samsung Galaxy S7 smartphones. They say this flaw makes the smartphones vulnerable to the notorious Meltdown bug, placing tens of millions of devices at risk to hackers aiming to monitor users. Graz Technical University's Michael Schwarz says the team also expects to detect more Meltdown-vulnerable devices in the future. Along with the Spectre vulnerability, Meltdown can be leveraged to expose the contents of a computing device's central processing unit by either circumventing hardware obstacles or deceiving applications into revealing secret information such as passwords or banking data. Samsung said it began pushing a patch to users to protect Galaxy S7 handsets against Meltdown last month.

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A college computer science classroom full of female students. AI for Social Good: Addressing the Need for Women in Tech
The McGill Tribune
Jiawen Wang
August 5, 2018

The second annual AI for Social Good Lab initiative, launched in May in Montreal, Canada, to increase gender diversity in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), gave 30 undergraduate women from across Canada the opportunity to use AI to address a social issue of their choice. The six-week lab was initiated by the OSMO Foundation, McGill University's Reasoning and Learning Laboratory, and the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms, and was co-organized with DeepMind. The program included two weeks of lectures, an open hackathon, and a week of industry workshops, after which the participants presented eight projects at the AIForGood closing event. The final projects included a variety of Web, Android, and iOS applications. Summer Lab diversity coordinator Jihane Lamouri hopes having more women in the industry will help pinpoint gender bias in AI.

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