ACM TechNews
Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the July 30, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Google Searches Hold Key to Future Market Crashes
University of Warwick (07/29/14) Tom Frew

Researchers at the University of Warwick and Boston University have developed a method to automatically identify topics that users search for on Google before subsequent stock market fluctuations. The researchers examined data between 2004 and 2012 and found that increases in searches for business and politics preceded falls in the stock market. The researchers say their method could be applied to help identify warning signs in search data before real world events. "Records of these search queries allow us to learn about how people gather information online before making decisions in the real world," says University of Warwick researcher Chester Curme. The researchers quantified the meaning of every word on Wikipedia to develop algorithms that can automatically identify patterns in search activity that could be related to future real world behavior. The researchers used the algorithms to find changes in how often users searched for terms relating to business and politics, and how those trends are connected to subsequent stock market moves. "By mining these datasets, we were able to identify a historic link between rises in searches for terms for both business and politics, and a subsequent fall in stock market prices," says University of Warwick professor Suzy Moat.


Vint Cerf, Father of the Internet, Looks Forward--and Back
The Washington Post (07/28/14) Laura Hambleton

Former ACM president Vint Cerf, chief Internet evangelist for Google and often referred to as the "Father of the Internet," has been working with computers since the late 1950s and recently discussed the ways technology, the Internet, and he himself have changed over the decades. Cerf, who received the ACM A.M. Turing Award in 2004, says he remains an active Internet user, especially of email, which he uses to connect with colleagues, friends, and family, including his 98-year-old mother. He believes strongly in helping to make the Internet accessible and comprehensible to all people, especially older people who do not have the intuitive grasp of the technology wielded by those who grew up with it. He has been surprised by many of the ways in which the Internet has developed since he helped to pioneer it late last century, the most curious of which to him is the rise of social media. Cerf says he finds the social uses of the Internet perfectly explicable and natural, but worries about how abuses such as cyber bullying and harassment can be contained. Although he retains a passion for software design and coding, Cerf no longer has the time for it, and instead focuses on his efforts on spreading access to the Internet through public policy, regulation, and new technology.


Is Moore's Law Less Important to the Tech Industry?
The New York Times (07/25/14) Quentin Hardy

Although Moore's Law shows no sign of slowing down, its importance to the technology industry may be declining. "We had a target with Moore's Law, something to build against," says Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers partner John Maeda. "Now, there is no simple target." In the era of cloud computing, increasing chip power still matters for the cost and capabilities of a big cloud data center. However, mobile apps work with computing strength on the device and in the cloud, a trend that means the industry does not obey upgrade cycles as it has in the past. Cloud providers now focus on computing power per watt, which presents several challenges for making and selling products, and training people how to use them. There also are signs that data creation and consumption are organizing work at a faster rate than the Moore's Law framework. In addition, "the data habit" of checking increasingly changing business data presents other challenges, especially as the number of data sources increases, says ClearStory Data CEO Sharmila Mulligan. These trends could affect how the industry thinks about and organizes businesses, with less focus on what a company is currently doing, and more on what will change next, Maeda says.
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LCD Hacking Trick Could Make Virtual Reality More Real
Technology Review (07/28/14) Tom Simonite

Virtual reality (VR) systems could be augmented with a new dimension of realism thanks to a prototype VR headset created by Nvidia researchers that can quadruple the pixel density of a liquid crystal display (LCD) panel. The researchers built this cascaded display through the modification of two commercially available LCD panels, while exploiting the panels' use of an array of minuscule shutters to control the visibility of individual pixels. The Nvidia team removed the shutter array from one panel and laid it over the array in another panel of the same design. The additional layer is oriented so its pixels are slightly offset from those of the panel underneath, while the borders of the extra shutter layer split each pixel of the panel below into four smaller areas. The researchers have developed software capable of translating the feed from a video or a game into instructions for each layer to generate the desired image for a viewer. Cascaded displays also yield a higher frame rate that smooths out moving images, while setting the panels to refresh out of sync with one another causes the display's user to see new frames at double the rate each individual panel is updating.


If You Want to Be Rich and Powerful, Majoring in STEM Is a Good Place to Start
Quartz (07/28/14) Jonathan Wai

Early education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is important not just because it builds the foundation for success in those fields, but for almost all aspects of modern life, writes Jonathan Wai, a researcher at the Duke University Talent Identification Program and Case Western Reserve University. He says education in mathematics in particular builds some of the key competencies--pattern recognition, abstract reasoning, and problem solving--necessary for success. Wai points to numerous billionaires including Carlos Slim and Steve Schwartzman, who credit their accumulated wealth to their facility with numbers. Wai's own research has found that nearly a quarter of the attendees of the annual gathering of the world's monied elite in Davos, Switzerland, have backgrounds in STEM fields, a number that jumps to almost 30 percent of the billionaires in attendance. However, Wai also recognizes the way to impart the benefits of numeracy to the next generation is not necessarily to teach more math, but to do a better job of teaching math. Math is too often taught through the rote memorization of formulas and rules, which actively stifles the development of the very competencies necessary for success in the field. Wai advocates a less constrained approach that highlights the joy of math, not its drudgery.


Hitchhiking Robot Embarks on Cross-Country Trek From Halifax to Victoria
Canadian Press (07/26/14) Geordon Omand

Researchers at Canada's Ryerson and McMaster universities have developed Hitchbot, a social-media-savvy robot that is hitchhiking its way from Halifax to Victoria. The talking robot is an interdisciplinary research project aimed at studying the changing relationship between people and technology. "Our society depends more and more on robots and we need to know more about our relationship to that kind of technology," says Ryerson professor Frauke Zeller. Hitchbot consists of spare parts usually found in a basement or hardware store. Despite its simple design, Hitchbot uses voice-recognition technology to reference Wikipedia and it is programmed to document its trip through social media using onboard Global-Positioning Systems. "Hitchbot really sits right in the middle of those interesting discussions about what are our future relationships with robots and what kind of cultural mood are we engaged in currently in terms of our sense of adventure and our wariness or not of strangers," says McMaster professor David Smith. He says the public's response has been very positive. "It's a whimsical project," Smith says. "It's adventure by proxy, is how I would describe it."


Scientists Explore Mash-Up of Vacuum Tube and MOSFET
Phys.Org (07/25/14) Nancy Owano

U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration Ames Research Center scientists Jin-Woo Han and Meyya Meyyappan are developing vacuum-channel transistor prototypes that could lead to new types of vacuum electronics. "Our research is still at an early stage, but the prototypes we've constructed show that this novel device holds extraordinary promise," the researchers say. The work is a mash-up of vacuum tube and metal-oxide semiconductor field-effect transistors, which could eventually replace traditional silicon. "Our very first effort to fashion a prototype produced a device that could operate at 460 gigahertz--roughly 10 times as fast as the best silicon transistor can manage," the researchers note. They say future terahertz technology could be applied to directional high-speed communications and hazardous-materials sensing. "This curious hybrid combines the best aspects of vacuum tubes and transistors and can be made as small and as cheap as any solid-state device," the researchers say. Although Han and Meyyappan note more research is needed before commercial products can be developed, they believe "this new generation of vacuum electronics will surely boast some surprising capabilities."


UC Irvine Team Studying Crowdprogramming
Campus Technology (07/24/14) Dian Schaffhauser

An $800,000 award will enable two University of California, Irvine researchers to continue to explore crowdprogramming. The concept seeks to tap into a mass of people to provide input, generate ideas, or solve problems for software development. Adriaan van der Hoek and Thomas LaToza want to determine what aspects of software creation could be crowdsourced. They say the challenge in software development is "it is inherently non-uniform, steeped with dependencies, difficult to describe in terms of the functionality desired, and can be implemented in any number of ways." The researchers note people do not always know what they want at the beginning of a project, which means the workflow cannot be determined in advance. An increase in parallelism in development work could "increase participation in open source development by lowering the barriers to contribute, enabling new economic models and allowing software to be constructed dramatically more quickly," according to a description of the project. Van der Hoek and LaToza are creating CrowdCode, an integrated development environment specifically designed for crowdprogramming. Researchers from Zynga and Carnegie Mellon University also are participating.


Artificial Intelligence Identifies the Musical Progression of the Beatles
Lawrence Technological University (07/24/14) Eric Pope

Lawrence Technological University (LTU) researchers have developed an artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm that can analyze and compare musical styles, enabling studies into the musical progression of bands such as the Beatles, Queen, and U2. The algorithm works by first converting each song to a spectrogram, or a video representation of the audio content. The images are analyzed by algorithms that turn each music spectrogram into a set of nearly 3,000 numeric descriptors reflecting visual aspects such as texture, shapes, and the statistical distribution of the pixels. Pattern recognition and statistical methods are then used to detect and quantify the similarities between different pieces of music. The LTU study analyzed 11 songs from each of the 13 Beatles studio albums and quantified the similarities between each song and the others in the study. The results for the individual songs were then used to compare the similarities between the albums. The algorithm determined the songs on the first album were most like the group of songs on the second album, and least like the songs on the last album recorded. Such algorithms could be used for searching, browsing, and organizing large music databases, as well as identifying music that matches an individual listener's tastes.


IoT Inspires New Components for Energy, Wireless
IDG News Service (07/24/14) Stephen Lawson

Two new pieces of technology recently were announced that will help to power the millions of remote, Internet-connected sensors that will form the Internet of Things (IoT). At the Techno-Frontier trade show in Tokyo, Japanese and European researchers from Omron and Holst Center/imec unveiled a prototype for a new electrostatic vibration harvester designed for use in wireless sensors in industrial applications such as equipment control and predictive maintenance. The prototype can be tuned to output between 1.5 and 5 volts of DC power and researchers say it could be scaled down to just two square centimeters. Meanwhile, Imagination Technologies announced a new design in its Enigma line of radio-processing units. The Ensigma Series4 Whisper is a design for a wireless radio that can be built into other chips for use in low-power devices and can support a broad range of formats, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, near-field communications, and global navigation satellite systems. Imagination's Richard Edgar says the new design is tailored specifically for the needs of IoT devices, primarily power efficiency. He notes the design would suit applications in industrial sensors, wearable devices, or smart electric grids.


The CIA Fears the Internet of Things
Defense One (07/24/14) Patrick Tucker

Speaking as part of the "Future of Warfare" panel at the recent Aspen Security Forum, Dawn Meyerriecks, deputy director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) directorate of science and technology, discussed the agency's position on emerging technological concepts such as big data and the Internet of Things (IoT). Meyerriecks said the CIA cannot afford to be caught unaware by changing technology and is particularly concerned about the unintended security implications of the IoT. Meyerriecks pointed to documented cases of Internet-connected, embedded appliances already being turned to malicious purposes: a distributed denial-of-service attack launched using smart refrigerators and a massive 2013 spam attack that involved some 100,000 Internet-connected devices. "The merger of physical and virtual is really where it's at," she said. "If we don't grok that then we've got huge problems." The potential security implications of connected health devices are especially worrying to Meyerriecks, who called the potential transparency and workplace problems something "I don't want to have to deal with." She also said the CIA has big plans for big data analytics, in particular the creation of highly-targeted data collection efforts that would eliminate the need for today's clumsy mass surveillance efforts.


Electronic Nose Could Aid in Rescue Missions
AlphaGalileo (07/23/14)

Blanca Lorena Villarreal, while doing her postgraduate research at the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, developed an artificial intelligence-based (AI) device that enables multiple robotic platforms to follow the path of certain odors. Lorena Villarreal is developing algorithms that facilitate the discrimination of odor, which would aid robots in the decision-making process. The device's olfactory system is based on AI algorithms that focus on detecting alcohol, but the system and algorithms can be adapted to recognize other odors and toxic gases and elements. "We note that, biologically, animals perceive the direction of an odor using two characteristics: it comes at different concentrations to the nostrils, and, because it is appreciated with a time difference," Lorena Villarreal says. "These two factors can identify from which a certain aroma comes." Chemical sensors send data by radio to a computer for real-time analysis to determine the origin and direction of the aroma. Lorena Villarreal says the technology takes only one cycle to detect a change of direction in the path of smell, which enables the robot to perform tracking faster. She thinks the system could be used in the aftermath of a natural disaster. "In rescue missions it might recognize blood, sweat, or human urine," Lorena Villarreal says.


Big Data Needs Big Funding: NSF's Jahanian Makes the Case
HPC Wire (07/23/14) Ceci Jones Schrock

Farnam Jahanian, out-going U.S. National Science Foundation assistant director for the Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate, recently discussed the ways society will come to rely on a massive surge of new data that will require significant investments in cyber infrastructure to maintain. Speaking at the 2014 Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment conference in Atlanta earlier this month, Jahanian shared an anecdote about a visit to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to highlight how widespread the U.S.'s future reliance on mass data is likely to be. "You'd be surprised how many times data was mentioned: data integration, data management, data curation, computer simulation, and modeling," Jahanian said. Medicine also will rely on big data, with Jahanian using the example of a team of Stanford University researchers who have made major breakthroughs in the understanding of breast cancer through the use of data analytics technology. Jahanian said the reliance on data cries out for greater federal investments in cyber infrastructure and he noted securing funding for cyber infrastructure has been one of his major goals during his term, which ends at the end of August.


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