Welcome to the June 23, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Using the Wisdom of Crowds to Translate Language
NPR Online (06/22/10) Rose, Joel
Linguists are attempting to harness the power of crowdsourcing to help machines achieve perfect translations. Computer translators such as Babelfish and Google Translate work best when they have a lot of translation data to work from, says University of Maryland professor Philip Resnik. However, there are only a handful of languages, such as French and Chinese, which have enough data for these programs to produce an effective translation. Resnik and colleagues are developing ways to use crowdsourcing to enable human and computer translators to work together. They say the technology could be the key to translating hundreds of lesser-known languages. Maryland professor Judith Klavans says today's world requires the need to understand a wide variety of languages. "If you can't figure them out quickly, then we don't know what's going on anywhere." Resnik notes that the experiments with crowdsourcing are still in their early stages. "It's possible that crowdsourcing will not get us all the way to fully automatic, high-quality translation," he says. "But it can get us a lot closer, by bringing humans and machines closer together in a way that hasn't happened before."
Language Analysis Tool to Ascertain Age and Gender
The Engineer (United Kingdom) (06/22/10)
Lancaster University computer scientists are developing software that uses language analysis techniques to determine the age and gender of people in chat rooms. The tool could help law enforcement agencies protect children from online pedophiles. In order to improve the accuracy of the software, the Lancaster team has been conducting tests on the informal Web chats of groups of children and teenagers. The project included an experiment to determine whether the 350 participants knew when they were talking to adults who were posing as students. The experiment found that about 80 percent could not tell the difference, but the software correctly identified whether a child or adult was writing the Web chat in 47 out of 50 cases. "We hope to develop an automated system that can pick up on quirks of language particular to a certain age group," says Lancaster professor Awais Rashid. "These language patterns can help us to expose adults that seek to groom children online by posing as children in chat rooms, for example." The software also could enable law enforcement to trail pedophiles as they move around the Internet.
Presidential Committee on Innovation Hosts First Meeting to Boost Promising Tech, Jobs
NextGov.com (06/22/10) Sternstein, Aliya
New products and jobs could be created through government support for the synthesis of information technology (IT), nanotechnology, and biotechnology, according to IT experts gathered at the inaugural meeting of the President's Innovation and Technology Advisory Committee. The panel is tasked with helping deploy the innovation agenda President Obama outlined last September to fuel job growth, which is focusing on research and development investments, federal support for the emerging clean energy and health IT sectors, and the promotion of entrepreneurship. In combination, IT, nanotech, and biotech are expected to generate advances in national security, medicine, and energy that can subsequently produce jobs. Attendees suggested that federal agencies could introduce an innovation culture on university campuses by collaborating with academic institutions and cultivate consumer trust in the new fields through regulations. Federal chief technology officer Aneesh Chopra said the Obama administration wants to identify unknown challenges at the convergence of IT, nanotech, and biotech and embed them within federal policymaking.
Intel to Showcase Smarter Computers, Cars at Research Day
IDG News Service (06/21/10) Shah, Agam
Intel researchers have developed technologies that read users' gestures and respond to thoughts, as well as a cloud-computing ready smart car with accident-prevention capabilities. Intel's Mann Vara says that although many of the company's research projects and ideas are unrelated to its core business, some developments end up in future products. For example, at Intel's upcoming annual Research Day, the company will display a robot capable of recognizing speech and mobile devices equipped with cameras that can recognize gestures. Intel also will demonstrate a computer that is able to recognize and respond to brain waves when a user thinks about controlling a particular device. In addition, Intel researchers are working to equip robots with sensors on their fingertips so they can determine whether an object is plastic or glass and how it's shaped, so they know how much force and strength to use when handling it.
RoboCup 2010: Could Robot Versus Human Be Far Behind?
Scientific American (06/22/10) Kaufman, Rachel
At RoboCup 2010 in Singapore, hundreds of roboticists are competing against each other in five different soccer leagues. The competition's goal is to advance the real-world applications of robotics and eventually to build a robot team that can beat the human World Cup champions. In previous competitions no robot could be taller than 1.2 meters. But in this year's AdultSize league, Virginia Tech's RoboCup team has entered CHARLI, a 1.5-meter-tall robot that can locate a soccer ball, dribble it up the field, and kick it toward the goal. In the smaller Humanoid league, 24 teams are competing with 60-centimeter-tall robots in games of three on three. "We want to study how tens or hundreds of them can work together on complex tasks," says George Mason University professor Sean Luke. Hardware is less of an issue in the Standard Platform League (SPL), where all participants have written software to control mini-humanoid robots. The University of Texas at Austin's SPL team is focusing on strategy, rather than raw power, for this year's competition. The team's main goal is to get the ball and move it before the other team can, even if that means the robot is not making a perfect kick.
ECS Researchers Develop Intelligent Medical Sensors
University of Southampton (ECS) (06/22/10) Lewis, Joyce
Intelligent medical sensors could lead to more effective health management, according to researchers at the University of Southampton. The university's School of Electronics and Computer Science is assisting the School of Medicine and the NHS Trust in developing low-power signal processing algorithms and circuits embedded in sensors, which will result in medical sensors with decision-making capability. The Cyclic and Person-Centric Health Management: Integrated Approach for Home Mobile and Clinical Environment project is a three-year initiative to develop technology for monitoring the symptoms of patients. "One of the major technical issues when we deploy these sensors is that they need to be wearable, low power, and work in noisy environments 24 hours a day," says Southampton's Koushik Maharatna. "Our task is to develop new ultra low-power algorithms and corresponding circuits, so that the technology will make it possible for a patient's [doctor] to be alerted at any point of time through the patient's device if medical assistance is needed."
A Private Social Network for Cell Phones
Technology Review (06/22/10) Simonite, Tom
Microsoft researchers have developed Contrail, mobile social networking software that enables users to share personal information with friends but not with the network itself. "With Contrail, the central location doesn't ever know my information, or what particular users care about--it just sees encrypted stuff to pass on," says Microsoft's Iqbal Mohomed. When a Contrail user submits information to the network, the file is sent to a server operating within the network's cloud. The file is encrypted and appended with a list that specifies which other users are allowed to see it. When a person wants to receive a certain kind of update from a contact, a "filter" is sent to that friend's device. Mohomed says Contrail is an application programming interface that can be used to build many types of social applications. Meanwhile, University of Gottingen researcher David Koll and colleagues are developing an alternative social networking architecture for mobile devices that would do away with a central server altogether and instead store user data in secure caches distributed across the network's devices.
Blogs and Tweets Could Predict the Future
New Scientist (06/21/10) Giles, Jim
Forecasts about social and economic trends could be generated through the analysis of blogs and tweets, building on earlier research by Google and others to mine the frequency of specific search terms to outline purchasing patterns. With blogs and tweets added to the equation, trends other than buying behavior--such as political sentiment and stock market patterns--could possibly be predicted. For instance, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign were able to forecast stock market behavior by using more than 20 million blog posts to build an "Anxiety Index" that measures the frequency with which a range of words associated with apprehension, such as "nervous," show up in the posts. The appearance of these terms correlated with lower stock prices. Tools that quantify the national mood could prove useful to stock traders, who will be more likely to refrain from taking risks if they know consumers are fraught with pessimism, for example. Researchers say that Web data analysis methods could be used to make even more accurate predictions as researchers devise more refined techniques for measuring the emotional content of blogs and tweets.
Trumping the Trumpets: How Audio Engineering Helps Tone Down Vuvuzela Disruption
Queen Mary, University of London (06/18/10) Levey, Simon
A new filter will enable soccer fans watching the 2010 World Cup online to remove the sounds of vuvuzelas playing in South Africa's stadiums. Researchers at the Center for Digital Music (C4DM) at Queen Mary, University of London developed the "devuvuzelator" filter and have made it available for download. The vuvuzelas produce an invigorating and dramatic volume level that makes it difficult for TV viewers to hear the commentary of play-by-play announcers. Although notch filtering can target the specific frequencies of the vuvuzela, it also removes some of the sound energy of the commentator's voice. "Our approach was to make a filter which estimates the amount of energy in the signal contributed by vuvuzelas, at the specific frequencies expected, and then subtracts just that energy," says C4DM's Dan Stowell. "This 'adaptive' approach potentially preserves the voice energy in the signal and helps preserve voice quality." The filter can run in real time and be used for live broadcasts.
Using Science Against Suicide Bombs
Wall Street Journal (06/19/10) Wright, Tom
Software that models the effects of suicide bombings has been developed by Pakistani computer scientist Zeeshan-ul-Hassan Usmani, whose expertise could help inform the construction of a planned software park in Lahore, Pakistan, in order to minimize casualties. Bomb-blast software employed by U.S. government analysts is expensive and their research is classified, so Usmani produced a less costly version of the software by mining information that was freely available in published academic texts on controlled explosions. So that his model also could predict injuries suffered by suicide bombing victims, Usmani culled autopsy records of many fatalities. Though Usmani acknowledges that high-tech computational fluid-dynamic research facilitates more accurate explosion models, he says the high expense and skill needed to run such software make it impractical in Pakistan. Usmani determined through his modeling system that explosions are less deadly in situations in which people are arrayed in rows rather than distributed randomly or in a circle.
Are Your Texts Depressed? The Computer Knows, Maybe
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (Israel) (06/18/10) Kalman, Matthew
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) researchers have developed a program that can detect depression in online texts. The software, developed by BGU professor Yair Neuman, was used to analyze more than 300,000 blogs that were posted to mental health Web sites. The program identified what it determined to be the 100 "most depressed" and 100 "least depressed" bloggers. A panel of four clinical psychologists reviewed the blogs and found a 78 percent correlation between the program's findings and the panel's. "The software program was designed to find depressive content hidden in language that did not mention the obvious terms like 'depression' or 'suicide,' " Neuman says. The program picks out words that express various emotions, such as colors that the writer uses to describe certain situations. Neuman says the program could serve as a screening tool to direct potential patients towards treatment.
Is Cloud Computing Fast Enough for Science?
Government Computer News (06/18/10) Lipowicz, Alice
The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Magellan cloud computing testbed has shown that commercially available clouds suffer in performance when operating message passing interface (MPI) applications such as weather calculations. "For the more traditional MPI applications there were significant slowdowns, over a factor of 10," says National Energy Research Scientific Computing's Kathy Yelick. However, for computations that can be performed serially, such as genomics calculations, there was little or no deterioration in performance in a commercial cloud, Yelick says. DOE is using the Magellan project to explore a wide range of scientific issues regarding cloud computing, and to advise DOE how to incorporate cloud computing into its research. "Our goal is to inform DOE and the scientists and industry what is the sweet spot for cloud computing in science; what do you need to do to configure a cloud for science, how do to manage it, what is the business model, and do you need to buy your own cloud," Yelick says.
Silicon Chips to Enter World of High Speed Optical Processing
University of Sydney (06/17/10) Gleeson, Rachel
University of Sydney physicists have developed an on-chip, all-optical temporal integrator on a complementary metal oxide semiconductor, a development that eventually could enable all-optical computing and information processing. The researchers say that an all-optical integrator, or lightwave capacitor, will be a crucial part of next generation, ultrafast, optical data processing technologies. "This on-chip optical integrator is a key to enabling many optical functions on a chip, including ultra-high-speed signal processing, computing, and optical memory," says Sydney professor David Moss. He says the device, based on high index doped silica glass, is low loss and has a high degree of manufacturability and design flexibility. Its design makes it an ideal ultrahigh speed optical integrator with a performance good enough for a wide range of applications, including optical memory and real-time differential equation computing units. "With society's demands for even faster technology, ultrafast optical computing and signal processing are important," Moss says.
SBU Team Creates Computer-Aided Influenza Virus Vaccine Method Could Lead To Effective And Safe Seasonal Vaccines
Stony Brook University (06/16/10) Sheprow, Lauren
Stony Brook University (SBU) researchers have developed Synthetic Attenuated Virus Engineering (SAVE), a process to weaken influenza virus by designing hundreds of mutations to its genetic code to create an effective vaccine. The researchers based SAVE on a method used to create weakened synthetic polio viruses, and were able to design an influenza vaccine that was found to be safe and effective in mice. "Essentially, we have rewritten the virus' genetic instructions manual in a strange dialect of genetic code that is difficult for the host cell machinery to understand," says SBU professor Steffen Mueller. The genetic changes the researchers chose are known as "silent" mutations because they do not alter the proteins that the virus produces. The researchers used computer algorithms to arrange the mutations in a way that the resulting viral genome will produce less of those proteins. If shown applicable to influenza in humans, the researchers say SAVE could become an essential tool in developing vaccines that may be effective against seasonal and pandemic influenza threats.
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