Welcome to the August 4, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
AAAS Report Finds NSF Alliance Initiative Boosts Computing Degrees; Minority Participation
AAAS News (07/28/10) Somers, Benjamin
A U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) program designed to increase the number of students receiving post-secondary computer science degrees, particularly underrepresented minorities, has been very successful, according to an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) report. Institutions participating in the NSF Broadening Participation in Computing (BPC) program "are defying the national trends ... with cohorts of underserved students being reached, gaining confidence and skills, and making progress towards degrees and careers in computing," the report says. "The report shows that, taken as a whole, the BPC alliances are an effective model not only for other higher education computing programs, but also across the board for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics," says AAAS' Daryl Chubin. For example, the Advancing Robotics Technology for Societal Impact program connects 13 historically black colleges and universities with 10 large research institutions, offering students at smaller schools valuable research experience. In the Computing Alliance for Hispanic-Serving Institutions program, 10 colleges and universities developed an introductory computer science course, which prepares freshman for the rigors of a computer science major.
Microsoft Mines Web to Hone Language Tool
Wall Street Journal (08/03/10) Fletcher, Owen
Microsoft researchers are using data mined from the Internet to develop Engkoo, an online Chinese-to-English dictionary and language-practice service. The technology could be used in similar tools to learn any language. Engkoo has a core of translation data drawn from Microsoft-licensed dictionaries. That content is mixed with data from Web sites with parallel Chinese and English versions. When an Engkoo user types a word or sentence into the Web site's input bar, in either Chinese or English, the site draws on statistics from its data to translate it. Users also can listen to audio versions of sample sentences, which are generated based on audio files of native speakers. Microsoft researchers say that sourcing translations from the Internet can help a database keep up to date with evolving language, including colloquial expressions and technical terms. "This is a system that gets smarter over time," says Microsoft Research Asia's Matt Scott. The researchers also are developing a video feature for Engkoo, which will enable users to learn from the lip movements of a native speaker. In addition, the researchers are gathering ultrasound data, which will show how a native speaker's tongue moves while speaking, says Microsoft's Frank Soong.
Computing at the Speed of Light
Technology Review (08/04/10) Simonite, Tom
Intel's development of an integrated optical link that replaces the metal wiring between semiconductor components could dramatically change computing in the near future. Intel researchers have developed chips capable of encoding and decoding laser signals sent via fiber optics. The new system will boost computing speeds because everything works in silicon. "All communications over long distance are driven by lasers, but you've never had it inside devices," says Intel's Mario Paniccia. "Our new integrated optical link makes that possible." The technology also could help make data centers more efficient because optical links require less power to operate, says Columbia University's Karen Bergman. "We've developed this technology to be low-cost so we can take it everywhere, not just into high-performance computing or the data center," Paniccia says. The technology could change how devices are designed. For example, Paniccia says the technology could be used to provide extra memory in a laptop or smartphone dock to increase a device's computing power while it is plugged in. "If we speed up the channel between logic [processors] and memory, we need to rethink the way you design that memory," says Boston University professor Ajay Joshi.
Telenoid R1: Hiroshi Ishiguro's Newest and Strangest Android
IEEE Spectrum (08/01/10) Guizzo, Erico
Osaka University professor Hiroshi Ishiguro recently demonstrated Telenoid R1, a humanoid robot that features a minimalistic design. Telenoid is the size of a small child, has a soft torso with a bald head, a doll-like face, stumps in place of limbs, and looks like an overgrown fetus. Ishiguro says the goal was to design an android that could appear male or female, old or young, and be easily transported. Osaka partnered with Japan's Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International (ATR) to study the essential elements of representing and transmitting human-like presence. The eerie-looking Telenoid is part of a new communication system that would allow an operator to sit at a computer with a Webcam and special teleoperation software developed by ATR, and control the android for remote work, education, or elderly care applications. "If a friend speaks from the Telenoid, we can imagine the friend's face on the Telenoid's face," says Ishiguro, who believes people will adapt to its unique look. "If we embrace it, we have the feeling, that we embrace the friend."
New Methods for Tactile Feedback, New Ideas for Touch Panels
Nikkei Electronics Asia (07/31/10) Nezu, Tadashi
Researchers at Toshiba and Sony are developing new methods for tactile feedback in electronic devices. For example, Toshiba has developed a device based on technology that uses weak electric fields to express several different tactile sensations. The device is break resistant and makes no vibration noise. It operates in any situation, and can be used in places where conventional technologies are difficult to implement, such as on the sides or backs of equipment, or on curved surfaces. The technology involves a special film, a module to control electric field variation, control software, and a data library for different tactile sensations. Different sensations are felt by varying the field intensity and the frequency of the variation. "We expect to see our technology implemented in notebook personal computers, tablet terminals, and other touch panels and touch pads in the first half of 2011," says a Toshiba source. Meanwhile, Sony researchers developed a touch panel that combines tactile feedback technology with a new function to detect the pressure of the contact, making it possible to design a new user interface.
In Emergencies, Aid Agencies Turn to a College-Created Software Program
Chronicle of Higher Education (08/01/10) Li, Sophia
Researchers at Trinity College and Wesleyan University have developed Collabbit, an emergency management program that enables emergency aid workers to communicate more effectively. Collabbit allows workers to post a call for backup or list a supply truck's estimated arrival time and share that information with other workers in real time, using any device with a Web browser. Collabbit is based on Sahana, another free, open source, all-in-one system for managing disaster-relief efforts. Collabbit's users emphasize how intuitive the software is, which was a main priority of the developers. The software was developed by students as part of the Humanitarian Free and Open Source Software Project, a collaboration between nine colleges and universities that develops digital tools for humanitarian ends.
Hi-Tech Solution for Welsh Learners to Practice Grammar
Western Mail (Wales) (08/04/10) Rachel, Moses
Aberystwyth University researchers developed Welsh Lessons, an iPhone application designed to help students learn Welsh by providing a mobile application for a textbook that can be used while the students are out of the classroom. The popularity of Welsh Lessons, developed by Aberystwyth professors Chris Price and Neil Taylor, surprised the researchers and prompted them to look for more applications of the technology. "Because of the success of Welsh Lessons, we talked with the [Welsh Joint Education Committee] about making the Cwrs Mynediad material available in computer-based formats," Price says. The professors' new Cwrs Mynediad iPhone app is split into units, just like the book. "Each unit covers all of the patterns, exercises, vocabulary, dialogues, and grammar in the book," Price says. The program was welcomed by multiple language organizations, including the Welsh Language Society and the Welsh Language Board.
Connecting Brains to the Outside World
New York Times (08/02/10) Dreifus, Claudia
Brown University professor John P. Donoghue's area of study is the integration of human brain signals with modern electronics to help paralysis patients assume greater control over their environments. His BrainGate machine allows paralyzed people to link their brains to the outside world by moving objects through thought impulses. This is achieved by implanting a sensor into the area of the patient's brain that produces movement commands, which transmits the commands to a plug attached to the patient's scalp. The signals are then fed into a computer that translates them into simple actions, such as moving a cursor or a robotic arm. BrainGate builds upon Donoghue's research into how the cerebral cortex translates thoughts into action. The development of the brain implant used in the BrainGate was a major advancement, as the device enabled many of the brain's signals to be decoded and their relation to movement uncovered. Donoghue says the next step in the BrainGate project is to test a smaller, noninvasive wireless implant so that the scalp plug becomes unnecessary. Another research focus is the miniaturization of the system so that it can be wholly integrated into the body.
California Is the Primary U.S. Stop for LHC's ALICE Data
Berkeley Lab News Center (07/30/10) Vu, Linda
For approximately one month a year, the Large Hadron Collider's (LHC's) ALICE experiment will collect more than 10 terabytes of data per day on the nature of the universe immediately after the Big Bang. About 10 percent of the data will be sent from the LHC in Switzerland to Berkeley Lab's National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center and to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory via the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Sciences Network (ESnet). By using ESnet's Science Data Network, ALICE researchers can leverage ESnet's On Demand Secure Circuits and Reservation System (OSCARS) protocol to establish multi-domain, virtual circuits for guaranteed end-to-end transfers. "The OSCARS system, which manages bandwidth allocations on the Science Data Network, is specifically designed for this purpose," says ESnet's Steve Cotter. "Thousands of scientists from around the globe will be looking for different things in the same dataset and building on the results of other collaborators; so in addition to duplicating and storing raw data, we also have to copy and archive it at many different stages of the analysis," says ALICE's Jeff Porter.
Playing With Pills
University of Stavanger (07/30/10) Lie, Leiv Gunnar
University of Stavanger researchers are developing a computer game for nursing students designed to help them master drug calculations to enable them to pass exams. The goal is to make learning easier and more fun by using methodology from computer games. First, the subject matter must be determined, followed by the actual development of the game. The idea is to make short exercises that have to be solved under time pressure. Computer games could help students who are not very confident in their mathematics or science skills, says Stavanger's Lars Rune Saeterdal. "My impression is that many nursing students do not trust their skills in mathematics and science from high school," says Saeterdal. "That might be one reason why they struggle with this particular subject. Computer games can be a good supplement."
Merging E-Services Seamlessly
CORDIS News (Belgium) (07/29/10)
European and Israeli researchers working on the Artifact-Centric Service Interoperation (ACSI) project are developing a two-pronged solution to resolving business interoperation issues between e-services. ACSI is exploring the use of interoperation hubs and dynamic artifacts as a way to improve the process in which e-services are merged into one dynamic system. Interoperation hubs will enable flexible and scalable support for service collaborations in an open network, while dynamic artifacts will simplify the management of data and processes between different services. ACSI's three-year research effort will produce open source software that will enable any organization to use the technology. ACSI project researchers include experts on business process management, artifact-centric business operations, verification, data integration and ontologies, process mining, and services architectures.
IST Researchers Categorize Social Media Searches
Penn State Live (07/30/10) Shelton, Kate
Pennsylvania State University researchers led by Lee Giles and Luke Zhang have developed a new method for conducting multimedia searches on the Web. The Penn State SNDocRank approach incorporates social networks into multimedia search rankings. "With the assumption that 'birds of a feather flock together,' the SNDocRank framework ranks the videos based on the similarity of the owners of videos in social networks," Giles says. "Users tend to be friends if they have common interests, and they are more interested in their friends' information than that of others they don't know." The ranking method is comparable to Google's PageRank, but the returned results are more likely to satisfy the user. Moreover, the results can depend on searchers' locations within social networks, as they will loosely reflect how many friends they have, what groups they join, and what subscriptions they have.
Novel Algorithm Cuts the Risks of Choosing Ineffectual Team Members
French researchers have developed an algorithm designed to help management achieve better results on their projects. Although the classical analysis of researchers in human resources and the management field focuses on risk analysis of the processes involved in the execution of a project, Franck Marle and Julie Le Cardinal of the Laboratoire Genie Industriel at the Ecole Centrale Paris say the approach is flawed because it does not take into consideration the risks of team members when they are being chosen for a project. Marle and Le Cardinal say the classical analysis could be approved by identifying the risks of potential team members based on expertise, skill, knowledge, experience, and other personal factors, and extrapolating that data to determine how a choice would affect the project. They mapped the components of the decision-making process and devised an algorithm that can estimate the risk associated with a choice for a team by considering each decision as a node in a complex project network. Marle and Le Cardinal say their research could make the decision-making process more reliable by accounting for the risks of team members at an earlier stage in the project and identifying potential problems with each choice.
Making Smarter, Savvier Robots
Science (07/30/10) Vol. 329, No. 5991, P. 508; Kean, Sam
A lack of intelligence in robot technology is a problem endemic to the space exploration community, and researchers around the globe are addressing it by developing smarter machines that can avoid danger and recognize features that merit investigation without human intervention. More autonomous robots will be crucial for fully exploring certain sites within the solar system, including hostile environments. Researchers also hope that a boost in robot intelligence will enhance machine efficiency, improving their "energy storage, memory, computational throughput, communication downlink bandwidth, and heating and cooling capability," says Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist Larry Matthies. NASA chief technologist Robert Braun has initiated a new, general Space Technology Program that lists machine intelligence as one area of momentum. California Institute of Technology researcher Wolfgang Fink anticipates that independent robot exploration will not be facilitated solely by improved programming. He envisions robots capable of experimenting with their neural networks to form their own rules governing exploration.
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