Welcome to the May 23, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Laser Puts Record Data Rate Through Fiber
BBC News (05/22/11)
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology researchers recently set a record by transmitting 26 terabits of a data in one second using a single laser. The researchers used a fast Fourier transform to separate more than 300 distinct colors of light in a single laser beam with very short pulses, each of which was encoded with its own string of information. The Fourier transform is a mathematical trick that can extract the different colors from an input beam based on the times that the different parts of the beam arrive. The researchers accomplished this optically by splitting the incoming beam into different paths depending on when they arrived, and then recombining them on a detector. The current design outperforms earlier approaches by moving all the time delays further apart, and Karlsruhe professor Wolfgang Freude says the technology could be integrated onto a silicon chip. "Think of all the tremendous progress in silicon photonics," Freude says. "Nobody could have imagined 10 years ago that nowadays it would be so common to integrate relatively complicated optical circuits on to a silicon chip."
The Invisible iPhone
Technology Review (05/23/11) Katie Greene
Hasso Plattner Institute researchers have developed a system that enables iPhone users to perform actions on their devices without actually holding the phone. To operate Hasso's imaginary iPhone system, users tap their palm and the system interprets the movements and relays them back to the iPhone. The system uses a depth-sensitive camera to record the tapping and sliding motions, software to analyze the movements, and a Wi-Fi radio to transmit the movements to the device. The system "serves as a shortcut that frees users from the necessity to retrieve the actual physical device," says Hasso professor Patrick Baudisch, noting the camera works well in different lighting conditions, including direct sunlight. During testing, the researchers found that users could accurately recall the position of about two-thirds of their applications with similar accuracy on their palms. "It's possible that voice control could serve the same purpose, but the imaginary approach would work in noisy locations and is much more subtle than announcing, 'iPhone, open my email,'" says the University of Waterloo's Daniel Vogel.
One on One: Jaron Lanier
New York Times (05/23/11) Joshua Brustein
In an interview, Microsoft Research's Jaron Lanier discussed his role at Microsoft, how the technology industry is being utilized, the effect of crowdsourcing on the job market, and his views for the future. One development Lanier is very proud of is the Kinect technology, which he thinks can be very beneficial for medical research. "I think we're going to see a real expansion of certain kinds of techniques and therapies that have been proven but haven't been inexpensive and practical before," Lanier says. He says technology can provide tools that can improve people's lives, but if there is not a similar ethical and moral improvement to go along with the technological improvement, then humanity's overall gain is much less. Lanier says that new technologies, such as those used by Google and Facebook, might seem like vast improvements in the short term, but because they are providing services for free that once cost money and create jobs, in the long run career prospects will be diminished. Silicon Valley recently has experienced an almost religious excitement among people who work in technology, which is exciting because technologists are actually changing the world, and they should be critical of themselves to make sure they are making the world a better place, Lanier says. He believes the Silicon Valley culture lends itself to innovation and trust because its value system is totally based on merit.
Earthquake? Terrorist Bomb? Call in the AI
New Scientist (05/23/11) Niall Firth
Durham University researchers are developing a training simulation system designed to help emergency services workers adapt to chaotic situations. The Rescue system involves 4,000 software agents that represent the public and members of emergency services, each of which is equipped with a basic level of programmed behaviors. The system takes an overall view of the ongoing situation, analyzing information fed back by the agents at the scene. University of Notre Dame researchers are contributing simulation tools that demonstrate how crowds react during a disaster. Notre Dame's Dynamic Adaptive Disaster Simulation (DADS) also uses basic software agents to represent humans that are programmed to run away toward safety. DADS utilizes location data from cell phones to understand how the crowd is moving. The researchers can then run the simulation faster than real time to give emergency service workers a model of what the panicked crowd is likely to do, says Notre Dame's Greg Madey. Paul Sabatier University researchers also are working on crowd simulation software, focusing on how crowds act as they are packed more closely together. The researchers found that as crowd density increases, waves of people are created that lead to stampedes that have been documented in real life.
Awards Encourages Women to Break Tech Glass Ceiling
ABC7News.com (CA) (05/20/11) Lisa Amin Gulezian
The Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology recently held its annual Women In Vision Awards honoring women who are challenging the male-dominated technology field. Only 20 percent of entry-level engineers in the industry are women, and only 5 percent of its chief technology officers (CTOs) are women. The meeting drew some of the leading industry's leading technologies, including Tufts University professor Karen Panetta and Pixel Qi CEO Mary Lou Jepsen, one of three women to win the honor of being a visionary in the technological field. "For my whole career I've been the only woman in the room and the only one that even knows what an electrical engineer does," Panetta says. The lack of work-life balance is keeping many women from pursuing senior level positions, according to company executives. "That's something that really is up to a company to kind of crack the code on how to make that work for these senior women and not have them opt out into a management track," says Net App CTO Brian Pawlowski. Major cultural shifts are needed within tech companies, according to many executives.
Movement Through the Power of the Mind
Medill Reports (IL) (05/19/11) Bethany Hubbard
Several U.S. universities are conducting research in motor memory and brain-machine interfaces. For example, Brown University's BrainGate2 research team, which includes neuroscientists, engineers, and computer scientists, is developing technologies to restore the communication, mobility, and independence of people with neurologic problems. University of Chicago researcher Nicholas Hatsopoulos uses brain-machine interfaces to study how the body moves, and his research has shown that it is likely that motor memory is stored throughout the brain, instead of in one specific place. Hatsopoulos says a greater understanding of how motor memory works could give paraplegics a better quality of life. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professor Tim Bretl, as a member of the Brain-Machine Interface Group, uses electroencardiogram technology to enable people to fly small fixed-wing unmanned aircrafts. Meanwhile, the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Neural Interface Technology Research and Optimization Lab is using brain-machine interfaces to enhance social media.
A New Generation of Smarter, Not Faster, Supercomputers
HPC Wire (05/19/11) Nicole Hemsoth
Exascale-level supercomputing offers much promise, but many barriers remain to taking advantage of the technology. Argonne National Lab's Rick Stevens says that although the size of the programming challenges is intimidating, power also is a major concern. A billion-processor computer, relying on current technologies, would require more than 1 gigawatt of electricity. Another barrier to exascale computing systems is general reliability, in that it will be difficult to keep the systems running for more than a few minutes at a time, Stevens says. Since boosting the power will become increasingly difficult, the role of hyper-smart cluster management software will become more critical, says Altair Engineering's Bill Nitzberg. Instead of focusing on making the next generation of supercomputers able to run on less power, there needs to be a focus on making better use of the power available, Nitzberg says. "When I think of making the future generation of computers smarter, the computer scientist in me thinks about optimization and the environmental side of me thinks about power," he says.
CHEO Research Institute Develops Secure Protocol for Data Disclosure
CHEO Research Institute (05/17/11) Isabelle Mailloux
Researchers at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute have developed a secure protocol that will enable health care providers to report diseases to public health authorities while protecting both patient privacy and provider confidentiality. The protocol uses special cryptographic techniques that enable computations to be performed on the encrypted data. Public health authorities will be able to compute infection rates over time and detect abnormalities. A "break the glass" mechanism in the system will enable public health authorities to identify and contact individual patients if there is a need to conduct an investigation in case of an outbreak. "Health care providers are less likely to make accurate reports if they feel the information could be used to evaluate them," says University of Ottawa professor Khaled El-Emam. "The new protocol can provide confidence that the identity of health care providers is protected, and removes one more barrier to effective disease surveillance." The researchers say the system also should make it easier for retail pharmacies to report over-the-counter sales data without revealing competitive store information, and schools to report absenteeism data.
Red Hot: The Computer Science Job Market
Xconomy (05/17/11) Ed Lazowska
Across the United States, new computer science graduates from strong programs are receiving extraordinary job offers, writes Ed Lazowska, who holds the Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science & Engineering (CSE) at the University of Washington. Lazowska notes that 2011 CSE graduates at the University of Washington have reported starting salaries as high as $105,000 and signing bonuses as high as $30,000. The high starting salaries are due to the recent tech industry boom as companies such as Microsoft, Amazon.com, Google, Facebook, and Zynga are aggressively hiring new graduates. In addition, Lazowska says that just about every field is starting to rely heavily on information technology, putting computer science graduates in high demand. The President's Council of Advisors on Science & Technology recently completed a report assessing the Federal Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Program. "All indicators--all historical data, and all projections--argue that [computer science] is the dominant factor in America's science and technology employment," the report says.
Robots Learn to Create Language
PhysOrg.com (05/17/11) Katie Gatto
Robots are creating their own language as part of a project involving the University of Queensland and Queensland University of Technology. Researchers have taught two robots how to speak, but have not given them a specific language. Instead, the robots are making up words for each new place they visit and thing they see. They create a word based on a random combination of syllables, then tell the other robot the word that was created, and their memory files link the word to that specific location. Called Lingodroids, the robots are currently limited to playing games and naming locations, but the researchers eventually want them to create a more complex language. The Lingodroids consist of a mobile platform that includes a camera, laser range finder, and a sonar framework that enables them to map and avoid obstacles. The robots use a microphone and speakers to talk.
A $1M Prize for the Best Product Recommendation Algorithm
GeekWire (05/15/11) John Cook
RichRelevance and Overstock.com are offering the $1 million RecLab Prize to the developer team that builds the most powerful online recommendation engine. The companies want to create advanced algorithms that help online retailers more accurately show products that individual shoppers might be interested in. "We want to advance the state of the art by enabling really smart people in academia to work on some very interesting real-world problems," says RichRelevance scientist Darren Vengroff. The prize will be awarded to the team that builds an algorithm that provides a 10 percent or greater boost over existing product recommendations on Overstock.com. Vengroff says researchers often work on the best approximations to the real world that they can find, but in many instances those situations miss key contact and feedback components. "The RecLab approach finally solves this problem by bringing their code to the data rather than releasing the data into the wild," he says.
NYU Researchers Outline Method for DNA Computation in New Book
New York University (05/16/11) James Devitt
New York University researchers Jessie Chang and Dennis Shasha co-authored "Stored Clocked Programs Inside DNA: A Simplifying Framework for Nanocomputing," which describes how to build DNA programs from which instructions can be synchronously peeled away one by one from each program. The researchers describe a method to store DNA instructions inside a chemical solution in a way that enables the computation process to run according to a global clock consisting of special strands of DNA called tick and tock. Each time a tick and tock enter a DNA tube an instruction strand is released from an instruction stack, similar to the way a clock cycle in an electronic computer causes a new instruction to enter a processing unit. As long as there continue to be strands on the stack, the next cycle will release a new instruction strand. The researchers say that regardless of the actual strand or component to be released at any particular clock step, the tick and tock strands remain the same, which serves as an automated input device and makes manual data entry obsolete.
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