Welcome to the August 17, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Virtual and Artificial, but 58,000 Want Course
New York Times (08/15/11) John Markoff
Stanford University professors are offering three online courses for free to anyone who registers for them. One of the courses, Introduction to Artificial Intelligence (AI) taught by Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig, has attracted more than 58,000 students worldwide. After months of low registration, Thrun emailed an announcement about the course to the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence's executive director Carol Hamilton, who forwarded the email widely and it went viral. "The vision is: Change the world by bringing education to places that can't be reached today," Thrun says. In addition to AI, the other courses will cover database software, taught by Stanford computer science department chairwoman Jennifer Widom, and machine learning, taught by Stanford's Andrew Ng. The classes will use the latest technology to handle the grading of the classes. The professors also will use the Google moderator service, which will enable students to vote on the best questions for the professors to respond to in an online chat and possibly video format.
Software Predicted Virus Risk in California Epidemic
Brown University (08/11/11) David Orenstein
Brown University researchers have developed DYCAST, a computerized epidemiological model that was able to predict the spread of the West Nile virus in California in 2005 with 81.6 percent accuracy. It also defined high-risk areas where the infection rate turned out to be 39 times higher than in low-risk areas. "One of the things that really differentiates DYCAST from other approaches is that it's based on biological parameters," says Brown graduate student Ryan Carney. Since the system used biology to define the geographic and temporal attributes of the model instead of county or census tract borders, the DYCAST system enabled the California Department of Public Health to provide early warnings to a wide section of the state. In 2007, Carney adapted the DYCAST model to an open source platform to track dengue fever in Brazil. With the specific parameters of that disease, DYCAST was able to predict its spread in the city of Riberao Preto in Brazil. Carney says the software can be adapted for use as an early warning system for other infectious diseases or bioterrorism attacks.
University of Minnesota Researchers Reveal Wikipedia Gender Biases
UMM News (08/11/11) Rhonda Zurn; Preston Smith
University of Minnesota researchers are studying the gender gap among Wikipedia editors, and the corresponding gender-oriented disparity in content. "Anecdotal information suggested that the smaller number of female editors may have led to a deficiency in Wikipedia's coverage of topics of particular interest to females," says Minnesota's Shyong Lam. The researchers used self-reported gender information from more than 110,000 editors from 2005 to January 2011, focusing on three broad areas related to the gender gap. The researchers found that just 16 percent of new editors joining Wikipedia during 2009 identified themselves as women, and those women made just 9 percent of the edits in 2009. The researchers found that Wikipedia's gender gap has shown no sign of closing. They also found that Wikipedia articles on topics of interest to female editors are much shorter than male articles, and overall, Wikipedia is growing in a way that is biased toward topics of interest to males. In addition, the researchers say female-edited articles are twice as likely to be about controversial topics, but that their edits are also more likely to be undone by fellow editors.
Facing up to Better Face Recognition
Researchers at Saint Petersburg Electrotechnical University and the West Pomeranian University of Technology have developed two-dimensional Canonical Correlation Analysis (CCArc) and Partial Least Squares (PLSrc), algorithms used for image matching that analyze the images' rows and columns. Traditional scanning techniques based on CCA and PLS convert an image into a small set of variables, and new image variables are compared to those in the database. The technology can be used for biometric identification on a driver's license or on a social network. The new algorithms use rows and columns to create a matrix for each image. In testing, the algorithms performed well with low-resolution images and varying lighting conditions. The researchers also have developed a practical application that can find a person's spouse given the presence of pairs of faces in single photographs.
It's All About the Team for Research in Ubiquitous Secure Technology
National Science Foundation (08/11/11)
The Team for Research in Ubiquitous Secure Technology (TRUST) is a university and industry consortium that studies cybersecurity issues related to health care, national infrastructures, law, and other issues facing the general public. "TRUST is an international flagship program that explores a multitude of cybersecurity aspects that will directly impact the future of the United States--and the planet at large," says TRUST's Suzanna Schmeelk. The cyber-Defense Technology Experimental Research (DETER) testbed conducts repeatable experiments in computer security, focusing on TRUST-related research. DETER is useful for studying aspects of traditional information security, such as integrity, availability and confidentiality. As the different techniques are combined to examine realistic scenarios using TRUST, it can be executed on DETER to obtain repeatable results. "The best parts of my personal TRUST experience have been working with the brilliant individuals associated with TRUST coupled with the avant-garde and dynamic nature of the investigated issues and solutions," Schmeelk says. TRUST also sponsors the TRUST Academy Online, a Web-based portal that provides cybersecurity education resources to researchers.
Smart Skin: Electronics That Stick and Stretch Like a Temporary Tattoo
University of Illinois News Bureau (08/11/11) Liz Ahlberg
University of Illinois researchers have developed a platform that combines electronic components for sensing, medical diagnostics, communications, and human-machine interfaces on a skin-like patch that mounts directly onto skin. The researchers demonstrated the concept through several electronic components mounted on a thin, rubbery substrate, including sensors, light-emitting diodes, transistors, radio-frequency capacitors, wireless antennas, conductive coils, and solar cells for power. The patches are initially mounted on a thin sheet of water-soluble plastic, then are laminated to the skin with water, similar to a temporary tattoo. The electronic components can be applied directly to a temporary tattoo itself. The researchers dealt with the skin's unique texture by creating a device geometry known as filamentary serpentine, in which the circuits for the various devices are fabricated as tiny, squiggled wires. When the devices are mounted on thin, soft rubber sheets, their shape enables them to bend, twist, and stretch while maintaining functionality. The researchers say the next step is to integrate the various devices so that they work together as a system and to add Wi-Fi capability.
Few Data Scientists Happy With Current State of 'Big Data' Analytics
Network World (08/10/11) Chris Nerney
Big data analytics technology is not meeting enterprise needs, according to 97 percent of data scientists polled by Revolution Analytics at the recent Joint Statistical Meeting. Approximately 200 scientists participated in the survey, which identified the inherent complexities of big data software, problems applying valid statistical models to the data, and a general lack of insight into what the data means as three obstacles to running analytics on big data. The survey offered no consensus on the definition of big data. Some data scientists said the big data threshold was a terabyte, others said a petabyte, and some said it was "just above what can be reasonably managed for any given job." Technologies used to analyze big data include cloud computing platforms, massively parallel-processing databases, the Apache Hadoop Framework, and distributed databases. Gartner recently warned that big data is "heavily weighted toward current issues and can lead to short-sighted decisions that will hamper the enterprise's information architecture as IT leaders try to expand and change it to meet changing business needs."
Creating Ag Extension Agent for Cyber
GovInfoSecurity.com (08/10/11) Eric Chabrow
Eugene Spafford, the executive director of Purdue University's Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security, is calling for the creation of a national cybersecurity extension service. Such a service would enable anyone dealing with cybersecurity threats to turn to a government agent for help. "Having a cybersecurity extension service, where people could go to get advice on how to protect their systems, how to deal with privacy breaches and break-ins, would be very valuable," Spafford says. Extension service agents would have access to federal government resources to provide advice and information on best practices. Spafford says a cybersecurity extension service could work in tandem with the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology's efforts to provide detailed guidance on cybersecurity issues. He compares the service to agriculture extension agents that provide advice to farmers and gardeners. "We have so many people that are falling victims to botnets, viruses, identity theft, and they don't really know where to turn," Spafford says. "The government has some resources that are all available at a centralized location [and] we need to do a better job there pushing education in the system out."
Is Your Technology Making You an 'Emerging Human?'
Campus Technology (08/10/11) Mary Grush
University of Queensland professor Phillip D. Long says in an interview that technology, particularly social media, may be improving humans by enhancing their inherent intellectual capabilities. "[W]hen I talk about 'emerging humans' I'm talking about how we can become even more than we have in the past in terms of our ability to connect socially with each other and help each other and improve our lives together using technologies not as a crutch or a proxy, but as an actual integrating force," Long says. For example, he cites research noting that the upper limit of social interactions a person can maintain in a way that entails close bonding is about 150, but social media technologies are beginning to expand that range, as demonstrated by the 219-person average size of Facebook communities. Such developments suggest "that we are taking advantage of this type of intermediary technology as a mechanism for extending our need for connections and ties in a way that is very human," Long says. He also cites recent data from the Pew Internet and Society studies implying that people are using these technologies to express their humanity in ways that are more deeply linked. For example, Long notes that "90 percent of the friends that we have in Facebook are friends that we consider 'close confidants' in real life."
Datacasting: What Will You Buy Tomorrow?
New Scientist (08/10/11) Jim Giles; Peter Aldhous
Forecasters increasingly are employing sophisticated tools to analyze vast volumes of data to make predictions. To test the latest forecasting technology, New Scientist recently recruited teams of researchers to predict the magazine's future sales. New York University researchers Max Sklar and Matthew Rathbone started by identifying and extrapolating long-term trends in the magazine's sales. They developed a method for adjusting the predictions based on the seasonal variation in the sales, and the team's prediction was within 1,000 copies of the actual figure. George Mason University's Robin Hanson developed a prediction market in the 1990s that relies on collating human judgment, and he set up a prediction market with New Scientist staff. The staff's collective decisions would drive the share price of an issue up or down, and the closing price each week was used to predict how well that issue would sell. Hanson's prediction market technique got results similar to the New York University team. Finally, the New Scientist used Amazon's Mechanical Turk method to commission workers to predict the magazine sales. The "turkers" were no more accurate than the other methods.
Georgia Tech Partnerships Support State K-12 STEM Education
Georgia Institute of Technology (08/10/11) Lisa Grovenstein
Georgia Tech is partnering with local K-12 schools to promote science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education in Georgia. For example, Teach for Georgia, a partnership between Georgia Tech, the Okefenokee Regional Educational Services Agency (RESA), and the Ware and Dougherty county school districts, is a teacher pipeline program modeled after Teach for America that is using a $1 million grant to recruit Georgia Tech STEM majors to teach in rural Georgia school districts. "Teach for Georgia will address two of our primary concerns: the shortage of necessary funds available to hire new teachers and the ability to attract new STEM graduates to these communities," says Georgia Tech's Donna Llewellyn. The Direct to Discovery (D2D) program will use a $270,000 grant to support a collaboration between Barrow County and Georgia Tech to bring higher-education instruction to K-12 students using a high-definition videoconferencing platform. Georgia Tech also is partnering with Georgia State University and Drew Charter School to establish the state's first science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics program.
Input/Output: The Economics of Database Searching
University of Glasgow (United Kingdom) (08/10/11) Stuart Forsyth
University of Glasgow researchers are using production theory from microeconomics to study the process of searching the Internet or any other database system. The researchers are seeking search strategies that efficiently find several relevant documents. "Being able to answer such questions is important for interactive information retrieval because while behavioral and observational studies have been conducted, there is a lack of formal theory to explain why such observations are witnessed," says Glasgow's Leif Azzopardi. The researchers conducted an analysis that varied the way in which a simulated user interacted with three types of database search methods, including BM25, Boolean, and term frequency-inverse document frequency (TFIDF). The researchers were able to identify which search strategies users of different retrievals system should use by applying production theory from economics. Azzopardi found that BM25 systems supported a greater variety of search strategies than Boolean or TFIDF. "This work provides the foundations on which to build formal methods for describing, understanding, and explaining the interactions between a user and system," Azzopardi says.
Phone Losing Charge? Technology Created by UCLA Engineers Allows LCDs to Recycle Energy
University of California, Los Angeles (08/09/2011) Matthew Chin; Wileen Wong Kromhout
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) researchers have created an energy-harvesting polarizer for liquid crystal displays (LCDs) that enables them to collect and recycle energy to power electronic devices. The photovoltaic polarizers can convert ambient light, such as sunlight and their own backlight, into electricity. It can boost the function of an LCD by simultaneously working as a polarizer, a photovoltaic device, and an ambient light photovoltaic panel. "In addition, these polarizers can also be used as regular solar cells to harvest indoor or outdoor light," says UCLA professor Yang Yang. "So next time you are on the beach, you could charge your iPhone via sunlight." Up to 75 percent of a typical device's backlight energy is lost through polarizers, but the UCLA polarizing organic photovoltaic LCD can recover much of that unused energy. "I believe this is a game-changer invention to improve the efficiency of LCD displays," Yang says. "In the near future, we would like to increase the efficiency of the polarizing organic photovoltaics, and eventually we hope to work with electronic manufacturers to integrate our technology into real products."
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