Welcome to the October 21, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
High Demand for Science Graduates Enables Them to Pick Their Jobs, Report Says
Chronicle of Higher Education (10/20/11) Paul Basken
Science and engineering graduates are in high demand in a wide variety of fields, and many English-speaking science graduates are taking jobs in nonscience fields, which is leading to a labor shortfall, according to a recent Georgetown University report. The report is a follow-up to a 2009 Georgetown University study, which found that although U.S. universities produce plenty of science and engineering graduates, less than half went on to work in those fields. The new report, from Georgetown's Center on Education and the Workforce, found that graduates with bachelor's degrees in a science major are commanding a greater salary than those with a master's degree in a nonscience major. The researchers, led by Georgetown professor Anthony P. Carnevale, found that many science graduates take jobs in areas such as sales, marketing, and health care. The training and expertise of science graduates gives them that flexibility, Carnevale says. In fact, he notes that a narrower education in a scientific field may give graduates more flexibility than a liberal arts education. "The technical foundation is worth even more than we thought," Carnevale says.
Carnegie Mellon Develops Touchscreen Technology That Distinguishes Taps by Different Parts of Finger
Carnegie Mellon News (PA) (10/19/11) Byron Spice
Carnegie Mellon University researchers have developed TapSense, a system that combines a microphone with a touchscreen to distinguish the difference between the tap of a fingertip, the pad of the finger, a fingernail, and a knuckle. "TapSense basically doubles the input bandwidth for a touchscreen," says Carnegie Mellon Ph.D. student Chris Harrison. He says TapSense is particularly useful for smaller touchscreens. "TapSense can tell the difference between different parts of the finger by classifying the sounds they make when they strike the touchscreen," says Carnegie Mellon Ph.D. student Julia Schwarz. The technology can also tell the difference between passive tools made from materials such as wood, acrylic, and polystyrene foam, which would enable users with styluses made from different materials to work together on the same surface. During testing, the researchers found that the TapSense system could distinguish between the four types of finger inputs with 95 percent accuracy, and could distinguish between a pen and a finger with 99 percent accuracy.
Big Data Rains Down on Seattle
HPC Wire (10/20/11) Nicole Hemsoth
Data-intensive science will be a key focus of the upcoming International Conference for
High Performance Computing, Networking, Storage and Analysis (SC11), with presentations and sessions concentrating on challenges and new developments derived from big data and technical or scientific computing. An overall perspective of data-intensive computing will be presented by the University of Chicago's Robert Grossman and the Open Data Group's Collin Bennett, with references to utility clouds and data clouds, as well as an introduction to managing scientific datasets using distributed file systems. Another workshop will provide a comprehensive overview on the expansion of data-intensive applications and demonstrate how cloud computing and similar trends are becoming a way to accommodate the peak loads and big data needs of emerging apps. Visualization's modeling milestones will be presented through the Scientific Visualization Showcase, and some instructional sessions will touch on various elements of large-scale data analysis and visualization, including a tutorial for utilizing the ParaView open source visualization and analysis application, which enables visualization of large data sets in parallel.
Kurzweil Responds: Don't Underestimate the Singularity
Technology Review (10/19/11) Ray Kurzweil
Paul Allen and a colleague recently challenged inventor and author Ray Kurzweil's prediction that computers will soon surpass human intelligence, an event known as the Singularity. In a rebuttal, Kurzweil writes that Allen's claim that computer technology's evolution is inherently unpredictable is not true because it is "being pursued by a sufficiently dynamic system of competitive projects that a basic measure such as instructions per second per constant dollar follows a very smooth exponential path going back to the 1890 American census." Despite regular predictions that Moore's Law will hit a physical wall, Kurzweil notes that Intel and other chipmakers are approaching a sixth paradigm of computing technology, which involves three-dimensional computing to sustain exponential improvement in price performance. He predicts that the sixth paradigm will maintain the persistence of the Law of Accelerating Returns in respect to computer price performance to a point where $1,000 of computation will be trillions of times more powerful than the human brain. Kurzweil also takes issue with Allen's dismissal of IBM's Watson supercomputer as narrow, rigid, and fragile, pointing out that the machine deals with a massive spectrum of human knowledge and is capable of managing linguistic subtleties such as puns, similes, and metaphors.
Piecing Together the Priceless "Cairo Genizah"
American Friends of Tel Aviv University (10/18/11)
Tel Aviv University researchers have developed software based on facial recognition technology that can identify digitized pieces of disjointed ancient texts and make the works whole. The researchers are applying the technology to the Cairo Genizah, which is spread out among 70 institutions worldwide. As part of the Friedberg Genizah Project, Tel Aviv professors Lior Wolf and Nachum Dershowitz are using the software to examine the features of the writing itself, such as handwriting, the physical properties of the page, and the spacing between lines of writing. "Its big advantage is that it doesn't tire after examining thousands of fragments," Dershowitz says. After just a few months of research, the Tel Aviv team has been able to make about 1,000 confirmed connections between different fragments of the text. The researchers are also using their program to reconstruct the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Chatbots Fail to Convince Judges That They're Human
New Scientist (10/20/11) Paul Marks
The four chatbots competing in the final round for the Loebner Prize in Artificial Intelligence at the University of Exeter were very disappointing. The contest implements the Turing Test by having judges sit at computer terminals and decide whether a human or chatbot is talking. Judges were able to determine chatbots were talking after only three or four lines of chat, sometimes less, and the chatbots often delivered irrelevant, off-the-wall responses. Bruce Wilcox's Rosette took first place, Adeena Mignona's Zoe was second, third place went to Mohan Embar's ChipVivant, and Ron Lee's Tutor was fourth. Rollo Carpenter's CleverBot, which learns to converse like a human from crowdsourced online conversations, did not make the final. Carpenter had to enter a limited version of CleverBot for the selection round, and he says the full version would have easily handled unexpected questions. One judge wants to replace the traditional text-based, linguistics-centered Turing test with a computer intelligence test that considers the contribution of human vision systems to intelligence.
Thought-Controlled Computers May Soon Be a Reality
Computerworld (10/19/11) Lucas Mearian
Wadsworth Center's Gerwin Schalk, speaking at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Emerging Technology Conference, demonstrated how close real-time human-computer interface technology is to becoming a reality. Schalk noted that neurotechnology--a $145 billion market that is growing 9 percent annually--already has reached several important milestones in human-computer symbiosis. He said researchers are currently working with the brain's alpha waves to create systems that can be used to communicate directly with computers. In one demonstration, Schalk showed video of a patient shooting monsters in a computer game using nothing but thoughts. Schalk also showed how a computer can tell the difference between someone thinking of different sounds, and how a computer can detect the sound level of music a person is listening to and track it over time. Schalk noted that two major hurdles to real-time thought-controlled computers is the development of better sensors to detect alpha waves and better ways to identify the brain's signals. "Direct computer interaction with the brain has the potential to become a general purpose technology ... at the same scale at information technology, computing, and the telephone," he said.
At Popcorn Hackathon, Coders Team With Filmmakers to Supercharge Web Video
Wired News (10/20/11) Angela Watercutter
Filmmakers and programmers recently embarked on a two-day creative collaboration to explore the future of Web video using Popcorn.js, Mozilla's HTML5 media toolkit designed to enhance interactivity. "The purpose of these two days was to bring together six Web developers and six filmmaking teams ... to produce what we're calling the proof-of-concept or the minimum viable product of the germs of the concepts that these filmmakers had for how to bring the ideas of the connected documentary into their projects," says Mozilla's Brett Gaylor. He says Popcorn.js could be a boon for Internet video developers because it is a simple framework that enables filmmakers to add news feeds, Twitter posts, informational windows, and other videos to their projects, which will show up in a picture-in-picture style. Popcorn-powered videos work in any HTML5-compatible browser and are designed to be easy to navigate for anyone who has used the Internet. "Popcorn is the most developer-friendliest library for making it super-simple to make a read-only experience, which is what HTML5 video really is," says Rick Waldron, one of Popcorn.js' lead developers. The Popcorn tools also could lead to more interactive online experiences for videos, movies, and documentaries.
Robot Strawberry Pickers
National Physical Laboratory (United Kingdom) (10/19/11)
National Physical Laboratory (NPL) researchers have developed an imaging technology that can identify the ripeness of strawberries before they are picked. The researchers say that incorporating the technology into fruit-picking robots could reduce food waste and improve productivity. The software has been designed to learn based on past experience, so it could be adapted for other crops. The NPL technology uses radio frequencies, microwaves, terahertz, and the far-infra red, which all have the potential to safely penetrate a food crop's outer layers and identify whether it meets the pre-determined standards for ripeness. The researchers first modified a microwave measurement system to analyze the structure of various crops. The data was incorporated into an algorithm, which enables the technology to provide the relevant information from a single measurement. The imaging technology also can be used for other applications, such as waste management, where it could differentiate between plastics, paper, and wood.
Does Future Hold 'Avatar'-Like Bodies for Us?
MSNBC (10/17/11) Jeremy Hsu
Transcending humanity's biological constraints was the theme of the recent Singularity Summit, where an optimistic perception of technology's ability to reconfigure the world to surpass mankind's wildest aspirations was pronounced. The most immediate innovations discussed at the event related to regenerative medicine's ability to help humans live longer and better, and thus far success has come from employing the extracellular matrix to function as a biological framework for healthy cells to build upon. "What we're talking about here is not necessarily increasing the quantity of life but the quality of life," says Stephen Badylak of the University of Pittsburgh's McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. The Pacific Research Institute's Sonia Arrison speculates that medical advances addressing end-of-life chronic diseases could increase life expectancy in the United States nearly twofold to 150 years. Meanwhile, media mogul Dmitry Itskov presented plans that include creating a humanoid avatar body into which a human brain can be transplanted, digitally uploading a human brain's consciousness, and transferring human consciousness to hologram-like bodies.
Virginia Tech Cybersecurity Breakthrough Keeps Sensitive Data Confined in Physical Space, Engineering Team Says
Virginia Tech News (10/17/11)
Virginia Tech researchers have developed new security features that can remotely place smartphones under lockdown. The software enables smartphones to access sensitive data when the user is in a particular room, but wipes the data completely from the phone once the user leaves the room. The software also provides central control of phone features for preventing a smartphone's camera or email from working. Virginia Tech professor Jules White says the system is unique in that it places physical boundaries around information in cyberspace. "There are commercial products that do limited versions of these things, but nothing that allows for automating wiping and complete control of settings and apps on smart phones and tablets," White says. The researchers say the technology would enable intelligence authorities to not worry about lost or stolen smartphones or tablet computers, and doctors and nurses would not be able to walk out of an examination room with patient information or take photos of patients and put them on the Internet. The technology also would enable parents to block their children from sexting.
A Prototype of Pivot Searching
IEEE Spectrum (10/17/11) Charles Q. Choi
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign researchers are developing YouPivot, a Google Chrome Web browser extension that helps users relive the past to search for lost data by mimicking how the human memory works. The researchers say that YouPivot tracks everything a user was doing on a computer at a given moment, and could be especially useful as more and more data makes it harder to recall specific information. "Ideally, the YouPivot system would be built as part of an [operating system] such as Apple OS X, or Google Chrome, or Windows," says Illinois researcher Joshua Hailpern. YouPivot can work in conjunction with TimeMarks, another Chrome browser extension, to enable users to bookmark specific points in time. The programs are designed to draw on cloud-based data, enabling users to search their personal history on multiple computers, regardless of location. YouPivot builds on Microsoft Research's MyLifeBits project, which is designed to digitally capture all of a person's life history. "We are excited to see YouPivot bring pivoting ideas previously only found in research demos to market and predict that this space will see tremendous growth in this decade," says Microsoft Research's Jim Gemmell.
New Project to Tackle Data Deluge: EUDAT--Towards a Pan-European Collaborative Data Infrastructure
CSC-IT Center for Science (10/11/11)
The recently launched EUDAT project aims to provide Europe's scientific and research communities with a sustainable European-wide infrastructure for improved access to scientific data. EUDAT consists of 25 European partners, including data centers, technology providers, research communities, and funding agencies from 13 countries that will work together to develop a collaborative data infrastructure. "We aim to develop a generic infrastructure for scientific data management that can used by a diversity of research communities and existing infrastructures," says EUDAT project coordinator Kimmo Koski. EUDAT's Peter Wittenburg notes that "beyond offering common services such as data hosting and preservation, EUDAT is paving the way towards integrated and interoperable access to data and, in doing so, will facilitate new science and allow efficient knowledge creation." In addition to national data solutions for data storage, access, and preservation, a new interoperability layer also is needed, says CSC's Pirjo-Leena Forsstrom. "EUDAT will foster interoperability, helping to establish common approaches that will make collaboration a lot easier," Forsstrom says.
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