Welcome to the November 14, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Google's Lab of Wildest Dreams
New York Times (11/14/11) Claire Cain Miller; Nick Bilton
Google X is a top-secret lab where Google researchers are focusing on 100 blue-sky concepts, including reportedly the U.S. manufacture of driverless cars, space elevators that collect information or transport things into space, and fleets of robots that could aid Google with information gathering. Other concepts the lab is concentrating on include methods for linking everyday objects to the Web in an Internet of things. Google X reflects Google's aim to be a hub of groundbreaking research and development, and Google's Jill Hazelbaker says speculative project investment is a key component of Google's makeup. "While the possibilities are incredibly exciting, please do keep in mind that the sums involved are very small by comparison to the investments we make in our core businesses," she says. Google X is staffed by roboticists and electrical engineers hired from Microsoft, Carnegie Mellon University, Nokia Labs, Stanford University, New York University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Stanford professor Sebastian Thrun, who invented the world's first driverless car, is one of the lab's research leaders, as is fellow Stanford professor Andrew Ng, who specializes in teaching robots and machines to function like people via the application of neuroscience to artificial intelligence.
Will U.S. Be Origin of Next Big Thing?
USA Today (11/10/11) Jon Swartz
Several initiatives recently were launched to foster technological innovation and counter a lack of technology graduates, low high school science and math scores, and declining government funding. For example, the foundation of PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel has awarded grants of $100,000 each to 20 entrepreneurs under 20 years of age to help pursue scientific and technical ideas, and the U.S. National Science Foundation has created Innovation Corps, an incubator for 100 of its leading teams of scientists to encourage a startup culture. "This should be the best time ever for innovation in the U.S.," says SRI International CEO Curt Carlson. "We have an abundance of opportunity in energy, health care, [information technology], media--all of which are all in transition." Although the U.S. government provided $147 billion for research and development (R&D) last year, according to the Congressional Research Service, that support has fallen by nearly two-thirds as a share of the U.S. economy since the 1960s, says Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.). "Without large-scale funding, you don't get large telescopes, fusion-energy development, and particle accelerators," Holt says. Others say the U.S. must do a better job of attracting and retaining the world's best minds.
HTML5: A Look Behind the Technology Changing the Web
Wall Street Journal (11/11/11) Don Clark
HTML5 is catching on as the online community embraces it. The programming standard allows data to be stored on a user's computer or mobile device so that Web apps can function without an Internet link. HTML5 also enables Web pages to boast jazzier images and effects, while objects can move on Web pages and respond to cursor movements. Audio is played without a plug-in on HTML5, and interactive three-dimensional effects can be created using a computer's graphics processor via WebGL technology. In addition, video can be embedded in a Web page without a plug-in, and interactive games can operate with just a Web browser without installing other software or plug-ins. Silicon Valley investor Roger McNamee projects that HTML5 will enable artists, media firms, and advertisers to differentiate their Web offerings in ways that were previously impractical. Binvisions.com reports that about one-third of the 100 most popular Web sites used HTML5 in the quarter that ended in September. Google, Microsoft, the Mozilla Foundation, and Opera Software are adding momentum to HTML5 by building support for the standard into their latest Web browsers.
IDC Report Bullish on Heterogeneous Computing
HPC Wire (11/09/11) Michael Feldman
Heterogeneous computing is going mainstream and will be indispensable for achieving exascale computing, according to a recent International Data Corp. (IDC) report. Factors such as system cost, energy efficiency, and space limitations have driven users to increasingly adopt more compute-efficient graphics processing units (GPUs). Those same issues will make heterogeneous computing the basis of exascale systems by 2020, according to IDC. Meanwhile, GPUs and accelerator technology are moving from experimental use into more mainstream production work, according to the study. This can be seen as three of the top 10 supercomputers in the world currently use GPUs, a number that is expected to grow as more U.S supercomputers, such as the U.S. Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Titan and the Texas Advanced Computing Center's Stampede, come online during the next 12 to 18 months. IDC's report notes that x86 technology is still advancing and likely will remain as a complementary central-processing unit technology.
Today, the Internet--Tomorrow, the Internet of Things?
Computerworld (11/09/11) Lamont Wood
Industry analysts have long predicted the Internet of Things (IoT), in which anything with intelligence (such as roads and buildings) has an online presence and generates data that can be put to use. "In the coming years, anything that has an on-off switch will be on the network," says Cisco futurist Dave Evans. "We are seeing it across every industry,” says Microsoft's Kevin Dallas, “and we will start to see the results in the next two to three years." In China, Premier Wen Jiabao has made the IoT a national goal, according to Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Edmund W. Schuster. "The Chinese see it as fundamental part of a harmonious society, especially as it would make services easier to coordinate in dense cities," Schuster says. A key to the continued development of the IoT is the spread of Internet Protocol version 6, which Evans says offers enough potential Internet addresses to give everything on Earth its own address. However, he says the limiting factors are the cost, wireless bandwidth, business strategies, and the ability of humans to absorb that much information. In addition, IoT devices will need new user interfaces that must be easy to use, says Compass Intelligence's Kneko Burney. Privacy also will be a major issue.
NIST Signs Agreement to Enhance Cybersecurity Education Programs
National Institute of Standards and Technology (11/08/11) Evelyn Brown
Formal cybersecurity education will be the focus of a new public-private partnership developed by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the Department of Education, and the National Cybersecurity Education Council (NCEC). Cybersecurity education will be promoted through K-12th grade, higher education, and vocational programs to provide the private sector and government with skilled cybersecurity workers. The partnership will develop innovative cybersecurity programs to help the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) meet a top priority to "broaden the pool of skilled workers capable of supporting a cyber-secure nation." As part of the strategic partnership, NIST, the Department of Education, and NCEC will work with their state and local counterparts. NCEC is a new organization that comprises 67 organizations, industry, academia, and individuals, including many of the nation's largest computer groups. NCEC's first task will be to build a baseline listing of formal cybersecurity activities operating across the U.S., which help NICE and others identify potential partners and address any gaps.
Programming for Children, Minus Cryptic Syntax
New York Times (11/09/11) Peter Wayner
New and sophisticated tools are changing the way that children learn to program computers, enabling them to create elaborate scenes and games without the cryptic commands of professional programming languages. For example, Scratch, a programming language developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is effective with children because it encourages collaboration. A similar tool called Alice, developed at Carnegie Mellon University, gives children the command of three-dimensional (3D) characters. Alice emphasizes logical thinking and works around coding errors that occur with a misspelling or a misplaced comma, which usually stop programs from functioning properly. Tools such as Scratch and Alice are known as gateway programming languages because they offer simple introductions into how to organize software. Older students can learn the computer languages used by professionals to build Web sites and databases. Languages that control how Web pages arrange information are some of the most accessible because they provide more control over where words and images are positioned. Many of the adult languages also have simplified versions for beginners. For example, the Ruby language has KidsRuby and Basic has Just Basic. And Blender 3D, which is used to create 3D images, is based on the Python professional computer language.
Stanford Team Trains Computer to Evaluate Breast Cancer
Stanford University (11/09/11) Andrew Myers
Stanford University researchers have developed Computational Pathologist (C-Path), a machine learning-based method for automatically analyzing images of cancerous tissues and predicting patient survival. To train C-Path, the researchers used existing tissue samples taken from patients whose prognosis was known. By comparing new results against the known data, the software learned those features that can better predict survival. In total, C-Path assesses 6,642 cellular factors before determining the chance of patient survival. In testing, C-Path produced results that were a statistically significant improvement over human-based evaluation. "We built a model based on features of the stroma--the microenvironment between cancer cells--that was a stronger predictor of outcome than one built exclusively from features of epithelial cells," says Stanford Ph.D. candidate Andrew Beck. The researchers say the development of computers that can evaluate cancers will bring world-class pathology to underserved areas where trained professionals have traditionally been scarce, improving the prognosis and treatment of breast cancer for millions in developing areas of the world.
Galaxy DNA-Analysis Software Is Now Available in the Cloud
Penn State Live (11/08/11) Barbara Kennedy
Penn State University researchers have made Galaxy, an open source, Web-based platform for data-intensive biomedical and genetic research, available as a cloud computing resource. The researchers say the technology could help scientists and biomedical researchers harness tools such as DNA sequencing and analysis software, as well as storage capacity for large quantities of scientific data. Galaxy "combines the power of existing genome-annotation databases with a simple Web portal to enable users to search remote resources, combine data from independent queries, and visualize the results," according to the researchers, who are led by Penn State professor Anton Nekrutenko. Galaxy also allows other researchers to be able to review the steps that have been taken, for example, in the analysis of a string of genetic code. "Rather than run Galaxy on one's own computer or use Penn State's servers to access Galaxy, now a researcher can harness the power of the cloud, which allows almost unlimited computing power," Nekrutenko says.
Pitt Researchers Develop eButton, an Easier Way to Monitor Food Intake, Exercise, and Lifestyle
University of Pittsburgh News (11/07/11) B. Rose Huber
A wearable, monitoring system developed at the University of Pittsburgh will make it easier for people to track their daily food intake as they attempt to lose weight. The device, called the eButton, is designed to be worn on the chest, and consists of a miniature camera, an accelerometer, a global positioning system, and other sensors for capturing data and information on health activities. The Pittsburgh team took a multidisciplinary approach by extending the eButton's reporting beyond food intake and exercise regimen to include lifestyle choices, such as time spent sitting in front of the TV, computer, or outside. "We have to take into account how people live, not only what they eat or how they exercise at the gym," says Pittsburgh professor Mingui Sun. The researchers note that retrieving results from the eButton is as easy as transferring pictures from a digital camera to a computer. The data is coded and cannot be read until scanned by a computer to block human faces and protect the privacy of the user. The eButton prototype currently is being used in a pilot study to estimate participants' caloric intake and physical activity levels.
In a Smart-System World, Data's 'the New Currency'
EE Times (11/07/11) R. Colin Johnson
Modern smart systems produce billions of streams of real-time data, and analytics science is creating services that have even more value than the smart systems themselves. These cyberphysical systems will eventually make up 50 percent of all electronics worldwide, making them a U.S. strategic asset, according to the U.S. President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recently announced a standardization effort to define interfaces for interoperability, as well as metrics and methods for measuring and comparing performance among smart systems. The most valuable services performed by these smart systems result from the application of analytics to real-time data streams, according to International Data Corp. NIST and the U.S. National Science Foundation's Institute for Systems Research are planning to take an integrated approach to developing a common design methodology for smart systems. "Right now, smart systems are being manufactured on the stovepipe model; the folks constructing the smart grid, smart buildings, and smart transportation are each coming up with independent solutions to their own application domain, without standardizing on the common issues of safety, resilience, security, and interoperability," says NIST's Shyam Sunder.
Paper Uncovers Power of Foldit Gamers' Strategies
UW News (WA) (11/07/11) Sally James
University of Washington researchers recently completed a study that examined Foldit players' strategies and compared them to the best-known scientist-developed methods for protein folding. "Once we looked at the variety and creativity of these recipes, we were shocked to find state-of-the-art algorithms," says Center for Game Science director Zoran Popovic. The researchers studied the most effective formal algorithms the players used to solve protein structure puzzles, which enabled them to formalize strategies and apply them to other scientific problems, says Baker Lab's Firas Khatib. "With our previous papers, we proved that a scientific-discovery game can solve long-standing scientific problems, but this paper shows how gamers codified their strategies, shared them, and improved them," says Center for Game Science's Seth Cooper. "This is just the beginning of what Foldit players are capable of solving." One of the most successful algorithms, called Blue Fuse (BF), was extremely good at energy optimization and was very similar to a scientist-built but unpublished algorithm from Baker Lab. The researchers also found that Foldit users, including BF's author, are very willing to share ideas.
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