Welcome to the March 30, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
White House Shares $200 Million Big Data Plan
InformationWeek (03/29/12) Nicholas J. Hoover
The Obama administration announced plans to spend $200 million on a big data initiative for research and development into technologies for accessing, storing, visualizing, and analyzing massive and complicated data sets. The initiative includes commitments from several federal agencies to develop technologies that manipulate and manage big data. "While the private sector will take the lead on big data, we believe that the government can play an important role, funding big data research, launching a big data workforce, and using big data approaches to make progress on key national challenges," says Office of Science and Technology Policy director John Holdren. The U.S. agencies working on the initiative include the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Department of Defense (DoD), the Department of Energy, and the U.S. Geological Survey. NSF and NIH will award up to $25 million in funding for as many as 20 research projects designed to advance core scientific and technological means of managing, analyzing, visualizing, and extracting information from large data sets. Meanwhile, DoD plans to spend about $250 million annually on the XDATA program, which aims to develop computational techniques and software tools for analyzing large, unstructured data sets.
IT Jobs Will Grow 22% Through 2020, Says U.S.
Computerworld (03/29/12) Patrick Thibodeau
The expansion of healthcare technology and mobile networks in the U.S. will increase demand for software developers, support technicians, and systems analysts so much so that by 2020, employment in all computer occupations is expected to increase by 22 percent, according to the biennial update of employment projections by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Demand for software developers will be the strongest during this period, with increases reaching as high as 32 percent, depending on the type of software developed. Demand for database administrators is expected to increase 31 percent, while employment for information technology (IT) managers is projected to increase 18 percent by 2020. Growth in the healthcare industry and the need for more IT security may spur an increase in the number IT management jobs, and "cloud computing may shift some IT services to computer systems design and related services firms, concentrating jobs in that industry," according to BLS. Employment for computer systems analysts is expected to grow by 22 percent, demand for computer programmers will increase just 12 percent, BLS predicts, which notes it is the occupation most vulnerable to offshoring.
Russia Sets Its Sights on Exascale
HPC Wire (03/27/12) Michael Feldman
The Russian government intends to invest $1.5 billion this decade to develop at least one exascale supercomputing system by 2020, according to T-Platforms' Alexey Komkov. The Russian exascale program bundles everything from education and research to middleware and applications to interconnects and high-performance microprocessors. The latter is critical to Russia because technology strictures still prevent the nation from importing the latest central processing units from the West if they are intended for defense industry or nuclear lab systems. Some of the money budgeted for exascale development will be invested in a new national microelectronics center. Overall, the Russian exascale program is being diffused across several nonprofit and for-profit organizations, including the Russian Academy of Sciences, T-Platforms, and RosAtom. Areas of exascale application are more narrowly concentrated in Russia than they are in Western nations, with their core focus on strategically vital sectors, notably the defense and energy industries. In contrast, major U.S. government agencies have exascale projects underway, but no single entity is coordinating the different initiatives. Indiana University's Thomas Sterling says Russia's 2020 timeframe for the deployment of an exaflops machine may be too optimistic.
DARPA's Space Programming Challenge Kicks Off Today
CCC Blog (03/28/12) Erwin Gianchandani
The development of a fuel-optimal control algorithm for autonomous space object capture is the focus of a new U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) contest. DARPA launched the Zero Robotics Autonomous Space Capture Challenge because gravity is a significant problem for precision robotic maneuvering and operations in space, and the agency believes algorithms could simultaneously compensate for this issue and direct precision operations. The challenge will consist of four week-long computer-based rounds, and participating programmers will collaborate via the Zero Robotics Web site to create an algorithm that will be programmed into bowling-ball sized satellites called Synchronized Position, Hold, Engage, and Reorient Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) aboard the International Space Station (ISS). An object will be set in motion inside ISS under varying conditions, and the algorithm will need to direct the SPHERES satellite to approach the moving object and orient itself to contact with the object via Velcro on the SPHERES satellites. Seventy-five teams already have signed up for the competition. "If a programming team can solve this challenge of autonomous space object capture, it could not only benefit the Phoenix program directly but potentially any space servicing system in the future," says DARPA's Dave Barnhart.
New Search Tool to Unlock Wikipedia
New Scientist (03/28/12) Paul Marks
Researchers at the University of Cagliari and the University of California, Los Angeles have developed Swipe, a prototype plug-in that can help Wikipedia users answer complex questions that are problematic for most search engines. The researchers say Swipe is designed for everyday users and does not require knowing a database query language. The researchers wrote the software using MediaWiki, the same software that Wikipedia is based on, but it draws its answers from DBpedia, a collection of 3.6 million data entries taken from Wikipedia's pages. Swipe enables users to take the data and create a tweaked version, calling up pages that match the altered information. Cagliari's Maurizio Atzori notes Swipe could easily be made available as an option on Wikipedia. "I like the idea because of its simplicity and the way it uses familiar Wikipedia info boxes to construct powerful queries," says University of Southampton's Nigel Shadbolt. "If we could build a query engine that's usable by all, that would be a real winner."
9 Million Bicycles, But What About the Cars in Beijing?
A new algorithm could enable traffic planners in Beijing to optimize the flow of traffic across roundabouts. Motor vehicle traffic has become a big problem in Beijing, and Hebei United University's Nan Ji is modeling traffic flow to determine the largest traffic capacity through roundabouts. The algorithm, developed by Ji and colleagues at the Tangshan Tanggang Expressway Management Office and Tian Jin Polytechnic University, can show the effects of using traffic signals in different modes or disabling traffic controls altogether. The algorithm also can show the impact of strategies to divert traffic away from roundabouts during times of heavy congestion. In its effort to optimize traffic flow, the team considered how to judge what controls might be needed for traffic volume, how delays at each entry and exit point might be balanced for the smoothest flow, and how controlled flow compares with roundabouts that do not have traffic signals. During tests on a simulated roundabout in the city, the team could reduce delays to 11 seconds at the entry point with the judicious timing of traffic signals.
Electronics: A Faster Model for Speedier Circuits
A*STAR Research (03/28/12)
A*STAR Institute for High Performance Computing researchers say they have developed an efficient modeling technique that significantly decreases the amount of computing time needed to relay signals between electronic components. They note that there are two basic approaches to simulating the power and signal integrity of a wire network, one of which is to use exact equations to describe the power and supply networks, and the other approach involves using numerical methods. The A*STAR researchers used a hybrid approach to combine the benefits of analytical and computational models. They were able to include the signaling network, as well as loads attached to the circuit board. The model was tested on a case comprised of a multilayer circuit board that included multiple ground plates, signal traces, and vias linking different layers, and capacitors decoupling different power supply circuits. Both the new hybrid model and a numerical finite element model were used to calculate the reaction of the circuit board to input signals with frequencies up to 20 GHz. The hybrid model needed just 48 seconds of central processing unit time and 0.71 MB of computer memory to run, versus 1,960 seconds and 74.2 MB for the finite element approach.
Algorithm Spells the End for Professional Musical Instrument Tuners
Technology Review (03/27/12)
University of Wurzburg researcher Hay Hinrichsen says he has developed an algorithm that makes it possible for electronic tuners to match the performance of the best human tuners. Hinrichsen's algorithm involves a process known as entropy minimization. First, Hinrichsen uses the equal temperament method and then divides the audio spectrum with a resolution that matches the human ear. The method then measures the entropy in the system and applies a small random change to the frequency of a note and measures the entropy again. Hinrichsen says the algorithm is comparable to the work of a professional tuner. He notes that the software can be added to the features of relatively inexpensive electronic tuners. "The implementation of the method is very easy," Hinrichsen says.
A Computer Screen You Can Fold
University of Toronto (03/26/12) Allyson Rowley
University of Toronto researchers have developed a less-expensive method of making flat-panel displays that could lead to computer screens that can be rolled up like a newspaper and wallpaper that lights up a room. The researchers, led by Michael Helander and Zhibin Wang, say they have developed the world's most efficient organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) on flexible plastic. They say the technology is a less costly, more efficient, and environmentally friendly way to build brighter flat-panel displays on a thinner, more durable and flexible surface. “It was a happy accident after years of work,” says Helander, who has been working on the project for four years with Wang Toronto professor Zheng-Hong Lu. OLED technology uses organic compounds to create colors. The organic dyes are electrically stimulated to emit different colors of light. Although the technology has existed for 25 years, Helander says it became increasingly complicated and expensive. “Basically, we went back to the original idea--and started again,” he says. Helander says keeping the design simple is the only way to make the manufacturing process cost effective on a mass scale.
Can Voice Software Tell When a Scam Is Afoot?
MSNBC (03/23/12) Matt Liebowitz
Researchers at Nagoya University and Fujitsu have developed software that analyzes the pitch of a user's voice and determines if somebody is trying to commit a scam over the phone. The software examines subtle signs in the intended victim's speech that the victim might not be aware of. It is based on principles covered in a 2009 study by the Japan Science and Technology Agency, which found that a person's speech patterns and intonation flattens and becomes less distinct when psychologically stressful information is conveyed to that person over the phone. "When overwhelmed with information that may be distressing, some individuals, without knowing it, may have a diminished capacity to objectively evaluate information provided by another party--a situation known as 'overtrust,'" according to Fujitsu. The technology detects the pitch and voice level changes that indicate overtrust, and put victims at risk of phone phishing scams. The software also uses a checklist, provided by the National Police Academy, of keywords often used in phone scams and counts the number of times the perpetrator uses these words. The researchers are now testing software to evaluate its use and effectiveness in real world situations.
Designing Human-Like Robots
Science World (03/23/12) Rick Pantaleo
University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Bilge Mutlu's research involves taking characteristics of human behavior and replicating them in robots or animatronic characters. Mutlu is developing several algorithms based on how people communicate without words, which are being used to program robots to look and act more like humans. Mutlu says nonverbal cues tell people where our attention is focused and what we mean when we direct a question or comment in a conversation. He is particularly interested in how a person's gaze impacts communication. “It turns out that gaze tells us all sorts of things about attention, about mental states, about roles in conversations,” Mutlu says. He is leading a research team that uses a computational approach to convert these nonverbal cues into data and language that can be used by a robot. The researchers break down each human cue into small segments, which can be modeled, and then specific temporal dimensions are added to the model. Mutlu hopes to find the key mechanisms that help humans communicate effectively, reproduce them in robots, and enable these systems to connect with humans.
Partnering for Pan-European Supercomputing
CORDIS News (03/22/12)
The first implementation project of the Partnership for Advanced Computing (PRACE-1IP) is helping to provide scientists with access to the project's high-performance computing (HPC) resources. "We need HPC systems to model weather patterns and climate change, to study diseases and drug effects, to design new materials, in astronomy, and even to model new aircraft designs ... the list is almost endless," says PRACE-1IP manager Thomas Eickermann. A key part of PRACE-1IP is focused on developing technologies and techniques to help researchers run applications on PRACE's HPC machines. "Though PRACE is a big step forward in making supercomputing resources available to a wide segment of the European scientific community, inevitably there is still more demand from researchers for HPC resources than there are HPC resources available," Eickermann says. The PRACE-1IP project and a follow-up initiative, PRACE-2IP, are setting up six training centers across Europe to educate researchers in HPC systems in a multi-year program. "So far the PRACE infrastructure has been used by 36 projects for more than one billion computing core hours," Eickermann notes. Future projects include simulating blood flow in the human body, examining the effects of irradiation on nanostructures, and studying the gravitational effects of black holes in space.
Cyber and Drone Attacks May Change Warfare More Than the Machine Gun
The Atlantic (03/22/12) Ross Andersen
Information technology is changing the way nations wage war, with philosophical and ethical perspectives struggling to keep pace with those changes. University of Hertforshire Marie Curie fellow Mariarosaria Taddeo says the present concept of a state as a political unit exercising power over a specific physical territory is difficult to reconcile with states' efforts to dominate certain regions of cyberspace, which lacks a defined territory. She also says the nature of informational warfare technologies, such as robotic weapons, is encouraging political decisions to rationalize or deploy them. "They are quite a bit cheaper than traditional weapons, but more importantly they bypass the need for political actors to confront media and public opinion about sending young men and women abroad to risk their lives," Taddeo notes. She speculates that information warfare could raise the risk of conflicts and human casualties, and could be used to inflict significant physical destruction, such as sabotaging a subway system or a flight control system. "This is one reason why we so badly need a philosophical and ethical analysis of this phenomenon, so that we can properly evaluate the risks," she argues. Taddeo also says the line between civilians and the military is completely erased by information warfare.
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