Welcome to the April 9, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Berkeley Group Digs In to Challenge of Making Sense of All That Data
New York Times (04/07/12) Jeanne Carstensen
The U.S. National Science Foundation recently awarded $10 million to the University of California, Berkeley's Algorithms Machines People (AMP) Expedition, a research team that takes an interdisciplinary approach to advancing big data analysis. Researchers at the AMP Expedition, in collaboration with researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, are developing a set of open source tools for big data analysis. "We’ll judge our success by whether we build a new paradigm of data," says AMP Expedition director Michael Franklin. “It’s easier to collect data, and harder to make sense of it.” The grant is part of the Obama administration's "Big Data Research and Development Initiative," which will eventually distribute a total of $200 million. AMP Expedition faculty member Ken Goldberg has developed Opinion Space, a tool for online discussion and brainstorming that uses algorithms and data visualization tools to help gather meaningful ideas from a large number of participants. Goldberg notes that part of their research focus is analyzing how people interact with big data. “We recognize that humans do play an important part in the system,” he says.
Alan Turing: Founding Father of Computing
Business Mirror (Philippines) (04/07/12) Lyn Resurreccion
The De La Salle University Department of Philosophy recently hosted "Turing 2012: International Conference on Philosophy, Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Science," an event that is part of a global effort to celebrate the life and scientific influence of Alan Turing in commemoration of the 100-year anniversary of his birth. "Without Alan Turing’s groundbreaking work, we might never have heard of Steve Jobs or Bill Gates," says Stephen Lillie, British ambassador to the Philippines. While Turing was a fellow at Cambridge he developed his Turing machines, which are abstract symbol-manipulating devices that can be adapted to simulate the logic of any computer algorithm. Turing also solved the German naval cipher, known as Enigma, during World War II. "Breaking the Enigma code had a seminal impact on the course of the Second World War, keeping the North Atlantic sea-lanes open and Britain in the war, and saving countless lives of the brave men who sailed in the transatlantic convoys," Lillie says. He notes that Turing is now considered one of Britain's greatest innovators, designers, and scientists. As part of the celebration of Turing’s birth, the Science Museum in London is planning a year-long exhibition beginning June 21, 2012.
Transformative Research: Reflections on a NSF Workshop
CCC Blog (04/06/12) Erwin Gianchandani
University of Virginia professor Michael E. Gorman recently completed a rotation as a program director at the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), and co-funded a workshop on transformative research. As NSF director, Gorman looked for areas where value could be added. In 2007, the U.S. National Science Board (NSB) unanimously approved a motion to enhance support of transformative research at NSF. "Supporting more transformative research is of critical importance in the fast-paced, science and technology-intensive world of the 21st Century," according to the NSB. The workshop participants consisted of 25 invited practitioners and scholars including engineers, historians, philosophers, and science policy experts. Among the suggestions from the workshop participants was to convince NSF to drop the transformative criterion, while another suggestion was to keep the definition of transformative flexible. The participants noted that one indicator of a potentially transformative project may be a bi-modal distribution in peer reviews. An alternative to peer review is a sandpit process, which was used by NSF and the United Kingdom’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to catalyze and fund transformative ideas in synthetic biology.
Collegiate Cyberdefense Competition Set for Kickoff
Government Technology (04/04/12)
The National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (NCCDC), which is starting April 20, will serve as a national championship for the most promising students of cyberdefense. The NCCDC requires competitors to balance security with business needs, while protecting mail and Web servers from cyberattacks and threats. The 10 participating teams emerged from several qualifying and regional events. The teams are from the University of Alaska, the United States Air Force Academy, the University of North Carolina, the Rochester Institute of Technology, Texas A&M University, Towson University, St. Cloud State University, the University of Wyoming, California State Polytechnic University, and the University of Washington. "Our competition provides the necessary foundation for students to implement what they've learned to serve a higher calling as key defenders against cyberterrorism and maintain the security of our networks," says Gregory White, director of University of Texas at San Antonio's (UTSA's) Center for Infrastructure Assurance and Security. UTSA is the host of the competition and Deloitte is the sponsor. "Competitions such as the NCCDC help refine the skills necessary to man our new front lines," says Deloitte's Harry Raduege.
Susan Buck Empowers Women in Tech
ZDNet (04/06/12) Ken Hess
Susan Buck is a developer, lecturer, and entrepreneur who advises parents to get their daughters involved in technology at an early age. Buck recently spoke with ZDNet's Ken Hess about her ideas and methods for getting young girls interested in science, technology, engineering, and math. Buck teaches Web design and development at the University of Pennsylvania, is a developer at Photojojo.com, and recently co-founded Web Start Women, a company that educates and builds communities for women in the Web development arena. "For me, one of the biggest issues is visibility; a lack of other women to associate with, work with, and look up to," Buck says. She notes there is a lot of freedom in the tech realm because ideas can be cultivated at very little cost, which opens many doors for innovation and creativity. Part of Buck's job at the University of Pennsylvania is teaching students how to think like programmers, which involves building the confidence that no problem is unsolvable. In addition, she says young girls need to be exposed to technology at an early age. "If young girls aren’t introduced and given access to enough tech before they get to college, they’re already behind," Buck says.
UK's Fastest Supercomputer to Be Built in Halton
Runcorn and Widnes (04/05/12) Oliver Ellis
Daresbury Laboratory will be the site of the fastest supercomputer in the United Kingdom. The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) announced that it plans to build one of the world's top software research centers, using the most powerful hardware from IBM. The supercomputer is expected to reach speeds of 1.4 petaflops. According to the International Center of Excellence for Computational Science and Engineering (ICE-CSE), the goal is to make high-performance computing (HPC) accessible for U.K. industry. A representative for Daresbury Laboratory says HPC can aid research and innovation, which companies need to compete effectively. The research center will provide the ability to simulate complex systems, such as mapping the human brain or modeling the earth's climate. "The ICE-CSE is a key component of the government's e-infrastructure initiative," says professor John Womersley, chief executive of STFC. "It is also essential to the U.K. maintaining its position as a major innovative economy and a global scientific research leader."
Quantum Computer Built Inside a Diamond
USC News (04/04/12) Robert Perkins
University of Southern California (USC) scientists and a team of researchers have built a quantum computer in a diamond to demonstrate the viability of solid-state quantum computers. The quantum computing system featured two quantum bits, known as qubits, made of subatomic particles. The researchers took advantage of the impurities in the diamond, using a rogue nitrogen nucleus as the first qubit, and a flawed electron as the second qubit. The researchers say the diamond-based quantum computer is the first to incorporate decoherence protection, using microwave pulses to continually switch the direction of the electron spin rotation. The researchers demonstrated that the diamond-incased system operates in quantum fashion by seeing how closely it matched Grover's algorithm, which is a search of an unsorted database. Their system was able to find the correct answer as part of Grover's algorithm on the first attempt about 95 percent of the time. The researchers say the future of quantum computing may reside in solid-state quantum computers because they can be easily scaled up in size, in contrast to earlier gas- and liquid-state systems.
Robotic Design and Production as Easy as 1-2-3
Harvard University (04/03/12) Michael Patrick Rutter
Researchers at Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the University of Pennsylvania are developing technology that could make it possible for users to design, customize, and print a specialized robot in just a few hours. "This research envisions a whole new way of thinking about the design and manufacturing of robots, and could have a profound impact on society," says MIT's Daniela Rus. The researchers want to develop technology that enables anyone to manufacture their own customized robot. The project also "aims to dramatically reduce the development time for a variety of useful robots, opening the doors to potential applications in manufacturing, education, personalized healthcare, and even disaster relief," says Harvard professor Robert Wood. The researchers are developing a platform that enables users to identify a household problem and then customize an easy-to-use robotic device that could solve the problem. “Our vision is to develop an end-to-end process; specifically, a compiler for building physical machines that starts with a high level of specification of function, and delivers a programmable machine for that function using simple printing processes,” Rus says.
Quantum Control Protocols Could Lead to More Accurate, Larger Scale Quantum Computations
University of California, Santa Barbara (04/04/12) Sonia Fernandez; George Foulsham
Researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), Kavli Institute of Nanoscience, and Ames Laboratory say they have developed a protocol for controlling quantum information that could lead to larger-scale, more accurate quantum computations. "Although interactions between a quantum bit [qubit] and its environment tend to corrupt the information it stores, it is possible to dynamically control qubits in a way that facilitates the execution of quantum information-processing algorithms while simultaneously protecting the qubits from environment-induced errors," says UCSB's David Awschalom. He says dynamical protection of quantum information is essential for quantum computing because the qubits used for information processing and storage are highly susceptible to errors induced by interactions with atoms in the qubits' environment. The researchers showed that by synchronizing the rotations of an electron spin with the rotation of a nearby nuclear spin, they could realize dynamical protection of both qubits from the environment while keeping the interactions between the two spins that are required for quantum information processing. "This demonstration of performing a quantum algorithm at the subatomic level with single spins suggests a pathway to build increasingly complex quantum machines, using qubit control protocols that circumvent the expected limitations from real materials," Awschalom says.
Barcelona Supercomputer ARMed for Assault on World's Fastest Machines
Wired News (04/03/12) Robert McMillan
The Barcelona Supercomputer Center plans to build a new supercomputer that will use the same low-power chips found in smartphones and tablet computers. Center manager Alex Ramirez says a team will start assembling the first Mont-Blanc prototype in May, using NVIDIA's Tegra 3 processors instead of the reduced instruction set computer or Intel x86-compatible processors used in nearly all other supercomputers. The Mont-Blanc Tegra 3 chips are expected to use about four watts, compared to Intel Xeon chips, which typically use 50 to 100 watts. "Instead of using very few--but very big performance--processors ... we're going to be using a lot of very low-power--but middle performance--processors," Ramirez says. The Tegra 3 chips will handle communications between different parts of the system, but the actual number crunching will be done by yet-to-be-determined low-power multicore NVIDIA graphics processors. In addition, the successors to the Tegra 3, including a new 64-bit chip based on a new design from ARM Holdings, could provide four times the computer processing for about the same four watts of power.
Stanford Study to Try Cold Cash and Social Game to Relieve Rush Hour Traffic
Stanford Report (CA) (04/02/12) Mark Golden
Stanford University's Congestion and Parking Relief Incentives (Capri) project aims to motivate people to avoid rush hour traffic by offering a chance at a large reward instead of a guaranteed small payout. Users can choose the certain reward of about 10 cents per trip or try their luck for a bigger payout. Participants receive a unique identification tag that is placed on the inside of the car's windshield. Scanners installed at 10 main campus entry points detect users who avoid the normal weekday rush hour. The system automatically awards credits to those drivers for an online game that pays random cash prizes from $2 to $50. The second phase of the study rewards drivers for parking at less-used lots to alleviate wasted time and energy at chronically full lots. "With today's technology, it's feasible to install low-cost sensors on a wireless network and make use of new Internet technology," says Stanford professor Balaji Prabhakar. The researchers plan to tweak the system if the Capri project does not meet the program's goal of reducing rush hour traffic by 10 percent. The success of an earlier trial resulted in $3 million in research funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Driverless Cars Ready to Hit Our Roads
New Scientist (04/02/12) Paul Marks
Driverless cars are moving closer to becoming a reality, as politicians in several U.S. states rush to get such cars on the roads. Driverless cars offer several advantages, including improved safety, better fuel efficiency, and freedom from the boredom of long drives. Nevada currently allows driverless cars to operate on the state's road networks as long as they have a special license plate, and similar legislation is being considered in California, Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, and Oklahoma. Meanwhile, German and British researchers are developing driverless automobile technologies and pushing their respective governments to consider autonomous vehicle legislation. Although autonomous vehicle technology has a bright future, researchers say there are still several obstacles to overcome. "The size and price of these systems needs to come down," says Free University of Berlin researcher Tinosch Ganjineh. Another challenge is getting the cars to recognize the precursors to dangerous events, says University of Oxford researcher Paul Newman. He says driverless cars will need to be independently smart and aware of the risks around them at all times.
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