Welcome to the June 15, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Youths Love Tech, But Not Necessarily Tech Career
Silicon Republic (06/14/12) Tina Costanza
Although 97 percent of teenagers and young adults say they like using technology, only 18 percent of them have indicated a definite interest in an information technology (IT) career, according to a recent CompTIA study. The study found that the main reason youths have a low interest in an IT career is because they lack familiarity with the IT field, but their interest level increases when they are presented with options for specific jobs. The study also found that about 60 percent of youths see an IT career as an opportunity to help people. "It's sometimes easy to overlook the vital creative, collaborative, and problem-solving elements of technology work, as well as the diversity of occupations within the field," says CompTIA's Carolyn April. The study found that about 60 percent of youths serve as technology facilitators and troubleshooters for their family and friends, which could help prepare them for technology careers. "In the information economy, technical literacy is a prerequisite for many occupations, even beyond technology positions," April notes.
Administration Announcing US Ignite Broadband Initiative
CCC Blog (06/13/12) Erwin Gianchandani
The Obama administration recently announced the launch of US Ignite, a public-private partnership that will bring together computing researchers, software and application developers, broadband carriers, and broadband users to take advantage of ultra-high-speed, programmable broadband networks. The US Ignite partnership aims to leverage the U.S. National Science Foundation's (NSF's) investments in foundational research and network infrastructure, specifically the Global Environment for Network Innovations (GENI) project, to catalyze 60 advanced, next-generation applications in education and workforce development, advanced manufacturing, health, transportation, public safety, and clean energy that can operate on gigabit broadband networks. "Using GENI, US Ignite will be able to stitch together high-speed broadband resources ... to create a national testbed across university campuses and cities," says NSF's Farnam Jahanian. NSF will announce 10 EArly-concept Grants for Exploratory Research awards totaling approximately $3 million that exemplify the types of applications and services possible on advanced networks. NSF also will post a Dear Colleague Letter that will encourage the research and education communities to develop novel applications, and commit significant funding toward expanding GENI's footprint. In addition, NSF, together with the Mozilla Foundation, will announce an open innovation competition with $500,000 in prizes available over three rounds.
British Authorities Unveil Plan for Mass Electronic Surveillance
Associated Press (06/14/12) Raphael Satter
British authorities have unveiled a plan to compile details about every email, phone call, and text message in the United Kingdom. The surveillance effort proposed in the bill would provide the British government with an unprecedented amount of information on citizens' daily lives. The proposal "will give the police and some other agencies access to data about online communications to tackle crime, exactly as they do now with mobile phone calls and texts, [and] unless you are a criminal, you have nothing to worry about from this new law," says Home Office secretary Theresa May. However, others say the proposal provides the government with access to too much personal data. The bill would force communications providers to gather vast amounts of information on their customers. Providers would be required to monitor where online communications were sent from, who they were sent to, and how large they were. The bill also calls for providers to collect Internet Protocol addresses, details of customers' electronic hardware, and subscriber information such as names, addresses, and payment information. The measure is currently in draft form, which means it is subject to change before it is presented to the Parliament.
Stanford Engineers Perfecting Carbon Nanotubes for Highly Energy-Efficient Computing
Stanford University (06/12/12) Andrew Myers
Stanford University engineers have tackled the challenge of generating the first carbon nanotube (CNT)-based full-wafer digital logic structures, a breakthrough they say could significantly upgrade the energy efficiency of computing and bring researchers closer to CNT-based very-large scale integrated systems. At least two technical obstacles must be surmounted before CNTs can be applied practically: nanotube misalignment and the presence of metallic CNTs in the circuits, which can lead to short circuits, excessive power leakage, and vulnerability to noise. The Stanford team bypassed these hindrances by applying an imperfection-immune design paradigm, and the resulting digital logic structures are not affected by misaligned CNTs. The engineers also developed a method to eliminate metallic CNTs from circuits. The Stanford team then illustrated their techniques' potential by producing arithmetic circuits and sequential storage, along with the first monolithic three-dimensional integrated circuits with extreme levels of integration. "This transformative research is made all the more promising by the fact that it can coexist with today's mainstream silicon technologies, and leverage today's manufacturing and system design infrastructure, providing the critical feature of economic viability," says the Semiconductor Research Corp.'s Betsy Weitzman.
Humanoid Robot Learns Language Like a Baby
Wired News (06/13/12) Brandon Keim
University of Hertfordshire researchers have developed DeeChee, a robot that can learn to talk like a human baby and has learned the names of several shapes and colors. DeeChee is a three-foot-tall open source humanoid robot designed to resemble a human baby. “Our work focuses on early stages analogous to some characteristics of a human child of about six to 14 months, the transition from babbling to first word forms,” the researchers say. The robot is based on the theory of embodied cognition, which studies the idea that certain cognitive processes are shaped by the bodies in which they occur. DeeChee's case applies to learning the building blocks of language by mimicking the way human babies are extremely sensitive to the frequency of sounds. "Learning needs interaction with a human, and robot embodiment evokes appropriate reactions in a human teacher, which disembodied software does not," says Hertfordshire computer scientist Caroline Lyon. The researchers measured the transition from babble to recognizable word forms in detail, developing statistical links between sound frequencies. They note that DeeChee's performance could lead to new insights into human learning.
'Moneyball' for Basketball: Using Science to Change the NBA
USC News (06/13/12) Adam Smith
University of Southern California (USC) researchers are using SportVU optical tracking data, which uses video cameras installed in participating basketball arenas to capture real-time video footage, to compile more than one million data records per game to analyze basketball games. The data is run through image-processing algorithms, which can analyze spatial dynamics, basketball trajectories, player velocities, and movement tracks. The USC researchers, led by Rajiv Maheswaran and Yu-Han Chang, won best paper at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference for their work analyzing rebounding using data captured by SportVU. The researchers studied more than 11,000 shots and found that for every foot away from the basket, the chance of an offensive rebound decreases one percent until the three-point line, when it suddenly improves. The researchers concluded that in order to get offensive rebounds, players need to move much closer to the basket. The researchers' next plan to use the SportVU data to analyze what makes good defense. Chang says it is challenging to transform the massive amount of data into something that can be applied to algorithms and used to discern patterns.
The New Science of Computational Advertising
Technology Review (06/12/12)
University College London researchers recently conducted a review of computational advertising technology and outlined the challenges that it faces. The researchers identified four groups of stakeholders in computational advertising, including advertisers, online publishers, ad exchanges, and Web users. Social networking companies are using computational advertising technology to extract more value from their users, but much of that data is proprietary, and these companies do not want to reveal how they exploit their networks for profit. Meanwhile, many users are removing personal information and taking measures that prevent advertisers from identifying them. Advertisers want sophisticated tools to plan campaigns and to monitor their return on investment. The researchers say there also is an increasing need for a futures market for advertising space that enables advertisers to take an option on advertising space several months in advance but without being obligated to buy the space permanently. In addition, publishers want more effective ways of measuring the effectiveness of their inventory so that advertisers can choose with greater precision where they can get the best return.
Incentives for Drivers Who Avoid Traffic Jams
New York Times (06/11/12) John Markoff
Stanford University researchers have developed the Congestion and Parking Relief Incentives (CAPRI) system, which enables people driving in congested areas to enter a daily lottery and possibly win money by changing their commute to off-peak times. The incentives-based program has been so popular at Stanford that it is being expanded to encourage people to park farther from the busiest parking structures. CAPRI also adds a social network component to the lottery, making it a game in which friends can observe one another's "good" behavior, which tends to reinforce changes in behavior and individual commitment. The researchers, led by Stanford professor Balaji Prabhakar, have conducted several experiments in using incentives to change behavior. Prabhakar notes that unlike congestion pricing, “incentives can be started incrementally and are voluntary” and don't require legislation. He also says congestion pricing and incentive-based systems are not mutually exclusive. For example, Prabhakar describes highway congestion as an instance of nonlinear behavior, where even a small reduction in vehicles at a given time can have a big impact on traffic flow.
Badgers Inspire 3D Tracking Tech
University of Oxford (06/11/12) Pete Wilton
Tracking technology developed by Oxford University's Andrew Markham and Niki Trigoni to study badgers could be used to locate people in underground areas or buried beneath debris. Badgers spend much of their lives underground, and Markham and Trigoni designed a solution that is based on generating very low frequency fields, which is advantageous for penetrating obstacles, enabling positioning and communication through layers of rock, soil, and concrete. Markham says most technologies only check the magnitude of the signal to determine distance. "In contrast, the new technology measures vectors, which give you the magnitude and direction," he says. "Our technology can work out your position in three dimensions from a single transmitter." The team is working to incorporate their technology into smart mobile devices. Although low frequency fields quickly vanish, the team believes it can solve this problem with clever signal-processing algorithms. The researchers say the technology could be used to find people in emergency situations such as an earthquake or bomb attack, track people and equipment in mines, and for location-based advertising.
Looking for the Perfect Tweet
PC Magazine (06/11/12) Damon Poeter
Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles and Hewlett-Packard's HP Labs have developed an algorithm that weighs factors such as an article's subject matter and source to determine its likely popularity on Twitter. The algorithm is 84 percent accurate in estimating which news tweets will hit and which will not before the news item itself is actually published. The researchers also were able to determine whether a news article would receive zero retweets with 66 percent accuracy. The news data for the study was collected from a news feed aggregator, and measurements of the spread are performed on Twitter, with the social popularity being determined by the number of times a news URL is posted and shared. To make a prediction, the algorithm considers the news source that generates and posts the article, the category of news the article falls under, the subjectivity of the language in the article, and the named entities mentioned in the article. "Additionally, by comparing with an independent rating of news sources, we demonstrate that there exists a sharp contrast between traditionally popular news sources and the top news propagators on the social Web," the researchers say. The study found that the news source is the most important predictor of an article's popularity.
A New System Architecture Speeds Up the Use of Mobile Phone Applications
Aalto University (06/11/12)
Smartphone users will be able to download mobile applications in just a few seconds using an open system architecture that allows for a new type of high-speed wireless Internet access. Developed by researchers at Aalto University, the architecture is designed to generate a battery-free smart tag that is used to download digital content directly to the phone faster, with less power use, and without using the telephone network. Iiro Jantunen and his research group have demonstrated the connection at a speed of 112 Mbps, but say they can scale it to a faster speed. "We developed the technology based on the user needs: For example, we started with a user's desire to download and run a three-minute video clip on a phone display with a wait of less than 10 seconds," Jantunen says. "Earlier that time was needed just to initiate a 3G connection or start Wi-Fi, to say nothing of how long it took to actually download the data." Jantunen built an apparatus to test and develop a lighter Bluetooth technology for devices with a smaller power source. The system architecture also makes it possible to use short-range wireless sensor networks for health-related applications.
Information Processing: Adding a Touch of Color
Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) (06/08/12)
Software developed by researchers at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research's (A*STAR's) Institute for Infocomm Research makes it easier to create high-quality realistic color images from a grayscale picture. A*STAR's Alex Yong-Sang Chia and colleagues designed the program to search hundreds of thousands of online color images, cross-referencing key features and objects in the foreground with those of a grayscale picture, and filtering out the least realistic and suitable visual data. "Our method automatically detects and segments salient objects from an Internet photo," Chia says. "It then exploits shape and appearance information of these objects to compute its relevance to the original grayscale image data." The software automatically colors the grayscale image using the information, but the user picks the best match from a graphical user interface. In a demonstration of the program, the team presented colored grayscale images alongside real color pictures to a group of people, and its colored images were said to be real up to 65 percent of the time. The researcher say the colorization results are visually pleasing and perceptually meaningful, and they believe the program could potentially be used to generate realistic animations.
Stealthy Robot Mimics Disappearing Cockroaches
Computerworld (06/08/12) Sharon Gaudin
University of California, Berkeley researchers are studying cockroaches in order to build robots that can more easily act as first responders or in a military setting. "This work is a great example of the amazing maneuverability of animals, and how understanding the physical principles used by nature can inspire [the] design of agile robots," says Berkeley professor Ron Fearing. Researchers in Berkeley's biology and robotics departments collaborated to develop a robot, called Dynamic Autonomous Sprawled Hexapod (DASH), which can mimic a cockroach's six-legged movement pattern. "Today, some robots are good at running, some at climbing, but very few are good at both or transitioning from one behavior to the other," says Berkeley professor Robert Full. "That's really the challenge now in robotics, to produce robots that can transition on complex surfaces and get into dangerous areas that first responders can't get into." DASH is part of a larger effort to develop robots that can act as first responders. The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency recently announced the Robotics Challenge, a $34 million contest that includes a $2 million prize for building the best emergency-response robot.
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