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Welcome to the September 26, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Self-Driving Cars a Reality for 'Ordinary People' Within 5 Years, Says Google's Sergey Brin
IDG News Service (09/25/12) James Niccolai

Self-driving, autonomous vehicles will be available for "ordinary people" in less than five years and they will be much safer than those driven by humans, says Google CEO Sergey Brin. He was speaking at the press conference for the signing of a new California law designed to accelerate the testing and development of self-driving vehicles. The law creates the legal framework and safety standards for testing and operating autonomous cars. It stipulates that a driver must be present to take control of the vehicle when needed, and that autonomous vehicles can only be used for testing until the state has granted various safety approvals. "We're stepping on the accelerator when it comes to the Google car," says California state senator Alex Padilla. The Google cars use on-board cameras, lasers, radar, and other sensor technology to monitor road conditions and operate themselves. Brin notes that self-driving cars will face intense scrutiny before they are allowed on the road, and much work still needs to be done. Safety is "one of the most difficult things that we undertake from a technology point of view, because there are never enough 'nines' in terms of getting things right," he says.

Using Artificial Intelligence to Chart the Universe
Royal Astronomical Society (09/24/12)

Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics researchers have developed an artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm to help chart and explain the structure and dynamics of the universe. The universe consists of 5 percent normal matter, 23 percent dark matter, and 72 percent dark energy. "Finding the dark matter distribution corresponding to a galaxy catalog is like trying to make a geographical map of Europe from a satellite image during the night that only shows the light coming from dense populated areas," says Leibniz researcher Francisco Kitaura. The algorithm starts with the fluctuations in the density of the universe seen in the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation, then models the way that matter collapses into today's galaxies over the subsequent 13 billion years. "Our precise calculations show that the direction of motion and 80 percent of the speed of the galaxies that make up the Local Group can be explained by the gravitational forces that arise from matter up to 370 million light years away," Kitaura says. He also notes that "with the help of AI, we can now model the universe around us with unprecedented accuracy and study how the largest structures in the cosmos came into being."

Automatic Building Mapping Could Help Emergency Responders
MIT News (09/24/12) Sarah McDonnell

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed a wearable sensor system that automatically creates a digital map of an environment as the user moves through it. The prototype system was designed to be a tool to help emergency responders coordinate disaster response. The prototype of the sensor platform consists of several devices attached to a sheet of hard plastic about the size of an iPad, which is worn on the chest. A handheld push-button device is connected to an array of sensors, which enables users to annotate the map. "The current approach would be to textually summarize what they had seen afterward," says MIT researcher Maurice Fallon. The system is equipped with a rangefinder, which sweeps a laser beam around a 270-degree arc and measures the time that it takes the light pulses to return. The system also is equipped with a cluster of accelerometers and gyroscopes, a camera, and a barometer. Every few minutes, the camera takes a picture of its surroundings, and software extracts a couple of hundred visual features from each image. Features in the images are then associated with a specific location on the map.

10 Hot IT Skills for 2013
Computerworld (09/24/12) Mary K. Pratt

The demand for high-tech professionals continues to rise, as 33 percent of information technology (IT) professionals in Computerworld's 2013 Forecast survey said they plan to hire more workers in the next 12 months. The survey found that 60 percent of IT executives plan to hire professionals with programming and application development skills. "Technology and software are great ways for companies to improve productivity, lower costs, and create better Web presence," says Robert Half Technology's John Reed. The survey found that 40 percent of IT executives plan to hire people with project management skills, while people with expertise in technical support, security, and business intelligence are being sought by 35 percent, 27 percent, and 26 percent of respondents, respectively. Big data is a top priority for many companies, but finding the right people to analyze the information can be a challenge, says the Global Institute for IT Management's Jerry Luftman. The survey also found that cloud skills are needed by 25 percent of respondents and virtualization skills are needed by 24 percent of respondents. Finally, people with skills in networking, mobile application and device management, and the data center are wanted by 19 percent, 19 percent, and 16 percent of respondents, respectively.

Machine Learning Saves Babies!
CS Bits & Bytes (09/24/12)

Machine learning could help save the lives of premature babies, who have an increased risk of major health complications, including death within their first year of life. Hospitals collect an enormous amount of data on the babies for evaluation, monitoring, treatment, and interventions, and the data is often never used again. However, computer scientists are using machine learning to find common patterns in the data, create new measures for predicting declines in health, and to form treatment plans. For example, the PhysiScore system produces a probability score for each baby that represents the overall illness severity and likelihood of developing major complications. The score is similar to the Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity, and Respiration score administered after a baby is born, but is much more accurate and can be automated on existing monitoring devices for incorporation within the clinical workflow. Moreover, PhysiScore does not require blood draws, spinal taps, and other invasive procedures to measure data. The information can assist doctors with planning for infant transport and patient management.

UM Researchers Mine Data to Uncover Terrorist Threats
Baltimore Sun (09/23/12) Scott Dance

Data-mining methods utilized by Google,, and other online firms have been tapped by University of Maryland researchers to aid counterterrorism efforts. An analysis of several decades' worth of data on the Pakistani terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba yielded attack patterns that led to insights on the most effective strategies for deterring terrorist violence. The data the researchers mined featured about 770 variables, such as arrests or raids on Lashkar-e-Taiba, its involvement in Pakistani elections, its engagements with the Pakistani military, and the social services it may or may not be supplying to the community. Updates were converted into numerical data, which was parsed for patterns that appear both around times of violence and quieter intervals. Maryland researcher Aaron Mannes says the model enables analysts to distill hundreds of rules and patterns that would otherwise be "a little hairy, intellectually" into counterterrorism strategies and tactics. RAND Corp.'s John Parachini says U.S. intelligence gathering and counterterrorism initiatives are increasingly using data mining, with monitoring of individuals' behavior ramped up since 9/11. Parachini concedes that behavior prediction is "an imprecise science," even with the increased availability of open source data that the Maryland researchers employed in their study.

Building a 'Data Eye in the Sky'
CCC Blog (09/22/12) Erwin Gianchandani

Earlier this year the U.S. Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) issued multi-year contracts to several research teams studying ways to automatically collect publicly available data. One project, led by Virginia Tech researcher Naren Ramakrishnan, is called early model-based event recognition using surrogates. "The team intends to organize a huge database of surrogates predictive of real events and to apply these surrogates to public data sources," the researchers say. Another project is being led by BBN Technologies, which will focus on high-throughput multimodal feature extraction, causality and time series analysis, multi-source data exploitation, and predictive modeling. "Research shows that many significant societal events are preceded by population-level changes in communication, consumption, and movement," says IARPA program manager Jason Matheny. "Some of these changes may be indirectly observable from diverse, publicly available data, but few methods have been developed for anticipating or detecting unexpected events by fusing such data." Matheny notes that if the OSI program is successful, it could provide early warnings of emerging events worldwide.

DBToaster Breaks Up Data Jams in Server Farms
Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (09/21/12) Lionel Pousaz

Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) researchers have developed DBToaster, a system designed to improve the circulation of the flow of information by accelerating the pace of operations by a factor of 100. The researchers say their system was able to compile successive operators as one single operator, making it possible to store huge intermediate results and efficiently prevent data jams. The technology also takes into account the fact that queries are often repetitive. Instead of recalculating everything each time, the system stores the preceding result in memory and combines it with new entries. "The big innovation with DBToaster is its ability to generate efficient code that manages to figure out how previous queries should be changed in order to be updated," says EPFL professor Christoph Koch. He also notes that DBToaster "enables analytical processing in real time, which financial institutions need to perform automated trading or to enforce regulatory compliance--for instance to detect patterns of money laundering in their streams of financial transactions."

3D Display Screen on Mobile Devices Could Be on the Horizon
Bristol University (09/21/12)

The University of Bristol is leading the development of three-dimensional (3D) display technology that would enable the screen of a mobile device to physically mutate to show hilly terrain and buildings as it visually displays a street map. Known as Tilt Displays, the surface is about half the size of a standard tablet and consists of a collection of individual display components, each of which can tilt along one or more axes and move vertically up and down. "The ability to tilt along multiple axes distinguishes our display from previous actuatable displays," says Bristol professor Sriram Subramanian. "Such screen versatility opens a range of opportunities for providing an additional integrated information channel to the user." Subramanian says Tilt Displays could be used for collaboration, terrain modeling, 3D video that goes beyond auto-stereoscopic 3D, and tangible gaming. The researchers will present the technology at the MobileHCI 2012 conference in San Francisco.

How a Smartphone Could Become an Endangered Cicada Detector
Guardian (United Kingdom) (09/20/12) Duncan Graham-Rowe

Crowdsourcing and a new smartphone app could aid conservationists in their effort to determine whether the New Forest cicada has become extinct or not. University of Southampton researcher Alex Rogers and colleagues are developing software capable of picking up the highly endangered insect's mating call, which is on the very upper limit of an adult human's hearing range. The New Forest attracts 13 million visitors each year, and the hope is that many will download the app and hold their smartphones aloft as they scour the area. The app also should work in the background when a smartphone is placed in a pocket or bag. "The app would give them immediate feedback that it thinks that a cicada has been detected," Rogers says. Users will be asked whether the recording could be uploaded to a server so it can be analyzed in greater detail. "Rediscovering the New Forest cicada would be quite a big deal so we'd then contact them off-line and investigate the sighting, revisiting to the site to get more recordings," Rogers notes.

Language Use Is Simpler Than Previously Thought
Cornell Chronicle (09/20/12) Susan Kelley

Language use is based on simple sequential structures, like beads on a string, according to a Cornell University study. Previously, language scientists described sentence structure as being hierarchical, with small parts made up of increasingly smaller parts. The researchers say their study may help computer scientists create speech that is more realistic and improve other language-processing applications, such as computer translations and speech-recognition programs that use algorithms based on sequential structures. Study co-author Morten Christiansen observes that "the language system deals with words by grouping them into little clumps that are then associated with meaning." Some clumps, or constructions arranged in a specific order, are easily understood, like "bread and butter," but changing the sequence to "butter and bread" is not likely to represent a construction and is less easily understood. Seeing language as having a sequential structure also is more natural, as temporal cues, setting, previous information given, and the speaker's intentions all help people understand language. Brain research appears to support the concept that language is comprised of sequential structures, since similar areas of the brain are involved in both sequential learning and language development.

Down to Earth Energy Consumption for the Wireless Internet
CORDIS News (09/20/12)

The European Union-funded Energy aware radio and network technologies (EARTH) project has developed technologies designed to reduce the energy consumption of worldwide mobile networks by up to 70 percent. EARTH aims to provide integrated solutions, both at the level of individual components and the network as a whole. For example, the project has developed techniques to boost the energy efficiency of 4G base stations, which are the most energy-intensive components of a mobile network. EARTH set up an Energy Efficiency Evaluation Framework to assess the consumption and energy efficiency of a network, modeling an individual base station's power consumption as a function of load and radio conditions, which it then maps onto an overview of different deployment areas. "EARTH's methodology for quantitative analysis of energy consumption is being adopted by other research initiatives and is having an impact on standardization," says Bell Laboratories' Dietrich Zeller. The project brings together 15 partners from 10 member states. "The high impact of the project was made possible only through the credibility of such a strong group of key stakeholders, speaking with one voice and coming up with solutions integrating the work of the different partners," Zeller says.

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