Welcome to the October 1, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Fostering Tech Talent in Schools
New York Times (09/30/12) Nick Wingfield
Microsoft recently launched the Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (Teals) program, an effort aimed at getting high school students interested in computer science. There could be as many as 150,000 U.S. computing jobs opening up every year through 2020, according to an ACM analysis of federal government forecasts, and technology firms are worried there won't be enough people to fill them. Microsoft's Teals program sends company employees to teach high school computer science classes for a full school year. The Teals program is currently in 22 schools in the Seattle area, and has expanded to more than a dozen other schools in Washington, North Dakota, Utah, and California. "I think education and bringing more people into the field is something all technology companies agree on," says Google software engineer Alyssa Caulley. The Teals program shows students how technology is used in their everyday lives. It also has Microsoft engineers teach the teachers so that they can develop their own computer science lessons. Although many educators believe that for students to be excited about computer science it is critical to introduce them to it at an early age, most states only offer computer science as an elective and not a required core course.
Next Up: Environmentally Safe Electronics That Also Vanish in the Body
University of Illinois News Bureau (09/27/12) Liz Ahlberg
University of Illinois researchers say they have developed biodegradable electronics technology that could lead to new design paradigms for a wide range of applications. "From the earliest days of the electronics industry, a key design goal has been to build devices that last forever--with completely stable performance," says Illinois professor John A. Rogers. "But if you think about the opposite possibility--devices that are engineered to physically disappear in a controlled and programmed manner--then other, completely different kinds of application opportunities open up.” The technology consists of a combination of soluble conductors and dielectrics, based on magnesium and magnesium oxide, which provide a platform for building a wide range of biodegradable electronic components, sensors, and wireless devices. The researchers already have built transient transistors, diodes, wireless power coils, temperature and strain sensors, photodetectors, solar cells, radio oscillators, and antennas. The researchers say all of the devices are biocompatible, extremely thin, and dissolve in water. “The different applications that we are considering require different operating time frames,” Rogers notes. "The ability to use materials science to engineer those time frames becomes a critical aspect in design.”
Most European Languages in Danger of Digital Extinction
University of Manchester (09/26/12) Daniel Cochlin
META-NET, a European network of researchers, recently completed a study that assessed language technology support for 30 European languages in four different areas, including automatic translation, speech interaction, text analysis, and availability of language resources. Languages spoken by a small number of people could be at risk because they do not have technological support, according to the META-NET report. The researchers found that digital assistance for 21 of the 30 languages is non-existent or weak at best. Icelandic, Latvian, Lithuanian, and Maltese are at the highest risk of disappearing, while Bulgarian, Greek, Hungarian, and Polish also are at risk. English has the best language technology support, while Dutch, French, German, Italian, and Spanish have moderate support, according to the report. The researchers say new software is needed to save the languages that are deemed to have the highest risk of disappearing from the modern digital landscape. "As digital information and communication is becoming increasingly dominant, it is vital that sophisticated language technology support is available for a wider range of languages, otherwise collaboration with our European neighbors will become more difficult," says University of Manchester professor Sophia Ananiadou.
AT&T Trials Text-Message Translation
Technology Review (09/26/12) Tom Simonite
AT&T researchers are developing technology that automatically translates text messages between English and Spanish. A user must register a phone number as having a preferred language, and then all messages sent to that number in a different language are automatically translated before being relayed to the user's phone. Although the current version of the technology only handles translations between English and Spanish, AT&T has developed technology that can handle up to six more languages, according to AT&T's Mazin Gilbert. The researchers launched a working pilot that will involve AT&T employees testing the technology, which does not require additional software to be added to a mobile device. Gilbert says it is the first example of automatic translation of text messages that does not require the user to install additional software. One issue the pilot intends to address is whether or how to signal to a person that a message they received has been translated, so they are aware they are not seeing the exact phrasing written in the original message. Gilbert notes "the technology is not always perfect," so it could introduce errors or confusing phrases to some messages.
GPS Workaround Helps Make Dumb Phones Smart
New Scientist (09/27/12) Jacob Aron
Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology researchers are developing ways to bring smartphone-like functionality to older mobile devices. One system provides location data to phones without access to global positioning systems (GPSs) via the Cell Broadcast Service (CBS), which is able to transmit text messages to every handset in the immediate area and can be used for sending local weather information, advertisements, or emergency broadcasts. Cell towers transmitting via CBS include the name of their location, but not the specific latitude and longitude. The researchers developed software for older mobile devices that captures these locations and finds their exact coordinates using Google Maps, according to Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology researcher Kuldeep Yadav. "In future, we plan to work on a combination of GPS and CBS, so that power consumption of GPS can be minimized," Yadav says. The researchers also are working on a new way for feature phone users to share files, without having to rely on the slow data transfer rates on cellular networks.
Project Aims to Crowdsource What Makes a Happy City
BBC News (09/26/12)
Cambridge University researchers will use crowdsourcing to rank the most peaceful and happy places in London. Participants will compare two views of the city and assess which one best represents one of three qualities--happiness, beauty, and quiet. The urbangems site also will enable users to add tags and more information to explain their choices in greater detail, and upload and tag pictures of their own happy spaces. The research could enable urbangems to offer personalized recommendations of city spaces, and potentially help improve urban design. "There has been extensive research on the link between how people perceive an area and social deprivation such as the famous 'broken window' theory put forward in the 80s suggesting that visual cues of public disorder--like smashed windows--can increase the risk of crime and urban decay because they set a precedent in the area," says Cambridge researcher Daniele Quercia. "What we want to do is try and drill down to those visual cues that increase people's sense of well-being in a particular area, to see if we can help build a list of key aesthetic elements that might act in the opposite manner."
Fast Algorithm Extracts, Compares Document Meaning
Technical University of Wroclaw researchers have developed an algorithm that reduces the complexity involved in comparing two documents by merging a computationally efficient statistical approach to text analysis with a semantic component. The researchers say the algorithm could revolutionize the way archived documents are searched, and enable knowledge to be extracted far more readily than with conventional tools. They note the approach also solves three major problems faced by most users of today's search engines, including the lack of familiarity with the advanced search options of search engines, and the strict nature of the options that are unable to catch nuances in user information needs. The algorithm also addresses the difficulty and effort necessary to type a long query. Wroclaw's Andrzej Sieminski says the key to their work is using statistical similarity measures to assess semantic similarity.
Computers Match Humans in Understanding Art
Lawrence Technological University (09/25/12) Lior Shamir
Lawrence Technological University researchers have developed an algorithm that demonstrates computers can be made to understand art in a way very similar to how art historians perform an analysis. During testing, the researchers used about 1,000 paintings by 34 well-known artists, and programmed the algorithm to analyze the similarity between them based on the visual content of the paintings. The algorithm produced a network of similarities between painters that runs parallel to the analysis of art historians. The analysis showed that the system was able to identify the differences between artistic styles, and designated painters as either classical or modern. The algorithm also was able to identify subgroups within the classical and modern styles. The experiment was performed by extracting 4,027 numerical image context descriptors, which are numbers that quantitatively mirror the content of the image, from each painting. This enables the computer to reflect many aspects of the visual content, and use pattern recognition and statistical methods to spot complex patterns of similarities and dissimilarities between the artistic styles and then measure the similarities. The researchers say the technology can outperform untrained humans in analyzing fine art.
Hotter Might Be Better at Energy-Intensive Data Centers
University of Toronto Scarborough (09/25/12) Don Campbell
Data centers could save energy by turning the air conditioning down, according to researchers at the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC). UTSC professor Bianca Schroeder and colleagues have collected data from data centers run by Google, Los Alamos National Labs, and others, and also have tested the impact of temperature on equipment performance in their lab. Higher temperatures either were not associated with negative effects on the equipment or the negative effects were smaller than predicted. "We see our results as strong evidence that most organizations could run their data centers hotter than they currently are without making significant sacrifices in system reliability," Schroeder says. Data centers could probably increase temperatures much more than 1 degree Celsius, she notes. They typically run at 20 degrees Celsius to 22 degrees Celsius, and estimates show that just a 1 degree increase could save 2 percent to 5 percent of the energy consumed. The researchers presented a paper at the recent ACM Sigmetrics conference.
Easy Guider: Intuitive Visual Control Provides Faster Remote Operation of Robots
Georgia Tech News (09/25/12) John Toon
Georgia Tech researchers say they have developed a new method for integrating video technology and familiar control devices, with the goal of simplifying the remote control of robotic devices. The researchers say their approach is easier and faster than older methods, especially when the robot is controlled by an operator who is watching it in a video monitor. "Our approach exploits [three-dimensional] video technology to let an operator guide a robotic device in ways that are more natural and time-saving, yet are still very precise," says Georgia Tech's Ai-Ping Hu. The researchers say they have constructed a robotic system that responds to human commands more directly and intuitively than older techniques by applying visual-servoing techniques in innovative ways. The technique utilizes both calibrated and uncalibrated techniques and allows the operator to have a robot's-eye view of the target. "Our ultimate goal is to develop a generic, uncalibrated control framework that is able to use image data to guide many different kinds of robots," Hu says.
Signature of Long-Sought Particle Could Revolutionize Quantum Computing Seen by Purdue Physicist
Purdue University News (09/25/12) Elizabeth K. Gardner
Purdue University professor Leonid Rokhinson is the leader of a team that successfully demonstrated the fractional a.c. Josephson effect, a signature of Majorana fermions that could make fault-tolerant quantum computing a reality. The particles could potentially encode quantum information in a way that addresses quantum bits' vulnerability to small disruptions in the local environment. "Information could be stored not in the individual particles, but in their relative configuration, so that if one particle is pushed a little by a local force, it doesn't matter," Rokhinson says. He also notes Majorana fermions are novel in their ability to retain an interaction history that can be used for quantum information encoding. "When you swap two Majorana fermions, it leaves a mark by altering their quantum mechanical state," Rokhinson points out. "This change in state is like a passport book full of stamps and provides a record of exactly how the particle arrived at its current destination." University of Maryland professor Victor Yakovenko notes the observation of the fractional a.c. Josephson effect does not necessarily mean fault-tolerant quantum computing will be realized soon. However, he says it "could open the door to a whole new field of the topological effects of quantum mechanics."
New Simulation Method Produces Realistic Fluid Movements
University of Copenhagen (09/26/12) Inge Hviid Jensen; Katherina Killander
University of Copenhagen researchers have developed a fluid simulation tool that earned the best paper award at the recent Symposium on Computer Animation. "We have taken the first step towards producing a more precise simulation of fluid materials than anything seen so far," says Copenhagen professor Kenny Erleben. Other simulation methods use mesh structures in which the vertices are locked in a fixed position, but the Copenhagen researchers' method uses a dynamic structure in which vertices move one at a time. The researchers say their technique produces a high degree of detail so that even very thin structures become visible. They note that in previous statistical methods, it is often a problem that the simulated object’s edges and structures become blurred, and that its precise physical properties are hard to recreate.
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