Welcome to the April 24, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Preventing Misinformation From Spreading Through Social Media
Technology Review (04/23/13) David Talbot
Researchers at the Masdar Institute of Technology and the Qatar Computing Research Institute have developed Verily, a platform designed to verify social media information by enlisting people to collect and analyze evidence to confirm or debunk reports. "The reporting around the [Boston] Marathon bombing demonstrates that mainstream media has issues with verification that are as profound as anything we face online," says the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Ethan Zuckerman. Previous research efforts have shown how to effectively mobilize many people on social media for a common task. The beta version of Verily will be tested on a real-world weather disaster such as a hurricane or flood. Since these types of disasters come with some warning, Verily's creators can prepare humanitarian agencies to use the platform. When a piece of news is reported, Verily users examine it for signs of authenticity and use their own social networks to investigate the story. Users' reputation scores would increase or decrease over time, and future votes from reliable users would get increased weight. Qatar Institute's Patrick Meier says Verily is designed to solve some of the inherent problems in social media news sites. "They don’t have the design to facilitate these kinds of workflows and collaboration," Meier says.
Art, Design Educational Needs Pushing STEM To STEAM
Investor's Business Daily (04/22/13) Sheila Riley
Support is rising in academia, business, and government to add art and design to the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) equation. "How do you humanize technology? Art and design does that," says John Maeda, president of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), a leader in the STEM to STEAM movement. RISD offers STEAM-related project fellowships and is working with the U.S. National Science Foundation on a climate change study. Some tech companies such as Apple are embracing art and design, and the iPhone's enormous contribution to smartphone popularity is an example of the impact that design has on a product. "In order to innovate and create, you have to be able to draw on that specific portion of your mind that is creative," says Dusty Fisher, co-chair of the K-12 STEM Literacy Committee for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Creating artificial limbs is an example of a skill that requires both engineering and art, Fisher says. However, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation president Robert Atkinson cautions against over-application of art in STEM, and believes schools should look for opportunities but not force all scientists and engineers to study art.
Revolutionary New Device Joins World of Smart Electronics
University of Exeter (04/20/13)
University of Exeter researchers have developed a photoelectric device that can convert light into electrical signals by exploiting the unique properties of the materials graphene and graphExeter. The researchers note the device is a few atoms thick, ultra-lightweight, and flexible, which makes it ideal for incorporating into clothing. They say the device could be used to develop photovoltaic textiles that enable clothes to act as solar panels and charge mobile phones while they are being worn. The photosensitive device contains no metals and is completely transparent. The device can detect light from across the whole visible light spectrum, and is as efficient at sensing light as opaque devices based on graphene and metals, says Exeter professor Saverio Russo. In the future, such technology also could be used for intelligent windows that are able to harvest electricity and display images while remaining transparent. "We are only just starting to explore the interfaces between different materials at very small scales and, as this research shows, we are revealing unique properties that we never knew existed," Russo says.
Google Glass's Word on the Street Now Easier to Read
New Scientist (04/19/13) Paul Marks
Wearable displays such as Google Glass and the Epson Moverio will enable users to read what is written on them as they walk down the street. However, the text will need to stand out from the constantly changing background, considering that the user could be in a dimly lit room one minute and under a bright blue sky the next. Jason Orlovsky and colleagues at Osaka University have developed a text display algorithm that places the current message on the darkest region in view at any given moment and in a readable color. The handset's camera will plot a constantly changing heat map of viable on-screen reading locations. The algorithm also can split up a message into two small dark regions on either side of the user's field of view. "Twitter feeds or text messages could be placed throughout the environment in a logical manner, much like signs are placed on either side of a street," the developers say.
Making Sense of Medical Sensors
MIT News (04/19/13) Larry Hardesty
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Imaging Group is studying the use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology to identify chemical compounds from their spectrographic signatures instead of imaging. Although this method requires the development of new analytic techniques, it could help medical researchers determine how the brain's chemistry changes during the progress of different neurological diseases. MIT professor Polina Golland is investigating the functional characterization of the brain, using functional MRIs and diffusion MRIs. Golland helped develop a computer-modeling system that can explain the progression of several neurological diseases that appear to start in one region of the brain and then move outward to others. Other researchers have used electrocardiogram readings and machine learning to identify correlations between medical-sensor data and disease. The researchers created algorithms to analyze electrocardiogram data, and found three previously unknown indicators of the likelihood of a heart attack. Other MIT researchers are studying the automatic recognition of epileptic seizures using data from scalp-worm electroencephalogram sensors. The researchers are using machine learning to calibrate their seizure-detection algorithms to individual patients.
HP Unveils Online 'STEMx' Courses for Teachers
InformationWeek (04/18/13) Ellis Booker
Hewlett-Packard (HP), in partnership with the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and the New Media Consortium, has unveiled HP Catalyst Academy, a massive open online course (MOOC) for teachers that will go into beta in June. HP Catalyst Academy is designed to prepare educators to teach STEMx education. Coined by the HP Catalyst Initiative, STEMx covers science, technology, engineering, and math, as well as other high-technology disciplines such as computer science, nanoscience, and biotech. Moreover, STEMx refers to skills such as collaboration, creativity, communication, problem solving, inquiry, computational thinking, and global fluency. The academy will connect teachers to STEMx educators, using a variety of online teaching platforms. The educators, also known as HP Catalyst Fellows, will provide a set of online mini-courses on a wide range of topics such as digital fabrication, remote labs, game design, and social media. ISTE's Leslie Conery notes that the MOOC is not just for teachers and interested students will be encouraged to try the course.
New Algorithm Helps Evaluate, Rank Scientific Literature
NCSU News (04/18/13) Matt Shipman
A team at North Carolina State University is using software to determine the best scientific papers to include in their Comparative Toxicogenomics Database (CTD), a public database that manually curates and codes data from scientific literature describing how environmental chemicals interact with genes to affect human health. The researchers developed an algorithm as part of the text-mining process, and the application evaluates the text from thousands of papers and assigns a relevancy score to each document. In a test, a team of biocurators manually read and evaluated a representative sample of 15,000 text-mined articles, and agreed 85 percent of the time with the highest-scored papers. The text-mining algorithm enabled the biocurators to focus on the most relevant papers, increasing productivity by 27 percent and novel data content by 100 percent. "We're not at the point yet where a computer can read and extract all the relevant data on its own, but having this text-mining process to direct us toward the most informative articles is a huge first step," says project manager Allan Peter Davis.
Georgia Tech Uses 'Big Data' Algorithm to Customize Video Game Difficulty
Georgia Tech News (04/18/13)
Georgia Tech researchers have written an algorithm that forecasts player performance in video games and adjusts the challenge accordingly to help players learn new skills more quickly. The researchers say the model could be applied to areas outside of gaming and can scale to tens of thousands of users. The team developed a simple turn-based game, then used participant scores to apply algorithms that predict how others with similar skillsets would perform. The researchers used the collaborative-filtering model often used for product ratings and recommendations to suggest the next challenge for players. Although games currently use a technique called rubberbanding to adjust game difficulty in a reactionary way, the new algorithm adjusts difficulty based on in-game performance. The approach also could be used for educational and training applications, for example, with students struggling with math concepts. “Our approach could allow novices to progress slowly and prevent them from abandoning a challenge right away,” says Georgia Tech professor Mark Riedl, who helped develop the algorithm. “For those good at certain skills, the game can be tuned to their particular talents to provide the right challenge at the right time.” The researchers say they can forecast in-game player performance with up to 93-percent accuracy.
NRL's CT-Analyst Supports Presidential Inauguration
Naval Research Laboratory (04/18/13)
U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) researchers employed their CT-Analyst technology during the 2009 and 2013 presidential inaugurations. The tool can provide accurate, 3D predictions of chemical, biological, and radiological (CBR) agent transport in urban settings. The researchers say CT-Analyst can provide answers to first responders in about 0.05 seconds, compared with computational fluid dynamic models that can take one to two hours. They say CT-Analyst also can offer more detailed information more quickly and with better results than industry accepted Puff/Plume models. The technology uses the best computations possible prepared well ahead of time and captures key results in a highly compressed database for instant manipulation and display. Moreover, the tool can instantly project optimal evacuation paths. "Basically, every scenario you can imagine has already been processed," says NRL's Adam Moses. "CT-Analyst gives first responders a key advantage so that they spend less time calculating response needs and more time saving lives."
Why Are Micro Movies So Popular These Days?
Scientific American (04/17/13) David Pogue
Online micro videos are enjoying a surge in popularity, despite a lack of advanced technology. For example, the 26-year-old animated GIF format is popular in email signatures and is the most common currency on sites such as Tumblr and Reddit, despite its short, soundless, and jerky video. Similarly, Nikon 1 cameras are bestsellers, even though their mode dials only offer four options, including the one-second, silent video clip Motion Snapshot. Another limited but hugely popular video tool is Vine, an iPhone app that records six-second videos that can be posted on the Vine social network, Twitter, or Facebook. One possible explanation for the popularity of these limited functionality tools is that their technical limitations actually offer some advantages by not taking up as much bandwidth as higher-quality video. Smaller videos load very quickly without running up cellphone bills and wasting time. In addition, unlike some modern formats, animated GIFs can be posted anywhere, including comment boards and profile pictures, and work with essentially all browsers and devices. Another possibility is that the limitations of these tools promote creativity by requiring users to convey their message in a six-second video, for example. Micro videos also could be considered a more-sophisticated photograph, rather than a less-advanced video.
New Computational Model Can Predict Breast Cancer Survival
Columbia University (04/17/13) Holly Evarts
Columbia University researchers have developed a computational model that is highly predictive of breast cancer survival. In earlier work, the researchers had identified attractor metagenes, which are gene signatures that are present in almost identical form in many different kinds of cancer. The researchers tested the signatures in the Sage Bionetworks/DREAM Breast Cancer Prognosis Challenge, a crowd-sourced effort for accurate breast cancer prognosis using molecular and clinical data. The researchers developed a prognostic model that showed that these signatures of cancer, when properly combined, were strong predictors for breast cancer survival. "I think that the most significant--and exciting--implication of our work is the hope that these signatures can be used for improved diagnostic, prognostic, and eventually, therapeutic products, applicable to multiple cancers," says Columbia professor Dimitris Anastassiou. The researchers hope to collaborate with medical scientists studying the biological mechanisms behind cancer signatures. "The hallmarks of cancer are unifying biological capabilities present in all cancers, as described in some seminal papers," Anastassiou says. "We think that we have now reached the point where systems biology can also identify such hallmarks."
System Allows Multitasking Runners to Read on a Treadmill
Purdue University News (04/15/13) Emil Venere
Purdue University researchers have developed ReadingMate, a system that adjusts text on a monitor to counteract the bobbing motion of a runner's head so that the text appears still. It is difficult to run and read at the same time "because the relative location of the eyes to the text is vigorously changing, and our eyes try to constantly adjust to such changes, which is burdensome," says Purdue professor Ji Soo Yi. The user wears goggles equipped with infrared light-emitting diodes (LEDs); an infrared camera captures the LEDs, tracking the runner's bobbing head. The researchers developed an algorithm that moves the text in unison with the head movement, taking into consideration the human reflex to compensate for motion. "You can't just move the text exactly in synch with the head because the eye is already doing what it can to compensate, so you have to account for that compensation by moving the text slightly out of synch with the head motion," says Purdue's Bum chul Kwon. The researchers say the system also could be used by heavy equipment workers and aircraft pilots. "Both may experience heavy shaking and turbulence while reading information from a display," Kwon notes.
Big Questions for Big Data: Stanford's Jure Leskovec
Stanford University (04/17/13) Kelly Servick
Stanford University professor Jure Leskovec studies big data gathered by sites such as Twitter, Wikipedia, and Facebook to learn about the way society functions. Leskovec says fundamental patterns of behavior are revealed in online activities such as sharing news, clicking links, and casting votes. He recently studied data mined from 6 billion news articles and blog posts collected daily for the last four years, some of which was crawled from the Internet, while other data came from companies such as Facebook, Twitter, and Microsoft. The companies hoped that working with Leskovec would yield useful information about how people make sense of the Internet and social media. Facebook, for example, worked with Leskovec’s team to discover a way to forecast which friends Facebook users would add next, and this evolved into the “people you may know” feature. Leskovec also is developing programs that forecast what people are trying to find based on the way they navigate and whether they will abandon their search, which could result in technology that points users in the right direction when they are not finding the information they need. Leskovec's most recent work involves the study of how news and other information travels through networks.
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