Welcome to the April 29, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
The Rise of Big Data
Foreign Affairs (06/13) Kenneth Neil Cukier; Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger
Big data is transforming the way people experience the world and enabling them to learn things that in the past would have been impossible, offering a potential that could rival that of the Internet. This phenomenon is relatively new because as recently as 2000 only a quarter of stored information was digital, compared with today's figure of more than 98 percent. Big data does not merely refer to a quantity of information, but also the ability to turn previously unquantified information into data. This “datafication” of the world, combined with cost-effective computer memory, powerful processors, smart algorithms, and improved software, is driving efforts to provide enough data to a computer to enable it to infer the probability of an event, which is taking the place of trying to teach a computer to complete a task. Making use of big data requires three major shifts in approach to data. First, using big data requires the collection and use of a large amount of data rather than small amounts or samples. Second, imperfect data is acceptable because a huge volume of data of variable quality produces greater results than a small quantity of clean, exact data. Finally, the focus with big data should be in finding correlations rather than causes.
Google Glass Could Spur Wearable Tech Boom
Washington Post (04/26/13) Hayley Tsukayama
IHS estimates that wearable-technology companies could sell up to 9.4 million devices by 2016, a figure that includes smart glasses, smart wristbands and smart watches. However, privacy advocates warn that users must think carefully about giving companies even more streams of data about their lives. While Google has not offered official guidance on how it plans to navigate the privacy or etiquette questions surrounding its Google Glass project, some developers have addressed the topic. Alexandria, VA-based developer Noble Ackerson has created etiquette tip cards that aim to dispel some of the myths about people wearing these devices. Additionally, fashion companies will work with technology firms to create more-attractive devices. "If these products make our lives better, it could very well become something that makes its way into every household," says NPD Group fashion analyst Marshal Cohen. Google Glass could accelerate the wearable tech world in the same way that Apple's iPad facilitated the tablet market, because the company can use its strength as a software developer to build useful programs to make Glass more commonplace.
Diamond Shows Promise for a Quantum Internet
Nature (04/24/13) Richard Van Noorden
Physicists have taken a step toward a quantum Internet constructed from diamond crystals by entangling data stored in diamond pieces three meters apart so that measuring the state of one quantum bit (qubit) instantaneously fixes the state of the other. A quantum Internet would utilize entangled photons transmitted along fiber-optic cables to subsequently entangle qubits, a milestone that could potentially provide ultra-secure communications or deliver software and data to future quantum computers. The researchers entangle qubits in separate diamond pieces using lasers to entangle each qubit with a photon at temperatures of 10 degrees kelvin. The photons converge midway through a fiber-optic cable, where they are themselves entangled. Entanglement is currently accomplished only once in every 10 million tries. A key objective of the method is providing a foundation for quantum repeaters, which would facilitate long-distance quantum communications through entangled chains. Delft University of Technology researcher Ronald Hanson says diamond's ability to link remote processors in networks is better than that of ion systems. Diamond-stored qubits also can be maintained at room temperature, since diamond's surrounding carbon lattice protects them from stray magnetic fields or vibrations that might disrupt their superposition.
Energy Efficient Brain Simulator Outperforms Supercomputers
National Science Foundation (04/24/13) Valerie Thompson
Professor Kwabena Boahen at Stanford University's Brains in Silicon research laboratory reports that his lab's Neurogrid computing platform simulates the activity of 1 million neurons in real time. In comparison, the average supercomputer takes about an hour to model a second of brain activity, Boahen notes. Each of Neurogrid's 16 chips possess more than 65,000 silicon neurons whose operations can be programmed based on almost 80 parameters. Soft-wired synapses crisscross the board, transporting signals between each simulated neuron and the thousands of neurons with which it is networked. Neurogrid follows a hybrid analog-digital activity process similar to the brain's by using an analog signal for computation and a digital signal for communication. By contrast, most computers use digital signaling, in which the computer performs instructions by answering true or false to a series of questions. In addition, Neurogrid consumes just 5 watts of electricity, compared to the roughly 8 megawatts used by IBM's Blue Gene/Q Sequoia supercomputer. Neurogrid could offer insights not only into normal brain operations, but also potentially into complex brain diseases such as autism and schizophrenia, which are difficult to simulate.
NASA Uses Smartphones as Satellites
InformationWeek (04/24/13) Elena Malykhina
The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is using smartphones as microprocessors for satellites. The space agency recently launched three nanosatellites, known as PhoneSats, into space aboard a rocket, and they will transmit signals to ground stations on Earth for two weeks. The two PhoneSat 1.0 satellites were built using the HTC Nexus One smartphone, and the PhoneSat 2.0, which has improved software and more sensors, is powered by the Samsung Nexus S. Smartphones have more than 100 times the computing power of satellites, including fast processors, multiple sensors, high-resolution cameras, global positioning system receivers, and radios. A few components were added that are not found in smartphones, such as a larger, external lithium-ion battery and a more powerful radio. Each satellite measures only four inches on each side and weighs less than four pounds, and cost $3,500 to build, while the launch cost a little as $50,000. A typical satellite can cost as much as $500 million. NASA wants to use smartphones to make satellites more intelligent.
Software Engineers Win Bronze in Best Job Battle
V3.co.uk (04/24/13) Rosalie Marshall
The information technology (IT) sector scored well overall in the latest edition of CareerCast's Jobs Rated report. The 2013 report ranks software engineer as the third best job in the world, behind only the positions of actuary and biomedical engineer. The recruitment site rated 200 different jobs by core criteria of environment, income, outlook, and stress level, and each of the categories included a range of subcategories that are related to the score. The report said software engineers earn an average income of $89,000, have a pleasant work environment, enjoy low stress levels, and the future of their careers looks bright. Among other jobs in the IT sector, computer system analysts placed 10th, website developers placed 24th, and computer programmers 38th. CareerCast has published the Jobs Rated report annually for 25 years.
World's Most Human-Like Android Head
Roboticist David Hanson says he will debut his latest android, the Dmitry Avatar-A head modeled after 2045 Initiative founder Dmitry Itskov, at the Global Future 2045 (GF2045) congress. Hanson calls the device the "world's most human-like android head," containing 36 servomotors to generate highly articulated facial expressions, high-resolution sensors in the eyes, and a new formulation of Hanson's elastic Frubber polymer to simulate human musculature and skin movement. Each eye in the head will be capable of independent motion. Hanson says the new Frubber formulation employs "1/20th the power of other materials, as well as new mechanisms for improved facial expressions. It also has increased consistency, movement, strength, and manufacturability." Hanson also says Dmitry Avatar-A will be more expressive and realistic, as well as bigger and more aesthetically appealing. He says the robots he is unveiling at GF2045 benefit from being lighter in weight, with more power efficiency and adaptive intelligence. Hanson's Hanson RoboKind company is collaborating with universities and research groups to investigate human and robotic interaction, as well as robotics, artificial intelligence, material science, cognitive science, and neuroscience.
Epidural Simulator Developed by BU and Poole Hospital Will Help Reduce Risk of Harm to Patients
Bournemouth University (United Kingdom) (04/22/13)
Researchers at Bournemouth University and Poole Hospital are developing an epidural simulator to aid in training doctors to perform epidurals and increase patient safety. The simulator uses software to mimic the conditions of giving an epidural, allowing adjustments for different heights, BMIs, angles, and rotations of the spine. "I developed the simulator because there is a need to provide precise training in a delicate clinical procedure which has potential devastating effects to the mother when things go wrong," says Poole Hospital's Michael Wee, who developed the simulator with others from the hospital and Bournemouth University School of Design. "A high-fidelity epidural simulator will help to reduce the learning curve and thereby improve the success of epidurals whilst reducing potential harm to the mothers." The project has garnered international attention and is shortlisted for several notable awards, including the National Patient Safety Awards 2013 and the Design of Medical Devices International Student Design Showcase 2013.
Internet-TV Combination Makes Life Easier
CORDIS News (04/22/13)
European Union researchers are working on the networks and ontologies for the transformation and unification of broadcasting and the Internet (NOTUBE) project, developing solutions that convert the TV into a personalized, interactive experience. Over the last three years, NOTUBE researchers have developed several technologies. For example, the N-screen is a Web application that can help small groups determine what they want to watch. Beancounter is a social Web user-profiling system that can bring people together, regardless of their location or the tools they use to connect. The NOTUBE TV application programming interface gives broadcasters the means to develop novel Web-based applications and systems that make TV both more interactive and better. "The concept of linked data allowed the NOTUBE team to set reference standards for online publishers," says NOTUBE researcher Dan Brickley. "This made it possible, for example, for broadcasters to create personalized news environments and online program guides, showing users what they most want to see." Brickley notes that NOTUBE works across different devices and languages. "The results and prototypes from NOTUBE are now more relevant than ever, and show the way forward to develop personalized TV applications where the user still controls their data," he says.
UCLA Researchers Capture Wasted Heat, Use It to Power Devices
UCLA Newsroom (CA) (04/22/13) Matthew Chin; Bill Kisliuk
A new paper by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles is the first demonstration of moving a domain wall through propagation of a spin wave. The research marks a key step toward capturing the excess heat generated by computers or other devices, and using it to power the machines. Professor Kang Wang and colleagues have demonstrated how to add power to a spintronics device. Excess heat naturally creates a spin wave that can move a domain wall, which separates magnetic materials that point in different directions in certain magnetic devices. Housed within the central processing unit of a computer or other electrical device, a domain wall would act in the manner of a turbine, capturing heat from the traveling spin wave and converting it to energy. The research ultimately could lead to more energy-efficient appliances and information-processing devices, and consumers also could see savings on their electricity bills.
Physicists Find Right (and Left) Solution for On-Chip Optics
Harvard University (04/22/13) Caroline Perry
Harvard University researchers have created a type of nanoscale device that converts an optical signal into waves that travel along a metal surface. The device can recognize specific kinds of polarized light and send the signal in one direction or another. The researchers say the findings offer a new way to precisely manipulate light at the subwavelength scale without damaging the signal that could carry data, which could make possible a new generation of on-chip optical interconnects that can efficiently funnel information from optical to electronic devices. The device reads the polarization of the incoming light wave, which can be linear, left-hand circular, or right-hand circular, and routes it accordingly. Harvard professor Federico Capasso notes the device "makes it possible to control the direction of signals in a very simple and elegant way." Capasso says the technology could be used in future high-speed information networks that combine nanoscale electronics with optical and plasmonic elements on one microchip. "This has generated great excitement in the field," he says.
Robot-Human Interaction: Will We Bond With Bots In The Future?
Huffington Post (04/19/13) Bianca Bosker
Willow Garage researcher Leila Takayama studies human-robot interaction and has witnessed humanity's relationship with robots evolve. As robots become more intelligent and aware, experts say people might develop emotional relationships with robots. Takayama notes that it is a different kind of love than for people, but it is a real emotion that should be examined further. Takayama is developing robots that can help with household chores, and go to the office while the user works from home. However, robots with the ability to learn and use appropriate social cues are the most likely to make people feel emotionally attached to them. "If the robot succeeds in opening a door so that it could do a task for you, it could look a little bit happy and that can actually help with the way that that robot feels appealing and approachable," Takayama says. "Same thing if it fails, if that robot at least looks like it feels a little bad about failing, that increases the appeal and approachability and perceived competence of that robot." She notes that robots can alienate users by seeming rude and abrasive, and part of her work is trying to teach robots manners and social skills.
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