Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the May 13, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Networks in 2020: More Traffic, Less Energy
IDG News Service (05/13/13) Stephen Lawson

New technologies will enable networks to use much less energy by 2020 even though they will be carrying much more traffic, according to the GreenTouch consortium. "There is potential with these new technologies to support the traffic growth and still make the energy consumption go down," says GreenTouch chairman Theirry Klein. He says the tools that will make this possible include new devices, components, algorithms, architectures, and protocols. Companies that are part of the GreenTouch consortium also are developing other technologies that could drive even greater efficiency. GreenTouch's findings are promising and could become real, but there are too many green-network initiatives in play today, says Frost & Sullivan analyst Saverio Romeo. GreenTouch reached its conclusions based on forecasts that the amount of traffic on wireless networks will have multiplied 88 times between 2010 and 2020. "For the most part, the energy consumption of the equipment is at the peak power, or very close to the peak power...even when there is no load," Klein notes. However, GreenTouch has identified ways to solve that problem by making networks more adaptive, so components or entire systems can be shut down when not needed.


Linux Leads in Open Source Quality, but Risky Defects Lurk
Government Computer News (05/11/13) Paul McCloskey

Linux topped open source software in quality in a study of the defects that occur in the software development process. For more than seven years, Coverity Scan Service analyzed 850 million lines of code from more than 300 open source projects, including those written in Linux, PHP, and Apache. Using a measure of defects per 1,000 lines of code, the study found that Linux consistently recorded defect densities of less than 1.0, with versions scanned between 2011 and 2012 having defect rates below 0.7. The study also found that high-risk defects were prevalent in the software development process, with 36 percent of defects classified as a "threat to overall software quality and security if undetected." The most common high-risk defects included memory corruption, illegal memory access, and resource leaks, which the study's report says are "all difficult to detect without automated code analysis." The study also found that the average quality of open source software was virtually equal to that of proprietary software.


Child Care and STEM Fields Are Called Barriers to Women at 2-Year Colleges
Chronicle of Higher Education (05/10/13) Katherine Mangan

Gender stereotypes that discourage women from pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields are one of the biggest barriers holding them back in community colleges, according to a new report from the American Association of University Women. The report recommends policies and practices such as more aggressive efforts to steer women into relatively well-paying STEM fields. The report notes that women accounted for 57 percent of community-college students in 2010. More than 4 million women attend two-year colleges, which is more than the number of women who are undergraduates at either public or private four-year colleges. Aside from gender stereotypes, the report blames a lack of information and support for women's underrepresentation in STEM fields. The report also says more affordable and convenient child care would benefit female students.
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Amherst Prof Devises First Head-to-Head Speed Test With Conventional Computing, and the Quantum Computer Wins
Amherst College (05/07/2013) Peter Rooney

Amherst College professor Catherine McGeoch recently devised and conducted experiments to test the speed of a quantum computing system against conventional computing methods. "Ours is the first paper to my knowledge that compares the quantum approach to conventional methods using the same set of problems," McGeoch says. The research shows that quantum computing can solve problems thousands of times faster than conventional computing methods can. "It’s such a whole different approach to computation that you have to wrap your head around this new way of doing things in order to decide how to evaluate it," McGeoch says. "It’s like comparing apples and oranges, or apples and fish, and the difficulty was coming up with experiments and analyses that allowed you to say you’d compared things properly." The Amherst researchers used a D-Wave quantum system, which is designed to excel at specific combinatorial optimization problems. "This type of computer is not intended for surfing the Internet, but it does solve this narrow but important type of problem really, really fast," McGeoch says. "If you want it to solve the exact problem it’s built to solve, at the problem sizes I tested, it’s thousands of times faster than anything I'm aware of."


App Helps Blind Photographers Take the Perfect Snap
New Scientist (05/09/13) Paul Marks

University of California, Santa Cruz researchers are developing a smartphone application that helps visually impaired users take pictures. The researchers polled 54 people with varying degrees of vision impairment to determine what they find most challenging about taking photos. The researchers found that many smartphones already offer face detection, but other more useful features are needed to make a camera app suitable for the visually impaired. For example, instead of a shutter button, which can be difficult to locate, the new app snaps a picture in response to a simple upward swipe gesture. In addition, the app merges face detection and the voice accessibility features so that the phone speaks out loud the number of faces detected, helping the user get all the subjects in the shot. When the app’s camera mode is activated, the phone begins recording a 30-second audio file, which can be saved with the time and date. The app also translates global positioning system data into audio that provides the name of the area where the shot was taken.


Why Even Google Will Embrace Cellphone Chips in the Data Center
Wired News (05/09/13) Cade Metz

University of California, San Diego professor Jason Mars spends his summers at Google's computing facilities, determining ways to make the company's data centers more efficient. His most recent research paper suggests that Google can achieve significant cost savings by using specific processors for particular software tasks. Google’s data centers currently are designed for homogeneity, with the aim of running everything on the same hardware. However, the facilities are more diverse than intended due to machines being replaced and upgraded, and Mars and his colleagues noticed that specific applications performed better on certain processors. He says that by deliberately matching applications with chips, Google could make its entire operation up to 15-percent faster. Mars notes that even a 1-percent increase would save millions of dollars. "It turns out that we want to embrace heterogeneity," he says. "There is a huge opportunity to build cheaper data centers that are actually higher in performance." In line with Mars' research, companies such as Facebook are starting to support the idea that costs can be reduced with specialized chips and other low-power processors with architectures created for smartphones.


Open Compute Project Moves Into Networking
V3.co.uk (05/09/13) Shaun Nichols

The Open Compute Project (OCP) aims to design a networking switch that is operating system agnostic and open for all hardware developers and service providers to use in their products. OCP's flagship effort is a blueprint for servers that eliminates unnecessary components and is specifically designed for use in large data center deployments. When deployed, the Open Compute networking box will be a more efficient and flexible model for building a bare-bones networking switch that would sit at the top of a server rack. "It’s our hope that an open, disaggregated switch will enable a faster pace of innovation in the development of networking hardware, help software-defined networking continue to evolve and flourish, and ultimately provide consumers of these technologies with the freedom they need to build infrastructures that are flexible, scalable, and efficient across the entire stack," says OCP president Frank Frankovsky. The design phase for the project is scheduled to start May 16, and early project supporters include Facebook, Intel, and VMware, as well as networking firms such as Netronome and Broadcom.


Intelligent Robots Will Overtake Humans by 2100, Experts Say
LiveScience (NY) (05/07/13)

Some computer scientists believe the singularity at which artificial intelligence (AI) can match and overtake human intelligence could take place in only 16 years. Although some futurists take an optimistic view that machines will help humans overcome physical limitations, others foresee a dire scenario in which AI takes over human abilities and people are absorbed into AI-based organisms. Futurist Ray Kurzweil believes that by 2029 computers will be as smart as humans, and that by 2045 "computers will be billions of times more powerful than unaided human intelligence." Holding a more conservative view, New York University computer scientist Ernest Davis believes AI is far from overtaking human intelligence. He notes that although AI can outperform humans at specialized tasks such as a game of chess, the average seven-year-old far surpasses AI in terms of common sense, vision, language, and intuition. The most recent singularity occurred with the Industrial Revolution and resulted in economic productivity doubling every 15 years, and before that the Agricultural Revolution led to a doubling every 1,000 years, notes George Mason University economist Robin Hanson. The next singularity when AI matches human intelligence will cause the economy to double every week or month, Hanson predicts.


Study Shows That People Organize Daily Travel Efficiently
MIT News (05/08/13) Denise Brehm

A study led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Marta Gonzalez uses big data as well as statistical physics and network theory methodologies to describe human daily travel behavior that remains constant for the entire population of two very different and geographically separated cities. After studying people in Chicago and Paris, Gonzalez found that they conduct secondary trips made in addition to primary routes efficiently and consistently. With more than 1 million possible trip sequences for up to five secondary locations, people use only 17 sequences. Because these trip configurations appear to hold universally true, they represent motifs in network theory with a negligible probability of random occurrence, according to Gonzalez. She says the formula is simple and it can predict how individuals behave and also apply to the large-scale, population level. One finding is that once a person makes an additional trip outside of their usual commute, they are 10 times more likely to make another extra trip instead of going back home, which led paper author Christian Schneider to dub the theory the “perturbation model.”


White House and Tech Firms Team Up to Retrain Vets
Baseline (05/07/13) Samuel Greengard

A new public-private initiative will give U.S. service members the chance to earn industry-recognized information technology (IT) certifications before they leave the military. Announced by First Lady Michelle Obama, the grant program brings together the White House and several tech companies. "This new partnership will provide up to 161,000 service members with the chance to gain the certifications they need for 12 different high-demand, high-paying technology careers...from IT security analysts to computer programmers to quality assurance engineers," Obama says. A Defense Department task force developed the program, which will target service members who are leaving the military and transitioning into the civilian workforce, as well as military personnel who are in the early and middle stages of their careers. Private companies will provide resources and support, in many cases at no cost to participants in the Information Technology Training and Certification Partnership. The initiative's organizers note that military personnel often have strong IT skills that are at a level equivalent to their civilian counterparts.


Mapping the Online Landscape to Predict, Prevent Digital Tipping Points
UC Santa Barbara (05/06/13) Shelly Leachman; George Foulsham

University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) researchers are conducting a project that aims to model different types of information networks and discern the shared dynamics that could make predictions possible. The researchers are examining data from Facebook, Twitter, and Wikipedia, as well as from transportation and communications networks, looking for shared patterns across multiple networks. They say the work has numerous implications with potentially widespread impact, including improved military intelligence, public health, the development of novel search functions, and the design of more robust networks. The goal is to predict potential end results by tracking beginnings. "We are looking for tipping points, but we first need to find the outliers to understand which are the patterns that have become larger, that have shifted around the maximum amount," says UCSB professor Ambuj K. Singh. "What makes it a tipping point? We first need the data to try to understand the different patterns, then we can try to find what exactly makes it go viral." Singh says the point of the research is to understand network behavior dynamics because future wars the United States will be fighting will expand to the social domain.


A Game Called Polly Is Designed to Promote Literacy
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (05/06/13) Waqas Banoori

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers have developed Polly, a smartphone game that could give people with low reading and writing skills in the developing world access to information that can help them learn. Polly enables users to record a message, and then listen to it in a variety of voices. After choosing a voice for the message, the user then has the option of forwarding the audio message to a friend. The system also has an option to listen to recorded information about job opportunities. As part of the project, a phone number was circulated among five low-skilled people in May 2012. The number of people who eventually tapped into the number has since reached 160,000, mostly through users sending messages to their friends via Polly. The researchers say their aim is to increase awareness of the potential of mobile phones to access information, to increase familiarity and comfort while interacting with automated systems, and to provide job information. "Polly should be able to train most of the people in the underdeveloped countries in how to use the automated services and on top of it they can access information they want, ultimately leading to the development of these communities," says CMU's Agha Ali Raza.


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