Welcome to the May 17, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Google and NASA Launch Quantum Computing AI Lab
Technology Review (05/16/13) Charles Choi
The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Google, and the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) are launching the Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab to explore the use of quantum computing to advance the machine-learning branch of artificial intelligence. The D-Wave Two quantum computer will be installed at the NASA Advanced Supercomputing Facility at the Ames Research Center, slated for use in government, industrial, and university research later this year. Although Google intends to use the D-Wave Two to refine its Web search and speech-recognition technology, university researchers are likely to use it for disease and climate models. NASA uses quantum computing to model space weather, simulate planetary atmospheres, analyze huge volumes of mission data, and other functions. Through the Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab, USRA will invite researchers from around the country to use the D-Wave Two, and 20 percent of its computing time will be open for free to the university community via competitive selection. NASA and Google will evenly divide the remaining computing time.
Giving Students Credit for Programming Classes
New York Times (05/15/13) Nick Wingfield
Washington recently became the latest state to pass a law granting academic course credit in math or science to students who take advanced placement computer science classes. Technology companies and nonprofit groups were pushing hard for the law because they see stimulating student interest in computer science as the main long-term solution to a shortage of engineers in the technology industry. Now the groups are likely to focus on other states, such as California, that still treat computer science as an elective. "In California, it’s in the same bucket as horseshoe-making,” notes Code.org founder Hadi Partovi. "You can get as many credits for learning to put shoes on hooves as for making iPhone apps." The states that have previously allowed students to receive academic credit for computer science include Georgia, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, and Virginia. However, computer science is not even offered in many schools around the country. Microsoft is trying to help improve access to computer science classes by training its own engineers and those from other companies to help teach courses in classrooms.
New Software Spots, Isolates Cyber-Attacks to Protect Networked Control Systems
NCSU News (05/14/13) Matt Shipman
Distributed networked control systems (D-NCSs) can operate more securely using an algorithm developed by researchers at North Carolina State University (NCSU). Networked control systems have become increasingly important for coordinating infrastructure, such as transportation and power, in the United States. The algorithm is designed to detect when an individual agent in a D-NCS has been compromised in a cyberattack and then isolate the compromised agent, a strategy that protects the rest of the system and enables it to continue functioning normally. The researchers say their approach makes D-NCSs more resilient and secure than networked control systems that coordinate their activities through a single, centralized computer hub. D-NCSs let all the system agents work together to coordinate their activities so the system can run with greater efficiency; these distributed systems also can operate more securely. "In addition, our security algorithm can be incorporated directly into the code used to operate existing distributed control systems, with minor modifications," says NCSU professor Mo-Yuen Chow. "It would not require a complete overhaul of existing systems." The researchers are conducting additional tests to optimize the algorithm's detection rate and system performance.
'No Exascale for You!' An Interview With Berkeley Lab's Horst Simon
HPC Wire (05/15/13) John Bashor
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Horst Simon says in an interview that he doubts exascale computing will be reached by 2020 because "the methods we have been using to predict when we cross certain thresholds, like teraflop/s and petaflop/s no longer apply." Simon notes that it remains unclear what architecture will bring computing to the exascale level, and he says straight line extrapolation thinking is flawed and heading for a major disruption due to a fundamental technology transition. Simon says exascale architecture development is following three branches: a multicore path centered around high-end central processing units; a Manycore/embedded approach that employs simpler, low power cores from embedded systems, and the graphical processing unit (GPU)/accelerator approach using specialized processors from the gaming/graphics market sector. Simon predicts the GPU/accelerator architecture will be the basis for all top 10 systems on the Top500 supercomputing list by 2015. He has proposed an unattainable measurable exascale goal to build a system that will hold the top spot on the Top500 list with an Rmax higher than 1 exaflop per second before 2020. The challenge of system performance measurement at that scale is one obstacle Simon cites, as are power and cost of data movement issues.
MIT Members Invited to Color Nighttime Sky With Pilobolus & Up: The Umbrella Project
MIT News (05/15/13) Abby Abazorius
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) faculty, staff, and students are invited to participate in the second performance of UP: The Umbrella Project on May 19. UP is a joint venture between MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) and the Pilobolus dance company, in which participants will be given umbrellas outfitted with multicolored light-emitting diode lights. They will control the color of their umbrellas through manual devices developed by researchers at CSAIL's MIT Distributed Robotics Lab, traversing a field under the guidance of the dance troupe and creating a constantly changing display of live art. "Our work deals with developing algorithms that allow robots to operate independently within a large decentralized network so that the robots can coordinate and work together to accomplish a common task," said CSAIL's Kyle Gilpin. "Through UP, we can study the behaviors of large groups, which can be applied to our research in robotics." This is second time that the Distributed Robotics Lab, led by director Daniela Rus, has worked with Pilobolus. "We have found there is a wealth of knowledge to be gained at the intersection of art and science that offers deep insight into human behavior, findings that are incredibly useful to the field of computer science," Rus says.
NICE! The Brain as a Model for Future Supercomputers
Sandia National Laboratories (05/14/13) Neal Singer
Finding ways to tap the brain's ability to transmit signals along massively parallel channels, with multiple convergences at downstream nodes, to accommodate rapidly changing, high-volume data is the purpose of the Sandia National Laboratories-sponsored Neuro-Inspired Computational Elements (NICE) workshop. NICE is envisioned as a way to continue the advancement of computing power once the barrier for shrinking circuits is reached. Workshop participants proposed isolating brain tissues that govern aspects of behavior, analyzing the shape and behavior of the neurons sending the signals, and copying that configuration using conventional hardware and software or, most likely, a new solid-state substrate. Possible domain intersections cited by Sandia's Rob Leland include tissue-based and in-vivo sensors, optical nanosensors for chemical analysis within cells, regulated nanoassembly of circuits, digital antibodies, and virus-sized logic chips. “Brains are highly parallel, can reconfigure themselves dynamically in a few minutes, and use molecular signal transduction [to pass messages],” notes George Mason University's Jim Olds. “In message-passing they use little power and finesse around bottlenecks [that would slow silicon-based] parallel-computing systems.” Still, Sandia CIO Mike Vahle cautions that pattern-matching brain function to computing function may give rise to a host of ethical, cultural, and security issues.
Welcome to the Programmable World
Wired News (05/14/13) Bill Wasik
A new technological era is dawning in which everyday devices will communicate wirelessly with one another, perform tasks on command, and provide an unprecedented level of data, in a phenomenon being dubbed the Internet of Things or the Sensor Revolution. However, a more apt name might be the Programmable World, because as enough objects communicate over the network, they comprise an immense, programmable system that transcends the Internet or individual sensors. Three stages exist to achieve a truly programmable environment, and the first is to move more devices onto the network by placing sensors and processors in everyday objects and adding wireless connectivity to obtain data from processors already in place. The second stage is to allow devices to communicate with one another to execute tasks without any human intervention. The third stage is to transform the multitude of connected devices into a platform that can run software, as a computer or smartphone can. These connected objects will need to meet security and privacy specifications, but a more immediate obstacle is how to maintain power sources for all of the devices. Wireless power, using resonant magnetic coupling to transmit power to devices as far as several meters away from a charging station, is one possibility.
Verification System Aims to Guarantee Software Function
The Engineer (United Kingdom) (05/14/13)
Strathclyde University researchers Patricia Johann and Neil Ghani are developing software designed to guarantee that programs perform the computations they are designed to carry out. The software aims to stop programs from performing unintended tasks, thereby improving the reliability of safety-critical systems. "Formal verification uses mathematical techniques to prove that programs actually perform the computations they are intended to perform--for example, that text editors really do save a file when a 'save' command is issued, or that automatic pilots really do correctly execute flight plans," Ghani says. "Since programmers make 15 to 50 errors per 1,000 lines of code--and since repairing them accounts for some 80 percent of project expenses--the ever-increasing size and sophistication of programs makes formal verification increasingly critical to modern software development." The researchers developed the software because current testing procedures for software, which involve repeatedly running programs hundreds of times to detect errors, are inadequate. "If we can make program verification cheaper, it will become a major selling point for safety-critical software, such as flight-navigation systems" Ghani says.
Google Has 'Lapped Siri' With Sci-Fi-Like Search
Computerworld (05/16/13) Sharon Gaudin
Google subscribes to a vision of the future that has users searching for information by communicating with their computers conversationally. The company has outlined a plan for search's future in which the search engine answers user queries as well as holds conversations with users and offers information before they even request it. Google has developed a voice-facilitated digital personal assistant similar to Apple's Siri with this goal in mind. However, analysts say Google's technology is more advanced than Siri and can be deployed on desktop systems. "They've lapped Siri," says analyst Patrick Moorhead. "The most important search improvements were around Google Now. The functionality is coming to the PC and they have added more voice actions. This provides a consistent and more comprehensive experience across phones, tablets, and PCs." Gartner analyst Brian Blau says Google is making search results more contextual and personalized, while Moorhead says voice search will offer even greater efficiency and fluidity. "This would be good for making appointments or searching for the right restaurant," he notes. "Usage will be very low at first, but as confidence and accuracy improves, it will be used more."
Hospital Visits Take on New Meaning With Therapeutic Robots
CORDIS News (05/13/13)
The Multi-Robot Cognitive Systems Operating in Hospitals (MOnarCH) project will give European researchers an opportunity to closely examine how humans and robots interact. The participating companies and research centers plan to introduce a community of social robots that will collaborate with medical personnel and interact with children who have cancer, meeting their different psychological needs. Scientists from the Carlos III University of Madrid (UC3M) Robotics Lab will develop and program all of the actions and interactive behavior of the fleet of robots, including the way they converse with others, play with children, and adapt to their individual needs. The Technical University of Lisbon is coordinating the three-year project. Scientists from nine companies and research centers in five countries are involved in MOnarCH. Most social robotics research so far has been focused on the technology's use in controlled environments. "The introduction of a group of autonomous social robots into surroundings with these characteristics is something new, and we hope that the project will help us to advance in the development of robots that are able to relate to people in complex situations and scenarios," says UC3M professor Miguel Angel Salichs.
Good, Better, Best Practices in Terminology
University of Vienna (05/13/13) Veronika Schallhart
The Legal Language Interoperability Services (LISE) project, funded by the European Union, focuses on improving terminological databases, with an emphasis on legal and administrative terminology. The project brings together translation scholars and terminologists from the University of Vienna, the Austrian Parliamentary Administration, the European Academy of Bolzano, ESTeam, and CrossLang. LISE is slated to run through July 2013, at which point the tools and methods developed will be put into practice, and the EU institutions will improve their databases using the project's results. "One person alone cannot maintain a database with more than 1,000 entries," says LISE project vice-coordinator Tanja Wissik. "We concentrate on improving the management and quality of terminological databases containing more than 1,000 entries." The research team developed special tools to combat the errors that commonly plague such databases. The Cleanup tool locates errors, duplicate entries, and terms attributed to the wrong language, while the Fillup tool adds new terms to the database and is particularly helpful with smaller languages, such as Maltese. "The goal is to facilitate the inclusion of all official languages, including those of accession countries," Wissik says. "Especially in the legal domain the correct terminology is crucial when translating documents."
Age and Gender? Dutch Develop Analyzer for Twitter
Agence France-Presse (05/13/13)
Twente University researchers have developed an online program that can determine the age and gender of Twitter users based on the content they post on the social network. The program uses a list of words and sequences corresponding with different ages and specific genders based on data from nearly 3,000 Twitter users. When a username is entered, the program compares the last 200 tweets with the words and phrases in its database to determine the age and gender. The distinction between men and women is often stereotypical, such as comments about football or nails. "In terms of age, younger users talk about themselves a lot more and use a lot of emoticons while older people use longer words and sentences," says Twente doctoral student Dong Nguyen. The program has a margin of error of four years. The team is considering updating it for other languages and Facebook.
Improving Communication During Disasters
European Union researchers are working on the BRIDGE project, which aims to improve emergency response collaboration during disasters, and is examining how technology can help to enhance response strategies. The system provides a visual overview of events taking place at the scene of a disaster. Information can be shared between the various units deployed by emergency responders using tablets, PCs, and large information boards. "This is a geolocation-based system which assembles all available data and displays them on a map," says SINTEF researcher Jan Havard Skjetne. The system enables all information to be available to personnel in the field and those staffing emergency centers. Fraunhofer researchers also have developed an armband that can be attached to injured people following an accident. The armband is part of an electronic system that sorts and prioritizes the injured. "The key here is that all injured persons are given a unique identification tag, and in this way it is possible to follow an injured person from the scene of the accident to the hospital," Skjetne says.
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