Welcome to the May 20, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Fed Chairman: 'Humanity's Capacity to Innovate' Has Never Been Greater
The Hill (05/18/13) Zack Colman
Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke in a Saturday commencement speech at Bard College in Massachusetts said innovation and information technology are fueling economic change. “Humanity's capacity to innovate and the incentives to innovate are greater today than at any other time in history,” Bernanke says. Progress is just beginning in biotechnology, medical treatment, communications, and clean energy, notes Bernanke, saying, “I'm sure that I can't imagine all of the possibilities, but historians of science have commented on our collective tendency to overestimate the short-term effects of new technologies while underestimating their longer-term potential." Advances in communications technology expands the ability to innovate by easing collaboration, increasing access to information, and speeding scientific publication approval, he says. “We live on a planet that is becoming richer and more populous, and in which not only the most advanced economies but also large emerging market nations like China and India increasingly see their economic futures as tied to technological innovation,” Bernanke says.
Face-Reading System Watches You Watching Ads
New Scientist (05/14/13) Niall Firth
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab have developed a system that could tell advertisers how well their ads are being received in the real world. The system is designed to assess how muscles in the face move in response to watching a video. The team collected more than 3,200 videos of people watching ads, and asked them to rate the commercials. The researchers also trained an algorithm on the mouth area of viewers to gauge how much they were smiling throughout each advertisement, tracked the smile intensity during the video, and then had the software predict which ads the viewer most enjoys. During tests, the system made correct predictions more than 75 percent of the time. Advertisers trying to reach potential customers online could find the system very helpful, says the Australian National University's Abhinav Dhall. The researchers note the system eventually could be used to personalize advertisements for viewers.
Cells as Living Calculators
MIT News (05/15/13) Anne Trafton
Using bacterial cells, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) engineers have created synthetic circuits capable of performing analog computations by combining existing engineered genes in novel ways. The circuits can compute logarithms, divide, and take square roots in an analog manner using natural biochemical functions that already exist in the cell instead of relying on digital logic, thereby making the circuits more efficient than their digital counterparts pursued by most synthetic biologists. “In analog, you compute on a continuous set of numbers, which means it’s not just black and white, it’s gray as well,” says MIT professor Rahul Sarpeshkar. Potential applications for analog computation include the development of cellular sensors for pathogens or other molecules. Combined with digital circuits, analog sensing could create cells that can take a specific action instigated when specific molecules reach a threshold concentration. The researchers now are focusing on developing analog circuits in nonbacterial cells, including mammalian cells, as well as broadening the genetic parts that can be used in the circuits. “We have just scratched the surface of what sophisticated analog feedback circuits can do in living cells,” Sarpeshkar says.
New Imaging System 'Reads' Ancient Scrolls
InformationWeek (05/16/13) Gary Flood
Researchers at Queen Mary College and Cardiff University have used a combination of x-rays and computer modeling to offer historians a way to read ancient parchments so fragile they cannot be unrolled. The system, called Apocalypto, creates a virtual version of the documents. The researchers are focusing on documents with metallic-based inks because they can be seen with x-rays. Apocalypto uses a combination of micro tomography and advanced software-based visualization techniques to build a three-dimensional map of the contents of the documents, revealing the hidden or overwritten layers underneath for the first time in centuries. "The iron content in the ink gives it its good x-ray contrast, but this ink also can cause degradation of the parchment and may contribute to the reasons why a particular scroll cannot be opened," says Queen Mary University researcher Graham Davis. The process also involves the use of specially designed surface mesh construction and correction algorithms. "This is a milestone in historical information recovery," says Cardiff's Tim Wess. "Across the world, literally thousands of previously unusable documents up to around 1,000 years old could now become available for historical research."
University of Chicago Launches Bionimbus Protected Data Cloud to Analyze Cancer Data
National Science Foundation (05/15/13) Lisa-Joy Zgorski
The University of Chicago recently launched the Bionimbus Protected Data Cloud, a secure cloud-based computing system that enables researchers to access and analyze human genomic cancer information without the costly infrastructure normally needed to download and store massive amounts of data. The system enables researchers to access and analyze data in the Cancer Genome Atlas without having to set up secure, compliant computing environments capable of managing and analyzing terabytes of data, downloading the data, and then installing the tools needed to perform the desired analyses. "The open source technology underlying the Open Science Data Cloud enables researchers to manage and analyze the large data sets that are essential to tackling some of today's greatest challenges: from environmental monitoring to cancer genomics," says University of Chicago professor Robert L. Grossman. The Bionimbus Protected Data Cloud enables researchers to focus on the analysis of large-scale cancer genome sequencing, which could lead to early detection, appropriate treatment, and prevention of cancer. "We are excited that the Bionimbus Protected Data Cloud is now used for cancer genomics data so that researchers can more easily work with large datasets to understand genomic variations that seem to be one of the keys to the precise diagnosis and treatment of cancer," Grossman says.
Treading Carefully, Google Encourages Developers to Hack Glass
Technology Review (05/15/13) Jessica Leber
Google will show app developers how to create any kind of application for Glass, despite current restrictions the company has placed on app development, at its annual I/O developer conference, which starts today. Glass has generated a tremendous amount of publicity, reflecting attitudes ranging from enthusiasm about the technology's potential to concern about its public surveillance capabilities. Attempting to be cautious with the technology, Google has a relatively restrictive application programming interface through which Web-based apps can interact with Glass' modified Android operating system. These limitations have placed some intriguing wearable computing apps on hold, because the API does not, for example, permit real-time analysis of a person’s location, videos, or photos. However, Google wants developers to hack the technology, which could influence the final version of Glass. Apps that have emerged thus far primarily increase the sharing capabilities that are possible with smartphones. For example, Glassagram uploads photos with filters, while Beam lets users share YouTube videos. “Google really, really loves this project. But they are terrified,” says Glass developer Chris Maddern. “There are so many things that can go wrong between now and when it’s in consumer hands.”
Thought Experiment: Build a Supercomputer Replica of the Human Brain
Wired News (05/14/13) Jonathon Keats
Henry Markram believes his Human Brain Project can simulate all 86 billion neurons in the human brain as well as the 100 trillion connections among them, an ambitious effort that will require unprecedented computing power. Essentially Markram intends to develop a plug-and-play brain that researchers could disassemble to determine the causes of brain disease, apply to robotics to develop intelligent technologies, or combine with virtual reality glasses to experience another person's brain. The project’s first Blue Gene supercomputer could simulate a single neocortical column in a rat, but an entire rat brain has the equivalent of 100,000 columns. The Human Brain Project will eventually need a minimum of 100 petabytes of RAM and an exaflop of computing power to enable its simulations. Critics say Markram's project is doomed to fail and question the $1.3 billion in funding the European Commission awarded the project in January. However, supporters defend the Human Brain Project, believing that even if Markram does not accomplish all he aims to, the project will make tremendous advances in neuroscience. “There aren’t any aspects of Henry’s vision I find problematic,” says the University of Manchester's Steve Furber. "Except perhaps his ambition, which is at the same time both terrifying and necessary."
NJIT Computer Scientist Publishes New Algorithm Cluster To Data Mine Health Records
New Jersey Institute of Technology (05/15/13)
New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) researchers have developed a method for using a combination of commonly used existing algorithms to find out more information about adverse drug reactions within electronic health records. The researchers say their method produced an almost 25-percent improvement in outcome, compared to conventional algorithms. "Although such records are maintained for patient administration, they could provide a broad range of clinical information for data analysis," says NJIT's Lian Duan. "A growing interest has been drug safety." Although the performance of the two new algorithms—a likelihood ratio model and a Bayesian network model—for negative drug effect discovery is comparable to the state-of-the-art Bayesian confidence propagation neural network algorithm, by combining three works, the researchers say it is possible to generate better, more diverse results. The actual adverse drug effects on a given dataset cannot be absolutely ascertained, so the researchers used a simulated observational medical outcomes partnership dataset. They based the dataset on predefined adverse drug effects to assess their methods. Experimental outcomes show the usefulness of the proposed pattern discovery method on the simulated dataset by improving the standard baseline algorithm by nearly 24 percent.
Badminton-Playing Robot Tests Software Designs of the Future
CORDIS News (05/14/13)
The Energy Software Tools for Sustainable Machine Design (ESTOMAD) project is developing a methodology and information and communications technology tools to model, simulate, analyze, and optimize energy flows and losses throughout a machine. To demonstrate the technologies, the European Union-funded project built a badminton-playing robot and reported that its energy consumption was reduced by 50 percent. In observing the robot, the ESTOMAD team found that energy consumption of installed machines can be incrementally reduced by punctual modifications, such as replacing standard electric motors with high-efficiency alternatives. Machines that feature the new design schemes are expected to have an average energy saving of 30 percent over their life spans. Automakers and many other industries should benefit from the software, and they could eventually use it to perform a virtual analysis before building machines. "You can even simulate strange conditions; very fast or very high temperatures," says LMS International's Tom Boermans. "In real life, those tests are very expensive."
Wayne State Researcher Aims to Make STEM Education More Accessible to Native American Students
Wayne State University (MI) (05/14/13)
Wayne State University researchers are studying whether the presence of Native American elders in courses can help make science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) more accessible to Native American students. Native Americans, the least represented minority group in higher education, are also not well represented in STEM fields at any level. Two courses will be offered, and one will include elders as traditional knowledge instructors alongside STEM Ph.D.s. "Native youth are taught to respect elders, and many elders are 'keepers of traditional knowledge,' which interfaces with science," says Wayne State professor Maria Pontes Ferreira. "Linking elders to post-secondary STEM education for Natives will improve perceptions of STEM as culturally relevant and culturally supportive of Natives, and impact Native student interest, pursuit, and endurance in STEM careers." The researchers hope their project also will help integrate and advance science, education, policy and technology across cultures. "We expect to see higher learning outcomes and student interest in STEM, along with improved student perception of cultural relevance and supportiveness in those Native students taking the course with elders present," Ferreira says.
Group Helps to Improve Use of Colossal Digital Library 'Europeana'
PhysOrg.com (05/14/13) Elhuyar Komunikazioa
The UPV/EHU-University of the Basque Country's IXA Group has enhanced the use of the vast Europeana digital library, analyzing and enriching the archive's content through the use of language technologies to improve user searches and deliver more comprehensive information. This effort is a component of Europe's Personalised Access To Cultural Heritage Spaces project which, among other things, offers guided tours of the library's cultural works. "However, some of the cultural items [content] in these guided tours tend to have a limited description or provide little information, and the user sometimes ends up wanting to know more," says the IXA Group's Eneko Agirre. The addition of language technology facilitates a way for content of similar interest to users to be suggested to them. Users are provided a list of similar items, thanks to organization by subject. For example, Wikipedia links are added for external resources, while users also receive assistance so they can more easily interpret the information. Among the methods the IXA group researchers have used for enhancing Europeana are machine learning; text corpora; terminology extraction; text comprehension; disambiguation, and linguistic, morphological, and syntactic analysis.
Scientists Take Data Approach to Beat Disease
Monash Weekly (05/14/2013) Brad Howarth
Researchers across Australia are working with the Royal Children's Hospital's Murdoch Childrens Research Institute (MCRI) to combine computer hardware and programming with genetic sequencing tools to sequence the entire genome of patients to identify the source of a wide variety of ailments. "New technology allows us to not just sequence one gene or a couple of genes, but all the genes in a patient at once," says MCRI professor Andrew Sinclair. The researchers developed algorithms that can quickly sequence genes and compare them with the human genome map to find mutations. Meanwhile, at National ICT Australia (NICTA), the Victoria Research Laboratory is working on three programs related to the treatment of cancer and other conditions, including better treatment of the one-third of cancers whose original source is unknown. The process involves examining a patient's genetic profile, measuring 25,000 genes in the tumor, and then applying machine-learning techniques to identify patterns in the data. "With some expert knowledge in the hardware architecture, the algorithms, and the mathematics behind it, you can reduce those calculations to minutes," says NICTA researcher Geoff Macintyre.
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