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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Cerf Sees a Problem: Today's Digital Data Could Be Gone Tomorrow
Computerworld (06/04/13) Patrick Thibodeau

Google chief Internet evangelist and ACM president Vint Cerf is worried that much of the data generated since the Internet's beginning, as well as future data, will become irretrievable over time. "Backward compatibility is very hard to preserve over very long periods of time," he notes. Cerf says the meaning of data objects survives only as long as the application software that can interpret them is available. "We won't lose the disk, but we may lose the ability to understand the disk," he says. Cerf also points out that the scientific community gleans large volumes of data from simulations and instrument readings, which may be lost unless the underlying metadata is preserved. He calls for the creation of a "digital vellum," a durable way for preserving digital content, as well as the ways for interpreting it, over prolonged periods. "It may be that the cloud computing environment will help a lot," Cerf says. "It may be able to emulate older hardware on which we can run operating systems and applications."


Automatically Grading Programming Homework
MIT News (06/03/13) Larry Hardesty

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and Microsoft Research have created software that points out inaccuracies in student programming and offers suggestions for improvement. Already in use in MIT classes, the software could help automate grading, which is one of the largest challenges facing massive open online courses (MOOCs). “One challenge, when [teaching assistants (TA)] grade these assignments, is that there are many different ways to solve the same problem,” says MIT graduate student Rishabh Singh. “For a TA, it can be quite hard to figure out what type of solution the student is trying to do and what’s wrong with it.” Regardless of the programmer’s approach, the software identifies the minimum number of corrections necessary to fix a program. The researchers are assessing the software's potential for grading homework assignments in programming MOOCs, considering variations that would reveal the location and nature of errors with varying levels of specificity to create appropriate learning opportunities for students.


Stanford Software Engineering MOOC Aims at Future Startup CEOs
Stanford Report (CA) (06/03/13) R.F. Mackay

Stanford University professor Vijay Pande and colleague Balaji Srinivasan this summer will launch Startup Engineering, a 10-week massive open online course (MOOC) aimed at teaching future chief technology officers the integration skills necessary to start their own companies. The MOOC is based on a traditional course Pande and Srinivasan taught that met with great success by bridging the gap between academic computer science and production software engineering. Pande says many intelligent students who perform well in theoretical classes struggle when they enter the workplace because they lack real-world programming skills. "You acquire bad habits that can lead to inferior work products," he says. "But if you do software engineering well, you can move very quickly." The online course will teach theoretical programming in the first half, and switch to hands-on skills in the second half. Pande and Srinivasan hope the course will enable people in developing countries to start their own businesses. "Our dream is that we can help them not only pass their exam but help them create a company that will give them revenues and profits," Pande says. "These are skills that can help the world in ways that a textbook on its own cannot."


This Man Is Not a Cyborg. Yet.
New York Times (06/02/13) David Segal; Andrew E. Kramer

Russian multimillionaire Dmitry Itskov's 2045 Initiative envisions people uploading the contents of their brains, including consciousness and personality, into low-cost, mass-produced avatars. At the very least, experts believe interest in developing such avatars will lead to the creation of and become a driving factor for many startups, and Itskov says he will invest in them. Examples of such ventures include Cortera Neurotechnologies, a company started by University of California, Berkeley researcher Peter Ledochowitsch for the purpose of mass-producing and marketing a brain implant designed to read intentions from the surface of the brain. Itskov wants his project to be international in scale, involving collaboration by an immense number of different scientists. Itskov says the goal of the avatar initiative is to improve the human condition and eliminate such problems as physical disablement, starvation, and conflict. He says accomplishing this requires creating a new paradigm of what it means to be human via a migration to an environment in which the basic questions of survival are irrelevant. “We need to show that we’re actually here to save lives,” Itskov says. “To help the disabled, to cure diseases, to create technology that will allow us in the future to answer some existential questions.”


Effective Privacy Protection in Social Networks
Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (06/03/13) Andreas Poller

Fraunhofer researchers are studying methods for developing a better understanding of the usage habits of participants in social networks. The results will be incorporated into the development of user-friendly tools for privacy protection. "If we want to develop truly user-friendly tools, we have to understand users better," says Fraunhofer's Andreas Poller. The researchers first focused the study on qualitative interviews, and then they combined the surveys with analytical software designed to document Facebook activities by study participants. "To make sure that this tool does not influence user behavior--as would be the case, for instance, if a study participant felt he or she was being monitored by the software--we have intentionally designed it to give study subjects full control over their data," Poller says. For example, the analytical software runs on the user's computer and does not record content. The software also features a commentary function that works with Facebook to enable users to provide comments about their experiences, but only after reviewing them and choosing to provide them to the researchers. “Thanks to the close dovetailing of the two research methods, we can interpret technical facts from the user’s perspective,” Poller notes.


Bell Labs Invents Lensless Camera
Technology Review (06/03/13)

Bell Labs researchers have developed a lensless camera using compressive sensing technology that requires just a single lensing pixel to take photographs that are never out of focus. Compressive sensing is based on the idea that many common measurements have huge redundancy, which means that it is possible to acquire the same data with just a fraction of carefully chosen measurements. "The architecture consists of two components, an aperture assembly and a sensor," says Bell Labs researcher Gang Huang. "No lens is used." The camera consists of a liquid crystal display (LCD) panel that acts as an array of apertures that each allow light to pass through, and a single sensor capable of detecting light in three colors. The camera creates an image by using the sensor to record light from the scene that has passed through a random array of apertures on the LCD panel. The camera then records the light from a different random array and then another and so on. These random snapshots work together because they record the same scene in a different way. The process of compressive sensing analyzes the different snapshots, looking for a correlation that it then uses to recreate the entire image.


Researcher Cracks the Code on What Makes a Tweet Popular
PC World (05/31/13) Christopher Null

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have studied the variables that make tweets popular by analyzing a collection of 52 tweets from a variety of major Twitter accounts, including those of Garry Shandling and Ann Coulter. The researchers then built a model to predict how many retweets any given tweet would receive. The researchers found that the total number of retweets a post ultimately gets is largely determined by the number it receives in the first 10 minutes. "In the first 10 minutes, you'll get about 10 percent of your retweets," says MIT professor Tauhid Zaman. "It's the same for everybody, whether you're Barack Obama or a small-time blogger." The researchers want to use their data to develop a more sophisticated way of predicting and ranking the popularity of tweets and Twitter users. "If you don't hit a critical mass in the first few minutes, the chances are very slim that your tweet will have broad appeal," Zaman says. The data has been collated on Twouija for users to explore, and eventually the site will be opened up so anyone can analyze any tweet to get a projection for how popular it will become in real time.


Robot Arm Wrapped in Sensitive Skin Has Gentle Touch
New Scientist (05/30/13) Sara Reardon

Researchers have developed a robot arm that navigates by using the sense of touch rather than trying to avoid bumping into people and objects. The Georgia Institute of Technology's Charlie Kemp and colleagues developed the algorithm that enables the arm to work closely and comfortably alongside humans. The robot arm, for example, will feel its way through foliage or a table full of clutter, take the shortest route to its goal, and gently brush objects aside. However, when meeting a user-defined amount of resistance, the robot arm will recoil and choose a new route. Users can change the sensitivity level to match the task, such as picking delicate fruit or searching for a person under buried rubble. The arm is wrapped in a flexible, sensor-laden skin that was developed by Kemp's team. The skin covers the robot's entire arm, and stretches and flexes as the arm moves. The arm features springy joints that enable it to close gently around any object it grips.
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UC Berkeley, Caltech, IBM, and United Technologies Team to Uncover Innovations in Systems Engineering
UC Berkeley NewsCenter (05/30/13) Sarah Yang

A new research consortium will focus on innovations in systems engineering with hopes of improving efforts to build products and services that combine complex software, hardware, and mechanical components. The Industrial Cyber Physical Systems (iCyPhy) team will identify repeatable, standardized, and measurable processes, and seek new product development methods that can help companies reduce costs, increase reliability, and innovate more quickly. The California Institute of Technology, IBM, United Technologies, and the University of California, Berkeley launched the research consortium. "The problem is to develop well-founded, principled approaches to design that embrace heterogeneity and yet leverage the best of the domain-specific engineering techniques that have been developed to date," says iCyPhy co-principal investigator and Berkeley professor Alberto Sangiovanni Vincentelli. The research program will base its operations at Berkeley. "By pooling our scientists together and applying our research to real-world scenarios, we expect this consortium will provide the foundation for next-generation systems design," says IBM's Guruduth Banavar.


The Hi-Tech Tattoo That Could Replace ALL Your Passwords: Motorola Reveals Plans for Ink, and Even Pills, to Identify Us
Daily Mail (United Kingdom) (05/30/13) Victoria Woollaston

Motorola is studying alternatives to conventional passwords in an effort to make logging into online sites or accessing mobile devices more secure. Motorola researchers are focusing on electronic tattoos and authentication pills that users swallow. The tattoos contain flexible electronic circuits that are attached to the wearer's skin using a rubber stamp. The tattoos, or Biostamps, were originally designed to help medical teams measure the health of their patients. However, Motorola says the circuits, which contain an antenna and built-in sensors, could be adapted to work with mobile devices. The devices then could be used to confirm the owner's identity and automatically log them into accounts. Meanwhile, the Proteus Digital Health pill contains a computer chip and a switch. When the pill is swallowed, acid in the user's stomach causes electrolytes to turn the switch on and off. This creates an 18-bit ECG-like signal that can be identified by mobile devices and authentication hardware to verify the user. Both of the devices are designed to move beyond traditional passwords and toward technology that turns the user into a physical authentication token, says Motorola's Regina Dugan. "After 40 years of advances in computation, we're still authenticating the same way we did years ago--passwords," Dugan notes.


When Friends Create Enemies
University of Pittsburgh News (05/30/13) B. Rose Huber

University of Pittsburgh researchers recently conducted a study demonstrating that even though users can tailor their privacy settings, hackers can still find private information through mutual-friends features. "Oftentimes, mutual-friends features have not been created in tandem with privacy-setting designs, and inadequate thought with regards to security and privacy issues has been given," says Pittsburgh professor James Joshi. The researchers studied three different types of attacks on social network users using an offline Facebook dataset containing 63,731 users from the New Orleans regional network. The researchers used animation to demonstrate a friend exposure attack, investigating how many private friends an attacker could find of a specific target user. The attacks were tested on 10 randomly chosen user groups with sizes ranging between 500 and 5,000 individuals, in addition to sample groups that were computer generated based on shared interests across user profiles. The second attack had the goal of identifying distant neighbors from the initial target, and the third attack strategy was a hybrid attack in which the hacker attempted to identify both the target’s private friends and distant neighbors. The information gathered in the attacks "could be used, in combination with other background information about the targeted user, to create false identities that appear even more authentic than the actual user," Joshi says.


BUP App Helps Prevent Healthcare Miscommunication
Penn Current (05/30/13) Julie McWilliams

The Botswana-University of Pennsylvania Partnership (BUP) has developed DuoChart, a smartphone-based medical translation app for healthcare workers. During the development phase, the researchers interviewed BUP faculty members, brainstormed ideas to improve the app, reorganized the content, wrote new material, reviewed translations with University of Botswana (UB) faculty, managed recording sessions, and edited and coded the final recordings. Content for the app was generated with the assistance of UB's Dineo Ketshogileng and Thapelo Otlogetswe, author of the first-ever Setswana dictionary. "Our aim was to create an educational tool that will enable medical students, residents, and physicians to improve their Setswana skills and communicate more effectively with their patients," says University of Pennsylvania researcher Elizabeth Riley. DuoChart is one of the apps preloaded onto 170 tablets customized as a part of BUP’s capacity-building projects for UB medical students and faculty rotating in rural areas. "Since the UB students are taught medicine in English, they weren’t necessarily aware of all of the Setswana terms and phrases that can be used for communicating with patients," says BUP researcher Ryan Littman-Quinn.


This Pentagon Project Makes Cyberwar as Easy as Angry Birds
Wired News (05/28/13) Noah Schactman

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is developing a program called Plan X designed to facilitate cyberwarfare that is executed in a manner similar to playing a video game. Created by some of the designers responsible for Apple's most successful computers and the illustrators responsible for the Transformers movie, Plan X aims to simplify cyberweapons so that average officers can use them as easily as an iPhone. Last year, Dan Roelker, who joined DARPA specifically to make his idea for Plan X a reality, teamed with top gaming industry technologists to begin work on a graphical user interface for cyberwar. Ultimately, the team determined that the best way to work with the data was through Frog Design's mapping models. Frog's Nick de la Mare says the model starts with a small piece of the Internet and plots out how packets move from one node to another, and then makes that map extremely simple to navigate. Ultimately, the interface is expected to help prepare war plans that will compile a custom-made software program, which will be checked for errors and approved, enabling push-button cyberstrikes. Currently in its initial phase, Plan X is a $110-million, four-year program.


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