Welcome to the October 7, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Making Artificial Intelligence More Human
The Boston Globe (10/07/13) Carolyn Y. Johnson
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Center for Brains, Minds, and Machines recently launched an initiative to develop intelligence that includes not just knowledge, but also an infant's ability to intuit basic concepts of psychology or physics. The center will include leading infant researchers, neurobiologists, and computer scientists, all working together to advance artificial intelligence technology. "I think this is the greatest problem in science and technology, greater than the origin of the universe or the origin of life or the nature of matter, partly because it's a problem about who we are," says MIT professor and center director Tomoaso Poggio. For example, the researchers are developing Genesis, software that can be fed a block of text and draw causal links to determine why things happened, detecting concepts such as revenge and completing character assessments. Other researchers, such as Joshua Tenenbaum, are trying to build a child's mind. "Let's build a road map of cognitive development over the first three years of life, but let's build it in engineering terms--the same terms I would use to build a self-driving car," Tenenbaum says. Meanwhile, researcher Joel Leibo is developing a vision system that recognizes faces at a glance, even when given the challenge of matching people's faces shown from different angles.
U.S. Supercomputers Haven't Been Affected by Gov't Shutdown--Yet
Computerworld (10/04/13) Patrick Thibodeau
Although the U.S. government shutdown has affected many federal websites, the nation's most powerful supercomputers are still operational. Government supercomputers currently are running on reserve funds from last year, according to a U.S. Department of Energy spokesperson. The national labs are technically contractors and have some budget flexibility that other government agencies do not. In addition, there is a contingency plan to conserve funding, including canceling some travel and an extreme-scale research conference that was due to start next week, according to a source. However, if the shutdown goes on much longer, some labs may have to choose what equipment to keep powered up, and if employees should be furloughed.
U.S. Ranks Fourth in Internet Freedom as Surveillance Grows Worldwide
Network World (10/04/13) Colin Neagle
Although U.S. Internet freedom has decreased over the past year due to surveillance, the United States still ranks fourth in a recent Freedom House study of 60 countries. The study measured obstacles to accessing information online, content limitations, and violations of user rights. In addition, the study cites issues such as government blocking of specific Internet content, surveillance measures, and actions taken against online dissidents to governing or religious bodies. Iceland claimed the top spot on the list as the most free nation on the Internet, followed by Estonia, Germany, and the United States. The remaining top 10 included Australia, France, Japan, Hungary, Italy, and the United Kingdom. Surveillance has grown more advanced and pervasive in 35 out of the 60 countries examined, according to the study. The most restrictive countries were Iran, China, and Cuba. However, the study notes 16 countries, including Morocco, Burma, and Tunisia, that have increased Internet freedom. Meanwhile, Freedom House says India showed the biggest drop in Internet freedom over the past year. Freedom House said the drop was due to "deliberate interruptions of mobile and Internet service to limit unrest, excessive blocks on content during rioting in northeastern states, and an uptick in the filing of criminal charges against ordinary users for posts on social-media sites."
MOOCs Could Help 2-Year Colleges and Their Students, Says Bill Gates
Chronicle of Higher Education (10/03/13) Katherine Mangan
Massive open online courses (MOOCs) that "flip" homework and coursework using outsourced lectures could help community colleges and students, said Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates at the recent Association of Community College Trustees' leadership meeting in Seattle. Gates encouraged attendees to offer resources to instructors who want to try using technology through methods such as flipped classrooms. "I'd be the first to say this is a period of experimentation, but we'll learn much faster if people jump in and engage," Gates said. Like a flipped classroom, a flipped MOOC involves videotaped lectures viewed on a student's own time, with homework completed during class. Flipped classes at edX, for example, have helped reduce the failure rate of online classes. Classroom professors will face a challenge in competing with MOOC lectures as they advance, offering such high quality that "no individual performance is likely to come up to that level," Gates said. However, he said that such an arrangement frees up the professor for more-personalized instruction in the classroom. Meanwhile, he predicted that as students begin to do more work at home and online, they will reduce their time on campus, making room for more students.
Private Data Gatekeeper Stands Between You and the NSA
New Scientist (10/03/13) Hal Hodson
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed openPDS, a system that enables users to see and control any third-party requests for their information. Instead of letting the apps have direct access to user data, openPDS sits in between them, controlling the flow of information. The system is hosted either on a smartphone or on an Internet-connected hard drive, redirecting data from the phone or computer as it is generated. "With openPDS, you control your own data and share it with third parties on an opt-in basis," says MIT professor Sandy Pentland. The researchers also are developing a cloud version of openPDS. "OpenPDS is a building block for the emerging personal data ecosystem," says MIT's Thomas Hardjono. Massachusetts General Hospital wants to use openPDS to protect patient privacy for a program called CATCH, which involves continuously monitoring a range of medical variables. "We want to begin interrogating the medical data of real people in real time in real life, in a way that does not invade privacy," says Massachusetts General Hospital's Dennis Ausiello.
Lack of Women in ICT Sector Costs Europe 9bn Euros a Year
V3.co.uk (10/03/13) Dan Worth
The European economy is losing out on 9 billion euros annually because women fill few information and communications technology (ICT) roles at tech firms, according to a report from the European Commission (EC). The figure is based on the assumption that if employment of women in ICT rose by 115,000, an average of 78,000 euros per female worker would be generated in increased productivity. In the report, the EC argues that more women would improve performance for companies. The EC claims that ICT firms with women holding higher positions "achieve a 35-percent-higher return on equity and 34-percent-better total return to shareholders" when compared with other firms. The report noted that only 29 in every 1,000 women with degrees in the European Union have a specialization in ICT, compared with 95 for men. Moreover, only four in 1,000 women will work in the sector, and they are far more likely to leave ICT mid-career. "We know now, beyond doubt, that more women in a business mean a healthier business," says the EC's Neelie Kroes. "It is high time the IT sector realized this and allowed women a chance to help the sector and Europe's economy benefit from their enormous potential."
Putting a Face on a Robot
Georgia Tech News Center (10/01/13) Jason Maderer; Meghan Feeney
Older and younger people have varying preferences for whether a personal robot should have a robotic, human, or mixed human-robot face, and they change their minds based on whether the robot will assist with personal care, chores, social interaction, or decision-making. According to a new survey from the Georgia Institute of Technology, most college-aged respondents preferred a robotic appearance, while nearly 60 percent of older adults said they would want a robot with a human face. However, younger participants preferred a mixed human-robot appearance for help with decision-making such as investing money, and older adults preferred a robotic face for help with chores. Both younger and older participants assigned emotional traits to a robot based on its face. For example, a mixed-face is perceived as more intelligent, and was chosen by younger respondents for decision-making tasks, while a robot face is perceived as impersonal, and was chosen by participants for personal care tasks. The research suggests that robots designed for a specific task should have their appearance aligned with the attributes of the task.
Supercomputing Targets Cleaner Combustion
HPC Wire (10/01/13) Tiffany Trader
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researchers are using supercomputers and sophisticated algorithms to create cleaner combustion technologies. The Berkeley researchers are using supercomputers to model the process of combustion with the goal of developing cleaner-burning, more-efficient devices. One such device, called the low-swirl burner, imparts a gentle spin to the fuel and air mixture, which causes it to spread out and burn at a lower temperature than in conventional burners. The researchers note that simulating practical-scale combustion devices such as the low-swirl burner is challenging. "The fuel is often turbulent, the combustion process may involve hundreds of species and thousands of chemical reactions, and the processes involved can span milliseconds to minutes and microns to meters," says Berkeley's Jon Bashor. The new software tools are based on adaptive mesh refinement, a grid-based system that rations computing by directing maximum processing power to where it is needed most. "In order to develop clean, energy-efficient systems, we need a continuous feedback loop from the flame to the lab and back again," says Berkeley's Robert Cheng.
Stanford Algorithm Analyzes Sentence Sentiment, Advances Machine Learning
Stanford University (10/01/13) Tom Abate
Stanford University computer scientists have developed Neural Analysis of Sentiment (NaSent), software that analyzes sentences from movie reviews and rates the sentiments they express on a five-point scale. NaSent is a recursive deep-learning algorithm that advances machine learning by enabling computers to understand the meaning of words in context, similarly to humans. Using NaSent, computers can extract information from language without referring constantly to dictionaries or rules created by humans. "Here the system is being trained to move beyond words to phrases and sentences, and to capture the sentiments of these word combinations," says University of Montreal professor and LISA Machine Learning Laboratory head Yoshua Bengio. The scientists began with a dataset of approximately 12,000 movie review sentences, and used automated techniques to parse groups of words into grammatical units, consisting of 214,000 phrases and sentences. The grammatical units were each read by three humans and rated on intensity of like or dislike. Without further intervention, NaSent then computed its own framework for predicting the sentiments that these words, phrases, and sentences conveyed. The researchers say NaSent currently has about an 85-percent accuracy rate, compared with 80 percent for previous word-based evaluation systems. The team is soliciting public input on NaSent, and hopes to refine the system through crowdsourcing.
New Search Tool for Large Gene Expression Databases Could Uncover Therapeutic Targets, Biological Processes
Carnegie Mellon News (PA) (09/30/13) Byron Spice
Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers have developed ExpressionBlast, a computational tool that enables searches based on experimental values instead of keywords. The researchers say the tool could uncover new links between diseases and treatments and provide new insights into biological processes. For example, the researchers used ExpressionBlast to discover new clues about SIRT6, the first gene shown to extend lifespan in mice, making it a potentially important drug target. "ExpressionBlast enabled us to take SIRT6 gene expression data from just two mouse experiments and find other experimental data in GEO with similar expression patterns," says CMU professor Ziv Bar-Joseph. The online tool enables scientists to search for expression patterns that are similar or opposite to their own results and can search within and across species. ExpressionBlast uses automated and scalable text analysis algorithms to transform the unstructured data in public data repositories so that it can be systematically searched. The researchers used the system to process tens of thousands of expression series representing hundreds of thousands of individual arrays across several species.
Researchers Work to Squeeze More Data From Bandwidth in Mobile Devices
NCSU News (09/30/13) Matt Shipman
New technology, based on multi-input, multi-output (MIMO) communication, could enable mobile devices to send and receive more data using the same limited amount of bandwidth. The technique uses the same radio frequency to simultaneously transmit more than one stream of data. The concept allows multiple transmitters to send data on the same frequency but along different spatial paths, and multiple receivers can distinguish between the data streams based on the uniqueness of the paths that the radio waves take to the multiple receivers. A MIMO system using two transmitters and two receivers could double the amount of data being transmitted, and using more transmitters and receivers could lead to greater benefits. In order to apply the approach to small, mobile devices, a team from North Carolina State University will develop a radio receiver system with a reconfigurable circuit and new signal-processing algorithms, allowing the receiver to separate multiple signals for very closely spaced and strongly interacting antennas. New compact antenna designs also will minimize interaction.
Facebook's Sandberg Takes on the Tech Gender Gap
Computerworld (10/02/13) Sharon Gaudin
Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg took aim at the gender gap in the technology industry during a keynote session at the recent Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Minneapolis, Minn. Sandberg noted that women, on average, account for only 13 percent of information technology departments. She said women could boost their numbers in the tech industry by sticking together, supporting each other, and being willing to talk about gender. Women are the best inspiration for other women, Sandberg said. "We need to acknowledge differences, stare them in the face, acknowledge bias, and change it," she argued. Sandberg also said women in general do not receive the same pay, the same promotions, or the same success and satisfaction at work. She said the technology field, in which women are significantly underrepresented, is no different. "We have made gender an unsafe issue," Sandberg pointed out. "Women don't want to talk about it because they're afraid they'll look like they're whining and creating issues. Men don't want to talk about it because they're afraid they'll get in trouble. If we talk about it, we can deal with it."
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