Welcome to the January 8, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
New Algorithm Can Dramatically Streamline Solutions to the 'Max Flow' Problem
MIT News (01/07/14) Helen Knight
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers this week will present a paper at the ACM-SIAM Symposium on Discrete Algorithms in Portland, OR, that describes a theoretical algorithm that can significantly decrease the number of operations needed to solve the maximum-flow problem. The longstanding problem involves finding the most efficient way to transport items across a network such as the U.S. highway system or the Internet. Traditional solutions have used a maximum-flow algorithm that represents a network as a graph with a series of nodes, or vertices, and connecting lines, or edges, between them. However, as the size of networks have grown exponentially, traditional methods have become too time-consuming to solve these problems, says MIT professor Jonathan Kelner. In 2011, Kelner and his colleagues described a technique that simultaneously analyzes all of the paths, rather than one edge at a time. Kelner says the current paper describes a method that further decreases the running time, making it possible to analyze vast networks. The technique pinpoints routes that cause a bottleneck within the network, and divides each graph into clusters of well-connected nodes and the paths between them that cause bottlenecks. Kelner says the approach results in a nearly linear algorithm, making the time required to solve a problem almost directly proportional to the number of nodes on the network.
By 2018, Cars Will Be Self-Aware
Computerworld (01/06/14) Lucas Mearian
Vehicles are increasing their ability to record and share internal systems status and location data as well as information about their surroundings. Telematics systems are gathering more information through mobile connectivity, and will enable vehicles to communicate, for example, with one another and traffic lights. Telematics technology will enable cars to predict how conditions will impact a commute, and to adjust in-vehicle navigation or take control from the driver. "Cars will become the first robot most of us experience in our lifetime," says Gartner analyst Thilo Koslowski. He predicts that this year Internet service providers will move into the auto telematics supply chain to provide the connectivity and apps required for a full-mobile user experience. Vehicles also will become an extension of consumers' mobile plans, connected to the cloud to enable users to upload data from wearable devices. Telematics systems have evolved from onboard help services to vehicle diagnostics that send mechanical performance data to manufacturers, says Verizon's Kevin Link. He says next-generation telematics systems will provide information such as traffic conditions and emissions data. Meanwhile, technology firms are likely to have increasing influence in the mobile options that vehicle manufacturers provide. A recent Gartner survey found that 57 percent of vehicle owners want technology vendors to help shape vehicle mobile capabilities.
A Makeover for Maps
The New York Times (01/06/14) Quentin Hardy
Graphic designers are experimenting with new ways of presenting data to better display the huge volume of information that people are downloading over a range of devices. Animation and three-dimensionality, for example, can help improve a user's understanding of a map, says Stamen Design CEO Eric Rodenbeck. "It doesn’t work if it's not moving," Rodenbeck says. "It doesn’t work if you can’t touch it." Animation in charts of rapidly changing data can offer a more insightful depiction of information via shapes on a map that expand and contract, changing colors in bar charts, or line positions that rise or fade. Stamen Design developed a graphic for the NASDAQ index that enables users to manipulate results to view stock trading in increments as brief as a microsecond or over an entire day. Meanwhile, former Google designer Douglas van der Molen created software that uses an inference engine to harmonize the various ways that data are recorded, determines a common representation, and select a useful data framework such as an unmarked map of the United States. General Electric's big data center also is focused on data presentation, with an emphasis on "semantic zooms" that provide varying levels of specificity depending on the detail of the data analysis.
New Projects Set to Tackle Manycore Computing Challenges
University of Glasgow (United Kingdom) (01/08/14) Ross Barker
University of Glasgow researchers are working on three projects aimed at unlocking the potential of cutting-edge computer processors. One project will focus on creating a software "Rosetta Stone" to enable existing programs to benefit from the power of manycore system processing without requiring programmers to rewrite their code from scratch. The researchers will develop a compiler to enable programs to take full advantage of manycore systems as well as hybrid systems, which also incorporate graphics processors and field-programmable gate arrays. Another project is developing "AnyScale" technology, which will enable applications to intelligently distribute their computational requirements across a wide range of local and wirelessly-connected hardware. The app will allow the necessary computing to be done both on-board and wirelessly via servers or cloud-based systems. The last project will develop a method to ensure the performance of software is consistent across a wide range of multicore systems. "We're excited about the work and looking forward to seeing the results of the projects over the coming years," says Glasgow Professor Joe Sventek.
TAU Computer Algorithm Identifies 'Aging Genes'
Tel Aviv University (01/06/14)
Researchers at Tel Aviv and Bar-Ilan universities have developed an algorithm that predicts which genes can be turned off to fight aging. The researchers aim to manipulate genes to have the same effect as calorie restriction, which has a proven anti-aging effect. "Our algorithm is the first in our field to look for drug targets not to kill cells, but to transform them from a diseased state into a healthy one," says Tel Aviv doctoral student Keren Yizhak. Genome-scale metabolic modeling (GSMM) is an emerging area of research that uses mathematical equations and computers to describe metabolic processes in cells. Researchers can then easily test individual models, rather than conducting traditionally labor-intensive tests. The metabolic transformation algorithm uses information about any two metabolic states to forecast the environmental or genetic changes required to go from one state to the other. Yizhak used her algorithm to predict genes that can be turned off to make the gene expression of old yeast look like that of young yeast. After pinpointing and testing seven genes, the researchers found that turning off two specific genes in actual yeast significantly extends the yeast's lifespan. The research could lead to the development of gene-targeting drugs that extend human lifespans.
How Google Cracked House Number Identification in Street View
Technology Review (01/06/14)
Google Street View has become a very popular tool for consumers, but Google also uses it to read house numbers and pinpoint a building's geolocation, which is used to create a record for each building in its databases. However, that process is very time-consuming and Google has collected tens of millions of house numbers. Google researchers have solved the problem by automating it with the development of a neural network with 11 layers of neurons that they have trained to spot numbers in images. The researchers trained the network using images drawn from a publicly available data set of number images known as the Street View House Numbers data set, which contains about 200,000 numbers taken by Google's Street View cameras and made publicly available. "Worldwide, we automatically detected and transcribed close to 100 million physical street numbers at [human] operator-level accuracy," the researchers say. However, the success of their technique rests heavily on the assumption that street numbers are never more than five digits long, according to Google researcher Ian Goodfellow. "This approach of using a single neural network as an entire end-to-end system could be applicable to other problems such as general text transcription or speech recognition," Goodfellow adds.
STEM Initiative Introduces High-Tech Careers to Minority Students
Philly.com (01/03/14) Solomon Leach
Pennsylvania Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA), hosted by Temple University, offers technology courses and mentoring to low-income students to encourage them to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The program, which focuses on African-American and Latino students who are underrepresented in STEM fields, has served about 3,500 middle school and high school students in Philadelphia over the past two and a half years. MESA is showing impressive results, as the senior mobile-apps team won the $5,000 grand prize at the citywide 2013 AT&T Edutech Hackathon. Participants also earned four team medals and 18 individual awards at the 2013 MESA USA National Engineering Championships. STEM education has become a national priority, with only 16 percent of U.S. high school seniors proficient in math and interested in STEM careers, according to the Department of Education. Among STEM majors in college, only about half pursue STEM employment. The Obama administration has invested $265 million in STEM education, aiming to produce an additional 1 million STEM graduates over the next decade. Pennsylvania MESA is expanding to other locations, and will host the first Google in Education Pennsylvania Summit on March 1-2 at Temple University to promote student learning at the elementary through high school level.
3D Webcams Will Help PCs Read Human Emotions, Intel Says
IDG News Service (01/06/14) Agam Shah
A three-dimensional (3D) Webcam developed by Intel can combine with voice, touch, and gesture to make human interaction more natural and intuitive, says Mooly Eden, general manager of Intel's Perceptual Computing Group. Eden says the 3D cameras can go deeper inside images and track depth, similar to how human eyes do. The depth-sensing capabilities will help a computer understand human moods better, and also improve gaming and videoconferencing. The camera can recognize faces and bodies, extract the images, and superimpose them in other backgrounds. The camera also can identify the dimensions and characteristics of an object by scanning the contours and shapes of items in view, and it is able to sense the distance, size, color, or other characteristics of items through built-in infrared and color sensors. "The real trick is to do it real time," Eden says. He points out that computing devices need more processing power. "We want to communicate with the device the same way we communicate with each other," Eden says. He notes the technology could improve videoconferencing and it also could be used to recognize a child's reading habits and make the experience more enjoyable for them.
Commotion Comes Out of Beta, Vying to Create a Broadband Commons
GigaOm.com (01/02/14) Kevin Fitchard
The New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute (OTI) last week publicly released its Commotion 1.0 technology, which is designed to enable communities to establish their own shared networks and Internet infrastructure. OTI has worked with global communities over the past two years to set up community broadband mesh networks that circumvent local Internet service providers and government Internet restrictions. Initially created to sidestep government censorship and Internet surveillance, Commotion expanded to also focus on bringing Internet access to areas where broadband was unavailable or unaffordable. Using technologies such as the Serval Project's mesh networking and Tor's identity-shielding software, Commotion establishes secure distributed networks consisting of smartphones, routers, servers, and other nodes. Volunteers in Sayada, Tunisia, where the government bans public Internet access through public Wi-Fi, used Commotion to create a free Wi-Fi network that covers 70 percent of the city’s 16,000 residents. In addition, OTI is working to connect school campuses in Somaliland and India to enable students and teachers to share local education resources. In 2012, community organizers in Brooklyn used a beta Commotion mesh to provide Internet access following Superstorm Sandy. "We've been taught to think we should not make a commons out of our communications even though it would be to everyone's benefit," says OTI's Sascha Meinrath.
Simulator Recreates Virtual Taste Online
National University of Singapore (01/02/14)
Online tasting could become another staple for people who live the digital life. A team at the National University of Singapore has created a simulator that can recreate the taste of virtual food and beverages using non-invasive electrical and thermal stimulation of the tongue. The device generates signals transmitted through a silver electrode touching the tip of the tongue to produce salty, sweet, sour, and bitter sensations. Different levels of electrical currents can be combined and the temperature of the electrode can be varied to reproduce the taste simulations. The researchers say the project includes studying the electronic simulation and control of taste sensations enabled via the Digital Taste Interface against the properties of current and change in temperature; a technique to actuate taste sensations by electrical and thermal stimulation methods; and a practical solution to deploy virtual taste interactions in interactive computing systems. The researchers have developed a taste-over-Internet protocol for taste messaging, a data format that facilitates the delivery of information for recreating the different tastes via the electrode. They say game designers could be early adopters of the simulator, and note a healthcare application would enable diabetics to receive a sweet reward that does not affect blood sugar levels.
Data Scientists: IT's New Rock Stars
Network World (01/03/14) Colin Neagle
Data scientists are emerging as some of the most sought-after professionals in today's technology job market. Technology and media firms are particularly interested in hiring data scientists, and the field is garnering increasing media attention. Industry observers advise students planning to enter the IT field to pursue data science. The Harvard Business Review in October 2012 labeled data scientist as "the sexiest job of the 21st century." In addition, data science was spotlighted in a recent American Journalism Review profile of Buzzfeed data science director Ky Harlin, who is responsible for the company's viral content insights and developed his own algorithms to determine when and why specific pieces of Web content go viral. Harlin learned his skills at a medical-imaging company, and was recruited by Buzzfeed founder Jonah Peretti. He notes that both the medical-imaging and content-publishing fields look for patterns in vast data sets. "This is where you add real business value," Peretti says, "where an IT person is not just running machines anymore, but fundamentally taking good information and helping the business make true business decisions so that they can adjust the business in real time based on this information."
Two States to Use Clemson Voting Technology in Elections
The Newsstand (SC) (01/02/14) Paul Alongi
Clemson University professor Juan Gilbert and his colleagues have developed voting technology designed to help the disabled vote securely and independently. The Prime III voting system uses full speech capabilities to enable hands- and eyes-free interaction, and eliminates the problems of stray marks and hanging chads. Voters can cast ballots by tapping a touchscreen or talking or blowing into a microphone. For voters with difficulty reading or seeing, headphones and audio instructions are available. "We created the technology that allows everybody to vote on the same machine," Gilbert says. "If you can't see, if you can't hear, if you can't read, if you don't have arms, you vote on the same machine as anyone else." In addition, the system places a blank piece of paper into a printer for each voter on which the completed ballot is printed, showing only the contests and selections to eliminate questions about voter intent. Rehabilitation and independent-living centers in Oregon used Prime III in the 2012 presidential primaries, and on April 1 the system will be deployed in several Wisconsin precincts. Gilbert also created the Televoting system that will be used in a pilot program in Okaloosa County, FL.
Basketball, Football, and Hockey Are All the Same Game
Slate (01/02/14) Joel Warner
University of Colorado researchers used data analysis techniques to analyze every point scored in every game over a decade of college football, and professional football, hockey, and basketball and found that the games are much less complicated than most people think. The researchers found that scoring rhythms remained mostly stable throughout all of the sports. At the beginning of a game, the scoring rate is relatively slow before rising to a plateau and spiking before the end of a period when the opportunity to score becomes narrower. These stable tempos suggest that each scoring play is an independent process--that "there is very little correlation between one point and the next," says University of Colorado professor Aaron Clauset. The researchers also found no evidence of momentum in any of the sports, and what looks like a hot streak is just a random sequence of events. In addition, the researchers found that although hockey and football teams tend to extend their leads, pro basketball teams play worse when they have the lead. They say this could be attributed to the fact that basketball teams score more frequently, while hockey and football scoring plays are more scarce. The researchers also say they developed a model for predicting game outcomes that is more accurate than current conventional models.
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