Welcome to the April 4, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Princeton CompSci Prof Wins Prestigious Award
Network World (04/02/14) Bob Brown
Professor David Blei, an expert in machine learning and Bayesian statistics at Princeton University, is the recipient of the 2013 ACM-Infosys Foundation Award in Computer Sciences. ACM and the Infosys Foundation established the award to honor recent innovations by young scientists and system developers in the computing field, and it includes a $175,000 prize. Blei has developed methods for analyzing large collections of data that have applications for everything from email archives to computational biology to social networks and robotics. His contributions have provided a basic framework for an entire generation of researchers to develop statistical modeling approaches, according to ACM president Vint Cerf. "In an era of explosive data on the Internet, [Blei] saw the advantage of discovering the latent themes that underlie documents, and identifying how each document exhibits these themes," Cerf notes. "In fact, he changed the way machine-learning researchers think about modeling text and other objects in the digital realm." Blei will be joining Columbia University as a professor of statistics in the fall.
Samsung Claims Progress on the Next Wonder Material
The Wall Street Journal (04/04/14) Jonathan Cheng
Samsung researchers have developed a technique for synthesizing graphene that brings commercialization a step closer. The researchers developed a method to allow a single crystal of graphene to retain its electrical and mechanical properties across a larger area. Previously, graphene could only be made large enough for commercial use by bringing together separate graphene crystals that would impair electrical conductivity. Graphene will play a major role in Samsung's transition to wearable and other next-generation electronic devices, according to the company. Using a new technique, the researchers appear to have synthesized single-crystal graphene at a large enough scale for industrial and commercial use, says Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology researcher Sung-yool Choi. "We can expect high electrical performance compared to other work," he notes.
E.U. Lawmakers Approve Tough 'Net Neutrality' Rules
The New York Times (04/03/14) Mark Scott; James Kanter
The European Parliament has approved new net neutrality rules to guarantee equal access to the Internet and reduce cellphone charges across the 28-member European Union (EU). The proposals are similar to those in the U.S. to allow equal access by all companies and individuals to the Internet's infrastructure for Web services. The new legislation aims to create a single market for electronic communications across the region, but it faces several hurdles before it can become law. Despite the uncertainty, Internet companies and consumer advocacy groups have voiced support for the new rules, while telecom companies think the changes could potentially slow investment in the continent's mobile and fixed-line Internet infrastructure. "This is what the EU is all about--getting rid of barriers to make life easier and less expensive," says European commissioner Neelie Kroes. The new rules are part of a continuing debate over how to pay for the multibillion-euro investments needed to upgrade the continent's mobile and landline Internet infrastructure. The majority of politicians had approved the new legislation because of evidence that telecom companies had already promoted some services at the expense of others, according to European lawmakers.
Open Source Workshop Explores FOSS in Universities
Opensource.com (03/31/14) Greg Hislop
Universities' application of free and open source software (FOSS) was the focus of an open source workshop held at ACM's annual meeting of its Special Interest Group in Computer Science Education (SIGCSE). Various FOSS expert panelists offered their insights in the first half of the workshop, and discussion concentrated on what faculty and students should be aware of before getting involved in Humanitarian FOSS. Among the key points highlighted were that generating documentation is not only a great way to figure out code, but also a significant and legitimate contribution to the FOSS community; selecting the right community to interact with is critical; some projects allow for guiding students to specific resources and answering questions, and even more important than tech skills is knowing who is doing what and where to ask. The second half of the workshop entailed two sets of breakout sessions, with the first set oriented around topics already recognized as the most interesting from the first half's discussions, while the second set involved dialogues with community representatives on project engagement. The first discussion emphasized the need for portals, communities, and material aggregations to support academic open source efforts, while the other probed the need for FOSS project documentation and how this offers an entry point for students.
New Research Office to Further Explore 'Bio-Technological Frontier'
FedScoop (04/01/14) Colby Hochmuth
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has launched the Biological Technology Office (BTO) to study the dynamic intersection of biology and the physical sciences. BTO says it aims to harness the power of biological systems by applying engineering tools to next-generation technologies that are inspired by the life sciences. "The Biological Technologies Office will advance and expand on a number of earlier DARPA programs that made preliminary inroads into the bio-technological frontier," says BTO director Geoff Ling. The initial BTO portfolio includes the Hand Proprioception & Touch Interfaces program, which expands on the work of DARPA's Revolutionizing Prosthetics and Reliable Neural-Interface Technology programs. "Before BTO, DARPA had a handful of biologists, neuroscientists, engineers, and the like, interested in synthesizing their work but distributed across different offices," Ling says. "Now we're under one roof, so to speak, and looking to attract a new community of scholars, who will bring a host of new ideas at the intersection of traditional and emerging disciplines." BTO's mission includes restoring and maintaining warfighter abilities, harnessing biological systems, and applying biological complexity at scale.
Early STEM Education Will Lead to More Women in IT
CIO (03/31/14) Kenneth Corbin
Girls Who Code, which has drawn support from leading technology companies, is a nonprofit working to introduce more girls to computer science at a young age. If the technology industry wants to increase the number of women in its workforce, schools must develop robust, mandatory computer science programs in the K-12 education stage, says Girls Who Code curriculum director Ashley Gavin. She notes that advocates of expanding science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education often point out that many students who initially start toward a degree in a STEM field change course and pursue a different discipline, known as the "leaky pipeline." For example, only about 30 percent of students with early exposure to computer science stay in the field, according to Girls Who Code. Meanwhile, although women make up 48 percent of the total workforce, they hold just 23 percent of the STEM jobs, according to the National Math and Science Initiative. In 1991, women received 29.6 percent of the bachelor's degrees awarded in computer science; however, that figure fell to just 18.2 percent in 2010, which is part of a larger trend concerning a general shortage of STEM workers. "Yes, there are very few women pursuing computer science, but there are also very few people pursuing computer science," Gavin says.
Computer Maps 21 Distinct Emotional Expressions--Even "Happily Disgusted"
OSU News (03/31/14) Pam Frost Gorder
Ohio State University (OSU) researchers have developed a way for computers to recognize 21 distinct facial expressions, which they say more than triples the number of documented facial expressions that researchers can use for cognitive analysis. "We found a strong consistency in how people move their facial muscles to express 21 categories of emotions," says OSU professor Aleix Martinez. He notes their computational model will help map emotion in the brain with greater accuracy than ever before, and could lead to the diagnosis and treatment of mental conditions such as autism and post-traumatic stress disorder. Cognitive scientists previously have used only six basic emotions for their studies. However, deciphering a person's brain functioning with only six categories can lead to an abstracted image. "Hopefully, with the addition of more categories, we'll now have a better way of decoding and analyzing the algorithm in the brain," Martinez says. The researchers photographed 230 volunteers making faces in response to verbal cues. In the resulting 5,000 images, the researchers tagged prominent landmarks for facial muscles. They then searched the Facial Action Coding System for similarities and differences in the expressions and found 21 distinct emotions. Their computer model also determined the degree to which basic emotions and compound emotions were characterized by a particular expression.
Enhanced Autopilot System Could Help Prevent Accidents Like 2009 Air France 447 Crash
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (04/01/14) Mary L. Martialay
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) researchers have developed a computer system that detects and corrects faulty airspeed readings, such as those that contributed to the crash of Air France flight 447 on June 1, 2009. "During this flight, important sensors failed, and reported erroneous data. But the autopilot didn't know that, and it acted as if the data were correct," says RPI professor Carlos Varela. "We have computers that can beat the best human Jeopardy! players, and yet we rely on these relatively weak autopilot systems to safeguard hundreds of people on each flight. Why don't we add more intelligence to autopilot systems?" The researchers created the Programming Language for spatiO-Temporal data Streaming applications (PILOTS), and used it to write software that examines data streams and searches for an error signature. If such a signature is found, the program corrects the error using data from the other two streams. "If we can capture the mathematical relationship between the data streams, we can look at the patterns that arise upon known failures," Varela says. The researchers say PILOTS could be used in many systems that rely on sensor readings.
Smaller Microchips That Keep Their Cool
Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (04/14) Holger Kappert
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Microelectronic Circuits and Systems have developed a high-temperature process that makes it possible to fabricate extremely compact microchips that operate flawlessly even at up to 300 degrees Celsius, says researcher Holger Kappert. To develop the heat-tolerant mini-chips, the researchers used a specialized high-temperature silicon-on-insulator (SOI) complementary metal-oxide semiconductor process. The SOI technology prevents leakage currents that occur from influencing the operation of the chip. In addition, the researchers used tungsten metallization, which is less temperature sensitive than conventional aluminum, and increases the operating life of the high-temperature chips. The smaller size should make the chips more capable and more intelligent as well, according to the researchers. They say the chips could be beneficial to aviation, for example, by enabling sensors to be located as close as possible to turbine engines in order to be able to observe the state of their operation. The chips could enable the turbines to be operated more reliably and efficiently, saving fuel and thereby making aviation more environmentally friendly.
In the Long Run: Keeping Track of Athletes with Wearable Tech
The Conversation (03/31/14) Iain Collings
Researchers at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) have developed a wireless position location system that works anywhere conventional global-positioning systems (GPS) satellites cannot reach, writes Iain Collings, deputy chief of CSIRO's Computational Informatics Division. He says the system will be used to track athletes and measure heartbeats to monitor fatigue, track player movements in relation to each other, plan team strategies, and improve training. The system uses CSIRO's wireless ad-hoc system for positions (WASP) technology to measure these factors indoors. The WASP system works like a GPS, but instead of using satellites in space, it uses fixed reference nodes that need to be located within the building or just outside. Collings says the WASP system is accurate to 20 centimeters, has high resistance to multipath interference, long-range operation, a high update rate, and simple deployment. He says the technology could lead to a wide range of possibilities for revolutionizing the way lives are organized, including ensuring safe working environments, optimizing factory operations, and supporting in-home health care. The next step in the development of the system will involve extending it to be fully integrated with existing cellular and Wi-Fi systems.
Philly Hackers Map Home Listings to Neighborhood Crime
Government Technology (03/28/14) Jason Shueh
Philadelphia LadyHacks, a women's group of six civic hackers, have developed RentSafe, an open source Web application that combines Philadelphia's crime data and housing information to map criminal activity with home listings. The app was developed in just six hours during a hackathon on March 8. The hackers connected the app to the city's crime data application programming interface (API) and another API, called 3Taps, which scrapes housing data from sites such as Craigslist and Apartments.com. The developers say the map is simple and makes criminal acts obvious, with zoom-in and zoom-out street maps that depict crime in a heat map of colored dots. Red, orange, and yellow dots categorize a titled and dated listing of incidents. Blue dots signify a property, while purple dots show schools and green dots represent parks. "I hope it's used as an informative tool and resource for people to show what can be possible when you start layering different types of city data and just different data sets," says Philadelphia Office of Innovation and Technology data scientist Stacey Mosely. Since the app was posted, it has received more than 1,200 views.
Knowledge Transfer: Computers Teach Each Other Pac-Man
WSU News (03/27/14) Tina Hilding
A computer can give advice and teach skills to another computer similar to the way a real teacher interacts with a student, using a method developed by researchers at Washington State University. A student virtual robot learned how to play Pac-Man and a version of the StarCraft video game, and surpassed the performance of the teacher robotic agent. The team programmed the teacher agent to focus on action advice, or telling the student agent when to act. The trick is in knowing when to give advice, considering the student agent will get annoyed if the teacher agent is always telling it what to do. "We designed algorithms for advice giving, and we are trying to figure out when our advice makes the biggest difference," says WSU professor Matthew E. Taylor. He wants to develop a curriculum for the agents that starts with simple work and builds to more complex actions, as well as to develop a better way for robots to teach people. The research was partly funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, which also gave Taylor a grant to use ideas from dog training to train robotic agents.
The Build-Up: Good and Ready
The Economist (03/29/14)
The field of robotics appears to be preparing for a major acceleration after a slow start, and one reason for the rebound of interest over the past few years is the emergence of machines that are safe and inexpensive enough to find applications outside of factories. Academic robot initiatives are ramping up as well, thanks to the uptick in computing power and sensor technology that can be acquired for a reasonable cost. Many of the associated benefits stem from the inventive things that people operating in larger markets have been able to do with better and less-expensive chips, which robot-makers also can utilize. Innovations such as three-dimensional printing, Kinect sensors, and the Robot Operating System have increased the ease with which smaller research teams can build robots to address specific challenges. University of Maryland robotics researcher S.K. Gupta sees such advances as drivers of the robotics field's transformation into a discipline that is more accessible to a broader research base. Robotics companies as well as academic researchers could potentially tap funding from entrepreneurs that are inspired rather than discouraged by the field's science-fiction ambiance, and potential future advances that could have major repercussions include robots that draw on the computing power of cloud-based systems.
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