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Welcome to the July 2, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Coast to Coast, STEM Jobs Take Longest to Fill
USA Today (07/01/14) Paul Davidson

Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) jobs take more than twice as long to fill as other openings, according to a Brookings Institute study of 52,000 companies. The study provides further evidence of a skills gap in the U.S. workforce that is slowing payroll growth. For example, the study found STEM jobs that require only a high school diploma or associate's degree are advertised for 40 days on average, compared to 37 days for jobs requiring a bachelor's degree, which means a high school graduate with a STEM background is in higher demand than a college graduate without such skills. Health care practitioners and technical occupations were the toughest positions to fill, with jobs advertised an average of 47 days, while architectural and engineering positions, and computer and math jobs, took an average of 41 days and 39 days, respectively, to fill, according to the study. San Jose and San Francisco were among the five areas with the toughest-to-fill positions, while advertised jobs were easiest to fill in Minneapolis, Colorado Springs, Toledo, and Milwaukee.

Tech Breakthroughs May Mean 'Digital Everything' by 2025
Computerworld (07/01/14) Sharon Gaudin

A new Thomson Reuters report, "The World in 2025: 10 Predictions of Innovation," examines what scientific breakthroughs are likely to have the greatest impact on society over the next 10 years. The report predicts the world will become increasingly digital over the next decade as cars, smart homes, and appliances become digitally connected and think for themselves. "The digital world as we know it today will seem simple and rudimentary in 2025," the reports says. "Thanks to the prevalence of improved semiconductors, graphene-carbon nanotube capacitors, cell-free networks of service antenna and 5G technology, wireless communications will dominate everything, everywhere...from the most remote farmlands to bustling cities--we will all be digitally directed." The report also predicts quantum teleportation will be tested in 2025. "We are on the precipice of this field's explosion; it is truly an emerging research front," the report says. "Early indicators point to a rapid acceleration of research leading to the testing of quantum teleportation in 2025." Other game-changing breakthroughs the report predicts include the end of food shortages, the dominance of solar power as an energy source, and advances in genetics that improve the prevention and treatment of many diseases.

Americans as 'Vulnerable' to NSA Surveillance as Foreigners, Despite Fourth Amendment
ZDNet (06/30/14) Zack Whittaker

A new report from researchers at Harvard and Boston universities suggests loopholes in two U.S. legal statutes could enable the U.S. government to "conduct largely unrestrained surveillance on Americans by collecting their network traffic abroad." The researchers say Executive Order (EO) 12333 and United States Signal Intelligence Directive (USSID) 18, which regulates the collection of Americans' data from surveillance operations conducted abroad, effectively create a legal basis for allowing unrestricted surveillance of Americans by assuming data collected abroad is foreign data, and therefore not subject to constitutional and legal protections under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The researchers say the U.S. National Security Agency could exploit the loophole by manipulating the Domain Name System and Border Gateway Protocol to redirect American Internet traffic into another country, where it could then be "legally" collected. NSA has admitted it uses EO 12333 to derive "foundational authority" for its surveillance programs, but has denied that it uses an interpretation like that put forward by the Harvard and Boston researchers. However, the researchers point out their interpretation of EO 12333 seems to have been the foundation of NSA's recently revealed operation MUSCULAR, in which the agency collected about 180 million user records from Google and Yahoo datacenters every month, regardless of the users' citizenship.

Ask the Crowd: Robots Learn Faster, Better With Online Helpers
UW News (WA) (06/26/14) Michelle Ma

University of Washington (UW) computer scientists have discovered crowdsourcing is an effective way to teach robots, suggesting robots could one day simply ask the online community for instructions to complete tasks. "We're trying to create a method for a robot to seek help from the whole world when it's puzzled by something," says Rajesh Rao, director of UW's Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering. "This is a way to go beyond just one-on-one interaction between a human and a robot by also learning from other humans around the world." The team's robots use machine-learning techniques to create models that require a significant volume of data, which can be provided via crowdsourcing. In one study, the team asked participants to build a simple model using blocks, then asked the robot to create a similar model. The robot could not complete the model based on the few examples provided, so the researchers turned to the Amazon Mechanical Turk crowdsourcing site. Using more than 100 crowd-generated models of each shape, the robots were able to build the best models of each participant's shape, based on difficulty to construct, similarity to the original, and the online community's ratings. The researchers are now studying crowdsourcing and community-sourcing as ways to teach robots more complex tasks such as retrieving objects in a multistory building.

Data Check: U.S. Producing More STEM Graduates Even Without Proposed Initiatives
Science Insider (06/30/14) Jeffrey Mervis

For almost a decade, various groups including the National Academies and the U.S. President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology have advocated for policies and programs aimed at increasing the number of Americans who graduate college with degrees in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. However, despite Congressional inaction on the issue, new numbers from the National Science Foundation (NSF) indicate the U.S. is already on track to meet many of the goals set forth by these groups in reports such as "Tapping America's Potential" and "Rising Above the Gathering Storm." Some commonly cited goals include increasing the number of STEM graduates by 1.1 million between 2001 and 2015 and increasing the number of annual STEM graduates to 400,000 by 2015. According to the NSF, in 2012 the U.S. produced 355,000 graduates with bachelors and associates degrees in STEM fields, an increase of 114,000 over the 241,000 STEM graduates produced in 2000. The increase would put the United States on track to meet or exceed the goal of adding an additional 1.1 million graduates to the U.S. workforce, although some may quibble with specific details, such as the inclusion of those earning two-year STEM degrees, most of which are in the computer sciences.

DARPA Robotics Challenge Gets Tougher
InformationWeek (06/27/14) Patience Wait

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) announced it is extending preparation time for the final round of its DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) by six months. DARPA director Gill Pratt says the agency was impressed by the results of the first round of physical trials held last December and decided to increase the scope and difficulty of the next set of trials. The DRC was created in 2012 with the goal of producing robots that could be remotely operated to carry out disaster relief tasks in situations that would be hazardous to human workers. The initial trials required the robots to complete eight tasks common in disaster relief and allowed the robots to be plugged into external power sources and directed through wired connections. Pratt says the next round will now be much harder; robots must be operated wirelessly and using only internal power, and communications will be randomly disrupted. All eight tasks, plus a surprise secret task, also will have to be performed in sequence within one hour, whereas teams previously had 30 minutes to perform each task individually. About 24 U.S. and international teams are expected to compete in the final round of the DRC, which will be held June 5-6, 2015, in Pomona, CA.

Number of Women Entering IT Continues to Decline, Says BCS Report (06/27/14)

Girls in the United Kingdom (U.K.) who are studying computing and information and communications technology (ICT) at A-level are performing at a higher level than boys, according to the Women in IT Scorecard from BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, and e-skills UK, that nation's Sector Skills Council for Business and Information Technology. Moreover, the proportion of self-employed female IT specialists in the U.K. has doubled over the past decade. Still, the number of women entering the industry continues to decline. Last year, women accounted for less than 16 percent of the U.K.'s 1.13 million IT specialists, which is slightly below the norm in European Union countries; females also made up just 6.5 percent of computing and ICT A-level students. The report also says the average gross weekly pay of female IT specialists was 16 percent less than for men in the same roles. "This joint report provides the evidence that we need to face the problem head-on, and to develop hard-hitting and effective interventions to solve it," says Karen Price, CEO of e-skills UK.

Forecasting Future May One Day Become as Practical as Predicting Weather, Thanks to Big Data Advances
Virginia Tech News (06/27/14) John David Pastor

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) is home to the Early Model Based Even Recognition using Surrogates (EMBERS) project, which was created to develop ways to use big data to forecast significant societal events. The EMBERS project recently held a panel to discuss the future of forecasting using big data. "It is not just the volume of data we are interested in, but the veracity and variety as well," says Virginia Tech professor Wu Feng. One project the researchers are focused on is a program that reads images of parking lots outside of health centers and hospitals to monitor upticks in "fill rate." "Teaching a machine to extract meaning from an image involves labeling an exorbitant number of objects," says Virginia Tech professor Devi Parikh, who leads the Computer Vision lab at Virginia Tech. As computer networks become more advanced and are better able to handle large amounts of data, and the algorithms for interpreting the data become more sophisticated, researchers may be able to forecast important social phenomena all over the world. Naren Ramakrishnan, who leads the EMBERS project and also is director of the Discovery Analytics Center Arlington site, notes all of the event alerts are emailed in real time and compared against a gold standard report organized by a third party.

Cloud Computing: Facilitating Cutting Edge Collaborative Research
CORDIS News (06/26/14)

The European Union's HELIX NEBULA (HNX) project, completed in May, offers a cloud platform that will enable research collaboration among scientists by allowing users to easily buy, use, and manage cloud services. The platform will enable researchers to outsource computing storage needs to remote facilities in the cloud, making data accessible to other scientists. The project's leaders believe the platform could save researchers up to 40 percent in infrastructure costs. Cloud-based services offer the efficiency and agility required in the current environment, which demands faster results and increased international collaboration. One area likely to benefit from HNX is the work being conducted at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, which now uses a large-scale distributed computing system to process the huge volume of data collected. HNX is considered a first step toward a cloud-based scientific digital infrastructure for all of Europe. The team plans to broaden the platform to provide users with easy access to a wide range of services, such as digital infrastructure, tools, information, and applications.

Norway Internet Voting Experiment Fails
ZDNet (06/30/14) Larry Sletzer

Norway's Ministry of Local Government and Modernization recently announced it has ended a pilot program testing online voting in the country after finding the meager benefits did not outweigh the potential issues. The program had been active for several years and enabled Norwegians to vote online for elections in 2011 and 2013. One of the major arguments for online voting is that it would increase voter turnout. A survey in the United Kingdom found that more than 55 percent of its residents would be more inclined to vote if they could do so from their own smartphone or tablet. However, the Norwegian pilot program found online voting did not meaningfully increase voter turnout; it also led to several cases of double voting. In the 2013 election, 0.75 percent of voters voted twice, casting one vote online and then voting again using a conventional paper ballot at a polling station. Efforts are still underway to promote the idea of online voting in both the United States and the United Kingdom, despite a history of opposition to electronic voting in the U.S. In the U.K., voters already register online to vote.

A Simple Solution for Big Data
SISSA (06/27/14)

Two researchers at the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) in Trieste, Italy, say they have developed a type of Cluster Analysis (CA), a statistical technique that can group data sets according to their "similarity," based on simple and powerful principles. The researchers say the new CA has proven to be very efficient and capable of solving some of the most typical problems encountered in this type of analysis. CA is used to identify the denser areas of data efficiently, grouping the data in a certain number of significant subsets on the basis of this criterion. Each subset corresponds to a different category. "Think of a database of facial photographs. The database may contain more than one photo of the same person, so CA is used to group all the pictures of the same individual," says SISSA professor Alessandro Laio. "This type of analysis is carried out by automatic facial-recognition systems, for example." SISSA researcher Alex Rodriguez says the new approach is based on a new way of identifying the center of the cluster. "Imagine having to identify all the cities in the world, without having access to a map," Rodriguez says. He says they identified "a simple rule or a sort of shortcut to achieve the result."

Virtual Flashlight Reveals Secrets of Ancient Artefacts
New Scientist (06/30/14) Aviva Rutkin

Researchers at the University of Amsterdam and the French Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation (INRIA) are testing the Revealing Flashlight, a system that projects computer-generated models onto real objects, filling in missing details wherever the spotlight lands. "We have more and more virtual objects available, either from real objects that have been scanned or virtually created objects that have been 3D printed," says Patrick Reuter, the project's lead researcher at INRIA. "But there's information missing. Sometimes you get more from virtual objects, and other information from physical objects." The researchers use common scanning techniques such as structured-light three-dimensional scanning or photogrammetry to create a computer model of an object, which helps identify important curves or ridges in the object. "It's a great application for use in museums, particularly for visitors who may not have detailed knowledge of the exhibit or artifact," says University of Pennsylvania professor Susan Yoon.

AspireIT Initiative Enlists Women to Engage 10,000 Middle School Girls in Computing Programs
Campus Technology (06/25/14) Rhea Kelly

The National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) is scaling up an initiative to expose 10,000 middle-school girls to computing concepts. The AspireIT program works with technical high school or college women to design and lead computer programs for younger girls. The $3.71-million program is a Commitment to Action for the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) America. To fulfill this commitment, NCWIT will engage 600 high school and college members of its Aspirations in Computing program and 250 partner organizations. The goal is to provide 400 computing-focused after-school programs for middle-school girls across the United States through 2018. "This initiative was born from young women's enthusiasm for technology and desire to pay it forward. Who better to invite girls to explore and experiment with technology, than the young women they look up to and aspire to be like?" says NCWIT's Ruthe Farmer. "NCWIT AspireIT provides the national infrastructure needed to harness this energy and rapidly bridge the computing education gap for thousands of girls nationwide."

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