Welcome to the July 11, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Most With College STEM Degrees Go to Work in Other Fields, Survey Finds
The Washington Post (07/10/14) Wesley Robinson
Students who graduate with a bachelor's degree in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are more likely than other graduates to be employed, but also are unlikely to have a job in a STEM field, according to a new U.S. Census Bureau report. The report, based on the results of the bureau's American Community Survey, says 75 percent of students with a bachelor's degree in a STEM field have non-STEM jobs; the percentage falls to about 50 percent of those with degrees relating to engineering, computers, math, and statistics. The survey also found men still predominate in STEM fields, especially engineering and computers. Census Bureau sociologist Christin Landivar says part of the discrepancy is explained by the way the bureau classifies jobs as STEM or non-STEM, and notes STEM degrees provide a range of career options. For example, many biology majors go on to study medicine and become doctors, but doctors are not classified as STEM workers by the Bureau. Georgetown University's Anthony Carnevale says the numbers should calm worries about an oversupply of STEM graduates, noting many graduates find jobs in technical but non-STEM fields such as supply chain management, inventory control, and quality control.
IBM Spending $3 Billion to Rethink Decades-Old Computer Design
IDG News Service (07/10/14) Agam Shah
IBM announced that it plans to spend $3 billion over the next five years to research and develop new fundamental computing technologies. IBM's Supratik Guha and Tom Rosamilia say the silicon technology underpinning today's computers is reaching the limits of its potential and IBM wants to be among the first to develop the computing technologies of the future. The company will focus specifically on the possibilities of graphene and carbon nanotubes as replacements for silicon, which will enable computer chips to be scaled down to the atomic level, as well as entirely different technologies such as quantum and neural computing. Guha says it remains unclear what will become the dominant technology after silicon, or if different technologies will exist in parallel, but carbon nanotubes hold some of the most immediate promise, although engineering challenges remain. IBM already has demonstrated a neural chip and has the goal to eventually build one that would mimic the human brain with about 10 billion neurons and 100 trillion synapses while using only 1 kilowatt of power. Rosamilia says the new technologies will likely appear first in high-performance computers before making their way into the broader consumer and enterprise markets.
Academics Get Personal Over Big Data
iTnews Australia (07/11/14) Brett Winterford
Princeton University computer science professors Arvind Narayanan and Edward Felten have published a rebuttal to a June paper by Information Technology and Innovation Foundation researcher Daniel Castro and Ontario privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian, which concluded de-identification tools did a sufficient job of ensuring data privacy and that research to the contrary was based on flawed assumptions and incomplete research. De-identification tools have been put forth as a way to protect the privacy of the wealth of personally identifiable data being used by everyone from governments to marketers, while still enabling the data to be economically useful. Castro and Cavoukian's paper argued concerns about re-identification from de-identified data were "greatly exaggerated" and the skills involved in such work are not readily available in the "real world." However, Narayanan and Felten's rebuttal critiques eight problems with the previous paper, lists many examples where motivated actors can combine aggregated data sets to re-identify de-identified data, and argues the only skills required to do so are basic programming and statistical knowledge. Narayanan and Felten say efforts should be directed toward other techniques, such as differential privacy, and organizations should be willing to accept some loss of utility and convenience in order to ensure privacy interests are respected.
New Holograms Provide a Sense of Depth
The Engineer (United Kingdom) (07/10/14)
Tel Aviv University (TAU) doctoral students Yuval Yifat, Michal Eitan, and Zeev Iluz have developed advanced holography technology based on nanoantennas. The technology enables newly designed holograms to replicate the appearance of depth without having to replot two-dimensional images. "If we could dynamically change the relation between light waves, we could create something that projected dynamically--like holographic television, for example," Yifat says. The researchers have developed a metallic nanoantenna chip that along with an adapted holography algorithm determines the phase map of a light beam. They say their methodology is the first of its kind to successfully produce high-resolution holographic imagery that can be projected efficiently in any direction. "Imagine a surgeon, who is forced to replot several CAT-SCAN images to generate an accurate picture," says TAU professor Jacob Scheuer. "By generating just one holographic image, she could examine symptoms from every angle. Similarly, an architect could draw up a holographic blueprint that he could actually walk through and inspect." The researchers suggest the technology also could be used to improve laser-based radar, as well as advance anti-counterfeiting techniques.
Bell Labs Celebrates Net Speed Record Over Copper Lines
BBC News (07/09/14) Leo Kelion
Researchers at Bell Labs have developed a technology that enables them to transmit data over traditional copper telephone lines at a record speed of 10 Gbps, using two pairs of 30-meter-long standard phone cables. Bell Labs' engineers in Antwerp, Belgium, have developed XG-Fast to reach the speed record, building on the existing G.fast specification. The team believes XG-Fast could eventually be adapted to offer 1 Gbps speeds in real-world uses, which would reduce the amount of fiber-optic cable required to boost Internet speeds in cities. "Fiber can be brought to the curbside, wall, or basement of a building and the existing copper network used for the final few meters" to achieve the new speeds, says Bell Labs parent company Alcatel-Lucent. Although consultant Chris Green cautions rural properties tend to be far away from telephone exchanges, he acknowledges XG-Fast could significantly reduce the cost of offering ultrafast broadband to those who would qualify. XG-Fast works by using a wider frequency range of up to 500 MHz to transmit data, rather than the 106 MHz range used by G.fast, but also works over shorter distances than its predecessor. A 10 Gbps connection would enable the transfer 75 GB of data in one minute.
Virtual Crowds Produce Real Behavior Insights
Brown University (07/08/14)
A team of researchers at Brown University is using virtual reality technology to study the ways humans tend to move together, or "swarm," when walking as part of a crowd. A key innovation in this research has been modifications professor William Warren and his team have made to Brown's 168-square-meter VENLab to enable participants to use an Oculus Rift VR headset to wirelessly explore virtual spaces. Warren says initially the headsets had to be tethered using heavy cables or participants had to wear a control box as a backpack. Using microphones and accelerometers integrated into the Rift headset in conjunction with a grid of cameras and ultrasonic sensors mounted throughout the lab, the headsets are now able to track a wearer's position and where they are looking in the virtual simulation without the need for cabling or heavy attachments. Warren and his team are hoping to take the technology even further to the point where the headsets will be able to track participants' locations without any surrounding hardware. The latest modifications have enabled the researchers to put volunteers into simulated crowds and study the ways crowd behaviors affect their movements. Warren says the research could have applications in urban planning, architectural design, evacuation planning, and technology to assist the visually impaired.
Own Your Own Data
MIT News (07/09/14) Larry Hardesty
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed openPDS (personal data store), a prototype system that stores data from digital devices in a single location specified by the user. The researchers note that with openPDS, applications share code instead of data. One of the benefits of openPDS is it requires applications to specify what information they need and how it will be used. OpenPDS preserves all of the potentially useful data in a repository controlled by the end user, rather than by the application developer or service provider. However, a malicious hacker could try to construct requests that elicit more information than the user intends to disclose. Creating safeguards against such information leaks will have to be done on a case-by-case, application-by-application basis and, at least initially, the full implications of some queries may not be obvious, notes MIT researcher Yves-Alexendre de Montjoye. However, he says, "even if it's not 100-percent safe, it's still a huge improvement over the current state." ETH Zurich professor Dirk Helbing says openPDS is a key enabling technologies for the digital society. "I don't see another way of making big data compatible with constitutional rights and human rights."
Encrypted Instant Messaging Project Seeks to Obscure Metadata
IDG News Service (07/07/14) Jeremy Kirk
The Invisible.im project has a working prototype of an instant messaging application that would leave little digital evidence of online chats, but is now looking to work with developers. The researchers say the project would help solve the problem of obscuring metadata. Built around the chat protocol XMPP, Invisible.im sets up a local XMPP server on a user's computer to broker the transfer of messages, and then connects to the TOR anonymity network. The program encrypts chats using the encryption plugin OTR and uses "ephemeral" encryption keys for those sessions, which are scrubbed when they end. An anonymous mode would enable a user to contact another person, for example, by downloading the application and then entering the hidden service address of the person. A more secure mode would enable two people who have been cryptographically verified to chat. In this mode, "no one can tell they are on each other's 'buddy lists' or that they have ever had a conversation, let alone when," according to the project's website.
Forget the Shortest Route Across a City; New Algorithm Finds the Most Beautiful
Technology Review (07/08/14)
A team lead by Daniele Quercia at Yahoo Labs in Barcelona is seeking to develop a navigation app that will help pedestrians identify aesthetically pleasing foot paths. Quercia's team has developed an algorithm that uses crowdsourced data about the beauty of various locations in a city to design pedestrian routes that are, "not only short but also emotionally pleasant." The team first tested the algorithm in London, using the website UrbanGems.com, in which users compared and ranked the aesthetic appeal of pictures of locations in the city taken from Google Street View and Geograph. The mapping algorithm used these scores to identify the shortest route with the highest overall beauty score, yielding routes that were on average only 12 percent longer than the shortest possible route. A second test of the algorithm in Boston drew on data from Flickr, including the number of pictures of a given location and the positive emotional comments left about the images. In both cities, residents who tested the routes generated by Quercia's team found them to be more beautiful than the shortest route. The group plans to develop a full mobile app using the technology and test it in several different U.S. and European cities.
MIT Finger Device Reads to the Blind in Real Time
Associated Press (07/08/14) Rodrique Ngowi
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed the FingerReader ring, an instrument that enables people with visual disabilities to read text printed on paper or electronic devices. The FingerReader fits like a ring on the user's finger, and is equipped with a small camera that scans text and prompts a synthesized voice to read the words aloud. Software tracks the finger movement, identifies words, and processes the information. The FingerReader is like "reading with the tip of your finger and it's a lot more flexible, a lot more immediate than any solution that they have right now," says MIT professor Pattie Maes, who founded and leads the Fluid Interfaces group, which developed the prototype. Although the device would not replace Braille, it would enable users to access a wide range of materials that are not currently available in Braille. "Any tool that we can get that gives us better access to printed material helps us to live fuller, richer, more productive lives," says Jerry Berrier, who was born blind and manages a U.S. program that distributes technology to low-income people who have lost their sight and hearing. MIT Media Lab's Roy Shilkort says more work is needed before the FingerReader is ready for the market, including making it work with cellphones.
New Smartphone App Offers Easy and Inexpensive Solution for Hearing Screening
University of Pretoria (07/08/14)
A new smartphone app promises to make it easier and less expensive to screen people for hearing loss. Developed by researchers at the University of Pretoria (UP) in South Africa, in partnership with colleagues in Australia, hearScreen is designed for use in developing countries and rural areas. The development team believes the mobile solution has the potential to replace the cumbersome and heavy equipment used for screening today. A screening with the app takes only one minute and the data can be uploaded via the mobile phone network to a centralized site for evaluation and recommendation. "Anyone who knows how to operate a mobile phone can set up the hearScreen device," says UP professor and project leader De Wet Swanepoel. "It significantly improves and alters current models of school and community-based identification of hearing loss." The hearing screening app adheres to international calibration standards and continuously monitors background noise to ensure reliable testing, and it will be available by the end of the year. "Mobile health technologies such as this app are becoming more and more important in taking healthcare to the people who would otherwise not have access to hearing screening," Swanepoel says.
Mind-Wandering Software Knows When You've Zoned Out
New Scientist (07/04/14) Lakshmi Sandhana
University of Notre Dame researchers Sidney D'Mello and Robert Bixler have developed software that can detect when a user's attention is starting to drift by tracking their eye movements with a commercial eye tracker. The system watches for specific features in the way a person's eyes move, such as how long they fixate on words, where the eyes move next, their general movement patterns, and other contextual signals, to determine if the subject is focused on a the task at hand. The system can pause the sessions and alert the reader, highlight the content, or even display the content in a different format if it thinks the user is no longer concentrating. "This can lead to improved learning," D'Mello says. "For high stakes tasks such as military or aviation, this can prevent catastrophic disasters." The software also could be used to assess the engagement levels of study materials. The first version of the system will be employed to develop an intelligent text presentation system that intervenes when it identifies a wandering mind. The research points to the growing sophistication in connecting computational technology to cognitive and neural science, says Georgetown University Medical Center's James Giordano.
TransWall: A Transparent Touchable Display Wall
KAIST (07/01/14) Lan Yoon
Window shopping could become more fun and more real than ever before thanks to new technology from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST). Researchers have developed TransWall, a two-sided, touch-sensitive, and transparent display wall that supports collaboration and communication by users standing on each side of the display. The researchers say the technology offers a visual, audio, and vibrotactile experience to users. The team incorporated a surface transducer into the display wall, inserted a holographic screen film between sheets of plexiglass, and installed beam projectors on each side of the wall for projecting reflected images. Users can communicate by talking or even touching one another through the see-through display. When users touch the same spot at the same time without any physical interference, the visual, audio, and vibrotactile feedback will make them feel like they are touching one another. KAIST professor Woohun Lee says TransWall could be used for gaming, and could be employed in shopping centers, museums, theme parks, and even in germ-free rooms in hospitals.
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