Welcome to the September 5, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
UCLA, Cisco & More Join Forces to Replace TCP/IP
Network World (09/04/14) Bob Brown
The newly introduced Named Data Networking (NDN) Consortium, whose members include the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Cisco Systems, and VeriSign, recently met at a UCLA workshop to discuss the NDN Internet architecture's potential for scientific research. Participants have been developing new specifications and protocols tested across the globe in the service of advancing NDN, which can support more bandwidth, is more conducive to app developers, and offers more security than the current Internet architecture, thanks to foundational principles that include cryptographic authentication, flow balance, and adaptive routing/forwarding. The genesis of NDN, which is largely supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation, can be traced to content-centric networking pioneered by UCLA professor Van Jacobson. Other consortium members are directing various aspects of the initiative, with Washington University in St. Louis leading scalable NDN forwarding technologies and overseeing the global testbed. Cisco is an early participant in NDN, and Cisco fellow David Oran says the consortium will establish a community of academics, industry, and users. "We expect this consortium to be a major help in advancing the design, producing open source software, and fostering standardization and adoption of the technology," Oran says.
Coding in the Classroom: Computational Thinking Will Allow Children to 'Change the World'
International Business Times (09/02/14) Anthony Cuthbertson
Coding is now an integral part of the new national curriculum in England, which was designed to help more students gain an understanding and appreciation of modern technology. "Computer programs are among the largest and most sophisticated artifacts that human beings have ever built," says Microsoft researcher Simon Peyton Jones. Within the new curriculum, computer science is treated as a foundational discipline that every child must know. The curriculum aims to develop computational thinking skills that will enable pupils to understand and change the world. "Not every child needs to learn a programming language, but without some understanding of how code works and how it affects our lives, we may be depriving young people of new avenues to creativity, and valuable skills for the job market," says Kuato Studios' David Miller. One of the pioneers of the movement is Linda Liukas, founder of the Rails Girls program, which aims to open up technology and make it more accessible for girls and women through coding workshops and Web building events. "I don't think everyone will be a coder, but the ability to speak and structure your thinking in a way a computer understands, it will be one of the core future skills whatever your field," Liukas says.
Accelerating the Big Data Innovation Ecosystem
CCC Blog (09/04/14) Helen Vasaly
The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) wants to establish a national network of "Big Data Regional Innovation Hubs" that will help to sustain new regional and grassroots partnerships around big data. NSF says the hubs will accelerate the ideation and development of big data solutions to specific global and societal challenges by organizing stakeholders across sectors in results-driven programs and projects, and will help academic, industry, and community stakeholders create partnerships to drive successful pilot programs for emerging big data technology. The hubs also will coordinate across multiple regions of the country, based on shared interests and industry-sector engagement, to enable dialogue and sharing of best practices, and aim to increase the speed and volume of technology transfer between public and private research centers. Finally, NSF says the hubs will facilitate engagement on the societal impact of big data technologies, and support the education and training of the big data workforce. NSF will accept input from stakeholders across academia, state and local government, industry, and nonprofits on the formation of Big Data Regional Innovation Hubs until Nov. 1.
Trials Begin With a New Fall Detector for the Elderly That Automatically Notifies the Emergency Services
Polytechnic University of Catalonia (Spain) (09/05/14)
Polytechnic University of Catalonia researchers working on the Fall Detector for the Elderly (FATE) program have developed a device that detects falls by elderly people without them having to press a button for assistance, pinpointing their location inside or outside the home and notifying emergency services if necessary. The researchers say the goal is to minimize the effects of an accident on fragile patients who may not be physically capable of calling for help if they suffer a fall. The FATE system includes a small, highly sensitive fall detector fitted into a belt that users wear throughout the day. The device's sensors detect movements consistent with a fall and use wireless technology to locate the person's position. The system also is equipped with a bed presence sensor that detects prolonged absences during the night and triggers an alarm if the person does not return to bed within a predetermined period of time. If the FATE device detects a fall, it automatically notifies an ambulance service, which locates the person and contacts them to establish the details of the accident.
NASA Mars App Redefines 'Mission Creep'
InformationWeek (09/03/14) Charles Babock
The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Analyst's Notebook app, designed to help researchers review data on planetary missions, has expanded to handle the growing volume of information collected by the Mars rovers. The app's user interface enables data from multiple rovers to be accessed through a Web service. Altogether, two Notebooks represent 7 million to 8 million data products gathered from various instruments at various points of the mission, says Tom Stein at NASA's Planetary Data Systems Geosciences Node. The Notebooks make the data searchable on a timed-sequence and geospatial basis, and they aim to correlate the data with many documents describing mission operations and activities. The Notebook's map feature has evolved from a maximum range of 600 meters to the nearly 25 miles covered by the Opportunity rover, which Stein says "has forced us to change the way we create the terrain map and how we present it to the user in an interactive manner." The app initially presented sequential images and enabled image queries based on the time at which they were taken, but today it integrates sequence information, engineering and science data, and documentation for virtual mission replay.
Drone Developers Consider Obstacles That Cannot Be Flown Around
The New York Times (09/01/14) Conor Dougherty
Drone makers are eager for a new age of drone ubiquity in which semi-autonomous flying robots do everything from dust crops to deliver dog food, but before that can become a reality several issues remain to be resolved. The biggest issue is making sure drones do not run into each other, buildings, people, or the ground. Google recently unveiled its Project Wing delivery drone system, but demonstrated it in the Australian outback because there were fewer things for drones to hit. Google plans to spend the next year improving a drone's ability to navigate autonomously, as well as its "detect-and-avoid" system sensors that prevent it from running into other objects. Meanwhile, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is working to develop a standalone air traffic control system for drones that would mirror the air traffic control systems used by commercial aviation and would be exclusively responsible for objects flying at 400 to 500 feet. The system would have to track weather and other flying objects such as helicopters, but also route drones around buildings and other obstacles. NASA expects the first commercial applications to be in agriculture and security, with deliveries coming within a decade.
Innovative Algorithm Spots Interactions Lethal to Cancer
American Friends of Tel Aviv University (09/03/14)
Tel Aviv University (TAU) researchers have developed a computational data-driven algorithm that identifies synthetic lethal interactions in cancer with the potential to destroy cancer cells. The researchers were able to identify a comprehensive set of synthetic lethal pairs that form the core synthetic lethality network of cancer by analyzing large sets of genetic and molecular data from clinical cancer samples. The researchers say this type of network can be used to successfully predict the response of cancer cells to various treatments and predict a patient's prognosis based on personal genomic information. "We started this research from a very simple observation: if two genes are synthetically lethal, they are highly unlikely to be inactive together in the same cell," says TAU's Eytan Ruppin. "As cancer cells undergo genetic alterations that result in gene inactivation, we were able to identify synthetic lethal interactions by analyzing large sets of cancer genetic profiles." TAU's Livnat Jerby-Arnon says the key part of the study is the synergy between the computational research and the ensuing experiments to verify the predictive power of the algorithm. Jerby-Arnon notes the synthetic lethal pairs also could be used to repurpose drugs.
Ride-Sharing Could Cut Cabs' Road Time by 30 Percent
MIT News (09/01/14) Larry Hardesty
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cornell University, and the Italian National Research Council's Institute for Informatics and Telematics have developed a technique for analyzing taxi trip data and organizing ride sharing in real time. Many see the next logical step of app-focused car services such as Uber being dynamic ride-sharing apps that can match customers going in similar directions, thus shortening wait times, reducing fare costs, and lowering overall carbon emissions. To test this idea, the researchers analyzed about 150 million trip records gathered from 13,000 New York city taxis over the course of a year. They found about 95 percent of the trips could have been shared and an optimal combination of trips would have cut total travel time by 40 percent. Even accounting for the realistic limitations that only trips starting within a few minutes of each other could be shared, researchers still found total trip time could be reduced 32 percent. The study also described a method for carrying out real-time trip matching that can handle as many as 100,000 trips in a tenth of a second. In addition, the researchers created HubCab, a Web application that enables people to explore the data using a map of New York as an interface.
IEEE Predicts Top Technologies for 2022
eWeek (09/02/14) Darryl K. Taft
A new Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) report describes 23 technologies that it says could change the world by 2022. The report, which aims to predict the future of disruptive technologies, says multicore will enable smartphone users to recharge their devices once a year, and the Internet of Things will enable people to dress in clothes that monitor all their activities. Nanotechnology will enable the development of digestible cameras and machines made from particles 50,000 times as small as a human hair, which will help save lives. Big data will grow exponentially, but there will be concerns about balancing convenience and privacy. The report also recognizes the importance of quantum computing and indicates universal memory replacements for DRAM will result in a tectonic shift in hardware architectures and software. In addition, the report says machine learning increasingly will impact people's lives, while advancements in medical robotics will lead to life-saving technologies. "These technologies, tied into what we call seamless intelligence, present a view of the future," says IEEE Computer Society president Dejan Milojicic. "Technology is the enabler. What humanity takes out of it really depends on human society."
Pitfalls Emerge in the Analysis of Mobile Phone Datasets
Technology Review (09/02/14)
Mobile phone data in the form of call and text logs that track the time of day, duration, and cell tower location are being used by researchers in numerous fields to gain insights into the way people move, communicate, and interact. However, many of the methods used to determine a person's mobility by analyzing this data have serious flaws, as described in a recent paper by researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle. Mobility is often determined based on the number of different cell towers a person's phone contacts over a given time period, but relying solely on this measure can obscure how mobile a person is because of the uneven way towers are distributed throughout a given region. For example, depending on how rich, urban, and geographically flat an area is, a person moving between several cell towers could be going a few blocks or driving several miles in a rural area. The frequency with which a person uses their phone also changes the number of towers they contact. The researchers propose laying out a grid system and only counting as movement when a phone moves between towers in different cells. They also suggest assuming people use established roadways rather than traveling in a straight line.
Breakthrough in Light Sources for New Quantum Technology
University of Copenhagen (08/29/14)
Scientists at the University of Copenhagen's Niels Bohr Institute have created a stream of single photons and controlled their direction, which they say is a breakthrough for new quantum technology. The Quantum Photonics research group has developed a type of single-photon cannon integrated on an optical chip, which consists of a very small photonic crystal that is 10 microns wide and 160 nanometers thick. A light source or quantum dot is embedded in the center of the chip. "What we then do is shine laser light on the quantum dot, where there are atoms with electrons in orbit around the nucleus," says Niels Bohr Institute professor Soren Stobbe. "The laser light excites the electrons, which then jump from one orbit to another and thereby emit one photon at a time. Normally, light is scattered in all directions, but we have designed the photonic chip so that all of the photons are sent through only one channel." The single-photon cannon is efficient in that 98.4 percent of the photons are emitted in the desired direction. The researchers say their work is a building block for future quantum technologies, and note a high-efficiency single-photon source could be used for encryption or for calculations of complex quantum mechanical problems.
Socially-Assistive Robots Help Children With Autism Learn Imitative Behavior by Providing Personalized Encouragement
USC News (08/28/14) Megan Hazle
University of Southern California (USC) researchers recently conducted a pilot study on the effects of using humanoid robots to help children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) practice imitation behavior in order to encourage their autonomy. "There is a vast healthcare need that can be aided by intelligent machines capable of helping people of all ages to be less lonely, to do rehabilitative exercises, and to learn social behaviors," says USC professor Maja Mataric. The researchers studied how children with ASD react to humanoid robots that provide graded cueing, an occupational therapy technique that guides behavior by providing increasingly specific cues to help a person learn new or lost skills. "In this study, we used graded cueing to develop the social skill of imitation through the copycat game," says USC's Jillian Greczek. The researchers found children who received the varied prompting until the correct action was achieved showed improved or maintained performance, while children who did not receive graded cueing regressed or stayed the same. The results show the technique could be used to improve autonomy through robot-mediated intervention. "The idea is to eventually give every child a personalized robot dedicated to providing motivation and praise and nudges toward more integration," Mataric says.
Scala Founder: Language Due for 'Fundamental Rethink'
InfoWorld (09/05/14) Paul Krill
In an interview, Scala programming language designer Martin Odersky says he sees the industry in the midst of a paradigm shift, and Scala is leading the move toward a new balance between functional and object-oriented programming. Odersky cites three upcoming Scala upgrades, with the first, Scala 2.12, aiming to facilitate integration with Java 8. "Java 8 is actually a very good bridge toward a richer functional programming environment, and Scala can provide that," he says. Odersky says another goal of 2.12 is to use Java 8's virtual machine enhancements to the best extent possible, and ultimately give Scala a complete platform for functional programming. The following upgrade, Aida, seeks to remove unnecessarily complicated features in the Scala library collections, as well as integrate the Java 8 parallel collections into that framework, Odersky notes. He says the third upgrade, Don Giovanni, will constitute "a more fundamental rethink of what Scala is" by imbuing the language with a core simplicity on which other Scala features can be based. Other goals for Don Giovanni include cleaning syntax and supporting more regularity and neatness in certain processes. "Essentially, the fusion of [functional and object-oriented programming] can have a power that neither of the two paradigms individually can have," Odersky says.
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