Welcome to the September 22, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Quick-Change Materials Break the Silicon Speed Limit for Computers
University of Cambridge (09/19/14)
University of Cambridge researchers have developed phase-change materials (PCMs)-based devices that can be melted and recrystallized in as little as half a nanosecond using appropriate voltage pulses. The researchers say the technology could lead to the next generation of faster, smaller, more energy-efficient computers. "As demand for faster computers continues to increase, we are rapidly reaching the limits of silicon's capabilities," says Cambridge professor Stephen Elliott. One strategy for increasing processing speed without increasing the number of logic devices is to increase the number of calculations each device can perform, which is not possible using silicon. However, the Cambridge researchers have demonstrated that multiple calculations are possible for PCM devices. The researchers found that by performing the logic-operation process in reverse, the materials are both much more stable and capable of performing operations much faster. The intrinsic switching speed of existing PCMs is about 10 nanoseconds, making them suitable for replacing flash memory. If the speeds can be increased further, they could replace a computer's dynamic random-access memory (DRAM) with a non-volatile PCM device. "Eventually, what we really want to do is to replace both DRAM and logic processors in computers by new PCM-based non-volatile devices," Elliott says.
Making Big Data Think Bigger
The New York Times (09/20/14) Steve Lohr
Big-data management will create a significant shift in the way decisions are made, as new sources of data are mined for patterns. Artificial intelligence and machine-learning tools could help executives look into the future and guide major strategic decisions. However, Harvard University professor David B. Yoffie says, "the leap from the tools to the insight is the weak link." Computer scientists are working to strengthen that link through computation enterprise analytics. The field involves a collaboration between computing and management science to describe complex business ecosystems. The research relies on software that automatically analyzes information based on significance and relevance. The software then translates the data into graphics showing links, nodes, and types of activity among the actors in a business ecosystem. "The tools we'll be developing are visual analytics for the C-suite," says Georgia Institute of Technology professor Rahul C. Basole. For example, the tools could provide early signals about where a company's competitors are investing in innovation. "It is taking data-analysis tools out of the engineering realm, with its focus on optimization and efficiency, and putting it into the strategic management realm," says the Center for Global Enterprise's Peter C. Evans.
What's the Next Big Tech Trend? This Federal Agency Thinks It Can Predict the Answer
The Washington Post (09/21/14) Mohana Ravindranath
The U.S. Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) is using machine intelligence to predict what emerging technologies will become popular in the future. The Foresight and Understanding from Scientific Exposition (FUSE) project uses algorithms to continually scour a massive database of academic journals, patents, and other scientific documentation using various parameters to determine which new technologies may become successful. The software focuses on analyzing what words are used to describe the latest technology. For example, FUSE determines how mature a given technology is in part by being aware of how frequently it is compared to other technologies on the theory that as a technology becomes more established and well known, the need to explain it via analogy dissipates. FUSE is maintained by developers from BAE Systems, Raytheon, SRI International, Columbia University, and others, and has an annual budget of $10 million to $15 million. Its results are routinely checked using another IARPA program, Forecasting Science and Technology, which surveys technology experts about the likelihood of FUSE's predictions coming true. These experts have given one of FUSE's most promising results, an organic compound called quinone that has applications in energy storage, a 31-percent chance of being commercialized by 2017.
New Global STEM Alliance to Launch Today
FierceCIO (09/19/14) David Weldon
The New York Academy of Sciences today will announce its new Global STEM Alliance, as well as releasing a new white paper outlining what it calls the global "STEM paradox." According to the academy, what is often thought of as a shortage of graduates in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields is actually a shortage of so-called "work-ready" graduates. This, along with a brain drain from developing nations and a lack of women in STEM fields, constitute the major STEM challenges around the globe. The academy plans to address these issues through its new STEM Alliance, which it will launch at the United Nations. The Alliance will have the goal of "mentoring 1 million aspiring STEM leaders in over 100 countries by 2020," while the white paper will outline ways that public-private partnerships between governments, corporations, and institutions can help to develop "comprehensive national STEM ecosystems." An example of such a partnership is the U.K.'s Your Life campaign, which includes about 170 businesses and institutions that came together to make 2,000 jobs and apprenticeships available to STEM students.
CCC Aging in Place Workshop: Articulating a Research Vision for Technologies That Enhance the Lives and Independence of Aging Adults
CCC Blog (09/18/14) Ann Drobnis
The Computing Community Consortium (CCC) recently co-hosted a visioning workshop to focus on technologies designed to help seniors age in place at their homes while reducing healthcare costs and enhancing quality of life. CCC partnered with the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) to organize the workshop, which took place at the NIH campus in Bethesda, MD, and involved experts from numerous agencies. One of the panels discussed the challenges of designing technologies that are useful as older adults' healthcare needs evolve. Another session highlighted many of the possibilities of Aging in Place technologies, while acknowledging such hurdles as privacy concerns and handling vast amounts of data. A panel on health transition trajectories discussed technologies designed to support independence and physical health to enable people to do what they can no longer do on their own. A key conclusion from this discussion was the importance of care coordination. Another session highlighted models that have worked in varied settings as well as the effective use of the Internet of Things.
'Honeybee' Robots Replicate Swarm Behavior
University of Lincoln (09/19/14) Marie Daniels
A new open-platform system will make it more feasible and economical for researchers to replicate swarm behavior in a large number of robots, according to scientists involved with the Colias project. Colias, named after a genus of butterfly, can be used to investigate collective behaviors and swarm applications. The autonomous robot is small and fast, and can be replicated in large numbers for fast-paced swarm operations over large areas. The team, led by the University of Lincoln in the United Kingdom along with Tsinghua University in China, say they have replicated a honeybee swarm. Long-range infrared proximity sensors enable the robot to communicate with its direct neighbors at a range of 0.5 cm to two meters, while three short-range sensors integrated with an independent processor enables the robots to spot obstacles. "The decentralized control of robotic swarms can be achieved by providing well-defined interaction rules for each individual robot," says Lincoln School of Computer Science's Farshad Arvin. "Colias has been used in a bio-inspired scenario, showing that it is extremely responsive to being used to investigate collective behaviors."
A New Era in HPC
HPC Wire (09/17/14) Tiffany Trader
A recent presentation at the 2014 Computational Science Graduate Fellowship HPC workshop by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's Rob Neely suggested high-performance computing (HPC) is poised for significant advancement. He examined the history of HPC and also identified emerging trends. Neely cited such key HPC concepts as scalability, shared versus distributed memory, Amdahl's law, Dennard scaling, data locality, burst buffers and I/O, heterogeneous computing, and co-design. He noted three significant computing eras, including mainframes, vector era, and distributed memory era (MPP). Neely also pointed out an emergent computing era that has thus far been difficult to classify. He furthermore discussed such dominant programming models as MPI and OpenMP along with the newer PGAS and task-based approaches. "There is no one defining feature of this new era like there has been in the past," Neely said. "This many-core era for lack of a better term is where we are now. It's characterized by accelerators, lots and lots of simple cores. It's really all about extracting parallelism from your applications." Neely also noted support is building for co-design initiatives, which enable deep collaboration between application developers and vendors. DesignForward and FastForward are two such U.S. Department of Energy programs.
USGS Software Visualizes Evacuation Scenarios
Government Computer News (09/18/14)
The recent upsurge in natural disasters suggests it is more likely there will be a need to evacuate people in a disaster zone at some point in the future. Researchers working with the U.S. Geological Survey have been developing software to assist pedestrian evacuation from disasters zones. The Web-based Pedestrian Evacuation Analyst app has been installed in Esri's ArGIS desktop advanced version to help determine the exposure to risk by evacuees and visualize evacuation scenarios from sudden-onset hazards, such as tsunamis. "By automating and managing the modeling process, the software allows researchers to concentrate efforts on providing crucial and timely information on community vulnerability to sudden-onset hazards," say researchers Jeanne Jones, Peter Ng, and Nathan Wood. The software can calculate the travel time to safety from any location in a study area, determine the population in the evacuation zone, and automate the processing of evacuation procedures. Data on the size and location of different populations within the hazard zone can be merged with time maps to create tables and graphs of at-risk populations, according to the researchers. They note the initial release of the app features a simplified design geared toward a researcher analyzing a single study area, allowing for future upgrades to the tool to compare or aggregate multiple scenarios.
Toward Optical Chips
MIT News (09/17/14) Larry Hardesty
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed a technique for building molybdenum disulfide (MoS2) light emitters tuned to different frequencies, an essential requirement for optoelectronic chips. The researchers also have described a theoretical characterization of the physical phenomena that explain the emitters' tunability, which could aid in the search for even better candidate materials. The researchers tuned their emitters by depositing two layers of MoS2 on a silicon substrate, in which top layers rotate relative to the lower layers based on the wavelength of the emitted light. The researchers say the rotation of the layers relative to each other sufficiently changes the crystal geometry to preserve the band gap, and they were able to accurately characterize the relationship between the geometries of the rotated layers and the wavelength and the intensity of the light emitted. "For different twisted angles, the actual separation between the two layers is different, so the coupling between the two layers is different," notes MIT's Shengxi Huang. "This interferes with the electron densities in the bilayer system, which gives you a different photoluminescence." He notes this hypothetical characterization should simplify prediction of whether other transition-metal compounds will display similar light emission.
U.S. Official: Chinese Want NSA Cyber Schools
NextGov.com (09/17/14) Aliya Sternstein
Corporate leaders in China believe relations between the United States and China in cyberspace could improve if Chinese universities were to model courses on U.S. National Security Agency (NSA)-approved curricula, according to the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education's Ernest McDuffie. His recent visit to Beijing involved meeting with Chinese businesspeople who voiced support for the U.S. government-created training courses. They were enthusiastic about having an opportunity to "help raise that level of ethical consideration across the board," McDuffie says. However, the proposal to share cybersecurity training comes at a time when both countries have accused each other of hacking into trade secrets. Under the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance program, more than 180 U.S. public and private universities have aligned their curricula with NSA standards for faculty, training, and facilities. The initiative was launched in 1998, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) joined it in 2004. McDuffie says about 60 schools in China have expressed interest in adopting the NSA-DHC Centers of Academic Excellence cyber model. The U.S. program includes sections focused on information protection, research and development, and cyberoperations, which includes cyberspying and offensive hacking. However, McDuffie says the cyberoperations coursework that contains classified information would not be shared with the Chinese counterparts.
Virginia Tech Researchers Devise Traffic App to Rival Weather Apps
Computerworld (09/18/14) Sharon Gaudin
Researchers at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University's (Virginia Tech) Transportation Institute are developing a cloud-based application that will use real-time information and historical data to predict when and where traffic is likely to occur. The app is based on an algorithm that combines historical and real-time data to predict traffic patterns and congestion. Virginia Tech Ph.D. candidate Hao Chen says typical mapping applications rely on mileage and speed limits to predict travel times, but they are very unreliable. "Most people think traffic prediction has been implemented, used long ago, but it's actually new," Chen says. "We can provide on average 95-percent prediction accuracy for travel time." One of the major challenges in developing the app was managing the massive amount of information that is needed to create accurate predictions. The researchers overcame that obstacle using cloud computing. "The cloud computes the answer and then ships it back to your phone or laptop," says Virginia Tech professor Wu Feng. "The big data simply remains in the cloud."
Engineers Develop Algorithms That Allow You to Switch Out and Recharge Battery Modules in Electric Cars
UCSD News (CA) (09/16/14) Ioana Patringenaru
University of California, San Diego (UCSD) researchers working on the Modular Battery Exchange and Active Management (M-BEAM) project are developing a method to swap out and recharge small units in electric car batteries, known as modules. "This idea may seem straightforward, but there were some tough technical challenges that we had to solve to make this system robust and practical," says Lou Shrinkle, one of the M-BEAM project's sponsors. The researchers say the technology can make energy storage more configurable, promote safety, simplify maintenance, and eventually eliminate the use of fossil fuels for these applications. An effective battery module-swapping technique also could be applied to mobile and decentralized electrical energy storage systems. The researchers will test the technology on a cross-country trip with a car powered by the removable, rechargeable M-BEAM battery modules. "Electric storage capacity is increased when modules are connected in parallel, but this requires a careful control of stray currents between modules," says UCSD professor Raymond de Callafon. The researchers are developing algorithms for charge estimation and current control, implemented in an embedded system that is part of the battery-management system for each module. The algorithms will be designed to handle battery modules with different charge levels, chemistry, age, and condition.
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