Welcome to the October 3, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
U.S. May Be Falling Behind in Researching Tech's Next Big Thing
Computerworld (10/02/14) Patrick Thibodeau
A paper from the Computing Community Consortium (CCC) published in 2008 said the U.S. National Science Foundation should be spending $75 million a year to fund research into cyber-physical systems (CPS), the hybrids of automation, sensors, and communication capabilities that will typify the Internet of Things. The paper said overall the federal government should be spending $375 million a year on CPS, and as much as $500 million when including private investment. However, this year NSF spent just $40 million on CPS research, and only about $200 million in the last five years. Although it is not easy to ascertain what government-wide spending on CPS research currently amounts to, University of Virginia professor John Stankovic, co-author of the CCC paper, says, "anecdotally, I would say they are not spending enough." By contrast, the European Union is currently investing almost $350 million a year of public and private funds into developing CPS technologies. The reduced level of spending comes during a period of weak increases in the federal research and development budget and the increasing likelihood the U.S. will be eclipsed by China in terms of government funding for basic research as early as 2022. Stankovic says it is important to increase public investment in such research or the U.S. will lose out to other nations.
What It Will Take for Computers to Be Conscious
Technology Review (10/02/14) Antonio Regalado
Christof Koch has spent years studying and writing about the nature of consciousness and now serves as chief scientific officer of the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, which wants to map the mammalian brain in an effort analogous to the Human Genome Project. Koch says it is possible people will some day create conscious machines, but they may not look as expected. In particular, Koch pushes back against the notion that all it will take to create artificial consciousness will be a complete software simulation of the human brain. Koch says consciousness is a physical property of matter that likely emerges through a process relying on a structure capable of both storing information and having a critical density of interconnections. In the same way a software simulation of a storm cannot ever be "wet," Koch says a software-only simulation of the human brain would not be conscious. However, he says it is possible human beings could create computer hardware that could achieve consciousness, although it would take technology radically different and more complex than the transistors that underlie current computers. However, he also says determining that consciousness will be difficult, requiring something more rigorous than the Turing Test.
2.5 Million Pounds to Recognize and Reduce Cyberattack Threats to Critical Infrastructure
Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (09/30/14)
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is examining the cybersecurity of the United Kingdom's vital industrial control systems to understand and mitigate threats from hackers or malware infiltrating the system behind the critical national infrastructure. Researchers there will focus on understanding the risks from cyberattacks, examining how risk is communicated to business, and providing effective interventions to counter the risk. In addition, they will develop metrics and software tools to enable non-technical decision-makers to assess cybersecurity in the context of their business. University of Birmingham researchers will carry out a detailed security analysis of the National Grid and the Rail Safety and Standards Board to build an understanding of possible failures. "The project will produce a systems engineering-inspired analysis method that can be applied to critical infrastructure systems," says Birmingham professor Clive Roberts. City University London researchers will produce a methodology supported with modeling software to be deployed in the risk assessment of critical infrastructures. Lancaster University researchers are working to provide decision-makers with metrics to understand the business risks associated with cybersecurity breaches of industrial control systems, while Queen's University Belfast researchers will study vulnerabilities within the national grid.
Laying the Groundwork for Data-Driven Science
National Science Foundation (10/01/14) Aaron Dubrow
The U.S. National Science Foundation announced $31 million in new funding for 17 projects seeking to help build the U.S.'s capacity for data science through the Data Infrastructure Building Blocks (DIBBs) program. DIBBs is in its second year and the new funding will support research in 22 states. The two largest of the 17 new grants are going to support early implementation of research projects that seek to offer data analytics as a service, and broader access to educational data, respectively. The first project, led by researchers at Indiana University, is developing cloud-based data analytics middleware for high-performance computing systems. The second, led by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, is a distributed data infrastructure dubbed LearnSphere that will help make educational data more easily available to course developers and researchers. Each project will receive $5 million over five years through the DIBBs program. The other 15 grants are for $1.5 million over three years and will go to a wide variety of projects, including new infrastructure for visualized geo-chronological data developed by the College of Charleston, data capture and curation capabilities for materials science developed at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and a data management solution being designed for the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory by Syracuse University.
$4.5 Million for Big-Data Projects in Ecology, Astronomy & Microscopy
UC Berkeley NewsCenter (10/02/14) Robert Sanders
Three University of California, Berkeley professors will each receive $1.5 million over the next five years from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation as part of the foundation's Data-Driven Discovery Initiative, which was launched to enable new types of scientific breakthroughs by supporting interdisciplinary, data-driven researchers. The three researchers are among 14 new Moore Investigators in Data-Driven Discovery, who together will receive $21 million in unrestricted funds to "harness the unprecedented diversity of scientific data now available and answer new kinds of questions," according to the initiative. Berkeley professor Laura Waller wants to capture less data in less time using inexpensive equipment, but to do so in a smart way that still produces images that are as good as expensive optical and X-ray microscopes. Berkeley professor Joshua Bloom is teaching computers to analyze data in real time to pick out anomalies that may indicate new cosmic phenomena. Berkeley professor Laurel Larsen is modeling ecosystems to understand how local changes in the environment impact larger areas, and how brief events can have long-lasting effects. "The Moore Investigator Award is a wonderful opportunity, now that we are collecting massive amounts of environmental data, to more efficiently discover the time and length scales of critical processes that govern a functioning ecosystem," Larsen says.
Fujitsu to Design Japanese Exascale Supercomputer
IDG News Service (10/01/14) Tim Hornyak
Japan wants to begin operation of an exascale supercomputer by April 2021, and it has selected Fujitsu to develop a basic design for a "post-K supercomputer." Fujitsu will collaborate with the Riken Advanced Institute for Computational Science on the project; they co-developed the K supercomputer, which was capable of 10 petaflops and was the world's top supercomputer in June 2011. Riken is calling the new initiative the FLAGSHIP 2020 Project, and a document from Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology suggests the supercomputer's performance will be about 1 exaflop, which would be 30 times faster than the current leading supercomputer. A Riken spokesperson says the FLAGSHIP 2020 computer is expected to have a multi-core architecture with general-purpose central-processing units (CPUs), network interfaces embedded in CPU chips, and a multi-dimensional torus network topology inherited from the K supercomputer. Japan plans to use the exascale supercomputer for high-level simulations in priority areas such as drug discovery, earthquake and tsunami prediction, environmental simulation, and developing new high-performance materials. Both the U.S. and China also have announced exascale supercomputer initiatives, but Japan's effort has a more definite timeline.
New Frontier in Error-Correcting Codes
MIT News (10/02/14) Larry Hardesty
Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers say they have developed the first interactive coding scheme to simultaneously approach the optimum for noise toleration, transmission rate, and the length of the encoding and decoding processes. Error-correcting codes work by adding extra information to the message to be transmitted. The new scheme uses a technique called list decoding, which enables the algorithm to iterate just long enough to create a list of likely solutions. At the end of their mutual computation, each of the interacting devices may have a list of hundreds of entries. However, each device has perfect knowledge of the messages it sent. Therefore, at the computation's end, the devices can exchange lists giving each enough additional information to identify the optimal decoding. The researchers note the new decoding algorithm is nearly linear, meaning its execution time is roughly proportional to the length of the messages exchanged. "We still need to worry a little bit about constants. But before you can worry about constants, you have to know that there is a constant-rate scheme," says Princeton University professor Mark Braverman. "This is very nice progress and a prerequisite to asking those next questions."
Using Intelligence to Unlock the Market for Electric Vehicles
CORDIS News (09/30/14)
A European Union (EU)-funded project recently provided electric vehicles with enhanced energy efficiency in Spain. The Optimal ENErgy consumption and Recovery based on a system network (OPENER) project developed an intelligent energy management and recovery system to boost electric vehicles' driving range. The six European partners improved the braking system, the navigation system, and surrounding sensors, as well as installing an adaptive cruise control system to ensure more economical driving. The researchers say the "eco-routing" functions are the key to achieving energy efficiency and preserving battery life. OPENER also addressed the issue of safety, focusing on sensory advice to provide timely warnings. Optimized range predictions show reliable information on remaining driving range, thus avoiding unwanted and potentially dangerous stops due to an empty battery. The technology makes the electric vehicle intelligent, and provides braking tips based on traffic flow and advice on the best route to limit energy use. The researchers say this can save up to 30 percent of energy use, without losing much time along the way. The new system could be integrated into electric vehicles starting in 2015. The EU wants to have 8 million to 9 million electric vehicles on the road by 2020.
Watson Supercomputer Looks for Genetic Heart Danger
New Scientist (10/01/14) Paul Marks
Researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the University of Rochester, and IBM's research lab in Zurich, Switzerland, are using supercomputers to help identify the risk factors leading to fatal arrhythmia. The researchers have developed algorithms that use computed tomography (CT) and magnetic-resonance imaging (MRI) scans to create detailed three-dimensional (3D) computer models of the heart. The simulations mimic the electrical and mechanical behavior of a beating heart at the cellular level. The researchers are using IBM's Watson supercomputer to look for interactions between specific genes and how they contribute to sudden cardiac arrest. The researchers say the results could be plugged back into the 3D model to see what effect they have. The researchers ultimately want to be able to use scans of a heart, recordings of its electrical activity, and gene sequence data, to predict a person's risk of sudden cardiac arrest. The strong genetic component of sudden cardiac arrest makes Watson's contribution valuable, according to Papworth Hospital researcher Andrew Grace. "Whether you are going to drop dead or not is in your genes," Grace says.
Kentucky Uses IdeaFestival to Push Students Toward Hour of Code Movement
TechRepublic (09/30/14) Conner Forrest
Kentucky Coders hopes to register 1 million Hour of Code coding events before December, starting at the 2014 IdeaFestival, an international event held in Louisville. The Hour of Code movement was launched by Code.org, which wants to have millions of people try Hour of Code during Computer Science Education Week, which takes place December 8-14, 2014. "The Hour of Code is intended to get kids excited about taking their first steps for computer science education that they can continue either in the classroom or outside of the classroom," says Code.org's Cameron Wilson. Twenty students from the Louisville Urban League's Project Ready Program plan to learn coding at IdeaFestival. The students are attending as guests of Louisville tech company Net Tango, which also will speak with the students about careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Code.org says Kentucky is one of 23 states where students can take computer science classes for credit toward high school graduation. "I think the major focus, for the next couple of months in Kentucky, should be to try to get every school to participate in the Hour of Code," Wilson says. "Ideally, we'd like every school to sign up to be a whole school participation where every single student is going to take an Hour of Code."
Twitter Invests in MIT Lab Focused on Online Social Movements
IDG News Service (10/02/14) John Ribeiro
Twitter is investing $10 million in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Laboratory for Social Machines (LSM) to develop platforms for online collaboration by people studying civic and political issues. LSM will have access to Twitter's real-time, public stream of tweets as well as archives that date back to the first tweet on the social network. LSM will examine the potential of social networks "to remake the public sphere" by providing tools for institutions and individuals to collaborate on social problems, according to the MIT Media Lab. MIT researchers will analyze the tweets looking for patterns and links and will use large-scale analysis of content in real-world contexts to investigate the interaction patterns in relevant social systems. In February, Twitter introduced the Twitter Data Grants program, a pilot project that provides tweet data to select research institutions. Under the program, Twitter has supported various projects, such as the surveillance of food-borne gastrointestinal illness using Twitter data and the study of the effectiveness of campaigns on the social network for the early detection of cancer. Twitter wants the MIT researchers to understand how social and political movements are initiated by better understanding how information spreads on Twitter.
Google Pittsburgh Instrumental in Fight Against Hackers, Co-Directors Say
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (09/30/14) John D. Oravecz
Google pulled back the curtain of secrecy surrounding its 400-person research operation in Pittsburgh, revealing the office has distinguished itself as a leading investigator of difficult and complicated computer science problems. Co-directors Jeremy Kubica and Kamal Nigam told an audience of local business people about two of the Pittsburgh office's leading projects during a recent event. The first project is an ongoing effort to thwart online scams being led by Kubica as part of his team's role trying to enhance the quality of the ads Google users see. Kubica says the project is particularly challenging because there is "innovation going on both sides," meaning his team has to constantly keep pace with spammers and scammers. The other project is an effort being led by Nigam to develop a facial-recognition feature for Google's Android mobile operating system that would enable devices to be locked and unlocked by taking a picture of the user's face. "Your phone would look at you, it would recognize you, and unlock your phone," Nigam says. "There's really hard, innovative computer science behind it to make that kind of thing happen."
Here Comes the Future: We're Making Robots That Feel!
Salon.com (09/28/14) Diane Ackerman
Cornell University professor Hod Lipson envisions the creation of robots with self-awareness. He notes, for example, computers can be programmed to undergo rapid evolution and adjust to changes in their surrounding environment. "In the next couple of decades we won't be programming machines, but...like children, exactly...we'll shape their experiences a little bit, and they'll grow on their own and do what they do," Lipson predicts. He also thinks this quality will make the machines adaptable to whatever specific tasks are required, and they will have emotions as well, although not necessarily human emotions. Lipson wants his robots to use past experience to make assumptions or deductions. However, he says machines that learn from experience may not necessarily learn what people want them to learn, and they also may acquire knowledge that was not intended for them to know. A notable achievement by Lipson's Creative Machines Lab is Eureqa, a scientific computer that can craft a hypothesis, design an experiment, consider the results, and derive natural laws from them. Researchers such as Lipson and University of Aberystwyth professor Ross King see automation as essential to boosting the efficiency of science to solve societal challenges quicker.
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