Welcome to the November 21, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
11 Innovators Receive HPC Excellence Awards
Scientific Computing (11/18/14)
International Data Corporation announced the winners of the eighth round of its HPC Innovation Excellence Award, which recognized achievements in high-performance computing (HPC) and raising awareness of the importance of the field among business and policymakers. The latest winners include Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign for their collaboration with U.S. and European researchers on new, high-fidelity simulations of nuclear reactors. The Centers for Pediatric Genomic Medicine at Children's Mercy Hospitals Kansas City was honored for its efforts to develop new clinical tests for pediatric patients. GIS Federal's development of new data filtration, analytics, and visualization technology earned an award, as did North Carolina State University for its work on improving predictions of the thermal hydraulic behavior of nuclear reactors, and the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Environmentally Responsible Aviation project for its work researching methods to reduce aircraft noise, fuel consumption, and engine emissions. Central Michigan University's use of HPC resources to simulate the behavior of tornadoes in supercell thunderstorms secured an award, while PayPal was honored for its development of real-time analytics using digital signal processing. The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, the Texas Advanced Computing Center, and Elekta AB won for simulations crucial to the development of the next generation of cancer radiotherapies.
Georgia Tech Professor Proposes Alternative to 'Turing Test'
Georgia Tech News Center (11/19/14)
Georgia Institute of Technology professor Mark Riedl has developed what he describes as a more rigorous way to evaluate the potential intelligence of a machine or computer than the famous Turing Test. Riedl notes the Turing Test, developed by renowned computer pioneer Alan Turing in 1950, was never meant to act as an official test of machine intelligence. Riedl's new test, the Lovelace 2.0 Test of Artificial Creativity and Intelligence, is based on the Lovelace Test from 2001 and involves the artificial agent being tested having to produce a piece of art or other creative work. In the original test, the artificial agent had to create work the production of which the agent's designer could not explain and that was valuable, novel, and surprising. Riedl believes the original test was too subjective and has created specific parameters for his test that must be followed by a human evaluator. This allows the evaluator to assess a machine's creative work without making subjective value judgments. Riedl will be presenting his new test at the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence's Beyond the Turing Test workshop in Austin, Texas in January.
NCWIT Launches an Online Tool, Developed with Google, for Diversifying Computing Degree Recipients
KTEN.com (TX) (11/10/14)
The National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) has announced the launch of EngageCSEdu, a program that encourages the development of more inclusive learning environments in introductory computer science (CS) courses by helping faculty to easily share their most effective retention practices. EngageCSEdu offers thousands of projects, homework assignments, and other course materials that are searchable by a variety of CS-related topics. "EngageCSEdu takes the guesswork out of finding best practices for ensuring introductory CS students receive an engaging education," says NCWIT CEO Lucy Sanders. "Thanks to Google's generous support, we're offering a platform for educators to exchange peer-reviewed materials that encourage CS students to persist in the major, leading to a more diverse workforce to create products and services more representative of a broad U.S. population." Although the U.S. Department of Labor estimates 1.2 million computing-related job openings by the year 2022, current college graduation rates in computing indicate only 39 percent of these jobs can be filled by U.S. computing undergraduates. EngageCSEdu is a viable way to help a broader set of students complete computer science degrees, according to Google Director of Education and University Relations Maggie Johnson.
Coming by 2023, an Exascale Supercomputer in the U.S.
Computerworld (11/19/14) Patrick Thibodeau
The U.S. has set a target date of 2023 for its first exascale supercomputer going online, 15 years after the first petaflop supercomputer debuted in the U.S. However, many high-performance computing experts say meeting the 2023 goal will require constant pressure on lawmakers and government agencies, especially in an era where Congress has proven eager to cut science spending. Two recently announced 150-petaflop systems being developed by the U.S. Department of Energy are a good first step towards this goal. The initial investment in the systems will be $325 million, but IBM's Dave Turek says the new supercomputer's architecture could eventually support 500 petaflops. Other obstacles to getting to exascale include modernizing and creating new code capable of making use of the massive parallelism of an exascale system, as well as developing systems that are reliable and resilient enough. Energy efficiency is another major concern, though this problem seems well in hand, with the new 150-petaflop systems expected to need only 10 megawatts of power. The U.S. also is facing competition from Japan, China, and Europe to be the first to exascale, with Japan expecting to have a 200-to-600-petaflop system up and running by 2020.
New 2-D Quantum Materials for Nanoelectronics
MIT News (11/20/14) David L. Chandler
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have discovered a family of two-dimensional (2D) materials exhibiting exotic quantum properties that may enable a new type of nanoscale electronics. The materials exhibit the quantum spin Hall (QSH) effect and belong to a class of materials known as transition metal dichalcogenides, with layers a few atoms thick. QSH materials are electrical insulators in the bulk of the material, yet highly conductive on their edges, which could potentially make them a suitable material for new kinds of quantum electronic devices. The researchers have found ways to solve problems associated with QSH materials' small bandgaps and the fact that QSH materials lack the ability to switch rapidly on and off. "What is discovered here is a true 2D material that has this [QSH] characteristic," says MIT professor Ju Li. "The edges are like perfect quantum wires." This breakthrough could lead to new kinds of low-power quantum electronics, as well as spintronics devices. The team has produced a design for a topological field-effect transistor, a new kind of transistor based on the calculated effects. "Although some of the ideas have been mentioned before, the present system seems especially promising," says Princeton University professor Nai Phuan Ong.
Why Rush to Know the Gender of Your Friend's Baby? Megan Smith Points Out the Potential Impact for Tech's Gender Gap.
The Washington Post (11/19/14) Matt McFarland
At a recent event hosted by the U.S. Agency for International Development and Intel, U.S. chief technology officer Megan Smith discussed ways to get young women enthusiastic about engineering and technology. Smith says it is vital to eliminate bias starting as young as preschool and continuing through elementary school. She notes even when adults purchase toys for infants, they will base their decisions on the child's gender. Ideally, adults will think through how to provide both girls and boys with "incredible toys and experiences," Smith says. She also notes it is common to envision men as software engineers, but not women, which may stem from a cultural notion of boys and computers from the 1980s and 1990s. To combat this, Smith calls for transforming classrooms into active learning spaces where people feel comfortable. Moreover, she says students should have access to various learning resources, such as laboratories, art class, home economics, shop, and gym. "A little kid doesn't start writing a fabulous essay or an amazing book from day one," Smith observes. "You start with little baby steps."
Researchers Create and Control Spin Waves, Lifting Prospects for Enhanced Information Processing
New York University (11/17/14) James Devitt
New York University (NYU) and University of Barcelona researchers have developed a method to control the movements occurring within magnetic materials, a breakthrough that could improve information processing and reduce the energy necessary to do so. The new method manipulates spin waves, which are waves that move in magnetic materials, and can efficiently transfer energy and information. The new method provides a means to create and control these waves, which has been a major challenge associated with this research. "Our results show that it's possible to both create and store spin wave energy in remarkably small spaces," says NYU professor Andrew Kent. The researchers conducted a series of experiments in which they built nanometer-scale electrical contacts to inject spin-polarized electrical currents into magnetic materials, a process that can create and control the movements of spin waves. The researchers found they were able to trap the spin waves in specific areas by blending different magnetic forces. "By changing the mix of magnetic forces on these droplets--such as with a electrical current or magnetic field--we should be able to get them to emit spin waves, perhaps as energy bursts, that can encode information," Kent says.
Dartmouth's BRACE—a BRACE-Let to Improve Computer Security
Dartmouth Now (11/14/2014) Joseph Blumberg
Dartmouth College researchers have created the Bilateral Recurring Authentication Conducted Effortless (BRACE) system, an approach to computer security that continuously authenticates users while they are using a terminal and automatically logs them out when they leave or when someone else steps in to use the terminal. "In this work, we focused on the de-authentication problem for desktop computers because we were motivated by associated problems faced by healthcare professionals in hospitals," says Dartmouth professor David Kotz. BRACE users wear a bracelet with a built-in accelerometer, gyroscope, and radio on the dominant wrist. "We wanted to develop a method that does not require any hardware modification to existing devices and does not rely on a user's behavior," says Dartmouth researcher Shrirang Mare. When a user interacts with a computer terminal, the bracelet records the user's wrist movement, processes it, and sends it to the terminal. The terminal then compares the wrist movement with the input it receives from the user via keyboard and mouse and confirms the continued presence of the user only if the input correlates. During testing, BRACE performed continuous authentication with 85-percent accuracy in verifying the correct user and identified all adversaries within 11 seconds. "It would be natural to extend BRACE to mobile devices such as smartphones or tablet computers, and we believe this is possible despite some different challenges," Kotz says.
New Technique to Help Produce Next Generation Photonic Chips
University of Southampton (United Kingdom) (11/17/14)
A new technique developed at Britain's University of Southampton promises to make it easier to test and characterize optical chips as they become more complex. The method can be used to determine at which time light traveling in a chip is at which position. Known as ultrafast photomodulation spectroscopy, the approach uses ultraviolet laser pulses of femtosecond duration to change the refractive index of silicon in a tiny area on the photonic chip. The fast and robust technique has the potential to be used for industrial testing in the photonics industry. "Monitoring the transmission of the chip while the refractive index is locally changed gives a precise picture of how the light flows through it," says Southampton's Roman Bruck. "This allows testing of individual optical elements on the chip, a crucial step in the design optimization to ensure its flawless operation. Because the changes induced by the technique are fully reversible, this testing method is non-destructive and after testing, the chip can be used for its intended application." The research team from the Department of Physics and Astronomy and the Optoelectronics Research Center wants to establish the technique as a standard characterization tool. The method could enable photonic chips to be brought to market quicker.
New Advanced E-Voting System Selected for Australian State Election
University of Surrey (11/14/14) Amy Sutton
University of Surrey researchers have developed an electronic voting system designed to work with a range of user interfaces to enable those with vision impairment, limited mobility, and low English language proficiency to cast a completely independent and secret vote. The system, to be used in Australia's Victorian State election, employs touchscreens and audio interfaces to provide anonymous and straightforward electronically assisted voting in 20 languages. The researchers note the system also combats possible cyberbreaches using cryptography to provide ballot secrecy for voters, as well as access for independent external checks. "It is our hope that once this system is proved in Australia, it will be rolled out more widely," says Surrey professor Steve Schneider. Users will cast their votes with a touchscreen tablet device that presents the selection criteria in legal order. Upon voting, users are given a printed receipt with their voting choices, but with candidate names removed and the choices in random order. "Victoria was the world's first democracy to introduce the secret ballot," says the Victorian Electoral Commission's (VEC) Warwick Gately. "The VEC's electronically assisted voting takes this one step further by extending this fundamental right to voters who face barriers who would otherwise not have access to a secret ballot."
Intel Turns to Light Beams to Speed Up Supercomputers
IDG News Service (11/17/14) Agam Shah
Intel has developed Thunderbolt, technology that uses optical cables and light pulses to move data in supercomputers, yielding potentially massive advances in high-performance computing. "If all your compute nodes are connected via photonics, it does start to make application performance look different," says Intel's Charlie Wuischpard. Thunderbolt uses light to connect computers to peripherals such as external hard drives at about 20 Gbps. In addition, Intel has developed an optical connector called MXC that can transfer data at speeds of up to 1.6 Tbps between servers. Analyst Nathan Brookwood says optics will facilitate performance advances while lowering power consumption, as the technology requires "a lot less power to send the signal in any arbitrary distance." He notes although optical interfaces have been expensive to build, Intel has developed a cost-effective way to connect transmitters and receivers to systems. "Silicon photonics is technology whose time is coming," Brookwood says. Optical technology also is important in surpassing the milestone of exascale computing. Intel says it wants to build a 1-exaflop supercomputer by 2022 that can fit in a 20-megawatt data center.
Computer Model Sets New Precedent in Drug Discovery
Harvard University (11/18/14) Kat J. McAlpine
Harvard University researchers have developed a new computer model demonstrating that the drug efficacy of fusion-protein therapies depends on the geometric characteristics of the drug's molecular components. This model could potentially replace the need to physically make and test new biologic drug designs, cutting down timelines and costs associated with drug development. The computational model shows the length of the DNA linker used to connect the parts of the fusion protein influences how successfully both components are able to reach their independent receptors. The model also shows that by altering the binding strength of the therapeutic protein component, drug side effects could be further reduced. The reduced binding makes it more difficult for the drug to bind to cell receptors that are on the wrong cells, eliminating unintended interactions with healthy cells that share the same receptors. "It is our vision that one day, it may be possible to perform in silico drug prospecting by using a computational model to survey a database of active proteins and targeting elements with a reasonable expectation of experimental success," says Harvard researcher Avi Robinson-Mosher.
Converting Data Into Knowledge: An Interview With Yisong Yue
California Institute of Technology (11/14/14) Stoller, Jessica Conrad
Yisong Yue recently took a position as an assistant professor of computing and mathematical sciences at the California Institute of Technology after a year spent at Disney Research. Yue says his primary focus is on machine learning, particularly human-in-the-loop machine learning, such as the recommendation systems common to many online retail and media-streaming services. "The idea is that although we would love to have computers that can derive knowledge from data in a fully automated way, oftentimes the problem is too difficult or it would take too long," Yue says. "So machine learning with humans in the loop acknowledges that we can learn from how humans behave in a system." Yue sees great potential for machine learning moving forward, in virtually all fields of human experience and expertise. At Disney, he applied machine-learning techniques to sports analytics and data-driven animation. One project he was involved in was an effort to use machine learning to improve facial and lip animations of animated characters so they better mimic natural human speech. "I think that we are entering a society where we depend on digital systems for basically everything we do. And that means we have an opportunity to learn from humans how to optimize our daily lives," Yue says. "Because human interaction with digital systems is so ubiquitous, I think learning with humans in the loop is a very compelling research agenda moving forward."
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