Welcome to the September 16, 2015 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Tech Experts Predict What 2025 Will Look Like
A World Economic Forum report contains predictions from more than 800 information technology executives and researchers about what impacts technology will have on the world by 2025. More than 90 percent of those queried for the report said they believed at least 10 percent of people will be wearing Internet-connected clothing by 2025, and 90 percent of people will have access to unlimited and free digital storage supported by advertising. More than 89 percent believe there will be at least 1 trillion Internet-connected sensors by 2025. Some of the major firsts expected by more than 80 percent of the respondents include the first robotic pharmacist in the U.S., the first car produced by a three-dimensional (3D) printer, the first government replacing its census with big-data sources, and the first commercially available implantable mobile phone. Nearly four in five expect 90 percent of the population will be using smartphones and have regular access to the Internet by 2025. Slightly more than 75 percent believe a 3D-printed liver will have been successfully transplanted by 2025. Some of the predictions with less broad support include several dealing with self-driving cars and blockchain technology, and an artificial intelligence being given a seat on a corporate board of directors.
De Blasio to Announce 10-Year Deadline to Offer Computer Science to All Students
The New York Times (09/15/15) Kate Taylor; Claire Cain Miller
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced that all of the city's public schools will be required to offer their students computer science classes within a decade. The main challenge of fulfilling this mandate is training enough educators, given the lack of a state teacher certification in computer science and no pool of computer science teachers among college graduates. New York City plans to invest $81 million over 10 years on this effort, with 50 percent of that budget raised from private sources. The project will require training an estimated 5,000 teachers. "I think there is acknowledgment that we need our students better prepared for [tech] jobs and to address equity and diversity within the sector, as well," says New York City Office of Strategic Partnerships director Gabrielle Fialkoff. Unlike a similar program in Chicago, the New York City initiative is not planning to make computer science a graduation requirement. Meanwhile, San Francisco's Board of Education in June voted to offer computer science education from prekindergarten through high school, and to make it mandatory through eighth grade. "The difficulty is getting enough teachers who are trained in it, and trained well enough to make it a good introduction to computer science,” says Barbara Ericson, the director of computing outreach at the Georgia Institute of Technology's College of Computing.
Laying the Foundation for Smart and Connected Cities and Communities
National Science Foundation (09/14/15)
The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) on Monday announced it was supporting 12 new projects to develop smart and connected city technologies with $2.5 million in funding. The awards will enable NSF-funded researchers at universities across the U.S. to participate in the 2015 Global City Teams Challenge, which was launched last year by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology to provide a showcase of smart technologies that have the potential to transform cities and communities. The new awards will support a broad range of projects, including efforts to provide network connectivity in situations in which communications are down using Wi-Fi-enabled drones. Other projects seek methods of sensing and managing urban air quality, enabling the use of autonomous vehicles for on-demand delivery and mobility, and ways of authenticating Internet of Things devices. NSF launched its program for investing in research into cyber-physical systems (CPS) in 2008 with the goal of developing principles, methodologies, and tools for integrating the various technologies needed to realize robust CPS throughout the U.S. infrastructure. The CPS program today includes participants across the federal government, and has funded a portfolio of more than $250 million in research projects.
Learning Spoken Language
MIT News (09/14/15) Larry Hardesty
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed a machine-learning system that can learn to distinguish spoken words, as well as lower-level phonetic units, such as syllables and phonemes. The researchers say the technology could aid in the development of speech-processing systems for languages that are not widely spoken and do not have the benefit of decades of linguistic research on their phonetic systems. The technology also could help make speech-processing systems more portable because information about lower-level phonetic units could help solidify distinctions between different speakers' pronunciations. In addition, the MIT system acts directly on raw speech files, which could prove to be much easier to extend to new sets of training data and new languages. Finally, the researchers say the system could offer some insights into human speech acquisition. The key to the system's performance is a "noisy-channel" model of phonetic variability. The researchers modeled this phenomenon by borrowing an idea from communication theory, treating an audio signal as if it were a sequence of perfectly regular phonemes that had been sent through a noisy channel. The goal of the machine-learning system is to learn the statistical correlations between the "received" sound and the associated phoneme.
With 'Brandeis' Project, DARPA Seeks to Advance Privacy Technology
The New York Times (09/14/15) Steve Lohr
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) new "Brandeis" program seeks to shield individual privacy instead of infringing on it, according to program director John Launchbury. Brandeis was showcased at last week's DARPA conference in St. Louis in an effort to entice top researchers and entrepreneurs to work with the agency. DARPA has pledged to back early-stage research in areas such as advanced cryptography, multiparty differential privacy, and machine-learning software that can learn and anticipate a person's privacy preferences. Launchbury says the exchange of data for everyone's benefit can only happen in an environment of trust where "you feel so in control of your data that you enable greater sharing at your discretion." Launchbury also disputes the argument that empowering people to limit access to their digital footprint could undermine many ad-based Internet companies' business models. "It would be a matter of, you can use this data for these purposes in exchange for a set of free services," he notes. "At least then it's a negotiation." DARPA has organized a roster of companies and universities that are participating in Brandeis, and Launchbury says the project will run over four and a half years with a budget of "tens of millions of dollars."
Code.org Trains 15,000 Teachers in Computer Science
USA Today (09/10/15) Jessica Guynn
Code.org and its partners have trained more than 15,000 computer science teachers this year, who will use those skills to teach more than 600,000 pupils in kindergarten through 12th grade, according to Code.org founder Hadi Partovi. He projects his group will have trained 25,000 more educators by this time next year. The nonprofit seeks to bring coding fundamentals to large, urban U.S. classrooms, focusing on underserved students such as girls, African-Americans, and Latinos. It is part of a national push to address a shortage of computer scientists in the country, and Partovi says the success of such efforts should encourage more women and minorities to pursue computer science careers. "We are...giving these kids a pathway to being technically fluent in the new 21st century society," he notes. The inundation of daily life by technology and a growing number of computing science jobs have spurred school districts to add programming classes, while state policymakers are starting to award credits for computer science classes, instead of treating them as electives. A Gallup Poll found the percentage of U.S. schools offering computer science has jumped from about 10 percent in 2012 to 25 percent today. "Computing is the new literacy," says Code.org partner and University of California, Berkeley professor Dan Garcia.
DARPA Protecting Software From Reverse Engineering Through Obfuscation
Threatpost (09/14/15) Chris Brook
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is leading SafeWare, a program to use obfuscation to protect shoddy commercial and government security software from reverse engineering. The SafeWare program is comprised of researchers from the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of California, San Diego, and Raytheon BBN Technologies. The project is led by NJIT professor Kurt Rohloff, who says the team is not focused on any particular application at this time. "The immediate goal that we're focusing on is knocking off a couple orders of magnitude to get a handle on how efficient these things can be so we can get a handle on what are the specific operations," he says. Rohloff notes he eventually wants to develop a sort of "open source library for lattice crypto technology." SafeWare technologies could potentially provide "provably-secure protection of sensitive intellectual property and algorithmic information in software that is vulnerable to capture and dissection," according to the project's website. University of California, Los Angeles researchers devised a new obfuscation mechanism two years ago, and the SafeWare team plans to build on the concept, making it faster and giving it a quantifiable security model.
Scientists Propose App That Detects Emotions Based on Walking Style
The Stack (UK) (09/11/15) Martin Anderson
Researchers at the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences are developing a methodology for identifying a person's emotional state based on the way they walk, in hopes this could be incorporated into wearable devices and apps. The researchers fitted 59 students with a pair of Samsung Galaxy S2 smartphones, which measured the movement of their wrists and ankles as they walked around a rectangular course for two minutes, after which they were asked to watch an emotionally priming video and then return to the track. The subjects reported notable changes to their emotional state after viewing the videos, and the researchers found these changes registered in the gait data being gathered by the smartphones. The movement of the ankle was found to be the most clearly tied to the wearer's emotional state, and the researchers found the greatest classification accuracy was yielded by the support vector machine-learning method model. Although this methodology will have to be validated, the researchers say it could have a wide range of applications, including integration with health apps or personal-assistant apps such as Siri and Cortana.
Deep Learning Machine Teaches Itself Chess in 72 Hours, Plays at International Master Level
Technology Review (09/14/15)
In the nearly 20 years since IBM's Deep Blue supercomputer beat world chess champion Gary Kasparov, the approach to developing chess-playing computers has changed little. Most successful chess engines continue to rely on searching through all possible future moves to find the best next move. However, Imperial College London's Matthew Lai has developed a new artificial intelligence (AI) machine called Giraffe, which he says can play the game at a master level while approaching chess in a more human way. Lai's Giraffe is built on an artificial neural network and is designed to play chess similarly to the way humans do: not by considering all possible future moves, but narrowly considering the set of moves that are likely at any given point in a game. Lai trained Giraffe on a dataset of 175 million chess positions he generated in part from a random sampling of positions from a computer chess database. He then had Giraffe play games against itself to improve its ability to evaluate future positions. Giraffe chooses the "best" move 46 percent of the time and places the best move in its top three ranking 70 percent of the time. Lai says Giraffe is able to play at the level of an FIDE (World Chess Federation) International Master when running on a mainstream computer.
Can Software Suffer? Death and Pain in Digital Brains
New Scientist (09/09/15) Anders Sandberg
The ability to digitally simulate physical systems such as the brain to avoid the ethical dilemmas of experimentation on living subjects creates new dilemmas, writes Future of Humanity Institute researcher Anders Sandberg. He is especially intrigued by the possibility that whole-brain simulations can suffer pain, thus establishing an additional ethical quandary. "We know brains exist for motivating actions that lead to better outcomes for the organism: this is the whole point of pain, pleasure, and planning," Sandberg says. "If we were to make a perfect copy of the activity of a brain, we would get the same behavior, based on the same pattern of internal interactions. There is no way of telling from the outside whether it has any real experience, whatever that is." Sandberg suggests erring on the side of caution and morality by assuming any simulated system possesses the same mental faculties of the template organism or biological system. "We should avoid generating virtual suffering by not running experiments that produce pain signals," he recommends. "But we can also improve on biology, because in simulations we can (temporarily) leave out pain systems, simulate perfect side-effect-free painkillers, or just block neural activity related to suffering."
UT Arlington Computer Scientist's Research Would Make Robots More Observant
UT Arlington News Center (09/10/15) Herb Booth
A University of Texas at Arlington (UT Arlington) engineer is trying to make it easier for humans to work with household robots. Most people are unlikely to have the skills to program robots, so UT Arlington professor Manfred Huber wants the machines to observe humans performing a particular task, and then imitate the task. The robots, which are not humanoid, move differently and must learn to decipher the desired outcome and achieve that goal. To ensure household robots learn, humans must provide feedback on whether the outcome was good or bad without specifically stating the result. Huber says this enables the robot to learn what is important about a task to achieve the objective, not just replicate motions. "The robot should observe what effect you have on the environment and interpret what you do, and which tasks are relevant to completion of the objective and which ones aren't," he notes. Huber has earned an Early-concept Grant for Exploratory Research award from the U.S. National Science Foundation to advance his work.
Simulation System Provides Integrated Approach to Crop and Climate Change Models
UChicago News (IL) (09/11/15) Benjamin Recchie
University of Chicago Computation Institute researcher Joshua Elliot is leading the parallel System for Integrating Impact Models and Sectors (pSIMS) project, a framework for leveraging multiple existing models, big and highly variable data resources, and high-performance computing. Every model within pSIMS was developed separately, and some contained multiple models within themselves. "Each of our crop models supports anywhere from five to 10 different crops as well as pasture grasses, biofuel crops, and other things we've added into the framework," Elliot says. The pSIMS project relies on the Research Computing Center's Midway supercomputing cluster. The open source pSIMS code was released last year, and it currently supports a plantation forestry model, two families of crop models, and models of various different types of pasture and hay grasses. The researchers now are trying to make the framework available through the Framework to Advance Climate, Economic, and Impact Investigations with Information Technology, a cloud-based computing infrastructure that enables users from the developing world to use the same computing resources their peers in wealthy countries use. The researchers also want to increase the complexity of the simulations by a few orders of magnitude, and scale pSIMS up to the exascale by 2023.
Facebook 'Likes' Mean a Computer Knows You Better Than Your Mother
The Wall Street Journal (09/11/15) Georgia Wells
Computers are better judges of personalities and predictors of what people will like than humans, according to new research from Stanford University professor Michal Kosinski. In an interview, Kosinski says he learned a computer can assess a person's personality traits with greater accuracy than that of a co-worker using data from only 10 Facebook "likes." He also found an analysis of ever-higher numbers of "likes" can yield accurate evaluations that top those of a subject's friends and even their spouse. Kosinski says studying Facebook "likes" is less intrusive than analyzing other, more intimate telltales of a person's online presence. He notes these findings have implications for many industries that rely on catering to personal preferences, while also raising issues of privacy and unethical manipulation. Kosinski points out, for example, that companies and government agencies are not restricted in their collection of personal details in the same way as academics. "Your Web-browsing history, Visa purchasing records, loyalty-card records, all of these are recorded and analyzed," Kosinski says. "People don't realize that every website they see, regardless of whether they are in incognito mode, is stored by their Internet service provider, by their Web browser, by their government, by a number of marketing companies."
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