Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the February 19, 2016 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


How Will AI Impact Jobs? High-Powered Panel Tackles the Big Question
TechRepublic (02/18/16) Hope Reese

An expert panel discussed the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on the labor market at the conference for the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI-16) this week in Arizona. Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence researcher Oren Etzioni emphasized the need to differentiate between technology and AI, noting they are "not synonymous in any way, shape, or form." The panelists also stressed the need to contextualize people's fears about job losses. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Erik Brynjolfsson cited a McKinsey study finding that although 60 percent of jobs had some automated component, only 5 percent of jobs were forecast to be totally automated. IBM Research's Guruduth Banavar also noted many new blue-collar jobs and other kinds of work could be generated by AI, while Brynjolfsson said, "[with new technology], we can work together to do something we haven't before." Nevertheless, moderator and University of New South Wales professor Toby Walsh acknowledged AI will significantly impact the types of jobs people have. "Tech is doing new things, augmenting and automating mental tasks," instead of physical labor, he said.


'STEM Careers' Means Engineering to Parents, Not Teaching
Campus Technology (02/17/16) Dian Schaffhauser

Although 90 percent of parents said they would encourage their children to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM), only 9 percent said they would encourage their children to become STEM teachers, according to a Harris Poll survey of 644 parents of children under the age of 18. The poll was conducted on behalf of the American Society for Quality (ASQ). Half of the survey's respondents said they would prefer their children to pursue a job as an engineer, 41 percent suggested a career as a doctor, and 27 percent would advise their children to become computer or information technology (IT) analysts. ASQ conducted a separate poll among K-12 educators and found 74 percent of respondents said they would encourage students to pursue engineering, 44 percent would promote a role as a scientist, and 33 percent would choose computer or IT analytics for their children; only 29 percent would encourage their own children to pursue STEM teaching. The main cause for concern among parents and educators is their children would not make enough money as a teacher. Sixty-five percent of parents suggested a career in STEM teaching would not even be worth the cost of a college degree, and two-thirds of educators said STEM teaching would lack a path for career advancement.


Marvin Minsky's Legacy of Students and Ideas
IEEE Spectrum (02/18/16) Susan Hassler

The late computer science pioneer and ACM A.M. Turing Award recipient Marvin Minsky left behind a wealth of ideas and scientists to whom he served as a teacher and inspiration, who are continuing his vaunted legacy with their own students. Other honors Minsky earned included the IEEE Computer Society's Computer Pioneer Award and the Franklin Institute's Benjamin Franklin Medal. He also co-founded the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Minsky's research was in the pursuit of artificial intelligence (AI) that could really think, as opposed to computers having the semblance of thinking via their data-crunching abilities. "He saw the developments of the last few years as steps in the wrong direction," says TTI/Vanguard director Steven Cherry. "Google and Facebook are exploiting their vast datasets, using deep learning. But Minsky saw this as achieving short-term gains at the expense of solving the real machine-intelligence problem." Minsky was aware of the dangers and challenges of AI that could learn like human beings, but he thought people would be able to contend with these challenges.


Inspiring Computer Scientists
UDaily (DE) (02/17/16) Diane Kukich

University of Delaware professor Lori Pollock has been awarded the ACM SIGSOFT Influential Educator Award for mentoring undergraduate and graduate students, innovation in software engineering education, and educational research. Pollock has documented her educational interventions, data collection, and resulting impacts, in several publications at ACM SIGCSE (the annual conference of the ACM Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education). She currently is serving on the Computer Science Teachers Association Task Force for developing standards for K-12 computer science education in the U.S. Pollock will receive the SIGSOFT award at the International Conference on Software Engineering (ICSE 2016) in Austin, TX, in May. Sara Sprenkle, who completed a doctoral degree with Pollock and now teaches computer science at Washington and Lee University, views her former professor as a valuable mentor. "I think about what she did for me and adapt those ideas," she says. The University of Virginia's Mary Lou Soffa, who nominated Pollock for the award, describes her as "an innovator in software engineering education, with particular focus on creating opportunities for students to apply their software engineering skills in service learning, be exposed to real-world software engineering research and practice, and build communication skills through teaching." Soffa also cites Pollock's contributions to mentoring female graduate students through the Computing Research Association-Women (CRA-W) and Pollack's creation of a Virtual Undergraduate Townhall Series.


Budget Request Reveals New Elements of U.S. Exascale Program
HPC Wire (02/12/16) Tiffany Trader

The Obama administration's fiscal year (FY) 2017 budget request highlights key insights about the U.S. Exascale Computing Program (ECP), proposing a $285-million U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) allocation for the National Strategic Computing Initiative (NSCI) and $33 million for the U.S. National Science Foundation's exascale initiatives (NSF). The request also proposes a transition of the Exascale Computing Initiative (ECI) to the Science Exascale Computing Project in FY17 with a proposed $154-million budget. Advanced Scientific Computing Advisory Committee chairman Dan Reed says the ECI will continue, focusing on exascale research and development (R&D) issues. "Before [the creation of the new line item for ECP], the place where the exascale R&D money was parked was in the math, computational, and computer science part," he says. "With this change, the computing-research part of [Advanced Simulation and Computing Research]...will go back to its core mission before the start of exascale, which is doing basic and applied research in computer science, computational science, and applied mathematics." The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy's Tim Polk emphasizes the value of exascale computing for maintaining U.S. leadership over the coming decades. He notes with the proposed exascale computing investment at DOE and NSF, along with existing high-performance computing streams, the BRAIN initiative, and other projects, "the NSCI agencies are well-positioned to advance key technologies during FY17."


IBM Watson AI XPRIZE Offers $5M for Projects That Link Humans and Computers--But Who'll Sign Up?
GeekWire (02/17/16) Alan Boyle

The IBM Watson AI XPRIZE will be aimed at encouraging collaboration between humans and artificial intelligence (AI) software to solve major worldwide problems. "Our hope is that the teams will show how we can apply AI to the world's great challenges," says XPRIZE development team member Stephanie Wander. However, it is not yet clear who will sign up for the $5-million competition because IBM's Watson already is one of the contestants in a multi-billion-dollar AI race. The complete rules and guidelines will be made available in mid-May, but teams can pre-register now. The contest calls for interim prizes to be awarded annually at the World of Watson developer meet-up, leading up to three finalist presentations at TED2020. The winner will be chosen "based on the audacity of their mission and the awe-inspiring nature of the teams' TED talks in 2020," according to the XPRIZE announcement. IBM also is considering options for giving teams access to the Watson supercomputing platform. Wander says the XPRIZE competition will provide an opportunity for out-of-the-box thinking and innovations, and she notes it is open to everyone, including AI competitors such as Google DeepMind, Facebook, and Microsoft. "Wouldn't that be a headline?" Wander says. "I think IBM would applaud anyone who did something incredible and amazing for humanity."


Eternal 5D Data Storage Could Record the History of Humankind
University of Southampton (United Kingdom) (02/18/16)

Researchers at the University of Southampton's Optoelectronics Research Center (ORC) have developed the recording and retrieval processes of five-dimensional (5D) digital data by femtosecond laser writing. The researchers note the technology marks a key step in the quest for digital data storage that can last billions of years. 5D storage supports unprecedented properties, including 360-TB/disc data capacity, thermal stability up to 1,000 degrees Celsius, and virtually limitless lifetime at room temperature. Major historical documents have been saved as digital copies that could outlast mankind, recorded using ultrafast laser. A file is written in three layers of nanostructured dots separated by five micrometers, which changes how light travels through glass, modifying polarization that can then be read by a combination of an optical microscope and a polarizer. Data is recorded using self-assembling nanostructures generated in fused quartz, with data encoding spanning five dimensions, including size, orientation, and the three-dimensional position of the nanostructures. "It is thrilling to think that we have created the technology to preserve documents and information and store it in space for future generations," says ORC professor Peter Kazansky. "This technology can secure the last evidence of our civilization: all we've learnt will not be forgotten."


Enabling Human-Robot Rescue Teams
MIT News (02/17/16) Larry Hardesty

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory say they have developed a new way of modeling robot collaboration. The researchers say the approach reduces the need for communication by collaborating robots by 60 percent. MIT professor Julie Shah and graduate student Vaibhav Unhelkar have developed a system that ignores uncertainty about the effectiveness of the actions of agents in a multiagent system. Instead, the system assumes whatever an agent attempts to do, it will do. The team tested the system on more than 300 computer simulations of rescue tasks in unfamiliar environments. "What I’d be willing to bet, although we have to wait until we do the human-subject experiments, is that the human-robot team will fail miserably if the system is just telling the person all sorts of spurious information all the time," Shah says. The researchers also believe their model could make it easier to design systems that enable humans and robots to work together. "This work has applications outside of multi-agent systems, reaching into the critical area of human-agent collaboration, where communication can be costly, but more importantly, human team members are quickly overloaded if presented with too much information," says University of Melbourne professor Tim Miller.


W3C Launches Effort to Replace Passwords
Help Net Security (02/18/16) Mirko Zorz

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is launching a Web authentication standardization initiative seeking a more secure and flexible substitute for password-based logins. The effort, based on the member submission of FIDO 2.0 Web application programming interfaces (APIs) from the FIDO Alliance, will enable the use of cryptographic operations instead of password exchange. W3C CEO Jeff Jaffe says the Web Authentication project will complement earlier work on a Web Cryptography API and continuing efforts on Web application security specifications. The WebCrypto API offers a JavaScript API to a standard suite of cryptographic operations across browsers. Work in WebAppSec includes enhancements to the HTTPS experience and updates to Content Security Policy, enabling application authors to establish policy for what active content is allowed to run on their sites, and shielding them against the injection of unwanted or malicious code. "The new approach will replace passwords with more secure ways of logging into websites, such as using a USB key or activating a smartphone," says the W3C's Wendy Seltzer. The FIDO Alliance and W3C collaboration is lauded by PasswordsCon founder Per Thorsheim, who says "we don't need more standards, we need fewer and better standards."


New App Turns Smartphones Into Worldwide Seismic Network
Berkeley News (02/12/16) Robert Sanders

MyShake, an Android smartphone app that records ground-shaking data from an earthquake, has the potential to transform seismology, according to University of California, Berkeley scientists. MyShake is designed to collect information from a phone's accelerometers, analyze it and, if it fits the vibrational profile of a quake, relay it and the phone's global-positioning system coordinates to the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory for analysis. The app uses little power and runs in the background. Once enough people are using the free app, UC Berkeley seismologists intend to use the data to warn people of impending jolts from nearby quakes. The researchers say in simulated tests based on actual earthquakes, MyShake provided timely early warnings as well as or better than the ShakeAlert system now undergoing testing in California, Oregon, and Washington. Although the researchers caution MyShake is not designed to replace traditional seismic networks, they say crowdsourced seismic networks may be the only option for countries that have a sparse or no ground-based seismic network or early warning system.


Animating a Community
Penn State News (02/12/16) Katie Bohn

Pennsylvania State University (PSU) researchers are studying how an app they created called Community Animator can help bring together people with similar civic interests. The app works like a dating app, but instead of matching people who want to date, it connects people who want to come together to do something for their community. Users create a profile and select their interests, and after switching their status to "available," they wait to see if community members with similar interests contact them. If a meeting is arranged, the users can talk within the app and decide if they want to meet in person to further discuss the issue. The app could help people come together, but the developers also are interested in the research opportunities available after the app goes live. The researchers are interested in learning more about where "third places"--a place that is not a person's home or workplace--are on campus, and whether the app can help connect groups of people that do not normally interact. PSU professor Jess Kropczynski says the overall goal "is identifying problems, and then seeing if we can innovate around them to better serve communities."


Google's Balloon-Powered Internet Ready for Carrier Testing
eWeek (02/16/16) Jaikumar Vijayan

Google's Project Loon, which aims to deliver Internet connectivity to poorly connected areas via a global network of high-altitude balloons, could be ready for carrier testing later this year. "We're now in commercial discussions with telcos around the world, and we'll be flying over places like Indonesia for real service testing this year," says Astro Teller, head of Alphabet's X group. He notes Project Loon has confronted and overcome several challenges. To deliver reliable connectivity, Google had to ensure it has enough balloons in place so when one floats out of range over a particular area, another balloon is in place to take over. Google solved this problem by using algorithms and wind data collected from around the world, and by constantly changing the weight of the balloons in such a way as to take advantage of wind speeds and directions at high altitudes. Other challenges included finding ways to have the balloons communicate with each other and also directly with handsets, and finding a way to keep balloons the size of a house afloat for more than 100 days while keeping the cost of building them at less than 5 percent of the cost of making conventional long-life balloons, according to Teller.


A 3D Twist for Flat Photos
American Scientist (02/16) Natasha Kholgade Banerjee

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers have created object-manipulation software to adjust two-dimensional (2D) digital photos to fill in their missing areas while keeping the identity of the photo elements intact, writes Clarkson University professor Natasha Kholgade Banerjee. The software first aligns the three-dimensional (3D) model geometry to match the object contours, with the user loading the 3D model into the application, and providing 2D-to-3D correspondences between the photographed object and the 3D model. Banerjee says the software estimates the location and orientation of the 3D model in the scene underlying the photograph with the Perspective n-Point algorithm to determine the rotation and superposition of the 3D model that best matches the superposed 3D points with their 2D counterparts. In the next step, the user moves points on the superposed 3D model to align with the object contours in 2D, using optimization to ascertain the optimal deformation of the 3D model to match the user-provided 2D points and maintain symmetries and smoothness over the 3D model. Banerjee reports once geometry alignment is complete, the software estimates the environment illumination as a 3D environment map, using a set of von Mises-Fisher kernels. She says an inverse-rendering algorithm is typically applied to determine the values of the scale factors matching the environment lighting to the photo.


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