Welcome to the April 1, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
IBM's Watson Goes to College
eWeek (03/30/11) Darryl K. Taft
IBM recently hosted a symposium at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and the University of Pittsburgh to share ideas about what the Watson technology can bring to the fields of medicine, law, business, computer science, and engineering. The symposium also provided an opportunity for students from CMU and Pittsburgh to test their skills against Watson in a Jeopardy!-style game. IBM hopes that Watson can inspire a new generation of innovators and entrepreneurs to think about how the technology can benefit society. "This is the first time we're bringing together Watson, IBM scientists, faculty, and students to prepare for the next evolution in computing," says IBM's Bernie Meyerson. "Our hope is that seeing Watson first-hand will spark innovation from the leaders of tomorrow so that together we can continue to build a smarter planet." CMU researchers, led by professor Eric Nyberg, helped IBM develop Watson's Open Advancement of Question-Answering Initiative methodology. "The Deep Question Answering technology that underlies IBM Watson's ability to extract, organize, analyze, and assess massive quantities of information at record speeds has far-reaching implications across a wide range of sectors," says University of Pittsburgh chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg.
MIT News (03/31/11) Larry Hardesty
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Tel Aviv University researchers recently met at the Innovations in Computer Science conference at Tsinghua University to present a mathematical framework for finding localized solutions to complex calculations. The researchers say the framework could be used to solve classic computer science problems involving mathematical abstractions known as graphs. Graphs can represent any type of data, but it is often useful to determine the graph's maximal independent set, which occurs when enough vertices have been deleted from the graph so that there are no edges left, meaning that none are connected to any other. Graphs also can have more than one maximal independent set. The researchers developed an algorithm to efficiently determine which vertices are and are not included in at least one of the graph's maximal independent sets. Although the research is theoretical, the problem of calculating independent sets cuts across a variety disciplines, including artificial intelligence, bioinformatics, and scheduling and networking. "There have been lots of related concepts that have been sort of floating around," but the MIT and Tel Aviv researchers "have formalized it in an interesting way and, I think, the correct way," says Sandia National Labs' Seshadhri Comandur.
National Science Board Talks "Big Data"
Computing Community Consortium (03/29/11) Erwin Gianchandani
The National Science Board, the governing board of the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), recently held a panel discussion exploring the data challenges facing the future of science and engineering research. A key goal of the meeting was to identify guiding principles for establishing policies on data and artifacts. The participants, which included experts from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany, agreed that data-intensive research could change how NSF operates, starting with the way in which proposals are evaluated. Although data-intensive science is about big data, it also creates multiple environments for data-intensive applications throughout the data-compute-distribution spectrum, says Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Fran Berman. Several themes came out of the meeting that could shed light on the state of data in science and engineering, including the fact that the government has become a big contributor in generating data for science. Another theme is that some communities, particularly neuroscience, have big data federation problems. The participants also agreed that a major challenge is trust, in that different parties must trust one another's data sets.
More Women Entering Science Careers
Calgary Herald (Canada) (03/26/11)
The Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science and Technology (WISEST) program has helped encourage young Canadian women to explore careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). University of Calgary professor and WISEST member Laleh Behjat believes that diversity is important in STEM fields because it leads to more innovation. In 2009, Behjat received an Imperial Oil STEM grant to find ways to promote engineering and science to females. "Our research showed a lot of girls--and boys, too--lose interest and think mathematics and science are too hard by grade four," Behjat says. The researchers created a computer game that has applications in math and science as well as social and creative writing. Professional geophysicist Becky Cook credits the Alberta Women's Science Network for being an "integral part of getting the word out to young women about career possibilities in science and engineering." Margaret-Ann Armour, an honorary member of the Association of Professional Engineers, Geologists and Geophysicists of Alberta, was one of the 20 individuals involved in the creation of WISEST. Armour says that as a result of the WISEST program, the University of Alberta "went from about 30 percent women to 53 percent women entering first-year science and from 10 percent to about 25 percent in engineering."
Companies Hope to 'Program' the Internet
Technology Review (03/31/11) Kate Greene
The Open Networking Foundation (ONF) was formed by 23 companies, including Google and Cisco, to make open and programmable networks more common. The foundation plans to use OpenFlow, software developed by researchers at Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley, and other programs to open up network hardware so that programmers can make networked devices perform faster, more efficiently, and more securely. OpenFlow and a network operating system "provide a consistent view of the network and do that at once for many applications," says Stanford professor Nick McKeown. In one OpenFlow project, the researchers reduced a data center's energy consumption by 60 percent by rerouting network traffic and turning off unused switches, a breakthrough that Google is interested in developing further. Cisco wants to work with ONF to help customers build better Internet services. ONF's first goal is to take over the specifications of OpenFlow, McKeown says. The next step is to develop user-friendly interfaces that enable people to program networks in the same way they would program a computer or smartphone.
Finding Spammers' Vulnerabilities
National Science Foundation (03/29/11) Marlene Cimons
Security researchers are working to stop modern hackers by understanding how they use malicious botnets to make money. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and the University of California, Berkeley are studying the botnet economic pipeline at the Collaborative Center for Internet Epidemiology and Defenses. The center's goal is to address the challenges posed by worms and viruses and the recent proliferation of botnets. The researchers, led by UCSD professors Stefan Savage and Vern Paxson, are targeting the economic soft spot of botnets to defeat the spammers. They found that spammers must send about 12 million emails to get one person to buy, but are still able to profit from this model. "What was daunting was that the return was so small, and yet it was still profitable," Savage says. "Our current focus is on trying to understand the right place to intervene." In another study, the researchers explored how spammers avoid Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart (CAPTCHA) security measures. "The solution has been to outsource the CAPTCHA solving in real time to third world labor," Savage says. "We found all these underground sites that sell CAPTCHA-solving as a service."
W3C: Internet TV Needs Standards
Read Write Web (03/28/11) Mike Melanson
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) recently issued a report on the transition of TV to a service, noting several points that need to be addressed before Internet TV becomes widely available. The report says the W3C's Open Web Platform, which gives designers cross-platform interoperability, could be a source for application development. The platform would provide standardized ways to handle issues that are currently proprietary and platform specific. The report also highlights several priorities, including adaptive streaming and the semantic Web, which will help make Internet TV more accessible. "In a world migrating from TV as a device to TV as a service available on any device, the W3C is looking forward to developing ubiquitous Web technologies to enable scenarios that combine local (e.g., from home network devices) and global (e.g., social networks) sources to enhance the user experience on TV," says W3C's Francois Daoust.
ISO Finalizes C++ Update
IDG News Service (03/28/11) Joab Jackson
The ISO steering committee for C++ has approved the final draft specifying the next version of the programming language. The ISO/IEC Information Technology Task Force will review the ISO C++ standards committee's Final Draft International Standard and publish it later this year, barring any complications. Features of the draft standard, code-named C++0x, have been added to working compilers as a library extension, says Microsoft's Herb Sutter, chair of the ISO C++ standards committee. Microsoft's Visual Studio and the Free Software Foundation's open source GNU Compiler Collection already support some features. "C++0x feels like a new language: The pieces just fit together better than they used to and I find a higher-level style of programming more natural than before and as efficient as ever," says computer scientist Bjarne Stroustrup. He created C++ in 1979 as an extension to the C programming language to support classes for creating run-time objects. The next version of the widely used programming language will be known as C++ 2011.
The Incredible Shrinking Circuit
University of Cambridge (03/28/11)
University of Cambridge researchers have developed a technique for producing smaller microchips that can also support extremely high electrical current densities. Led by Cambridge professor John Robertson, the researchers used carbon nanotubes to replace the vertical copper connectors in integrated circuits to build smaller circuits and to reduce the size of electronics even further. They took advantage of the special arrangement of carbon atoms. Normally the atoms are arranged hexagonally and layered in sheets, but in nanotubes the sheets are rolled up to form tiny tubes with diameters equivalent to just a few carbon atoms. To make the approach feasible, the nanotubes would need to be grown in very dense bundles directly onto the substrate. Robertson and colleagues used multiple deposition and the annealing steps to grow nanotube bundles, and the method led to successive increases in nanoparticle density. The researchers say the density of the bundles is five times greater than current technology.
A New System for Subtitles in the Theatre in Spain
Carlos III University of Madrid (Spain) (03/28/11)
Carlos III University of Madrid (UC3M) researchers, in collaboration with the Spanish Center for Subtitling and Audio Description, have developed UC3MTitling, a subtitling system that carries out subtitling in real time without the need for highly qualified personnel. The system is designed for live events that have a pre-established script, such as theater performances, conferences, and ceremonies. The system enables technicians to complete the synchronization without having to be at the event, says UC3M professor Angel Garcia Crespo. "Thanks to communications tools for making Internet calls [VoIP], the performance can be followed anywhere," Crespo says. The system is compatible with mobile phones, PC tablets, and other mobile devices. "This subtitling system not only allows individuals with impaired hearing or sight to able to follow such events but the rest of the audience can also benefit from them, thereby achieving complete integration for disabled persons and conditions on par with the rest of the audience," Crespo says.
Fewer Faults for Faster Computing
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (03/25/11)
An efficient fault-tolerant version of the coupled cluster method for high-performance computational chemistry has been designed by users of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL). The team used in-memory data redundancy, and demonstrated the approach with EMSL-developed NWChem, which is now open source software. The method reduces mean time between failures, which currently lasts days, but is expected to be reduced to hours for forthcoming extreme-scale supercomputers. The program will continue to execute correctly despite the loss of processes. The team also has extended the Global Array toolkit, a library that provides an efficient and portable shared-memory programming interface for distributed-memory computers. In addition, each process in a multiple instruction/multiple data parallel program can asynchronously access logical blocks of physically distributed dense multidimensional arrays, without the cooperation of other processes. The infrastructure adds an overhead of less than 10 percent and can be deployed to algorithms in NWChem and other programs.
What's Inside a Dalek?
University of Southampton (United Kingdom) (03/25/11) Joyce Lewis
Researchers at the University of Southampton's School of Electronics and Computer Science have built a robot controlled by a slime mold. The robot features a biochip that encapsulates a plasmodial cell of the slime mold Physarum polycephalum. The researchers used an electronic interface to connect the slime mold to a computer to monitor local mechanical oscillations in the cell and to provide light signals to stimulate movement in the robot. "It's amazing that something that lives on dead trees can be used to control a machine," says Southampton's George McGavin. The mold processes information from its environment in a distributed fashion but is still not well understood. Engineers need to have a broad conception of computing to harvest the potential of molecular computing, says Southampton professor Klaus-Peter Zauner. "Now we marvel at nature's molecular computers, which tell us that there are radically different solutions to the problem of information processing," Zauner says.
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