Welcome to the May 13, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
New Ways to Exploit Raw Data May Bring Surge of Innovation, a Study Says
New York Times (05/13/11) Steve Lohr
Mining and analyzing large datasets will lead to a new wave of innovation, according to a new report from the McKinsey Global Institute. The report, "Big Data: The Next Frontier for Innovation, Competition and Productivity," estimates the potential benefits of using data-harvesting technologies and skills. For example, it says the technology could be worth $300 billion annually to the U.S.'s health care system, while retailers could use it to boost profits by 60 percent. However, the study also identifies challenges to managing big data, such as a talent and skills gap. The report estimates that the United States will need at least 140,000 more experts in statistical methods and data-analysis technologies, as well as 1.5 million more data-literate managers. "Every manager will really have to understand something about statistics and experimental design going forward," says McKinsey's Michael Chui. The use of personal location data could save consumers more than $600 billion worldwide by 2020, according to the report. Consumers will benefit the most from time and fuel savings gained from location-based services that can monitor traffic and weather data to help drivers avoid congestion and suggest alternative routes, the report says. "It's clear that data is an important factor of production now," says McKinsey's James Manyika.
How to Control Complex Networks
MIT News (05/12/11) Anne Trafton
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Northeastern University have developed a computational model that can analyze any type of complex network and find the critical points that can be used to control the entire system. The method can be used to reprogram adult cells and identify new drug targets, among other applications, says MIT professor Jean-Jacques Slotine. The researchers developed an algorithm that determines how many nodes in a network need to be controlled for total network control. They then adapted the algorithm to show how many points are needed and where those points are located. The number of points needed depends on the network's degree distribution, which describes the number of connections per node. The researchers applied their model to several real-life networks, including cell phone networks, social networks, and neuronal networks, calculating the percentage of points that need to be controlled in order to gain total control of the system. The researchers found that sparse networks require a higher number of controlled points than denser networks. "The area of control of networks is a very important one, and although much work has been done in this area, there are a number of open problems of outstanding practical significance," says Northeastern professor Adilson Motter.
Government Developing Data Mining Tools to Fight Terrorism
InformationWeek (05/12/11) Elizabeth Montalbano
New software that can analyze terrorists' communications networks and travel activities to help extract relationships is under development by U.S. intelligence agencies, according to the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence's (ODNI's) 2010 Data Mining Report. One program is the National Counterterrorism Center's DataSphere software. Instead of mining data, DataSphere employs network analysis tools on existing information about known and suspected terrorists and their affiliates. It identifies patterns in the data that connects individuals with events and actions, including spotting a set of individuals that fit the parameters designated in a threat intelligence communication. The ODNI report also says that in 2010 the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) continued development of two programs it initiated in 2009. The Automated Low-level Analysis and Description of Diverse Intelligence (ALADDIN) initiative is developing a video-query program designed to supplant a manual process already in use, the report says. ALADDIN facilitates the search of large video datasets to quickly and reliably locate clips displaying a specific type of event. Meanwhile, IARPA's Knowledge Discovery and Dissemination program is being developed for the rapid dissemination of information from large, complex, and varied datasets so they can be combined with others already in use.
Portuguese Software Enables Automatic Analysis of Mammograms
INESC Porto (05/11/2011) Joana Ferreira
Researchers at the Institute for Systems and Computer Engineering (INESC) of Porto and the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Porto (FEUP) have developed Semantic PACS, software that enables hospital information technology systems to automatically analyze and validate mammograms. Semantic PACS categorizes each new mammogram using automatic descriptive methods and search methods that compare the semantic contents of the stored images. The software is capable of learning from the analysis of previous mammograms and providing information that can help diagnose patients. The researchers say that Semantic PACS can be used for one-third of all cases, with 100 percent accuracy in detecting malignant tumors. The software automatically validates cases with clear results, enabling doctors to focus on assessing more complex cases. Doctors also will be able to search for similar images when assessing the seriousness of a tumor they are unable to determine is benign or malignant. "From the patient's point of view, this software presents advantages such as reducing the time taken to diagnose cases and the emotional stress associated with this wait," says INESC Porto researcher and FEUP professor Jaime Cardoso.
White House Wants Tougher Penalties for Computer Breaches
New York Times (05/12/11) David E. Sanger; John Markoff
The Obama administration is sending legislation to Congress that would toughen computer breach penalties, although it would not seek authority for strict top-down rules requiring companies to build specific impediments to computer intrusions. Instead, the proposal relies on incentives for private industry to voluntarily fortify computer security and have those standards reviewed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Although the administration is not seeking authority for the president to invoke a kill switch to shut off Internet access in the event of national emergency or a broad-based cyberattack, administration officials say DHS would designate specific privately-run computer systems as critical infrastructure components over which the department would have enhanced authority. The proposed legislation also enlists DHS to cooperate with energy companies, water suppliers, and financial institutions to grade the most serious threats and find ways to resolve them. The proposed legislation does not impact the U.S. military and intelligence agencies' growing cyberoffensive capability, which is the result of billions of dollars of investment with the partial goal being deterrence of cyberattacks against the United States.
Hold that Call, and Focus on the Road
Technology Review (05/11/11) Duncan Graham-Rowe
Microsoft researchers have developed an in-car warning system that could help prevent accidents by automatically holding phone calls when the road requires more attention. During testing, the system was able to reduce the number of driver errors from once every 1.4 minutes for those that did not use the system to once every 7.1 minutes for those that used the system. "This suggests that inventions may not only make driving safer while conversing, but may make driving safer, period," says Microsoft's Shamsi Iqbal. Although the technology needed to automatically detect road hazards is still being developed, "the eventual idea is to have a system that can continue to monitor speed and location with [global positioning systems] and compute forthcoming driving risk based on prior statistics on each roadway and on the current context," says Microsoft's Eric Horvitz. Horvitz and other Microsoft researchers are developing such a system using U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration traffic accident data.
Drafting Without Drivers
Karlsruche Institute of Technology (05/09/11) Monika Landgraf
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) researchers are participating in the Grand Cooperative Driving Challenge (GCDC), which involves 10 research groups testing convoy driving without drivers on a six-kilometer motorway section. During the GCDC, the vehicles will exchange information using radio communication to keep the convoy stable. "By cooperative driving, more traffic participants can be brought onto the road in a safe manner," says KIT's Martin Lauer. "For this to become common practice on our roads in 20 to 30 years from now, we will not only need autonomous systems, but also functioning communication among them." Lauer says that computer-controlled vehicles can safely drive closer together because their reaction times are better than cars driven by people. KIT's vehicle, called AnnieWAY, is equipped with satellite navigation, speed and acceleration meters, cameras that create a stereoscopic image, and a laser scanner that analyzes the surroundings. "All traffic participants, the car on the parking space, and the child on the pavement, have to be detected reliably and their actions have to be anticipated in order to react correctly in due time," Lauer says.
The Role of Information Sciences and Engineering in Sustainability
CCC Blog (05/11/11) Erwin Gianchandani; Bob Sproull; Randy Bryant
At the recent Workshop on the Role of Information Sciences and Engineering in Sustainability, co-sponsored by the U.S. National Science Foundation's CISE Directorate and the Computing Community Consortium, participants unanimously agreed that CISE innovations are important in addressing core issues in sustainability, including energy, transportation, climate science, and the environment. The participants also agreed that interdisciplinary teams of computer scientists, systems engineers, and social scientists need to adequately address sustainability problems. These groups also must pursue use-inspired fundamental research. In addition, the workshop participants noted that a sustained, multi-agency federal investment in basic research and education, as well as cooperation by key industrial players, is integral to realizing a sustainable vision for the future.
Air Force, University of Illinois Take Aim at Cloud Challenges
HPC in the Cloud (05/09/11) Nicole Hemsoth
The University of Illinois, the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory Technology Directorate, and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research recently launched the Assured Cloud Computing Center, a research initiative aimed at creating a more secure, robust computing environment for military applications. A key focus of the research will be the use of blue and gray networks and the problems of security, confidentiality, data integrity, and communications. "A computational cloud used in military applications may include both blue and gray networks, where blue networks are U.S. military networks, which are considered secure--and gray networks, which are those in private hands or perhaps belong to other nations that are considered unsecure," says Illinois professor Roy Campbell. He says cloud computing security is currently lacking, making Assured Cloud Computing necessary and capable of operating over multiple security domains. Campbell says the Air Force depends on surveillance, remote sensing, drones, complex computer-controlled weapons systems, and powerful computers that can complete complex analysis, making speed and the availability of computer resources crucial. "One technology we will definitely be deploying is the modeling and simulating of systems to understand better what are the vulnerabilities and problem," he says.
Autonomous Robots Move in Formation to Spell Words
Wired.co.uk (05/09/11) Olivia Solon
Georgia Tech University's Ted MacDonald has created a system that enables a group of robots to move into formations without communicating with the other robots in the group. While other systems split robot formation into two parts, first determining where each robot should move and then actually making the formation, MacDonald's system simultaneously accomplishes both steps. The robotic formation system uses a three-dimensional motion-tracking camera to determine the position of the robots and broadcast that information to the robots over a Wi-Fi network. The robots use an iterative closest point algorithm to determine the difference between their respective positions and the formation they need to create. In addition to forming shapes, the system enables groups of robots to spell out words. MacDonald says the technology could be used to move a group of robotic vehicles from one position to another without causing congestion issues.
Virtual Possessions Have Powerful Hold on Teenagers, CMU Researchers Say
Carnegie Mellon University (05/09/11) Byron Spice
Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers recently conducted a study examining how teenagers value physical and virtual possessions. The researchers found that the fact that virtual possessions do not have a physical form actually makes them more valuable. "A digital photo is valuable because it is a photo but also because it can be shared and people can comment on it," says CMU professor John Zimmerman. The researchers recruited nine girls and 12 boys, ages 12 to 17, who had frequent access to the Internet, mobile phones, and other technology. The placelessness of virtual possessions stored online often enhanced their value because they are always available. The researchers recommend that software developers provide technologies that enable users to encode more metadata into their virtual possessions such as an individual's status updates, songs, and news associated with an event. "In the future, our research will explore what happens when the boundaries of virtual and physical possessions are more blurred," says CMU professor Jodi Forlizzi. "We will look at things like tags and social metadata and the role they play in sharing experiences with family members and peers."
Model Developed to Improve Combination Vaccine Accessibility Worldwide
RIT News (05/06/11) Michelle Cometa
Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) professor Ruben Proano has developed a mathematical approach that could make complex combination vaccines more affordable for developing countries and more feasible for vaccine producers to make. The model addresses key factors in providing affordable vaccines to developing countries, such as worldwide vaccine manufacturing. "We think that our research work highlights how a systems approach can provide opportunities that will benefit the buyers and the producers and will result in more incentives to improve vaccine availability," Proano says. Addressing the global vaccine market as a system provides opportunities to make recommendations on the number of vaccines to purchase so that buyers and producers maximize savings and benefits. "We use optimization models to recommend how many vaccine doses each market segment should buy from the different vaccine producers, and it also recommends the range of prices per dose that will result in savings for the buyer and that will be financially attractive to the producer," Proano says.
Where Are All the Women Scientists?
New Scientist (05/07/11) Vol. 210, No. 2811, P. 50 Becky Oskin
Numerous studies indicate that female engineers and scientists still must contend with more hindrances than men, while there are fewer women in senior scientific positions than there are those qualified for the role. Nevertheless, the percentage of women studying science and engineering continues to climb in most disciplines. At the same time, there is a pronounced decline in the number of women enrolled in science and engineering majors. Among the factors that are thought to be making science less appealing to women is a stereotype of researchers as socially isolated, while the field also has a reputation for a poor work-life balance. "Most days, I absolutely love my job," says Carleton College computer science professor Amy Csizmar Dalal, who was the first female faculty member hired in her department. "There are also days when I compose my resignation letter in my head." Princeton University professor Joan Girgus thinks more women should consider starting a family when they are still postdoctorate candidates, as there are no worries about tenure. On the other hand, a study of female engineers by University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee researchers found that most of their decisions to quit were based on unhappiness with the workplace culture or other aspects of their professions. Gender bias is still prevalent, although it is less blatant, according to a 2010 survey by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
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