Welcome to the July 25, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Russia Steps up Game in Supercomputing
Computerworld (07/25/11) Patrick Thibodeau
Russia president Dmitry Medvedev and T-Platforms, a Moscow-based computer maker, are working to develop the country's reputation as a supercomputing leader. Medvedev's desire for developing the country's supercomputing expertise has resulted in Moscow State University's T-Platforms' supercomputer, called Lomonosov, which was ranked as the 13th most powerful system in the world in the most recent Top500 list. It also placed third on the Graph500, which measures how rapidly a system can execute a data-intensive graph operation. Without investing in high-performance computing (HPC), "Russian products in five years won't be competitive in the world market, so the government is very much driving to increase HPC usage," says IDC analyst Steve Conway. "At the moment it's a new technology for most of the people, but we are trying to expand the market [in Russia]," says T-Platforms' Anton Korzh. When it comes to writing software, "all of Eastern Europe has some advantage because all through the time they were under communism they had very poor hardware so they had to write software that would practically make a washing machine compute," Conway says.
Computer Program Could 'Revolutionize the World's Healthcare'
University of Manchester (07/25/11) Daniel Cochlin
The University of Manchester and a group of more than 25 academic institutions and industrial partners are collaborating on IT Future of Medicine (ITFoM), a 10-year project to create computational models of individuals that could develop into everyone having their own individually tailored health system based on their genetic and physiological makeup. The researchers say the project could enable doctors to have instant, detailed knowledge of an individual patient's medical history. "ITFoM will make general models of human pathways, tissues, diseases, and ultimately of the human as a whole," which will "then be used to identify personalized prevention and therapy schedules, and the side effects of drugs," says Manchester professor Hans Westerhoff. The researchers plan to develop many new technologies for use in the project, including techniques for the rapid acquisition and evaluation of patient data, dynamic storage and processing of data, and systems that can learn, predict, and inform. ITFoM also will provide hypothetical scenarios of what would happen if a patient takes a certain drug or makes certain lifestyle changes. Manchester professor Norman Paton says ITFoM "provides an exciting opportunity to bring together and build upon advances in medical, biological, and computational sciences."
Advocates Lament Computer Science Gap in Standards Push
Education Week (07/21/11) Erik Robelen
Computing in the Core, an advocacy group whose members include ACM, Google, Microsoft, the Computer Science Teachers Association, the National Council of Teachers in Mathematics, and the National Science Teachers Association, issued a press release criticizing the National Research Council's new science framework for not including a focus on computer science. The group also noted that computer science was largely left out of the recently developed common-core standards in math, which have been adopted in almost every state. "No other subject will open as many doors in the 21st century as computer science, so it is disappointing that neither the science framework nor the mathematics core standards make room for computer science in the K-12 curriculum," says Computing in the Core's Della Cronin. ACM's Cameron Wilson says Computing in the Core unsuccessfully tried to convince the report's authors to include a significant focus on computer science. The new standards are troubling, says Wilson, because "the common-core state standards and the National Research Council are trying to define what kids need to know within the math and science space, and the broader [science, technology, engineering, and math] space."
Prof Says Tech Entering the Age of the Algorithm
University of Texas at Dallas (TX) (07/21/11) David Moore
University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) professor Andras Farago thinks that as algorithms become more important to software development, educational and career opportunities will follow. Farago says the rise in the importance of algorithms mirrors the life cycle of software, which originally was viewed as a secondary feature to hardware. "In a sense, algorithms up until very recently have had the same relationship to software implementation as software previously had to hardware: Icing on the cake," he says. However, Farago says there recently have been more cases, such as the Heritage Provider Network's $3 million prize, in which the hardest part is finding the perfect algorithm. "Once it is found, the implementation can be done by any skilled team, and I believe this may show the emergence of a trend in which the industry starts recognizing the real, hard value of sophisticated algorithms," he says. As part of the Heritage contest, participants are trying to design the algorithm that best predicts which people are more likely to require hospitalization in the future.
Software Helps Synthetic Biologists Customize Protein Production
Penn State Live (07/21/11) Matthew Swayne
Penn State University researchers have developed a DNA compiler that could provide biotechnology companies with the genetic plans to turn bacteria into molecular factories that can produce biofuels and medicine. "This technology allows us to quickly identify the best DNA sequence for a particular biotechnological application," says Penn State professor Howard M. Salis. The DNA compiler designs synthetic DNA sequences to control protein production in simple organisms to find the best rates for creating useful organisms. Synthetic DNA will play a more significant role in diverse industries such as medicine and manufacturing, according to Salis. Genetic engineers can enter a series of DNA molecules into the software, which will calculate which protein will be made and how much will be produced. The software also can optimize a synthetic DNA sequence to achieve the best protein production rate.
New iPad App Supports Diagnosis
University of Western Australia (07/20/11) Aleta Johnston
The success of the Diagnostic Imaging Pathways Web site prompted the University of Western Australia's Center for Software Practice (CSP) to develop an online support application for diagnostic imaging for use on Apple's iPad, in collaboration with the Department of Imaging Services at the Royal Perth Hospital. Diagnostic Imaging Pathways helps doctors make the right decisions on diagnostic imaging examinations in a wide range of clinical scenarios. The tool includes more than 130 pathways covering all the major organ systems and common clinical scenarios. "Thirty percent of imaging requests are incorrect or inappropriate--the iPad application ... will help make sure that patients have the best chance of getting the most accurate diagnosis," says professor Richard Mendelson. Making the pathways available on a platform such as the iPad means clinicians will be able to access vital information at their fingertips, says CSP director David Glance.
Caltech Researchers Create the First Artificial Neural Network Out of DNA
California Institute of Technology (07/20/11) Marcus Woo
California Institute of Technology (CalTech) researchers have developed an artificial neural network out of DNA, creating a circuit of interacting molecules that can recall memories based on incomplete information. The network, which consists of four artificial neurons made from 112 distinct strands of DNA, plays a mind-reading game in which it identifies a mystery scientist based on answering yes or no questions, such as whether the scientist is British. The network communicates its answers using fluorescent signals and was able to correctly identify the scientist in 100 percent of the 27 trials the researchers conducted. The DNA-based neural network can take an incomplete pattern and determine what it represents. The researchers say that biochemical systems with artificial intelligence could have applications in medicine, chemistry, and biological research. They based the network on a simple model of a neuron, known as a linear threshold function. "It has been an extremely productive model for exploring how the collective behavior of many simple computational elements can lead to brain-like behaviors, such as associative recall and pattern completion," says CalTech professor Erik Winfree.
Computer Science Students Develop Smartphone Apps
Crimson White (AL) (07/20/11) Jasmine Cannon
University of Alabama students are creating smartphone applications for use by people with health issues or physical disabilities. Professor Edward Sazonov is helping two students develop Diet Diary, an application related to physical health. "The application that we are developing will be able to detect food intake, compute caloric content of the meal, and keep track of daily food intake," Sazonov says. "We use shoe-based sensors that talk to a cell phone to recognize what the person is doing--for example, sitting, standing, or walking--at any given moment of time." The shoe sensors also can be used to predict caloric energy expenditure, which can be combined with a food intake monitor to track diet and physical activity for body weight management. Alabama professor Patricia Wood has been working with students on an application for people with type 2 diabetes. The app has three components--a reminder system, Diabetes Dictionary, and an interactive DVD. Meanwhile, four students are working on Digital Eyes, an application designed to assist those who are visually impaired or blind navigate buildings by providing information about room locations with an automated voice.
Computers Understand Hand-Waving Descriptions
New Scientist (07/20/11) Nic Fleming
A new gesture-based interface developed by the Hasso Plattner Institute's Christian Holz and Microsoft Research's Andy Wilson does not require users to memorize a specific set of movements. With Data Miming, users trace the key components of objects such as a chair or table with their hands and maintain the proportions throughout the mime. "Starting from the observation that humans can effortlessly understand which objects are being described when hand motions are used, we asked why computers can't do the same thing," Holz says. The system uses a Microsoft Kinect motion-capture camera to create a three-dimensional representation of hand movements. Users activate voxels, or pixels in three dimensions, when they pass their hands through space. Data Miming understands when enclosed space should be included in representations, which it compares with a database of objects in the form of voxels and selects the closest match. The system correctly recognized 75 percent of mimes in tests, and the intended object was among the top three matches in its database 98 percent of the time.
Tag--Your Phone Knows You're It
Columbia Free Times (SC) (07/19/11) Craig Brandhorst
Researchers at the University of South Carolina (USC) and Duke University are developing TagSense, a smartphone application that can automatically tag photos. The program can describe who is in the photo, where and when it was taken, and what the subjects are doing in the image by communicating directly with other phones in the immediate area. The researchers recently developed a prototype for the technology and conducted initial tests. However, the test phones have been modified to allow multiple wireless devices to communicate peer-to-peer instead of through central access points. "Mobile sensing has been a hot topic in this community for years, and is mainly about how you can do incredible things with smartphone sensors," says USC Ph.D. student Chaun Qin. TagSense works by utilizing various sensors that are already built into existing phones. "We are using multiple sensors, not just image alone," says USC professor Srihari Nelakuditi. TagSense also could be used in conjunction with face recognition technology to enhance its current limitations, according to the researchers. "As new sensors are being embedded in smartphones, and new processing techniques are being developed, TagSense will just grow stronger," Qin says.
UT Austin Villa Wins World RoboCup Championships
University of Texas at Austin (07/19/11) Daniel Oppenheimer
The University of Texas at Austin's 2011 RoboCupSoccer team, called UT Austin Villa, won the championship in the three-dimensional simulation division. The UT Austin Villa team, which was led by University of Texas at Austin computer scientists Peter Stone and Patrick MacAlpine, beat 21 other teams from 11 countries, scoring 136 goals and allowing none. The key to victory was teaching the robots to teach themselves, Stone says. "We used the distributed computing cluster here in the department, which has hundreds of computers, in order to do machine learning," he says. The simulation division is the only one of the five divisions in the tournament that does not use real manufactured robots. Instead, the games are played by two teams of nine autonomous artificial intelligence programs, which play the game in a video game-like environment. Each player has to react, in real time, to the data being sent to it by its teammates and by the simulator, which models the physics of the real world and is constantly recalculating its datastream based on where the 18 different players are going and what they do.
Physicists Take Steps Toward Delivering Quantum Information to the Home
PhysOrg.com (07/18/11) Lisa Zyga
Researchers at University College Cork's Tyndall National Institute have demonstrated how quantum and classical data can be intertwined in a fiber-optics network, coming a step closer to delivering quantum information to the home. "We have taken a widely deployed classical [fiber-to-the-home] system and have adapted [quantum key distribution] to interwork with it, leaving the design of the classical part of the system essentially unchanged," says the institute's Paul D. Townsend. Overcoming the crosstalk between the classical and quantum channels is the toughest challenge in transferring qubits in real-world networks, and the researchers devised a unique noise suppression scheme that involves inducing gaps in the Raman photon scattering, and transmitting quantum data in these gaps. The researchers say that blending quantum channels with classical channels is a far more practical option for avoiding the problem of crosstalk than building a purely quantum network. "Optical fiber network infrastructure is enormously expensive to deploy, so it must last for a long time ... and be able to support a wide range of current and future, yet to be defined, systems and services," Townsend notes.
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