Welcome to the January 18, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Protest on Web Uses Shutdown to Take on Two Piracy Bills
New York Times (01/17/12) Jenna Wortham; Eric Lichtblau; Edward Wyatt
A Web-wide protest against two pieces of U.S. Internet piracy legislation that includes a one-day shutdown of Wikipedia represents a political flashpoint for a relatively young and unstructured industry. "This is the first real test of the political strength of the Web, and regardless of how things go, they are no longer a pushover," says Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu. The Stop Online Piracy Act in the House and the Protect IP Act in the Senate seek to discourage the illegal downloading and streaming of TV shows and movies online and have the support of major media outfits. However, the bills give rise to fears by the tech industry that they will give media companies too much power to close sites suspected of copyright abuse. "For the first time, it's very clear that legislation could have a direct impact on the industry's ability to do business," says New York Tech Meetup's Jessica Lawrence. "This has been a wake-up call." Internet companies are concerned that the legislation's broad definitions of terms such as search engine could make Web sites of all sizes required to monitor all material on their pages for potential violations. The bills' biggest proponents dispute the tech industry’s chief complaint that they will negatively impact the average Internet user or disrupt their online activities.
State Budget Cuts for Research Universities Imperil Competitiveness, Report Says
Chronicle of Higher Education (01/17/12) Emma Roller
Public research universities have faced state budget cuts of 20 percent from 2002 to 2010, according to a new U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) report. Enrollment at U.S. research institutions has continued to expand in spite of state budget trimming, but National Science Board chairman Ray M. Bowen says "the decline in support for postsecondary education, especially public research universities, is a cause for great concern as we examine the condition of U.S. global competitiveness." The NSF study also found that Asian students are earning more science and engineering degrees than U.S. students, while a large percentage of doctoral degrees at U.S. universities are being awarded to foreign students. Colleges and universities double as both the chief source of basic research in the U.S. and as a training ground for new researchers, and although industry support for academic research and development has dropped by 1 percentage point, federal funding and institutions' own cash reserves have exhibited relative stability for the past two decades, the NSF report notes. The number of bachelor's degrees awarded in the U.S. has risen by more than 50 percent in the past 20 years, with science, technology, engineering, and math degrees comprising 33 percent of the total.
U.S. Loses High-Tech Jobs as R&D Shifts Toward Asia
Wall Street Journal (01/18/12) James R. Hagerty
The U.S. is losing high-tech jobs as American companies expand their research and development (R&D) labs in Asia, according to the U.S. National Science Board. These companies hope to tap a broader pool of scientific talent, design products for overseas markets, and gain favor with foreign governments by conducting more research abroad. Although U.S.-based labs have developed new products such as the iPad tablet and the Kindle e-book reader, those products are manufactured in Asia, which increases fears among industry experts that more R&D will flow to Asia. In the six years preceding 2009, about 85 percent of the growth in R&D workers employed by U.S.-based multinational companies has been abroad, according to a National Science Board report. Meanwhile, U.S. employment in high-technology manufacturing has decreased 28 percent since 2000 to 1.8 million jobs, mostly due to more efficient manufacturing techniques and the recession, according to the report. Many companies are largely opening up new labs in areas with high concentrations of engineering and scientific talent, notes the report, which states that 56 percent of the world's engineering degrees awarded in 2008 were in Asia, compared with just 4 percent in the U.S.
Coding Playoffs Feature Dueling AIs
Baseline (01/17/12) Tim Moran
The International Collegiate Programming Finals is a competition for graduate and undergraduate students featuring teams of two to five members from universities such as Carnegie Mellon, Stanford, Purdue, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The goal of the coding competition is mostly fun, with the winning team receiving a one-of-a-kind trophy upon which the winners' names will be engraved, according to Windward, the competition's sponsor. Each team must write “a game AI” (artificial intelligence), and the teams will play against each other, with up to six or eight AIs being permitted at once. The AIs will then play against each other, and after 10 runs the team with the highest total score wins. The competition allows the teams to write their entries in C#, C++, Java or Python. The daylong competition takes place Jan. 28, 2012. "Why should the sports teams be the only ones to compete with the other schools?" says Windward David Thielen. "This gives the [computer science] students the opportunity to compete [too]."
ISC Looking for Programmers to Help Complete BIND 10
Techworld (01/16/12) Joab Jackson
The Internet Systems Consortium (ISC) is looking for programmers to help develop the next generation of the open source Berkeley Internet Name Domain (BIND) domain name server software. ISC recently held the BIND Open Day, during which ISC's Shane Kerr discussed strategies for getting contributions from a wider range of developers and users. "If other people are working on the code, they are more likely to solve the problems they have," Kerr says. ISC hopes to have a production version of BIND 10 ready by the end of 2012. BIND 10 will use different components from BIND 9, and the project's programmers are developing much of the software from scratch. Kerr says the modular approach will make it easier for outside developers and users to contribute because they will not have to understand the whole system to contribute one specific feature. In addition, he says "we expect [the new approach] to be a lot more resilient with coding bugs, which has been the source of most of the security problems with BIND 9."
Surgical Robots to Provide Open-Source Platform for Medical Robotics Research
UW News (WA) (01/12/12) Hannah Hickey
University of Washington researchers have developed Raven, a robot with wing-like arms that will be sent to seven campuses across the U.S. and form the basis of the first common research platform for developing surgical robots. "With everyone working on the same, open source platform we can more easily share new developments and innovations," says Washington professor Blake Hannaford. The researchers are making Raven's software work with the Robot Operating System, a popular open source robotics code, so groups can easily connect the Raven to other devices. "Each lab will start with an identical, fully operational system, but they can change the hardware and software and share new developments and algorithms, while retaining intellectual property rights for their own innovations," says University of California, Santa Cruz professor Jacob Rosen. The latest version of Raven has more compact electronics and dexterous hands that can hold surgical tools. “Researchers and funding agencies are tired of one-off robots--they want to pursue projects that use standardized platforms,” Hannaford says. “This is where the field is going.”
Wristband Plugs You Into Smart Buildings
New Scientist (01/16/12) Niall Firth
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed WristQue, a low-power wristband device that works with sensors embedded in buildings to monitor how users feel and continually adjust the environment to keep them happy. WristQue is the key to controlling "the immersive world of interactive media that will one day surround us," says MIT's Joe Paradiso. Each WristQue band is equipped with a microprocessor and environmental sensors that detect changes in temperature, humidity, and light. "People can gesture with Kinect but it doesn't know who you are--we're thinking of a device that can do that, but without distracting you like a [personal digital assistant]," Paradiso says. In addition, environmental sensors outside the building enable the system to know the likely temperature change inside a room if the windows are opened. The researchers expect the finished system to include location information and extra controls that will enable users to control nearby electronic devices. "It will know who you are, where you are, and will have pointing sensors to let you interact with displays," Paradiso says.
Tracking Tool Could Prevent the Spread of Disease at Olympics
The Engineer (United Kingdom) (01/16/12)
Infectious disease outbreaks around the world could be tracked by using new technology developed by Canadian researchers. The Web-based software has been designed to monitor news reports of outbreaks and combine them with real-time information on air-travel patterns. "An integrated platform of this kind could help identify infectious disease outbreaks around the world that could threaten the success of MGs [mass gatherings] at the earliest possible stages," says lead researcher Kamran Khan at St Michael's Hospital. The technology also could "provide insights into which of those outbreaks are most likely to result in disease spread into the MG and identify the most effective public health measures to mitigate the risk of disease importation and local spread, all in near real time." The tool, called Bio.Diaspora, predicts the number and origins of travelers to MGs, and directs disease surveillance of locations where there will be large population movements to the host city of an MG. The team modeled London for the 2012 Olympic Games, and found that measles in Berlin might be a concern for public health officials. The researchers say Bio.Diaspora could complement existing disease surveillance systems, and would need to be integrated at local and global levels to provide the best information.
At CES, a Preview of Tomorrow's Wearable Computers
Technology Review (01/17/12) Tom Simonite
The recent Consumer Electronics Show enabled big companies to meet small ones to exchange ideas that could become key consumer technologies in the future. One of those companies, Lumus Optics, demonstrated prototype glasses that display translucent imagery that fills the wearer's view like a 10-foot-wide TV. The glasses rely on a computer or phone to provide the imagery. "Once you have it, the community of developers will bring stuff we haven't thought of yet, the same as with touchscreens and the iPhone," says Lumus Optics' Ari Grobman. Vuzix displayed its augmented-reality technology, which is designed for military and industry applications. The industrial version is intended for applications such as overlaying schematics of a machine onto the vision of a mechanic. Aurasma has developed an application that can recognize images or landmarks and add virtual three-dimensional (3D) objects. The application also works with hand gestures, making virtual content interactive. "We're trying to move things on to the point where this is the way you get your information, rather than having to use a Web browser," says Aurasma's Matt Mills. Sensics demonstrated its Smart Goggles, which features a video display that immerses the wearer in a virtual 3D environment.
Google's Marissa Mayer Says More Women Needed in Tech
Computerworld (01/13/12) Sharon Gaudin
Despite recent advances by women in high-tech fields, there is still much room for growth, according to a group of female tech executives speaking at the recent Consumer Electronics Show. "Right now, it's a really great time to be a woman in technology, but there aren't enough women in technology," says Google vice president Marissa Mayer. She says part of the problem is that the U.S. is not producing enough computer scientists as a whole. "We need a lot more people and if we grow that number, then the number of women, by nature, goes up," Mayer says. She says more effort is needed to push high schools to develop computer science courses. "Imagine if we had 200,000 or 500,000 students graduating from high school every year who have taken computer science, as well as calculus," Mayer says. She notes that just two percent of Google engineers say they were exposed to computer science in high school. Nevertheless, Cisco Systems chief technology officer Padmasree Warrior says that much progress has been made in getting more women to work in high-tech. "If you look at two of the largest tech companies today, IBM and [Hewlett-Packard], they have women CEOs and there are a lot of women in tech who have made progress in our lives," Warrior says.
New Software Designed to Improve Politics
Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona (01/12/12)
A team of experts in political science and simulations and computing technologies, belonging to a group of 17 partners in Europe and China, including Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona (UAB) researchers, are working on the FUPOL project, which aims to create software that will enable politicians to analyze opinions expressed in social networks. FUPOL project researchers are developing artificial intelligence tools to automatically collect, analyze, and interpret the opinions expressed by Internet users. The goal is to make it easier for government organizations to understand the needs of its citizens and improve social policies. The UAB researchers, led by Miguel Mujica Mota and Miguel Angel Piera, are developing social behavior simulation models. "The project will contribute to the sustainable development of cities and will lower the barrier between citizens and politicians," Mota says. The working plan includes five field research projects in China, Croatia, Cyprus, Italy, and United Kingdom, focusing on the political areas of urban planning, land use and sustainable development, migration, and urban segregation.
Class of 2011 Scores Higher-Paying Jobs
CNNMoney (01/12/12) Blake Ellis
Engineering students secured the highest-paying jobs among 2011 graduates, according to a new survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Engineering majors had an average starting salary of $61,872 upon graduation, which represents a 1.5 percent increase from the previous year. Computer engineering students were the highest paid of all engineering majors, earning an average starting salary of $70,400 a year. Computer science majors scored the highest average starting salary after engineering graduates, at $60,594, and they saw the biggest increase in pay out of all the disciplines. The average starting salary for computer science graduates increased 4.1 percent from 2010. Meanwhile, mathematics and science graduates earned an average starting salary of $40,204. Overall, the average starting salary rose 2.3 percent for graduates from 2010 to $41,701. Every discipline saw its average salary increase last year.
The Keys to Helping Patients, on the GP's Computer
Basque Research (01/11/12) Prentsa Bulegoa
A research team at the University of the Basque Country, consisting of nine researchers and four physicians, is developing a technological platform to help general practitioners diagnose patients. "We have to get the best practices in the clinical guidelines executed on computer, and turn the process unto a rapid one," says team leader Juan Manuel Pikatza. He says a key challenge is inputting the clinical guidelines into the program and assimilating everything that the specialists want to transmit. The tool also contains the Unified Medical Language System, which has nearly 2 million concepts, each of which is accompanied by a standard definition. "By inputting all this information we can create a high level diagnosis-treatment system," Pikatza says. So far the researchers have computerized one guideline on hyperamonemia and two on asthma. "All this is something that has to be done, there is unanimity on it within the scientific community," Pikatza says. He notes that the technology also could be used by students in specialization courses, such as resident medical intern courses.
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