Welcome to the April 25, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Online Tool Can Detect Patterns in U.S. Election News Coverage
University of Bristol News (04/24/12)
University of Bristol researchers have developed Election Watch, an online tool that analyzes international news content about the 2012 U.S. presidential election. Election Watch automatically monitors political discourse about the election from more than 700 U.S. and international news outlets. The infrastructure can detect election-related articles, analyze their content, solve co-reference and anaphora, identify verbs and denote support or opposition, identify key actors, and filter irrelevant information. Users can explore news stories using an interactive interface that demonstrates the applications of modern machine learning and language technologies. Election Watch has revealed several patterns in the political narrative, such as actors, actions, triplets representing support between actors, and automatically inferred political allegiance of actors. Election Watch also presents key named entities, timelines, and heat maps. Most computational approaches to news content analysis are limited to forms of keyword counting, which will miss many aspects of the narration to which voters are exposed, says Bristol professor Nello Cristianini. The researchers hope to access information that is closer to what a human analyst could extract. They used quantitative narrative analysis technology to identify the actors and the actions that dominate a story, as well as subject-verb-object triplets.
China Mulls National CPU Architecture Spec
EE Times (04/23/12)
China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology recently launched a program that aims to define a national processor architecture. If the initiative is successful, the processor could become a requirement for use in any projects seeking government funding. Chinese government officials also recently hosted the first China National Instruction Set Architecture meeting, which is one of several efforts to set Chinese standards and establish Chinese intellectual property (IP) instead of paying for IP from foreign countries. "I got the impression it's a matter of months" before the processor group chooses a national standard, says MIPS Technologies' Robert Bismuth. Conventional ARM cores are too expensive for some China electronics companies who want lower-cost alternatives, according to an anonymous Chinese executive. "We understand China’s initial desire to have its own [instruction set architecture (ISA)], and we continue to cooperate and discuss with the key people involved to reach a good solution," says ARM president Tudor Brown. The Chinese government wants "a common software ecosystem and the only way to get that is with a common ISA," Bismuth notes.
Scientists Demonstrate Mind-Controlled Robot
Associated Press (04/24/12) Frank Jordans
Researchers at the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne have developed a system that enables paralyzed patients to control a robot using only their thoughts. The system features a cap that transmits the electrical signals emitted by the brain, when a user imagines performing a task, to a computer, where the signal is almost instantly decoded. However, background noise has emerged as a major challenge in brain-computer interface research, says Lausanne's Jose Millan. The researchers solved this problem by programming the system to work in a way similar to the brain's subconscious. Once a command such as "walk forward" has been sent, the computer will execute it until it receives a command to stop or the robot encounters an obstacle. This allows the user to focus on other things instead of always having to focus on telling the robot to walk forward. The Lausanne team's research appears to mark an advance in the field, says University of Washington professor Rajesh Rao, “especially if the system can be used by the paraplegic person outside the laboratory.”
The Robot Revolution Is Just Beginning
MIT News (04/24/12) David L. Chandler
Former Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor Rodney Brooks recently spoke to MIT students about the robotics technologies that he helped develop and how they will look primitive compared to future robots. Brooks' first major contribution to the field came with the idea of building swarms of tiny, inexpensive robots with autonomous control systems. Brooks also helped develop Sojourner, the first mobile robotic device on Mars. In addition, Brooks worked with other MIT researchers to develop robots that watch people's facial expressions and gestures and make inferences about their meaning and emotional state. In the future, Brooks thinks that robots could revolutionize manufacturing. He says smaller, nimbler, more responsive robots could work alongside people, helping them with tasks. Brooks predicts that future robots will compare to today's industrial robots in much the same way that an iPhone compares to an earlier, room-sized mainframe computer. However, he says they are not likely to closely resemble humans. “If you make them too humanlike, people’s expectations go up, and they’re easily disappointed,” Brooks says. “You don’t want to make it look like Einstein!”
NASA's Space Apps Competition Takes on Big Ideas
Government Technology (04/23/12) Sarah Rich
The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) recently held its first International Space Apps Challenge, attracting participants from 24 countries for the opportunity to help find solutions for some of the space agency's biggest challenges. The two-day apps challenge also focused on software, open hardware, data visualizations, and citizen science platform solutions. The participants were presented with various challenges, and were able to choose which projects they wanted to work on. At the San Francisco site, participants worked with project members in other locations by blogging, video chatting, and tweeting. One team developed a deployment capsule for experiments that would be sent into space, a mechanism that could be used for engaging students in science education. OpenROV, which developed additional capabilities for an underwater robot prototype, and Daily Myths, an interactive Web tool for learning about astronomy through trivia-style questions, were nominated to advance to compete globally in the NASA competition. The event is "part of the Obama administration's open government strategy and the notion there is that if we open information data access to government, to citizens and people, then they will be able to do amazing things with that data," says NASA's Linda Cureton.
Turing's Rapid Nazi Enigma Code-Breaking Secret Revealed
The Register (UK) (04/23/12) Anna Leach
Two papers written by Alan Turing that detail his mathematical analysis for code breaking now can be viewed on request at Britain's National Archives. British intelligence agency GCHQ recently donated the documents, and a spokesperson for the archives says demand to see Turing's work is high. The typewritten papers, kept secret for 70 years, laid the foundation for the quick and efficient decryption of Nazi Enigma-scrambled messages, a breakthrough that historians say trimmed about two years off the duration of World War II. Written between April 1941 and April 1942, the papers feature Turing's hand-scribbled notes, and are titled "On Statistics of Repetitions" and "The Applications of Probability to Cryptography." The statistics paper describes how examining repeated characters in two encrypted messages can prove that both passages use the same encipherment key. The cryptography essay applies rigorous probability analysis to code-breaking methods and techniques. The papers used "mathematical analysis to try and determine the more likely settings [for the crypto key] so that they can be tried as quickly as possible," says the GCHQ mathematician who released the documents. The move coincides with the 100th anniversary of Turing's birth on June 23.
CISE Researchers Discuss 'Security for Cloud Computing'
CCC Blog (04/20/12) Erwin Gianchandani
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the U.S. National Science Foundation recently organized a workshop on security for cloud computing. The goal of the workshop was to identify the research challenges for securing cloud computing services and systems and to rally a broader computer science and engineering research community behind the challenges that need to be solved. The researchers developed challenges in adversary models for cloud computing, delegation and authorization in cloud computing, end-to-end security in cloud computing, and new problems in security for cloud computing. The workshop brought forward many new challenges in well-known areas of security as well as new security problems that are emerging in the cloud computing domain. The researchers noted that the effort is needed because clouds are complex systems with hundreds of service dependencies, competing solutions, and multi-tenancy demands, and are being held back by a lack standards and pressures for interoperability, bandwidth, and other resources.
Music-Mixing Technology Could Assist With Music Production
The Engineer (United Kingdom) (04/23/12) Sam Shead
Bands could use new music-mixing technology developed at Queen Mary University to produce their own music. Although the software-based system, currently called the Automatic Music Production System, could replace a sound engineer, project leader Joshua Reiss says the technology is more comparable to a semi-professional sound engineer mixing live sound than a talented professional who spends months on an album. "We've developed a system that will automatically mix musical content in real time in much the same way that a sound engineer would on a mixing desk," Reiss says. "We wanted to get the computer to listen to music and embed it with some knowledge of the human hearing system and the best practices when it comes to sound engineering." The software can run on a standard computer, work with a variety of music genres, and has been successfully used to mix up to 20 different sources. Reiss says the software can be used to create live recordings, or to combine different audio sources during post-production, which would be attractive to new bands that want to upload recordings online through social media channels. Reiss also wants to turn the concept into a Web-based platform for mixing audio as it is uploaded.
A Researcher and a Robot Walk Into a Bar…
Wall Street Journal (04/20/12) Rachel Wolff
Carnegie Mellon University social robotics graduate student Heather Knight has helped develop Data, a stand-up-comedy-performing robot that can read, replicate, and respond to human social cues. Her research includes formal psychology-like user studies and software programming. Through hours of trial and error, Knight carefully composes each word and gesture that is part of the stand-up routine. She also conducted interviews with professional stand-up comedians to learn about self-awareness and persona. "One of the first things they taught me is that [Data] needs to be real and authentic," Knight says. "If a robot just walks out there telling random jokes and not acknowledging that he is a robot, it isn't going to create a rapport with the audience." Data has been programmed to gauge audience response by hearing laughter and applause and by seeing green and red cards held up by audience members. Knight recently conducted a series of user studies using Data as a Carnegie Mellon campus tour guide. Knight monitored where people lost interest as indicated by their wandering eyes, a technique that she hopes robots will ultimately be able to utilize.
Disruptive Innovation--in Education
A new online-learning initiative from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has the potential to reinvent education, says Anant Agarwal, who will head the Open Learning Enterprise and oversee the development of MITx. Agarwal says MITx is an effort to move the complete MIT classroom experience online, including video lectures, homework assignments, lab work, and a final grade. The prototype course has more than 120,000 enrollees. A pioneer in the development of parallel computing, Agarwal also has pursued innovations in online education, and he developed a program called WebSim that enabled students to process real-world electrical signals by assembling virtual circuits on a computer screen rather than physical circuits at a lab bench. The development of tools such as WebSim will be crucial to the expansion of MITx. Agarwal says the automation of lectures and grading could give professors and teaching assistants more time to work directly with students, including in open-ended research projects, and tools developed through MITx could enable students to learn in a more interactive fashion, and at their own pace and schedule. "No one knows how it's going to evolve," he says. "But it has the potential to change the world."
Growing Roots for More STEM
Capital Business (04/22/12) Marjorie Censer
Several Washington, D.C.-area technology companies have launched initiatives designed to improve the region's science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. "Companies have been diversifying their investments" and are looking beyond college students to kids in middle and high school, says STEM Education Coalition executive director James Brown. Many companies see middle school as the last chance to interest students in STEM before they choose to focus on other subjects. "For girls and for students of color, by middle school if they are not excited about math and science, they tend to start dropping out" of those classes, says Northrop Grumman's Sandra J. Evers-Manly. Northrop engages students in STEM by sponsoring the Sally Ride Science Festival for girls in fifth through eighth grade, and the FIRST robotics competitions. BAE Systems offers a month-long program to introduce at-risk high-schoolers to its geospatial technology. Meanwhile, Neustar has established a digital literacy program for public and private schools in Virginia and Kentucky that covers a range of subjects for teens interested in STEM. Lockheed Martin provides grants to elementary, middle, and high schools that need funding for curriculum or robotics programs.
Scanning the Brain for Impending Error
UA News (AZ) (04/19/12) La Monica Everett-Haynes
University of Arizona researchers are using new technology to predict in advance when people will make a mistake on the standard math section of the College Board's SAT exam with about 80 percent accuracy. The technique involves using electroencephalography technology to study the brain wave activity of students taking the math portion of the SAT exam. Measuring the activity, Arizona doctoral student Federico Cirett and professor Carole Beal were able to detect if a student would answer a question incorrectly about 20 seconds after they began reading the question. The research is based on the fact that English learners taking the test tended to stumble more on the math section than their native-English speaking counterparts. "We want students to be able to solve these problems, but we have to make these problems easier for them to read, but we have to give them better opportunities," Cirett says. Although the technology and algorithms are not new, the application of them to find the patterns and create a classification is a revolutionary breakthrough, Beal says. The goal of the research is to optimize learning at the individual level, especially in the area of math, Cirett says.
Finding ET May Require Giant Robotic Leap
Penn State Live (04/18/12) Andrea Elyse Messer
Autonomous, self-replicating robots, known as exobots, are the best way to explore the universe, find and identify extraterrestrial life, and clean up space debris, says Pennsylvania State University professor John D. Mathews. "The basic premise is that human space exploration must be highly efficient, cost effective, and autonomous, as placing humans beyond low Earth orbit is fraught with political, economic, and technical difficulties," Mathews says. Developing and deploying self-replicating robots and advanced communications systems is the only way humans can effectively explore the asteroid belt and beyond, he maintains. The initial robots could be manufactured on the moon, taking advantage of the resources and its low gravity, both of which would reduce costs. The robots must be able to identify their exact location and the location of the other exobots, which would enable them to communicate using an infrared laser beam carrying data. Initially, the exobots would clear existing debris and monitor the more than 1,200 near-Earth asteroids that could be dangerous. In the future, he says a network of exobots could spread throughout the solar system and into the galaxy, using the resources they find there to continue their mission.
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