Welcome to the August 27, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Making Crowdsourcing Easier
MIT News (08/24/12) Larry Hardesty
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed Qurk, a database system that automatically crowdsources tasks that are difficult or impossible to perform computationally. For example, images in a Qurk database could be sorted according to the approximate age of the people depicted, the appeal of the depicted locations as travel destinations, or any other attribute whose assessment would require human judgment. "You can just say, 'I have this collection of images, and I want to sort them by how cute they are,' and the system will actually figure out how to implement a sort over your data set," says MIT's Adam Marcus. The researchers found that, while ranking provided more accurate sorting, Qurk fared better and was much less expensive than other systems. Marcus notes that Qurk also will enable users to specify a group of attributes that might be useful for pre-filtering. The system will then evaluate those attributes on the fly, determining which, if any, actually increase the efficiency of the join operation.
Getting Serious About Global Gaming
University of Alberta (08/23/12) Michael Davies-Venn
University of Alberta researchers have developed a network designed to bring together academia and the gaming industry. The researchers are addressing a broad range of questions about how electronic games can be used for education, defining the line between literature and gaming, and finding ways to preserve electronic games. "We as faculty need to make sure that we’re looking at this global phenomenon," says Alberta researcher Geoffrey Rockwell. He says the gap between the games industry and the games studies community has resulted partly because of cultural differences and how computer games are studied. In addition, Rockwell says both academia and the gaming industry need to find a way to preserve electronic games. "We have to provide an answer to the question of the preservation of interactive media," he says. “Much of the important art of the last 50 years--and by that I don’t mean fine art but human art--has been interactive media." Rockwell notes that games are being integrated into every aspect of society, and emerging games are changing ideas not only about who gamers are, but also about what constitutes a game.
At the Intersection of Big Data and Healthcare: What 7.2 Million Medical Records Can Tell Us
CCC Blog (08/23/12) Kenneth Hines
Big data analytics have enabled researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's SENSEable City Lab and colleagues at GE Healthymagination to create a powerful visual of the relationships between medical conditions based on the frequency of co-occurrences. The researchers combed through 7.2 million electronic medical records to create an extensive disease network, which they called the Health InfoScape. Their first analysis shows the numerous and sometimes unexpected associations that exist for any given condition. The researchers say their results provided new insights into the close connections of conditions, forcing researchers to reexamine conventional categories about disease classification. "Our initial results are a mix of the expected and the unexpected--simultaneously challenging and reaffirming our preconceptions of health pattern, within individuals, and across the U.S.," the researchers say. "Now that we have a succinct picture of the human health network in the country, we will continue our investigation by delving deeper into how the environments around us factor into these results."
Internet Architecture Is at Odds With Its Use
Aalto University (08/23/12)
The network architecture of the Internet has not evolved to better match the way people use the Internet, according to Jarno Rajahalme at Aalto University's Department of Computer Science and Engineering. The Internet network should find the content desired by end users, but only a fraction of traffic is intended to be exchanged between specific network elements anymore, Rajahalme says. Commercial activity and competition have determined the present structure of the Internet. Internet architecture and traffic is the focus of Rajahalme's doctoral dissertation, and he modeled different ways to deliver packets across inter-domain links. Rajahalme notes that it is often beneficial for network owners to handle multiple copies of individual packets than to try to optimize by reducing inter-domain traffic redundancy. The overall network load might decline, and every domain would be able to decide locally which way to forward the packets is the most profitable. The topology of the Internet could be used to allow the network itself to decide the best routes to transmit information, Rajahalme says.
Robots Compete in Their Own 'Olympics' Games
BBC News (08/23/12) Jane Wakefield
Twenty-six teams from around the world currently are competing in the FIRA RoboWorld Cup, an event that has been running since 1996 and is taking place at Bristol University this year. The robots are participating in a range of competitions, including soccer, basketball, weightlifting, and foot races. Robots can compete in the sprint, which is a three-meter race, or the marathon, which is a 42-meter race. The marathon is made more difficult by the fact the teams have not been told in advance where the race will take place or what surface it will be on. "The robots must be autonomous," says FIRA RoboWorld Cup organizer Guido Herrmann. "Once they start the humans must be hands-off." Many world records are expected to fall at the competition, including the weightlifting record of 89 DVDs and the sprint world record of 42 seconds. Herrmann notes that many of the robots are "decathletes" because they are competing in multiple sports.
Gender Gap in IT Labor Market Remains Wide: Survey
eWeek (08/23/12) Robert J. Mullins
Thirty-five percent of 2,400 information technology (IT) manager worldwide claim to have no women in IT management roles in their organization, and 24 percent have no women on any of their technical teams, according to a Harvey Nash survey. Additionally, despite the fact that 50 percent of college graduates are women, very few of them pursue careers in IT, says Harvey Nash USA president and CEO Bob Miano. However, high-profile women executives in the tech industry can serve as examples of what other women can achieve, according to Manilla.com CIO Beth Devin. The survey also showed that 59 percent of respondents consider women good at promoting team cohesion and morale, compared to just 49 percent of men. The Harvey Nash survey estimated that 59 percent of respondents said women excel at getting the job done versus just 29 percent who said that of men. In addition, 55 percent of women bring creativity and innovation to the organization, compared to just 43 percent of men. Additionally, while the U.S. unemployment rate is 8.3 percent, the unemployment rate in the tech industry is just 4 percent, Miano notes.
Teaching Robots to Learn Like Little Children
Deutsche Welle (08/23/12) Lydia Heller
Scientists at the University of Bielefeld's research institute for Cognition and Robotics want to develop machines that can adapt to human behavior and learn from people. They are working to teach iCub, a child-like robot, how to understand both visual and acoustic information as it is expressed by people. "If in future we want robots to behave in a flexible manner, without having to program them first, we'll still have to teach them things," says Bielefeld computer scientist Lars Schillingmann. "And we can do that by programming them to recognize what we're saying and showing them." Schillingmann says iCub should learn like children learn from adults, including by listening, imitating, and trying things out. The researchers hope that iCub will be able to do more than just recognize the properties ascribed to a particular object, or only copy certain procedures in the future. "So, we can really teach him how to act," Schillingmann says. "In [the] future it will be just as easy to communicate with robots as it is with people."
Home Wi-Fi Routers Could Operate as Emergency Network, Say Scientists
Techworld (08/22/12) John E. Dunn
Home Wi-Fi routers could be used as a backup mesh network by fire, police, and ambulance services during emergencies in cities and towns with overwhelmed cell and phone systems, according to German researchers. In a test of the concept, Kamill Panitzek and colleagues at the Technical University in Darmstadt found 1,971 routers in central Darmstadt, 212 of which had no encryption applied, and others that used the obsolete WEP standard. On the basis of the pattern of routers, the team calculated that a resilient and sufficiently dense mesh network would be possible if a distance of about 30 meters between nodes was assumed. However, there were not enough open routers, which would require citizens to create an emergency switch mode to allow access to the number of nodes needed to create a viable mesh. Most recent home routers would be able to support the system without modification as long as they allow for the creation of an open guest network that runs in parallel to the user's secured Wi-Fi access. Beyond the density of routers available in a particular locality, getting users to agree to have an open channel enabled on their routers would be a barrier to the idea.
Voice-Stress Software Is Put to the Test
PhysOrg.com (08/22/12) Nancy Owano
Computer scientists have trained a system to detect stress in a person's voice. StressSense is designed to initially recognize someone's unstressed voice, then compare this recording to preprogrammed knowledge of stress-caused physiological changes, such as faster speech and clipped frequency spectrum. The prototype has a stress-recognition accuracy of 81 percent indoors and 76 percent outdoors. "We propose StressSense for unobtrusively recognizing stress from [a] human voice using smartphones," the researchers say. They note the StressSense classifier "can robustly identify stress across multiple individuals in diverse acoustic environments." The software has the potential to raise user awareness of stressful events and help them cope, says Intel's Hong Lu. The researchers demonstrated that stress from a human voice can be recognized using smartphones in indoor and outdoor conversational data, and that a universal stress model can be adapted to specific individual users. Furthermore, a stress model can be adapted to unseen environments, reducing the cost of training stress models for different situations, and the proposed stress classification pipeline can operate in real time on Android smartphones.
Watson Turns Medic: Supercomputer to Diagnose Disease
New Scientist (08/22/12) Jim Giles
IBM's supercomputer Watson is learning to use its language skills to help doctors diagnose patients. "It's a machine that can read everything and forget nothing," says physician Larry Norton at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. Watson handles medical questions by drawing on information from medical journals and clinical guidelines. In order to test the new application, Watson was given 188 questions that it had not seen before and achieved about 50 percent accuracy. To improve that percentage, Watson is currently absorbing tens of thousands of medical records concerning treatments and outcomes associated with individual patients. After being provided with data on a new patient, Watson looks for information on those with similar symptoms, as well as the treatments that have bee successful in the past. Watson is now answering basic questions based on the treatment guidelines that are published by medical societies and is showing very positive results, according to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center doctor William Audeh. The technology is especially useful in oncology because doctors struggle to keep up with the explosion of genomic and molecular data generated about each cancer type.
How Long Before Robots Can Think Like Us?
Telegraph.co.uk (08/21/12) Dan Falk
The University of Reading recently organized a Turing test marathon as part of the centenary celebrations of Alan Turning's birth. The competition involved 30 judges chatting electronically with 25 hidden humans and five sophisticated chatbots, which are computer programs designed to imitate human intelligence and ability to converse. In total, about 150 separate conversations were held. The winning program, called Eugene, attempted to have the personality of a 13-year-old boy and was able to fool the judges 29.2 percent of the time, just below the 30 percent threshold for artificial intelligence (AI). However, language is not the only cognitive tool that human use. "Human intelligence has to do with the breadth of things that we can do," according to Carnegie Mellon University researcher Manuela Veloso. A machine's ability to act human is aided by the amount of information that it has access to. What the Turing test measures is a computer's ability to deceive humans, according to Oxford University professor Roger Penrose. However, the greatest progress made in the field of AI is often derived from its application to very specific tasks, such as the satellite navigation system in an automobile.
Kiss Your Unfeeling Computer Goodbye
EE Times (08/21/12) Junko Yoshida
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor Rosalind Picard is at the forefront of affective computing, which involves making machines function more intelligently. One such application is an iPhone app, Cardio, which detects the user's heart rate through changes in facial skin color as the user looks at the iPhone camera. Picard also is involved in breaking down basic building blocks of human perception and emotion and identifying key emotional triggers. Computer vision is one of the first fields helped by affective computing. Providing computers with algorithms that help decode human emotion and psychological clues could increase the machines’ ability to extract the most important information from their users. Success in this area could have major implications for computer vision applications ranging from toys and airport security to video surveillance systems and equipment used in hospital rooms, according to Berkeley Design Technology president Jeff Bier. Picard's research has been used by researchers studying autistic children. The MIT researchers taught caregivers how to deal with autistic people by looking for signs, instead of teaching autistic people how to understand other people. "As the algorithms [for computers to read emotions] get more complex, they require computing machines that can speed up pattern recognition," Picard says.
Texas Advanced Computing Center (08/16/12) Paromita Pain
The Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) recently hosted the 6th annual Summer Supercomputing Institute (SSI). The week-long institute introduces researchers to the role of supercomputing in 21st century science, teaches the basics of simulation, modeling, and data-driven science, and provides a hands-on experience with TACC's supercomputing resources. At the event, University of Texas at San Antonio researcher Almoutaz El Hassan discussed how he is developing rainfall-runoff modeling tools to help officials manage issues such as flood management and water conservation. El Hassan plans to use supercomputing to create models with more accurate abilities to predict runoff and to integrate visualization into the modeling process. "We wanted to create a training experience where diverse groups of people interested in supercomputing could learn from our instructors and from each other," says TACC's Chris Hempel. In addition to tutorials covering topics from graphics processing unit computing to application tuning, SSI participants were offered one-on-one consulting sessions with the TACC experts who also teach the short courses. "We believe in a hands-on approach where experts on TACC's high-end systems explain how these resources can be best incorporated to further the research efforts of the attendees," Hempel says.
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