Welcome to the October 19, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Climate Change Research Gets Petascale Supercomputer
Computerworld (10/16/12) Patrick Thibodeau
The U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) recently began using Yellowstone, a 1.5 petaflop IBM system that is currently one of the top 20 supercomputers in the world. The system also is the most powerful supercomputer dedicated to geosciences, according to NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputer Center researchers. Yellowstone will be used on several geoscience research issues, including climate change, severe weather, oceanography, air quality, geomagnetic storms, earthquakes, tsunamis, wildfires, subsurface water, and energy resources. Yellowstone enables researchers to run more experiments with increased complexity and at a higher resolution. Marika Holland, whose research focuses on how climate change is affecting the polar region, says less-powerful systems are running models at "more of an approximation than we would like." She says the higher resolutions afforded by the new system will let researchers explicitly examine the influence of storms on Arctic Sea ice, along with ice reductions along the coast and coastal erosion. Yellowstone represents an approximately 30-fold improvement over NCAR's existing 77 teraflop supercomputer.
Paging Dr. Watson: Artificial Intelligence as a Prescription for Health Care
Wired (10/12) Brandon Keim
IBM wants to use its Watson supercomputer to revolutionize the medical research field. IBM thinks Watson could analyze the world's medical knowledge in microseconds, and use the information to advise doctors. Experts put misdiagnosis rates at about 10 percent, a number that varies depending on the condition, but in some cases goes much higher. Watson could help prevent those mistakes, according to IBM researchers. Watson's database could be constantly updated with the latest medical knowledge, bringing to every doctor insights that often take years to filter out of academia. IBM has recently forged partnerships with WellPoint and the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and is expected offer Watson commercially to hospitals within the next few years. Children's Hospital Boston physician Susan Saleeb helped develop the Standardized Clinical Assessment and Management Plans, which analyze patient information and recommend treatments via a specialized algorithm, which could be utilized by Watson. "The Watson system seems like it would be ideal for data analysis and hypothesis testing," Saleeb says. Additionally, Watson could free doctors to focus on relationships, according to University of Pittsburgh Medical Center chief medical and scientific officer Steve Shapiro.
Should High Schools Teach Big Data?
InformationWeek (10/16/12) Ellis Booker
TechAmerica Foundation's Big Data Commission aims to prepare the United States for future high-tech jobs, especially those focused around data. Analytics and data science are central to making "business, the global economy, and our society work better," says Big Data Commission co-chair Steve Mills. The commission's recent report, "Demystifying Big Data: A Practical Guide to Transforming the Business of Government," emphasized strengthening and expanding public-private partnerships to invest in skills-building initiatives for the federal workforce in the area of big data. Some experts want to expand these initiatives into the high school curriculum. TerraEchos founder and CTO Alex Philp has been working with the high schools in Missoula, Mont., to create a scholarship program that introduces big data topics to computer science students. "Ultimately, I hope these high school students feed into opportunities at the University of Montana and then ultimately into the most exciting businesses and markets involving big data," Philp says. Other programs, such as IBM's Innovation summer camp, allow students to gain hands-on experience in a variety of high-tech fields.
Computer Viruses Are 'Rampant' on Medical Devices in Hospitals
Technology Review (10/17/12) David Talbot
The National Institute of Standards and Technology's Information Security & Privacy Advisory Board has found that computerized hospital equipment is increasingly vulnerable to malware infections. Additionally, as software-controlled medical equipment has become more interconnected in recent years, often running on variants of Windows, it also has become a common target for hackers. The problem is compounded by the fact that many manufacturers refuse to modify their equipment, even to add security features. "Conventional malware is rampant in hospitals because of medical devices using unpatched operating systems," says University of Michigan researcher and panel member Kevin Fu. Often the malware is associated with botnets, and once it lodges inside a computer, it tries to contact command-and-control servers for instructions, according to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center's Mark Olson. However, malware problems on hospital devices are rarely reported to state or federal regulators because hospitals believe there is little recourse, according to Olson and Fu. "Many CTOs are not aware of how to protect their own products with restrictive firewalls," says Beth Israel CIO John Halamka.
Image Analysis May Allow Pathologists to Expedite Diagnoses
Penn State Live (10/16/12) Curtis Chan
Pennsylvania State University researchers are using image recognition technology to develop an automated method of classifying histopathological images. "The idea is if you have a collection of images, can you automatically put them in categories?" asks professor Vishal Monga. He notes that of particular interest was that veterinarians with the university's Animal Diagnostic Laboratory (ADL) were capturing histopathological images of tissues. ADL's five pathologists examine more than 10,000 slides over the course of a year, says ADL veterinary pathologist Art Hattel. The time to adequately evaluate a slide can take between seven to 25 minutes, according to Hattel. Graduate student Umamahesh Srinivas says Penn State electrical engineers designed tools to mimic how human pathologists classify tissue samples. Once these tools were developed, researchers achieved 80 percent to 85 percent accuracy in automatically categorizing the tissue samples in three areas: Healthy, inflammation, and necrosis, Monga says. He says the software could undergo a training phase to learn what healthy and diseased tissues looks like, after which it would be capable of processing thousands of images in a second. The researchers are now applying for larger grants to continue their effort to further develop the image recognition technology.
Robots That Perceive the World Like Humans
Basque Research (10/18/12)
UPV/EHU-University researchers are studying how to improve robot behavior by means of perception models that are closer to those of humans. As part of the eSMCs project, the UPV/EHU researchers want to change the paradigm and generate more dynamic computer models in which action is not just a consequence of perception, but an integral part of the perception process. "Our basic idea is that when we perceive, what is there is active exploration, a particular coordination with the surroundings, like a kind of invisible dance than makes vision possible," says UPV/EHU researcher Xabier Barandiaran. The eSMCs project aims to apply this idea to the computer models used in robots, improve their behavior, and understand the nature of the human mind. The eSMCs project researchers claim that actions play an important role in perception, as well as in the development of more complex cognitive capacities. "Our main aim is to be able to define technical concepts like the sensorimotor habitat, or that of the pattern of sensorimotor coordination, as well as that of habit or of mental life as a whole," Barandiaran says.
Could Hackers Change Our Election Results?
Dark Reading (10/18/12) Ericka Chickowski
Malicious hackers motivated by a desire to undermine the public's confidence in the nation's voting process could exploit both new and old vulnerabilities to carry out cyberattacks on electronic voting systems and databases containing voter information, security experts say. States have generally failed to correct the vulnerabilities in their e-voting systems that security experts identified nearly a decade ago. These vulnerabilities include weak encryption and poor authentication, as well as common security flaws such as buffer overflows and SQL injections. Security researchers warn that hackers could break into e-voting databases such as those being used by Washington state and Maryland to change the addresses of certain voters in order to disenfranchise them. If that happens and it is evident that the validity of an election has been compromised, it could undermine the public's confidence in the voting process, says RSA Conference program committee chairman Hugh Thompson. However, Viewfinity CEO Leonid Shtilman says it would be difficult for hackers to change the results of elections by attacking voter databases and electronic voting systems, since information stored in databases is synced in several different locations and can be compared for missing or altered data.
Computer Science About to Get More Hip
Georgia Institute of Technology (10/13/12)
Georgia Tech's EarSketch is a project that teaches high school students how to write computer code to form musical remixes. The project is now partnering with producer Gimel Keaton, who will work with faculty to create new audio content for the program. "Atlanta high school students will have a chance to learn about computer science with help from one of the biggest producers in hip-hop," says Georgia Tech professor Brian Magerko. EarSketch is funded by the National Science Foundation and seeks to spur interest in computer science careers among high school students. The program is now in its second year and targets minorities and girls, but its approach is designed to appeal widely. EarSketch uses the Python programming language and Cockos' Reaper, a digital audio workstation program similar to those used in recording studios. "Young people don't always realize that computer science and programming can be fun," says Georgia Tech professor Jason Freeman, who oversees EarSketch with Magerko. "Students are using EarSketch to remix samples and loops to express their own creative musical ideas as they learn computer science principles."
Women Use Emoticons More Than Men in Text Messaging :-)
Rice University (10/10/12) David Ruth
Rice University researchers have found that women are twice as likely as men to use emoticons in text messages. The study used smartphone data taken from about 124,000 text messages from men and women over a six-month period. The participants were given free iPhones to use for the test period, but were not told what the researchers were studying. "We believe that our study represents the first naturalistic and longitudinal study that collects real emoticon use from text messages 'in the wild,'" says Rice professor Philip Kortum. During the study, all of the participants used emoticons at least once, but just four percent of the total number of text messages examined contained an emoticon. "Texting does not appear to require as much socio-emotional context as other means of nonverbal communications," Kortum notes. The researchers also found that although women use emoticons more often than men, men use a wider variety of emoticons to express themselves. During the experiment, 74 different emoticons were used but the top three emoticons, those used to symbolize happy, sad, and very happy, made up 70 percent of the total emoticons sent by the participants.
There’s an App for That: College Students say Biden Won Debate
University of California, Davis (10/12/12) Karen Nikos
University of California (UC), Davis researchers have developed a smartphone application that can conduct real-time nationwide polls. Recently, the application showed that 60 percent of college students thought that Joe Biden outperformed Paul Ryan in the vice presidential debate. About 1,500 college students across the country participated in the poll, which allows users to click buttons that say "agree," "disagree," "dodge," or "spin" for every statement made during the debate. The polling will continue for the remainder of the presidential debates. "It's clear from their responses that they have strong opinions about the candidates in both directions and that they know when the candidates are spinning an issue or dodging a question," says UC Davis professor Amber Boydstun, who co-created the app. Before the vice presidential debate, more than half of the app users said they were Democrats, and 31 percent said they were Republicans. The poll participants included slightly more men than women, and over 60 percent of participants were white, 13 percent were Hispanic, 9 percent were African American, 9 percent were Asian, and 5 percent were "other."
Tackling the Tech Gender Gap by Teaching Girls to Code
WBEZ Chicago Public Radio (10/11/12) Tricia Bobeda
Across the country, only 12 percent of computer science majors are women, and while women make up more than half of the workforce, they only hold about 25 percent of technology jobs, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology. The barriers for women in technology start long before they reach the classroom or the workforce, according to Northside College Prep computer science teacher Don Yanek. The drastic gender gap is a problem for both technology producers and consumers. "I think if we want our technology to represent our society, then we need to have programmers, engineers, computer scientists in proportion to the number of men and women in our society," says American Association of University Women researcher Christianne Corbett. Chicago Tech Academy co-founder and director Matt Hancock wants to help remove the stereotype that coding is just for nerdy white men. The girls at the Academy are not fazed by the gender gap they will eventually face working in IT jobs. The young women learning to code at the Academy have long-term goals, and see technology skills as a way to help achieve those goals.
The Internet of Things Will Transform Our Everyday
Technical Research Centre of Finland (10/17/12)
Technical Research Center of Finland (VTT) researchers have developed several ubiquitous computing technologies, such as situation awareness for portable devices, mixed and augmented reality, and interoperability solutions enabling devices made by different vendors to share information. "VTT is developing [universal Identification] technology with our Japanese partner, the University of Tokyo," says VTT professor Heikki Ailisto. He notes the technology helps makes possible the Internet of things (IoT) by enabling the identification and tracking of individual products, components, and food products. IoT will connect 50 billion devices, machines, and objects. Ailisto says universal identification and IoT will revolutionize technology and business, and VTT wants to create a technological operating environment to take advantage of this new paradigm. VTT has been developing universal Identification applications and basic technology as part of the Open Smart Spaces (OPENS) program. OPENS has helped develop the interoperability platform Smart M3, which enables different appliances and objects in a home to communicate with each other and share information.
Five Years of COMPETES
Computing Research Policy Blog (09/19/2012) Melissa Norr
The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee recently held a hearing, entitled "Five Years of America COMPETES Act: Progress, Challenges, and Next Steps," that explored the successes of the past and necessary improvements required of the United States to remain the global leader in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) research and education in the future. Former CRA Board chair Peter Lee talks about an innovation ecosystem that exists because of an intentional partnership between academia, private industry, and government. Although the COMPETES Act has already been reauthorized once, there has still not been enough time to realize the full potential of the legislation, according to hearing chairman Jay Rockefeller. The COMPETES Act is about jobs and the ability of Americans to compete for STEM jobs with the rest of the world, according to Rising Above the Gathering Storm report co-chair Norm Augustine. Additionally, there is a need to change how students are educated in STEM. Research shows that learning STEM fields is not a transfer of knowledge, but rather a development of the brain to think and learn in new ways, says University of Colorado Boulder professor Carl Weiman.
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