Welcome to the February 8, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
UK Creates Massive 200,000-Core 'HPC Service'
HPC Wire (02/07/13) Tiffany Trader
The United Kingdom recently launched Accelerator, its third high-performance computing service in the last 12 months, a 200,000-core system designed to accommodate a wide range of academic and industry applications. Accelerator was developed by augmenting HECToR, a Cray XE6platform, with an IBM BlueGene/Q supercomputer and an AMD dual configuration Linux-Windows cluster known as Indy. Accelerator is housed at the Edinburgh Parallel Computing Center (EPCC) and is designed to cater to almost every kind of research, including life and earth sciences, pharmaceuticals, energy, and engineering and product development workloads. "There is no limit to the application domain capability of our service machines," says EPCC's George Graham. HECToR and BlueGene are targeted at very high-scale, high-resolution simulation and modeling challenges. Graham notes the system can be accessed from anywhere in the world using an Internet connection. "At EPCC we undertake a lot of research work, and some of it is in the domain of grid and cloud computing, so it's not unfeasible to think that we would apply some of the lessons learned in order to provide mechanisms through which our independent architecture can be accessed via a holistic service," Graham says.
Crowdsourcing Grows Up as Online Workers Unite
New Scientist (02/07/13) Hal Hodson
Recent developments in crowdsourcing to make employers more accountable and give crowd workers more benefits are helping shift the balance of power more toward the employees. University of California, Irvine researcher Lilly Irani has developed Turkopticon, a review network that addresses the lack of accountability in Amazon's Mechanical Turk platform. Turkopticon enables Turkers to leave feedback on requesters that anyone else using the network can see, rating them on communicativity, generosity, fairness, and promptness. The system searches the Mechanical Turk Web site for the unique numbers that identify each requester, and then searches the Turkopticon database for reviews. Other crowd working platforms also have developed systems to address accountability issues. However, New School University's Trebor Scholz says these initiatives make little headway without legal redress for online workers. "People fought for 100 years for the eight-hour work day and paid vacation, against child labor," he points out. "All of that is wiped away in these digital environments."
Using Twitter to Predict the Influence of Lifestyle on Health
University of Rochester News (02/08/13) Leonor Sierra
University of Rochester researchers have used Twitter to model how factors such as social status, exposure to pollution, and interpersonal interaction can influence health. The technology enables researchers to passively monitor the population's health trends instead of conducting surveys. Many of the tweets are geo-tagged, which means they carry global positioning system information that shows exactly where the users were when they tweeted, notes Rochester researcher Adam Sadilek. Using tweets collected in New York City over a period of a month, the researchers examined 70 factors and whether they had a positive, negative, or neutral impact on the users' health. The technology has led to the development of GermTracker, a Web app that color-codes users based on their health by mining information from their tweets for 10 cities around the world. "This app can be used by people to make personal decisions about their health," Sadilek says. The researchers now are developing a machine-learning algorithm to determine if a tweet indicates the user is sick.
New Reports Define Strategic Vision, Propose R&D Priorities for Future Cyber-Physical Systems
NIST News (02/06/13) Mark Bello
Next-generation cyber-physical systems (CPS) will deliver extraordinary capabilities and tremendous benefits on scales ranging from individuals to organizations and from industries to national and global economies, according to new National Institute of Standards and Technology reports. "The disruptive technologies emerging from combining the cyber and physical worlds could provide an innovation engine for a broad range of U.S. industries, creating entirely new markets and platforms for growth," the reports say. CPS transcend modern embedded systems, which are mainly task-specific machines that operate under computer control. Anticipated CPS applications such as intelligent vehicles, highways, and next-generation air transportation will be significantly more ambitious, diverse, and integrated than those of embedded systems. The reports note the United States is well-positioned to capitalize on the competitive advantages of developing and mastering advanced CPS. Meanwhile, the European Union plans to invest $7 billion on embedded systems and CPS, with the goal of becoming a global leader in the field by 2020. The reports cite sectors that demonstrate both the promise and peril of expected CPS applications, such as smart manufacturing, smart utilities, smart buildings and infrastructure, and smart transportation and mobility.
Largest Known Prime Number--17M Digits Long--Discovered
Computerworld (02/05/13) Sharon Gaudin
The largest known prime number is more than 17 million digits long. Discovered by University of Central Missouri mathematician Curtis Cooper, the 48th known Mersenne prime is 2 [57,885,161] minus 1. The number would span more than 30 miles if it were typed out in a standard Times Roman 12-point font. Moreover, it would fill more than six Bibles. Cooper made the discovery on Jan. 25, according to the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search, which uses a grid of computers provided by volunteers to find large prime numbers. The grid that Cooper used had 360,000 central processing units peaking at 150 trillion calculations per second. The new Mersenne prime number was verified in independent testing using different programs running on different hardware. One test lasted 3.6 days and used a NVIDIA graphics processing unit, while another used an Intel Core i7 CPU and lasted 4.5 days.
Researchers Pushing the Boundaries of Virtual Reality
University of Texas at Dallas (TX) (02/05/13) LaKisha Ladson
University of Texas at Dallas (UT Dallas) researchers have developed virtual reality technology that creates an environment that interacts with users' sense of sight, hearing, and touch. They are developing a multimedia system that uses multiple three-dimensional (3D) cameras to create avatars of humans in two different places, and then places them in the same virtual space where they can interact. The researchers note the technology can be applied to physical therapists who work with patients in other locations. "It is one thing for a patient to say he or she did their exercises, but it is another to watch them in action, feel the force exerted, be able to correct them on the spot, and get immediate response," says UT Dallas professor Balakrishnan Prabhakaran. If both doctor and patient have haptic devices, the force applied by each can be sent to the other person. UT Dallas professor Xiaohu Guo is refining techniques to allow the data between haptic devices to be transmitted over the network more efficiently, and creating 3D images of original movements in real time. Professor Roozbeh Jafari has built wearable computers for monitoring different aspects of human health, behavior, and thought, and is developing sensors for the project.
White House Seeks Tech Innovation Fellows
InformationWeek (02/05/13) Elena Malykhina
The White House's Presidential Innovation Fellows program, launched last May, is broadening its efforts to recruit key private sector employees to work for a limited time on high-impact federal IT projects. The program needs fellows for its Disaster Response and Recovery project to pre-position technological tools to reduce the economic and safety impact of disasters. Another area of recruitment is the Cyber-Physical Systems initiative, with the government seeking new smart systems that use distributed sensing, control, and data analytics to aid the economy and job creation. Fellows also are needed for a 21st Century Financial Systems project that aims to improve the scalability and reduce the expenses of federal financial accounting systems, and for an Innovation Toolkit initiative that will create tools to improve federal worker responsiveness and efficiency. Finally, workers for the Development Innovation Ventures project will help the U.S. government identify, test, and scale new technologies aimed at tackling global challenges. The program also is seeking applicants for its existing programs. Although many fellows will need coding and other technology skills, other skills also are needed, including product and project management, business development, and operations re-engineering.
Internet Blackout in the U.S. a Near Impossibility
Investor's Business Daily (02/05/13) Sheila Riley
An Internet blackout in the United States is all but impossible due to its variety of Internet service providers and access channels, says Renesys, which rated countries based on their risk of Internet disconnection. The countries most vulnerable to blackout include Syria, Libya, Ethiopia, and Myanmar (Burma), and the least vulnerable include the United States, Canada, and the Netherlands, according to Renesys. A blackout in the United States would require an improbable scenario in which many providers were coerced or damaged simultaneously. By comparison, Syria, which experienced an Internet blackout in November, has only one or two Internet providers. Egypt has multiple providers, but in 2011 President Hosni Mubarak was able to take down the Internet over a period of days. Afghanistan has a perhaps surprisingly low risk of blackout due to the decentralization of its government and Internet providers, as well as their geographical diversity, with large distances to cover. The fact that private industry controls networks in the United States contributes to the Internet's stability, says Gartner analyst John Pescatore. In other countries, especially in the Mideast and Europe, the government permits few providers, making blackouts more feasible, Pescatore notes.
Faster Video Streaming
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Telecommunications' Heinrich Hertz Institute (HHI) are developing new types of data transfer that enable networks to handle huge amounts of data. "We are combining the new LTE mobile communication standard with the [High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC)] video compression standard, taking the best parts from both technologies," says HHI's Thomas Schierl. He notes that LTE networks transfer videos and other volumes of data faster, and have shorter time lags, than conventional UMTS standards for data transfer; this is especially critical for videoconferencing, where participants do not want to experience long waits for the responses of their dialogue partner to be transmitted. "LTE allows resources to be distributed to users of mobile services in a very flexible manner," says HHI's Thomas Wirth. "In addition, new protocols carry information about the application being used, which makes it possible to further optimize transmission." The researchers are integrating LTE technology with the HEVC video compression standard, which will deliver videos to mobile devices at an even greater speed. "The combination of the two standards will transform user behavior," Schierl predicts.
The Five Hottest IT Jobs Over the Next Five Years
NextGov.com (02/05/13) Brittany Ballenstedt
The five hottest technology jobs over the next five years will be project integrator, dual security developer, cloud administrator, virtual connection engineer, and natural language speech scientist, according to a Dice.com report. The predictions are based on four key information technology trends: The cloud, mobility, smart computing, and bring your own devices. "Nowadays, technology trends are driving changes in business," the report notes. "And that switch is going to impact what employers expect from you and the kinds of skills you'll need to develop over the next few years." Employers will look for project integrators to select cloud services to get projects out the door, and for dual security developers to create software security features and strategies for protecting physical resources such as data centers. Employers also will look to cloud administrators to integrate cloud services into a framework that works for the organization, and to virtual connection engineers to integrate URLs for social media, mobile information, cloud data, and other services into a single, cohesive stream. Meanwhile, natural language speech scientists will design and develop voice-navigated systems such as Apple's Siri to keep up with user expectations.
Listening to Electrons: New Method Brings Scaling-Up Quantum Devices One Step Closer
University of Sydney (02/01/13)
In a major quantum computing and nanotechnology advance, physicists from the University of Sydney and the University of California, Santa Barbara have discovered a more convenient way to detect charge changes of single electrons on quantum dots. "Electrons confined to quantum dots are very nice systems for storing and manipulating quantum information, where data is encoded in the quantum mechanical aspects of the electron," says Sydney professor David Reilly. "Our goal is to scale-up a large number of quantum dots to ultimately create a machine to process quantum information--a quantum computer." The energy spectrum of quantum dots can be manipulated in laboratories, and the ability to detect single-electron charges on quantum dots is critical for reading information from quantum mechanical systems. The team used gate electrodes already in the system to detect charge; using electrodes already in place facilitates the construction and use of the quantum system. The new method also enables read-out on large dot arrays with no limit on the array size. "In a similar way to how billions of transistors can now be placed on a single silicon computer chip, in the future we would like to engineer semiconductor chips containing huge numbers of interacting quantum two-level systems called qubits," says Sydney researcher James Colless.
Competition That Computes
Harvard Gazette (01/31/13) Peter Reuell
Harvard University recently held its second IACS Computational Challenge, part of the ComputeFest program hosted by the Institute for Applied Computational Science (IACS). Last year, participants designed a system for evacuating a city following a natural disaster, but this year organizers wanted the challenge to be more engaging and attract more people. Eight teams of programmers competed to design the best program for playing foosball, and they had just two days to test their mathematical and computational skills and emerge victorious in a 10-round tournament. Losers would fine-tune their code before the next match, but the team of Ph.D. students James Damore and Bo Waggoner was declared the winner after more than an hour of competition. They first modeled the game as though none of the players were able to move, then found the optimal strategy for those conditions. "We just put our players in a peak distribution, and our strategy was to just have one player chase the ball on top of that distribution," Waggoner says.
With Evolved Brains, Robots Creep Closer to Animal-Like Learning
Fast Company (02/01/13) Lakshmi Sandhana
Robotics researchers are studying how biological brains evolve, with the goal of developing robotic brains that are more animal-like. The researchers combined neural networks with evolutionary concepts from developmental biology, and grew artificial digital brains that can take a simulated or physical robot body, recognize the type of body, and evolve the neural patterns needed to control it. "With developmental biology, it realizes the nature of its body, grows a brain that sees the four legs, creates similar neural wiring patterns for each leg, and thus produces regular gaits that have all four legs working together," says University of Wyoming professor Jeffrey Clune. During testing, the researchers let the brains evolve and control a body in simulation for hundreds of generations until they got the walking motion right, and then transferred control to the physical robot. The researchers say their breakthrough enables them to develop brains that are structurally organized like biological brains and composed of many neural modules. "As we begin to learn more about how nature produces its exquisite designs, the sky’s the limit: There’s no reason we cannot evolve robots as smart and capable as jaguars, hawks, and human beings," Clune says.
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