Welcome to the March 11, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Computer Science Enrollments Soared Last Year, Rising 30%
Computerworld (03/08/13) Patrick Thibodeau
The number of new undergraduate computing majors in U.S. computer science departments increased more than 29 percent in 2012, marking the fifth straight year of computer science enrollment growth, according to the Computing Research Association's (CRA) Taulbee Survey, which polls computer science departments at Ph.D.-granting institutions. CRA's Peter Harsha says today's students are more aware of the importance of computational thinking in most other fields of science and technology. The Taulbee Survey found a 20-percent enrollment increase in bachelor degree programs for computer science. Although women remain underrepresented in computer science, the most recent survey did report a slight increase in new female graduates, growing from 11.7 percent in 2011 to 12.9 percent in 2012. The survey also found that 8.2 percent more students earned Ph.D's in computer science in 2012 compared to 2011.
Algorithms Get a Human Hand in Steering Web
New York Times (03/10/13) Steve Lohr
As the work computers do becomes increasingly complex, humans often are called upon to provide the programs with context and nuance. "For all their brilliance, computers can be thick as a brick," says Carnegie Mellon University professor Tom M. Mitchell. Humans can interpret and tweak information so that both computers and other humans can understand it. At Google, the human contribution to search results is increasing. Google presents summaries of information that is relevant to search queries based on databases of knowledge such as Wikipedia, the C.I.A. World Factbook, and Freebase, all of which are edited by humans. Humans also help Google develop alterations to its search algorithm. "Our engineers evolve the algorithm, and humans help us see if a suggested change is really an improvement," says Google's Scott Huffman. IBM's Watson supercomputer is also relying on humans for help. To prepare for its role in assisting doctors, Watson is being fed medical texts, scientific papers, and digital patient records. Watson asks a team of clinicians questions and they provide answers and correct the computer's mistakes. "We’re using medical experts to help Watson learn, make it smarter going forward," says IBM's Eric Brown.
China's Next-Generation Internet Is a World-Beater
New Scientist (03/11/13) Hal Hodson
China is developing a next-generation national Internet that reportedly is on a larger scale than anything being developed in the West. One of the most important aspects of China's new Internet is a security feature, called Source Address Validation Architecture, which adds checkpoints across the network, creating a database of trusted computers matched with their IP addresses. Packets of data will be blocked if the computer and IP address do not match. In addition, "China has a national Internet backbone in place that operates under IPv6 as the native network protocol," says University of Maryland researcher and Chinese American Network Symposium chairman Donald Riley. "We have nothing like that in the U.S." China already is providing next-generation Web services via 3TNet, an Internet service provider that offers the foundation for a system that monitors and controls traffic flow over the Internet. "If you are thinking about the future of the Internet, anyone that explores that territory and maps it out first has a definite competitive advantage, especially with the resources available to China," Riley says.
In Wake of Cyberattacks, China Seeks New Rules
New York Times (03/10/13) David Barboza
Responding to accusations that China's military is responsible for a wave of high-profile international cyberattacks, foreign minister Yang Jiechi is calling for international rules and cooperation on cyberespionage. Reports of China's involvement in the attacks are "built on shaky ground," Yang says, adding that “anyone who tries to fabricate or piece together a sensational story to serve a political motive will not be able to blacken the name of others nor whitewash themselves." Although the cyberattacks were traced to Internet addresses inside China, China says it has traced cyberattacks on its systems to the United States. U.S. and Canadian experts say evidence is mounting that China is behind attacks on Western governments and businesses, and that information stolen pertains to China's government. The White House is expected to address the issue with China, as U.S. intelligence officials also believe China's government is involved in the attacks.
More Secure Bank Cards
CORDIS News (03/07/13)
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research have developed an automated system for inspecting handwritten signatures directly on a bank card. The system, which features a device with a biometric on-card comparison that inspects the signature, is designed to make payment transactions more convenient. The Fraunhofer system can ascertain if the cardholder's signature is genuine based on the chronological progression of the pen's position. "The combination of knowledge, possession, and biometrics is ideal, and guarantees a substantial additional benefit to the convenience and security for the cardholder," says Fraunhofer researcher Alexander Nouak. He notes the system meets all the conventional standards, so that it can be recorded onto any ordinary EC or bank credit card. "The comparison between the presented data and the biometric data stored in the card is done directly on the chip in the bank card, which is protected according to established standards," Nouak says. As a result, he says it is impossible for the biometric data to be stolen through an external device.
Report Highlights Latest Data on Women, Minorities and Persons With Disabilities in Science and Engineering
National Science Foundation (03/05/13) Deborah Wing
The U.S. National Science Foundation has released a report on the education and employment patterns of women, persons with disabilities, American Indians, African Americans, and Hispanics in science and engineering (S&E). These groups are still underrepresented in S&E, according to the report. Although women have increasingly pursued S&E degrees over the past 20 years, they still earn a smaller proportion of degrees. Their participation is lowest in computer science and engineering, as they were awarded only 18 percent to 28 percent of these degrees since 1991. Underrepresented minorities also have obtained more S&E bachelor's and master's degrees over the last two decades; however since 2000, their share in engineering has been flat and their share in mathematics has declined. Minority scientists and engineers have higher unemployment rates than whites, and Caucasian women are most likely to be employed part-time.
Making Music Wins Over Computer Science Majors
Wake Forest University (03/08/13) Stephanie Skordas
Wake Forest University professor Jennifer Burg led a research effort to see if a hands-on music project as part of an entry-level digital music class could help students learn complex computer science concepts. Burg let students immediately use several digital music tools, such as the Audacity and Sonar programs, while she asked questions and performed demonstrations. She then assigned textbook readings, and the students used the technology to complete a project. Burg's students reported an increased understanding of such topics as sampling and quantization, sound synthesis for MIDI, and aliasing. In addition, the students showed an increased aptitude and interest in electronics, physics, and math, among other topics. "Students don't learn linearly anymore. They are of a much more need-to-know nature, because there is so much more information out there," Burg says. “If you give the students a lot more ownership and allow them to pursue their ideas rather than direct them too closely, you get much better results because they are so creative and they have great ideas." The researchers also created an interactive, online text to accompany the coursework.
New Software Could Help Cut Hospital Admissions
University of Manchester (03/07/13) Alison Barbuti
University of Manchester researchers working on the Greater Manchester Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care project have developed the Collaborative Online Care Pathway Investigation Tool (COCPIT), software that enables medical professionals to track a patient's progress through the healthcare system and identify where care differs from guidelines. "Our researchers have created an innovative software tool that enables health professionals to better understand the provision of healthcare services and opportunities for quality improvement," says Manchester's John Ainsworth. He notes the software will improve healthcare planning by identifying inconsistencies and inequalities and enable healthcare professionals to specifically focus on highlighting social inequalities in care. Furthermore, the tool will help assess clinical outcomes and economic impacts of intervention strategies and potential changes to care pathways intended to improve patient care and public health. "By making it easier to explore electronic health records, COCPIT helps clinicians and managers to understand patient populations, target service delivery, reduce work repetition, and improve patient care," Ainsworth says.
Students Develop Secure New Procedure for Online Banking
Universitat Tubingen, Germany (03/06/2013) Antje Karbe
University of Tubingen researchers, working with GFT Technologies, have developed a process that makes online banking more secure. When customers want to make a bank transfer from home, the bank sends them a transaction authentication number (TAN) for each transaction, which is confirmed when the TAN is entered. However, the process is risky because TANs are sent by text message or generated by a chip TAN device. With the new NFC-TAN process, the TAN-generating device is replaced by the user's smartphone. The user sees a two-dimensional code on their home computer, and scans this into their phone using a special bank app. Once the transaction is confirmed on the smartphone display, the user holds the account card up to the phone, and the card generates the TAN and transmits it via near-field communication technology to the phone. "It is a more secure procedure than the text-message TAN," says Tubingen's Bernd Borchert. He also notes it is easier than employing a TAN generator, as no additional device is required.
Stanford Research Project Uses Crowdsourcing to Organize Inboxes
Chronicle of Higher Education (03/06/13) Jake New
Stanford University researchers have created EmailValet, which employs crowdsourcing to read and organize a user's inbox. EmailValet uses a crowdsourced assistant, located on the website oDesk, to read messages and create a to-do list for the user. Users can establish limits on the types of emails their assistants can read. The concept originated with Stanford Ph.D. student Nicolas Kokkalis, who used online crowdsourced contractors to manage his crowded inbox when he launched his own company in 2009. Together with Stanford’s Human-Computer Interaction group, Kokkalis addressed trust issues associated with having another person read a user's email. The group surveyed nearly 600 people and found that just 4 percent were willing to hand over complete access to their inboxes, and about 50 percent of respondents were uncomfortable with the idea of allowing a stranger to sort through their messages, notes project adviser Michael S. Bernstein. However, attitudes shifted when the group conducted a study with 28 testers using EmailValet, with only three participants saying they would not use the system by the end of the study. Kokkalis says the research could change the perception of crowdsourcing as low-paid, mechanical work to highly paid and respected employment.
NIST, Stanford Collaborate to Catalog Early Microcomputing Software Data
NIST Tech Beat (03/05/13) Chad Boutin
The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is cataloging about 15,000 software titles from the early days of microcomputing. Stanford University Libraries (SUL) has made the software available to NIST's National Software Reference Library (NSRL), which will render the physical packaging and bit-for-bit copies of the original software code into images. NIST will return the original digital materials, but will retain the images at its NSRL collection. NSRL will create short data profiles called hashes, and make them available to researchers. The software comes from the Stephen M. Cabrinety Collection in the History of Microcomputing at Stanford. The project could, among other things, make it easier for researchers to study violence in video games and its social impact, says NSRL director Barbara Guttman. "These early software titles are part of our history--they are part of business culture, of pop culture, of our art," she notes. "How people interacted with computers in the first days of microcomputing, and how that affected people, is something we know little about." Stanford also plans to make the entire code of this collection available once SUL addresses some intellectual property issues.
Microsoft Opens Window to Future of Touch and Gesture Computing
eWeek (03/04/13) Pedro Hernandez
Microsoft's newly-rebuilt Envisioning Center offers visitors glimpses of technologies that Microsoft thinks will become widespread over the next five to 10 years, with an emphasis on touch, voice, and gesture-based computer interaction. Expected to become common are fluid, modern, and graphically-rich interfaces and touch-enabled devices that will push PCs into the background. Among the futuristic scenarios highlighted by the Envisioning Center is a smart kitchen that can perceive an ingredient, suggest recipes, and guide the cook through meal preparation. The technology currently is in a testbed phase, but soon will be realized commercially. Microsoft is relying on technologies such as cloud computing and its Kinect sensor to clear a path to intuitive, seamless, and ubiquitous computing experiences. Not long after Kinect's rollout, hackers demonstrated ways to tweak the technology so it could perform functions beyond video-game control. Early initiatives included a 3D holographic mapping system and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Personal Robotics Group's KinectBot, a robot capable of navigating and mapping its environment in 3D. Microsoft has since launched a Kinect software development kit and a Windows PC-enabled version of the Kinect.
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