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Welcome to the October 2, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Universities Join IBM in Cognitive Computing Research Project
IDG News Service (10/02/13) Jeremy Kirk

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, New York University, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute are working with IBM on a cognitive computing project that aims to build computers that operate in a manner closer to the human mind. IBM says the project, which will build on the technology used in its Watson computer, seeks to meet the need for additional research to identify systems and processes to support computing models that enable systems and people to work together in different domains of expertise. The researchers hope to explore how applications can boost group decision making, how processing power and algorithms apply to artificial intelligence, how systems should be designed for more natural interaction, and how deep learning impacts automated pattern recognition in science. The researchers want cognitive computers to be able to process natural language and unstructured data, learning by experience as humans do, according to IBM. "Computers today are just very large, very fast number crunchers and information manipulators," IBM says. "They can process lots of data, but they really don't think."

Study Finds Math and Science Exposure Has Significant Impact on Intent to Study STEM Fields
Inside Higher Ed (10/01/13) Megan Rogers

Early exposure to math and science has a greater influence on high school students' interest in majoring in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields than does math achievement, according to a new study. Math achievement was once thought to be the biggest predictor of enrollment in STEM programs. Exposure to math and science gives students an opportunity to develop their interests and experience the wonders and joys of math and science, says University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Xueli Wang. "It's speaking to the holistic experience rather than the one-shot test score," Wang notes. However, for students from ethnic groups underrepresented in STEM, the exposure effect has a smaller impact. The study also found that male students reported more belief in their math skills than female students with comparable achievement. "We all need to be mindful of racial differences, especially if we are thinking of diversifying our STEM pipeline," Wang emphasizes. Other factors affecting a student's likelihood to major in a STEM field that the study covered included initial post-secondary experiences such as interaction with faculty and academic advisers, and the receipt of financial aid.

U.S. Agencies Revamp Standards for Cybersecurity Program
Chronicle of Higher Education (09/30/13) Megan O'Neil

The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are releasing new curriculum standards for the joint National Centers of Academic Excellence cybersecurity program. The designation currently covers 181 cyber­-security programs at colleges and universities, and the overhaul will require institutions to reapply for the program. "Every cybersecurity professional that comes out of college and takes a job is a win for the government, whether they work for John Deere, Boeing, or Target," says DHS cybersecurity­-education awareness branch chief Robin Williams, noting that global cybercrime costs $388 billion annually. "We are losing intellectual property. We are losing our nation's work and our nation's vision and our nation's ingenuity because we are not able to protect it." The Centers of Academic Excellence label carries prestige for colleges and universities, helping attract students and federal scholarships and grants. However, the program's former training guidelines, the Committee on National Security Systems standards, were criticized for recommending that students learn how to execute specific technical functions. In addition, critics argued that too many programs received the designation, thereby lessening its value. NSA and DHS have changed the standards to include new knowledge units with a core curriculum and additional, optional units that colleges can implement to promote specialties.

UW Engineers Invent Programming Language to Build Synthetic DNA
UW News (WA) (09/30/13) Michelle Ma

University of Washington researchers have developed a programming language for chemistry that they hope will streamline efforts to design a network that can guide the behavior of chemical-reaction mixtures in the same way that embedded electronic controllers guide devices. The language is used to write programs that direct the movement of tailor-made molecules. "The vision is that eventually, you can use this technology to build general-purpose tools," says Washington professor Georg Seelig. He notes the approach is similar to programming languages that tell a computer what to do. "I think this is appealing because it allows you to solve more than one problem," Seelig says. Although the researchers say their approach is not ready to be applied in practical medicine, future uses could include using the framework to make molecules that self-assemble within cells and serve as "smart" sensors. These sensors could be embedded in a cell and programmed to detect abnormalities and respond as needed by delivering drugs to those cells.

Android Fingerprint Sensors 6 Months Away
USA Today (10/01/13) Byron Acohido

The FIDO Alliance, a group of 48 tech companies led by PayPal and Lenovo, is aggressively pushing a new standard of biometric identification for consumer access to mobile payments and other services. FIDO Alliance president Michael Barrett anticipates the rollout of Android models with FIDO-compliant biometric fingerprint sensors in six months. FIDO is designed to reduce, if not completely eliminate, the use of passwords to access accounts on mobile devices. Although the Touch ID fingerprint sensor included in Apple's latest iPhone is not FIDO-compliant, Barrett says it is a simple matter to adapt the technology to his group's standard. In the meantime, he is working to convince other hardware manufacturers and online companies to agree on common rules for enabling consumers to use their computing devices more centrally in the authentication process. "We make tradeoffs to balance security with convenience," notes RSA's Manoj Nair. "The next generation of identity protection will allow us to be more convenient and secure at the same time."

Quantum Computers Check Each Other’s Work
Science (09/29/13)

University of Vienna physicists have developed a strategy for verifying the solutions of quantum computers that relies on a blind quantum computing technique. Quantum computers receive qubits and use them to perform tasks, although they are blind to input, output, and computations executed. The researchers used traps to test a computer's accuracy, involving short intermediate calculations for which the user already knows the solution. "In case the quantum computer does not do its job properly, the trap delivers a result that differs from the expected one," says Vienna physicist Philip Walther, explaining that the traps enable users to determine when the quantum computer is inaccurate. He says their technique shows experimentally that quantum computers can verify one another's solutions, and theoretically that any size of quantum computer can be used to check another. Users can better ensure quantum computer accuracy by adding more traps to the system. "The test is designed in such a way that the quantum computer cannot distinguish the trap from its normal tasks," Walther says. Although the experiments are currently in the proof of concept phase, "they're necessary first steps if we're ever going to have useful quantum computers," says Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Scott Aaronson.

Mobile Tech and Talk Therapies Strike at the Moment Binge Eating Urges Do
Drexel Now (09/27/13) Rachel Ewing; Britt Faulstick

Drexel University researchers have developed TakeControl, a smartphone app that tracks users' individual patterns of eating behavior and alerts them at times when they are at risk for binge behaviors. Users can record their binge-eating activities and urges, multiple mood states, and whether or not they have eaten regular meals and taken their prescription medications. As the app learns about an individual's patterns of binge-eating behavior and their individual triggers, it can prompt them with a warning alert when their personal risk is high. "It could be an emotion like rejection, loneliness, sadness, or anxiety, or something external such as passing a certain convenience store, or a time of day or night," says Drexel professor Evan Forman. After the warning, users can follow the app's customized interventions to help them in the moment when they need it. TakeControl users can choose how much and how little of their personal data to enter to enable the app to help them. "Using the data visualization modules, people can chart their behavior patterns over time," says Drexel's Stephanie Goldstein. In the future, the researchers plan for the app to include connections with other technologies for automatic personal data tracking, such as smart pill bottles, Web-connected scales and activity bands, and existing diet and fitness-tracking apps.

Stretchable OLEDs for Displays, Lighting
EE Times (09/27/13) R. Colin Johnson

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) researchers have demonstrated a transparent, elastic organic light-emitting diode (OLED) prototype. The researchers say future stretchable and bendable OLEDs could redefine the user experience with a new class of smartphones, smart electronic clothing, and wallpaper-like lighting panels. "Being stretchable and highly flexible means that OLED lighting panels and displays could be like wallpaper--very thin, lightweight, and collapsible into a small volume when not in use," says UCLA professor Qibing Pei. To prove the concept, the researchers fabricated two small stretchable OLEDs, one a lighting panel and the other a passive 5-by-5 pixel display. Both devices were demonstrated to be bendable, foldable, and stretchable. In order to achieve a stretchable, bendable OLED, the researchers reengineered all the materials in an OLED stack. "First was the development of a transparent compliant conductor comprising a percolation network of silver nanowires in the surface layer of an elastomer film," Pei says. "The second key development is an OLED architecture that we call light-emitting electrochemical cell." In the future, the researchers want to develop encapsulation methods that protect the organic materials from deterioration in the presence of air.

S&T Professor Develops 'Brain' for Robots
Missouri S&T News (09/26/13) Peter Ehrhard

Missouri University of Science and Technology researchers have developed a feedback system to remotely control mobile robots, enabling them to operate with minimal supervision and potentially leading to a robot that can learn or become autonomous. The researchers, led by Missouri S&T professor Jagannathan Sarangapani, use current formation moving robots and a fault-tolerant control design to improve the probability of completing a set task. Sarangapani says the feedback system will enable a "follower" robot to take over as the "leader" robot if the original leader has a system or mechanical failure. When a problem occurs and roles need to change to continue, the fault-tolerant control system uses reinforcement learning and active critique to help the new, unmanned robot to estimate a new course. "In the event that the lead one suffers a mechanical problem, this hardware allows the work to continue," Sarangapani says. He notes the research can be applied to robotic security surveillance, mining, and aerial maneuvering. "The end goal is to push robotics to the next level," Sarangapani says. "I want robots to think for themselves, to learn, adapt, and use active critique to work unsupervised. A self-aware robot will eventually be here, it is just a matter of time."

How Google Converted Language Translation Into a Problem of Vector Space Mathematics
Technology Review (09/25/13)

Google researchers have developed a technique that uses vector space mathematics for language conversion. Instead of using versions of the same document in different languages, the technique relies on data mining to model the structure of a single language and then compares this to another language's structure. Their method is based on the notion that all languages have to describe a similar set of ideas, requiring similar words to accomplish this. The researchers determined a way to represent a language using the relationship between its words. The set of all the relationships, or the language space, can be visualized as a set of vectors pointing from one word to another; linguists recently have found that these vectors can be approached mathematically. Converting one language into another becomes a mathematical task of determining the transformation that converts one vector space into the other. To map the vector spaces, the researchers use a small bilingual dictionary developed by humans that compares the same body of words in two languages, to lay the groundwork for the linear transformation. The mapping can then be applied to larger language spaces. The researchers note that although their method is simple, it achieves almost 90-percent precision for English and Spanish translation, and is equally effective with less closely-related languages, such as English and Vietnamese.

Which World Governments Are Most Likely to Snoop on Your Facebook?
Atlantic Cities (09/27/13) John Metcalfe

The United States, Italy, the United Kingdom, India, and Australia have the highest rates of government surveillance of Facebook accounts, according to a map of Facebook security created by New Zealand-based digital media lecturer and a 2013 Code for America fellow Anselm Bradford for this month's EU Hackathon. To create the map, Bradford used information from Facebook's transparency report for the first six months of 2013, combined with other statistics. Each country's ranking is weighted by population, number of Facebook users, and frequency of official data demands. Bradford then estimated the amount of time that would pass before each nation's users have more than a 1-percent chance of their data being accessed by an intelligence or judicial agency. The U.S. government led with 11,000 to 12,000 government requests for data, while Barbados, Japan, Russia, Uganda, Mongolia, Montenegro, and Botswana had very low rates of government snooping.

UC San Diego, UMD Researchers to Build ‘WIFIRE’ Cyberinfrastructure
UCSD News (CA) (09/26/13) Jan Zverina

The U.S. National Science Foundation has awarded a three-year grant to three research institutions at the University of California, San Diego for a project called WIFIRE that aims to develop a cyberinfrastructure to improve wildfire predictions and simulations. WIFIRE participants include the San Diego Supercomputer Center, the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology's Qualcomm Institute, and the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering department at the university's Jacobs School of Engineering, as well as the University of Maryland's Department of Fire Protection Engineering. The cyberinfrastructure will support an integrated system for wildfire analysis, specifically for changing urban dynamics and climate. The system will merge networked observations, including heterogeneous satellite data and real-time remote sensor data, with computational techniques in signal processing, visualization, modeling, and data assimilation. WIFIRE will offer a scalable way of tracking phenomena such as weather patterns that can aid in forecasting the rate of wildfire spread. Initially, WIFIRE findings will be distributed to CAL FIRE, the U.S. Forest Service, and San Diego Gas & Electric, as well as to academic, private, and government laboratories. The researchers say emergency officials, first-responders, and the general public will benefit from WIFIRE information.

The Science Author Clive Thompson Does Not Think Tech Is Ruining Your Mind
The New York Times (09/24/13) Nick Bilton

In an interview, technology writer Clive Thompson explains why he believes technology is improving human intelligence. "There is something about the ability to externalize our thoughts and compare them with other people in a public way that is really transformative for the average person," Thompson says. He also believes that computers are augmenting rather than supplanting the human memory, which has always relied on outside sources, such as written notes, books, and other people. Thompson says people are "social rememberers [who use] our co-workers, our partners, and our friends to help us retrieve the details about things that they are better at remembering than we are." In addition, he says the Internet gives users an "ambient awareness" of current issues and other people's lives as they follow small posts over a long period of time. Thompson says computers also provide a resource for what he calls the "tip-of-the-tongue syndrome" that occurs when people almost remember a piece of information, but need help retrieving it. "The problem is, our brains have always been terrible at remembering details," he says, noting that people used to resolve this by asking other people. "Now we have machines that help us resolve tip-of-the-tongue."

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