Welcome to the February 12, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
EU Pushes to Globalize Internet Governance
The Wall Street Journal (02/11/14) Frances Robinson; Sam Schechner
The European Commission on Wednesday is expected to suggest the implementation of "concrete and actionable steps" to globalize essential Web functions, such as the allocation of top-level domain names that are contractually linked to the U.S. government. The commission also will propose a timeline for internationalizing the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers in an effort to curb U.S. control of the Internet, according to a draft of the policy paper. "Large-scale surveillance and intelligence activities have...led to a loss of confidence in the Internet and its present governance arrangements," the paper says. The proposals are part of a years-long European effort to internationalize Internet governance as well as an effort to position Europe as an intermediary between the United States and other nations in the coming negotiations over Internet technical standards. The U.S. Commerce Department has said it is ready to discuss the future of Internet governance. "The U.S. government appreciates the thoughtful leadership of the Internet technical community on this important issue," said Assistant Secretary of Commerce Lawrence E. Strickling last month. "We want to work collectively to make multi-stakeholder governance more inclusive while maintaining the stability of the open and innovative Internet."
MIT News (02/12/14) Larry Hardesty
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) say they have developed a system that combines existing robotic control programs to enable multiagent systems to collaborate in much more complex ways. The system factors in uncertainty and automatically plans around it. For small collaborative tasks, the system can guarantee that its combination of programs will yield the best possible results. The researchers currently are testing the system in a simulation of a warehousing application, in which teams of robots would be required to retrieve arbitrary objects from indeterminate locations. "Robots are on networks that are imperfect, so it takes some amount of time to get messages to other robots, and maybe they can't communicate in certain situations around obstacles," says CSAIL's Christopher Amato. The system takes three inputs, one of which is a set of low-level control algorithms that may govern agents' behaviors collectively or individually. The system also has a set of statistics about those programs' execution in a particular environment, as well as a scheme for valuing different outcomes. "The interesting thing about this paper is that they take these very complex tools and kind of decrease the resolution," says University of Southern California professor Nora Ayanian.
DARPA Launches Project to Revolutionize Web Search
NextGov.com (02/10/14) Bob Brewin
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has launched its Memex project to improve Web searches by using topical domains rather than general subjects. DARPA says Memex will search "deep Web" content that commercial search engines overlook, and "will address the inherent shortcomings of centralized search by developing technology for domain-specific indexing of Web content and domain-specific search capabilities." DARPA aims to create technology to enable the discovery, organization, and presentation of domain-relevant content. In addition, the project aims to create advanced, automated Web-crawler software to access even sites with crawler defenses to improve domain-specific indexing and a domain-specific search engine. DARPA wants to use the technology to combat human trafficking that is facilitated by websites, forums, and chat rooms. Proposals for Memex are due April 8, and the project is expected to run for three years.
Sochi: Our Tweeted Emotions Decrypted in Real Time
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (02/07/14) Sandy Evangelista
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) researchers will use social media to track the emotions of people viewing the Winter Olympics in Sochi. The researchers are using social media and online discussion boards to test emotion-recognition software. To monitor emotions in real time the researchers developed EmotionWatch, an application that displays the various emotions in the form of a colored pie chart. The virtual watch displays the strongest trends on the screen, and the disk changes color depending on the intensity of the emotion. This system is based on a wheel of emotions designed by psychology students at the University of Geneva. EPFL researcher Renato Kempter enhanced the wheel by adding the element of color, surrounding the disk with 20 colored dots, each representing a particular emotion. The software identifies keywords and displays the color of the most intense emotion. "The application must be more than just attractive or fun," says EPFL's Pearl Pu Faltings. "For us scientists, it is important that our system is operational in other competitions and reliable in the recognition of Twitter vocabulary."
Google Encourages Developers to Create Art Using Code
eWeek (02/10/14) Todd R. Weiss
Google is helping to promote a global competition to find an up-and-coming software developer artist who pushes the boundaries of art using code. Google, along with Barbican in London, wants to publicize and sponsor a developer who will join a group of interactive artists who are creating art projects using code. "We are all a creative bunch with a passion for exploring and creating amazing works that push the boundaries of what we believe is possible with modern computing technology," says Google developer advocate Paul Kinlan. "Sometimes we just need some inspiration and an outlet." Google and Barbican will celebrate the creative use of technology with a DevArt interactive gallery as part of the Digital Revolution exhibition that will be built at the Barbican Center in London. "As part of this exhibition, we're looking for the next up-and-coming developer artist," Kinlan says. DevArt is an opportunity for artists to share their art with the world and be part of a new movement. "By sharing their creative process, the artists hope to involve and inspire the participating community of creative coders to do the same," Kinlan says.
Yahoo Expands Research Labs in Search of Personalized, Mobile Experiences
Technology Review (02/10/14) Tom Simonite
Yahoo has significantly expanded its research division Yahoo Labs under the direction of CEO Marissa Mayer, who took the helm in 2012, as the company focuses on innovation, personalization, and new mobile hardware. When Mayer arrived, Yahoo Labs was in a decline and she asked that 50 new Ph.D.s be hired in 2013, which the company exceeded significantly by the end of the year, says Yahoo Labs head and chief scientist Ron Brachman. Yahoo Labs is aligning its focus with Mayer's priorities of mobile technology and personalization. The research division's technology helps drive the popular weather app launched last April, which uses images from Yahoo's Flickr, which match a user's location and forecast data, as a background to weather forecast information. Machine-learning software created at Yahoo Labs processes photos and associated metadata to look for cues about their quality and content to help human editors select appropriate images. Yahoo Labs also is overhauling the company's home page and other sites to display content in which the data indicates a user would be most interested. "A Holy Grail would be an environment where all of your information and shopping needs are anticipated and you have something like a very smart, conversational virtual assistant," Brachman says.
Intel Labs Demos Crazy-Efficient, Crazy-Fast 'Network on Chip'
The Register (UK) (02/09/14) Rik Myslewski
Intel Labs researchers say they have developed a "network-on-chip" that could lead to more efficient, faster, and more versatile many-core processors. The chip is specifically designed for "big machines, supercomputers, exascale machines of the future where you have lots and lots of compute nodes on a particular die--hundreds of compute nodes in many cases," says Intel researcher Vivek De. One of the new features of the technology is a two-dimensional network-on-chip (NoC) mesh interconnect that manages timing by substituting node-to-node handshaking for the distributed global clock. The technology also features an interconnect scheme that uses a hybrid of packet-switching and circuit-switching to control data flow. The hybrid method enables the NoC to set up the data transfer using packet-switched communications. "Energy-efficient circuit-switched data transfers eliminate intra-route storage, packet-switched channel reservation, and sideband transfers increase network utilization, and source-synchronous operation adapts to delay imbalances while reducing clock power," the researchers say in a paper on the technology. De notes the chip is purely a research project, and says Intel has yet to decide whether hybrid-switching source-synchronous NoC will be implemented in a many-core processor.
It's ERWIN the Friendly Robot
University of Lincoln (02/06/14) Marie Daniels
The development of realistic long-term relationships between humans and androids is the focus of a Ph.D. research project in the United Kingdom. Lincoln University Ph.D. student Mriganka Biswas will use a friendly robot to study how the human-robot relationship would be affected if robots have human-like thought biases. Emotional Robot With Intelligent Network (ERWIN) will have the ability to express five basic emotions while interacting with humans. "Cognitive biases make humans what they are, fashioning characteristics and personality, complete with errors and imperfections," Biswas says. "Therefore, introducing cognitive biases in a robot's characteristics makes the robot imperfect by nature, but also more human-like." The lack of identifiable characteristics and personality has hindered the development of relationship-bonding with humans. The research should help scientists understand and develop better, more realistic relationships between humans and companion robots, and could shed light on how children with autism, Asperger syndrome, or attachment disorder form relationships.
Groups Step Up Efforts to Develop More Female IT Workers
FierceCIO (02/06/14) David Weldon
The National Center for Women in Technology (NCWIT) has partnered with the newly-launched Million Women Mentors (MWM) to boost female participation in the technology industry. The MWM seeks to connect 1 million mentors with 1 million girls and young professionals for careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). "Through its efforts, MWM works to showcase existing best practices and suggestions for the future," says the NCWIT website. "Utilizing a technology portal built in three phases and developed in collaboration with Tata Consulting Services, MWM technology will enable mentor services for the nation." The national campaign and program kicked off in early January, which is National Mentoring Month. "At a time when girls' and women's participation in the technical workforce is far less than 50 percent, mentoring is most critical," says NCWIT founder Lucy Sanders. "Mentoring can provide the necessary encouragement to help girls and women persist in STEM and bridge this gap." NCWIT also says it is accepting grant proposals for the AspireIT program for the 2014 grant cycle. An outreach initiative for girls in middle school, AspireIT offers tech camps, clubs, and workshops that introduce programming, game design, robotics, and other technology topics to participants.
Scientists Use 'Voting' and 'Penalties' to Overcome Errors in Quantum Optimization
USC News (02/06/14) Robert Perkins
University of Southern California (USC) scientists have developed an error-correction strategy of linking quantum bits together into voting blocks to overcome the noise that prevents quantum processors from working correctly. Quantum processors are highly susceptible to noise or decoherence, making error correction a critical aspect of quantum computing, says USC-Lockheed Martin Quantum Computing Center director Daniel Lidar. The method makes the processor at least five times more likely to arrive at the correct answer for the largest problems tested, involving hundreds of qubits. The team used a quantum annealing correction strategy with a D-Wave Two processor on the benchmark problem of antiferromagnetic chains. The method groups three qubits into larger blocks of encoded qubits that can be decoded by a "majority vote," so that if decoherence causes one qubit to give an incorrect answer, it is out-voted by the other two qubits to ensure that data is correctly encoded. The voting blocks are magnetically linked to a fourth qubit so that no qubit can flip without taking along the whole block of four; this makes it difficult for a single qubit impacted by decoherence to generate errors.
UTeach STEM Teacher Prep Program Expands With $22.5-Million Grant
Campus Technology (02/05/14) Leila Meyer
Drexel University, Florida International University, Oklahoma State University, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and the University of Maryland, College Park will implement the UTeach program in the fall of 2014. UTeach recruits math, science, and computer science students and prepares them to teach science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) at the secondary school level. Participants in the program can earn a teaching certificate without adding time or cost to their four-year STEM degree program. Each university will receive a $1.45-million grant to cover the cost of implementing the program over a five-year period. Developed first at the University of Texas at Austin in 1997, UTeach partnered with the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) in 2008 to expand the program. NMSI says UTeach will produce more than 9,000 math and science teachers by 2020. Five more universities will join in 2015, which will bring the total number implementing UTeach to 45. A $22.5-million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute has made the expansion possible.
IBM Questions D-Wave Quantum Claims
Computerworld (02/05/14) Joab Jackson
Researchers at IBM and the University of California are casting doubt on whether a D-Wave quantum supercomputer that Google is running experimentally actually uses quantum mechanics rather than simply classical physics. The researchers created a model that takes an actual problem solved by a D-Wave computer and demonstrates a similar level of computation reached using equipment based on classical mechanics. The problem used for the model involved discovering the ground state of an erratically operating magnet called a spin glass. The researchers modeled a hypothetical system that could solve the problem as well as the D-Wave computer using classical physics laws. D-Wave, which concedes that its systems use only a subset of quantum mechanics known as quantum annealing, says the researchers restricted their study to only one aspect of its computer's capabilities. "There are many other papers that show excellent agreement between our processes and quantum mechanics," says D-Wave's Colin Williams. Google last month released its own benchmarks showing that the D-Wave 2 processor was able to complete some problems much faster than traditional computers, but for other problems the difference was less significant than expected. Google engineers say performance is likely to improve as D-Wave continues to double the number of qubits on its processors.
Women in Computer Science Group Launches Inaugural Conference
Harvard Crimson (02/09/14) Antonio Coppola
Harvard University's Women in Computer Science group this year launched the WECode conference, which took place Feb. 8-9. Women from 40 colleges and universities were in attendance, according to WECode chief organizer JN Fang. Fang was inspired to organize a coding conference for women after reading "Lean In," a book by Facebook chief operating officer (COO) Sheryl K. Sandberg that encourages women to pursue their ambitions in spite of the challenges facing them. "It frustrated me that there had to be a book...there had to be this prominent COO to speak in order for this to be a public issue that people would talk about," Fang says. Although representatives from several private-sector companies were in attendance at the conference, recruitment was not the primary purpose of the conference. "This was created for one purpose, and that is to create community," Fang says. The conference concluded with a hackathon that took place at Harvard's iLab. Rochester Institute of Technology graduate student Mohana P. Ramachandran says the inaugural keynote address by ThoughtWorks chief technology officer Rebecca Parsons was inspiring. "In India, women in engineering are extremely underrepresented," Ramachandran says. "It is much harder for women to achieve roles of responsibility."
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