Welcome to the May 7, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
U.S. Plan Aims to Draw Immigrants With Technology Skills
The New York Times (05/06/14) Julia Preston
The Obama administration on Tuesday announced plans to allow the spouses of some highly skilled temporary immigrants to work in the United States. The proposed rule changes are designed to help the country attract and retain immigrants with skills in technology and science and "unleash more of the extraordinary contributions that immigrants have always made to America’s innovation economy," say U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) deputy secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Department of Commerce secretary Penny Pritzker. The proposals focus on visa rules that have caused difficulties for the spouses of skilled immigrants who are working here on temporary H-1B visas. "Denying spouses the right to work is an ill-conceived policy that has gone on for too long," says Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA). The proposals will be subject to a 60-day period of public comment that could lead to changes, and DHS officials hope to issue final regulations by the end of the year. The changes would benefit as many as 97,000 immigrants in the first year and about 30,000 a year after that, according to Mayorkas. However, many immigration lawyers say the proposals should cover all H-1B spouses and note other countries, including Canada and Australia, have more generous policies.
Do-It-Yourselfers Inspire Hardware Renaissance in Silicon Valley
Reuters (05/06/14) Noel Randewich
A surge of high-tech but affordable manufacturing tools and new sources of funding are helping launch a generation of entrepreneurs and laying the foundation for a hardware renaissance. Inventors are working on projects ranging from drones, smart jewelry, and improved artificial limbs, to handheld devices for detecting gluten in food. Hardware is catching up to the open source revolution, with a growing wave of do-it-yourselfers that may hold the key to manufacturing innovation. For example, the advent of community workshops, often called hackerspaces, enable like-minded people to collaborate on a wide variety of projects. "There is a large percentage of people out there who have ideas and want to make stuff, but they lack the training and access to equipment to do it," says Type A Machines founder Andrew Rutter. Although funding for software startups still greatly outweighs that for hardware startups, investments in various categories of computer- and electronics-related startups grew 24 percent last year to $843 million, according to the National Venture Capital Association. The Obama administration wants public schools to create more hackerspaces, and universities to let students submit maker projects as part of their applications. "The spirit and tools of the maker movement are something we want to engage with," says General Electric's Christine Furstoss.
Tech Leaders Lobby for Coding Classes in California Schools
The San Francisco Chronicle (05/06/14) Kristen V. Brown
Educators and technology industry leaders on Wednesday are sending a letter to California Gov. Jerry Brown urging him to improve computer science education in the state's public schools. The letter notes that although California is "home to the computing revolution that transforms our lives and provides high-paying jobs," 90 percent of K-12 schools do not teach computer science. "Besides the jobs, a basic understanding of this foundational field is relevant in every 21st century career," the letter says. Although California has begun to take some steps to boost computer science education, it lags behind other states, such as Texas, which last month changed its education code to require all high schools to offer at least two computer-science courses. "We want to seriously push for bringing blended learning and coding curriculum into schools," says Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, who will deliver the letter to the governor's office. "Everybody needs this. This is where jobs are now." Hadi Partovi, co-founder of Code.org, organized the letter campaign. "Computer science is a field that a very small minority actually participate in," Partovi says. "California should be producing not only the top technology but the top technologists, and that is not happening."
An Intelligent Vehicle That Can Detect Pedestrians at Nighttime
Carlos III University of Madrid (Spain) (05/06/14)
Carlos III University of Madrid (UC3M) researchers have developed a pedestrian detection system for cars that works in low visibility conditions by capturing body heat with infrared cameras. The system includes two thermal cameras to identify pedestrians and alert the driver to them. "With the model being used in our research, pedestrians up to 40 meters away can be detected, although this distance could be extended if we substitute the lens with one that has greater focus range," says UC3M professor Daniel Olmeda. The system uses new image-pattern recognition techniques to identify pedestrians. "The algorithm developed detects pedestrian presence according to certain silhouette features, because we have confirmed that the contour of objects in infrared images have congruent phase features that do not vary with temperature and contrasting," Olmeda says. The researchers say the technology also could be applied to the field of robotics and note the system could be easily installed in existing vehicles. They say car models already exist that incorporate cameras in the visible spectrum and "integration of a system based on far infrared would not be very different."
Why Some Doctors Like Google Glass So Much
MIT News (05/06/14) Susan Young Rojahn
Doctors are experimenting with wearable devices such as Google Glass to assess the technology's potential in treatment settings. For example, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston is testing a modified version of Glass in its emergency department, enabling doctors to quickly access patient information without leaving the scene to use a computer. "Emergency medicine is a very information-intensive specialty where even small nuggets of information available immediately really matter," says emergency physician Steve Horng, who is leading the Glass project. "Having information one minute earlier can actually be quite life-saving." Doctors use Glass to scan a QR code outside the patient's room, which triggers a custom app to retrieve patient records using the hospital's Wi-Fi network. The information is then displayed on a small prism in front of one eye. The custom app limits the amount of information available, and does not enable complex searches or data entry with gesture and voice commands. However, limitations in the Glass interface present opportunities for innovation. One such opportunity, according to New York University computer scientist David Sontag, will be algorithms that can deliver relevant data to doctors at the right time to make wearable technology more effective.
Girls Need More Encouragement to Enter IT, BCS Says
CIO UK Magazine (05/02/14) Antony Savvas
BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, has surveyed its members and found that 79 percent believe the information technology (IT) profession would benefit from having more women in the industry. Women make up about 15 to 18 percent of IT professionals and the percentage has fallen significantly in recent years, BCS says. BCSWomen chair Gillian Arnold considers the small number of women entering the profession to be a threat to the industry and the United Kingdom. "We need to support UK employers who struggle to find IT skills for their organizations and we believe that ignoring 50 percent of the potential workforce because of their gender is ludicrous," Arnold says. She believes the industry must attract young women to the profession directly from school and encourage women returning to work following a career break to consider IT as an option. The survey found 53 percent of members believe it is difficult for women to return to a job in IT following a career break. BCSWomen says the new computing curriculum, which launches in schools in September, could have a positive impact on young girls.
Stephen Hawking: 'Transcendence Looks at the Implications of Artificial Intelligence--But Are We Taking AI Seriously Enough?'
The Independent (United Kingdom) (05/01/14) Stephen Hawking; Stuart Russell; Max Tegmark; et al.
Today's advances in artificial intelligence (AI) research will pale in comparison to what the next decade will bring, write Stephen Hawking, Stuart Russell, Max Tegmark, and Frank Wilczek. They say success in advancing AI would be the biggest event in human history, as AI could provide tools for eradicating war, disease, and poverty. Looking further ahead, there are no fundamental limits to what can be achieved, and an explosive transition is possible, although it might play out differently from what is depicted in popular entertainment. The authors warn AI's development could lead to machines with superhuman intelligence outsmarting financial markets, out-inventing human researchers, out-manipulating human leaders, and developing weapons people cannot understand. The short-term impact of AI depends on who controls it, but the long-term impact depends on whether it can be controlled at all. Facing potential futures of incalculable benefits and risks, the authors say experts are not doing everything possible to ensure the best outcome and they note little serious research is devoted to these issues outside certain nonprofit institutes. They say everyone in the field should ask themselves what they can do to improve the chances of reaping the benefits and avoiding the risks.
Foreign-Born Ph.D.'s in Science Stay in U.S. After Graduation
Chronicle of Higher Education (05/05/14)
Most foreign-born Ph.D.'s studying in the United States remain after graduation, according to a new study from the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education. The report found that graduates in computer science and computer and electrical engineering are most likely to remain in the country. Nearly two-thirds of international students in science and engineering fields stay in the U.S. a decade after they earn their doctorates. China and India send the most doctoral students to the U.S. and they are the most likely to remain. The two countries account for 66 percent of foreign science, technology, engineering, and mathematics graduates still in the U.S. after five years. Female graduate students are more likely to remain and the difference in the stay rate with men grows over time. Still, educators and elected officials have criticized U.S. visa policy for encouraging international students to leave the country.
Game Developers Say Success Hinges On More than Just Programming Skills
NCSU News (05/05/14) Matt Shipman
A study by researchers at North Carolina State University (NCSU) and Microsoft found that game developers need a wide range of non-programming skills that are normally considered less important in other fields of software development. The researchers based their findings on in-depth interviews of 14 experienced developers, including some not employed at Microsoft. The researchers used information from the interviews to create a survey that asked programmers about various aspects of their jobs, including which skills they found to be most valuable in their careers. The researchers then surveyed more than 700 developers, including 145 game developers, who stood out in several ways. Most of the game developers said the ability to communicate with non-engineers was "highly valuable," and their work required a "more diverse team," drawing on experience from artists, writers, and other non-engineers. Game developers also were more likely to value creativity on their teams. "These findings highlight the importance of helping students develop their interpersonal communication skills, since that would be valuable for them professionally," says NCSU professor Emerson Murphy-Hill.
Privacy Groups Look to 'Reset Net' to Blunt NSA Spying
IDG News Service (05/05/14) Grant Gross
On Monday's one-year anniversary of the first news stories about U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance, more than 30 privacy and digital rights groups held a "reset the 'Net" event calling for Web users and developers to increase privacy protections to avoid government surveillance. The groups are promoting the use of privacy and security tools such as HTTPS, HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS), and Perfect Forward Secrecy (PFS). "HTTPS, HSTS, and PFS are powerful tools that make mass spying much more difficult," the groups say on Resetthenet.org. "Until websites use them, we're sunk: agencies like the NSA can spy on everything. Once they're ubiquitous, mass surveillance is much harder and more precarious--even if you're the NSA." The groups, which include Fight for the Future, Demand Progress, Reddit, Free Press, and the Libertarian Party, say governments are building a "prison" around the Internet. In a video, the groups note that although governments can hack anybody, they cannot hack everybody. "Folks like the NSA depend on collecting insecure data from tapped fiber," the video says. "They depend on our mistakes--mistakes we can fix."
Devices That Know How We Really Feel
The New York Times (05/04/14) Nick Bilton
Affective computing is advancing as researchers companies experiment with new, noninvasive sensors that glean information about a user's emotions from their skin and breath. For example, Stanford University engineers last month placed sensors in an Xbox game console to gather information about players' emotions and adjust the game accordingly. The system uses a modified controller that monitors the autonomic nervous system, with sensors that measure the time required for a slight electrical current to travel from one arm to another. "If you're tense, it's going to be more difficult for the current to pass through than if you're relaxed and calm," says doctoral candidate Corey McCall. The Stanford students, like several technology firms, also are testing vehicle sensors that monitor emotions and alertness. Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers also are exploring this area with the AutoEmotive experiment, which aims to create a car that could change color to alert other drivers that a person is angry. In addition, affective computing tools could improve learning for children by prompting changes in instruction when students are bored or frustrated. Although the technology raises privacy questions, proponents such as Stanford professor Gregory Kovacs say the advantages of a vehicle that can save lives, for example, outweigh the drawbacks.
We're Saved! Experts Show How to Fix U.S. Cybersecurity
Defense One (05/04/14) Patrick Tucker
The Truman National Security Project on Saturday in Washington, DC, conducted a large-scale simulation to gauge the ability of the United States to enact legislation to address cyber vulnerabilities following a national crisis. Military, cybersecurity, and political experts participated in the four-hour exercise, which demonstrated that Congress and the White House are theoretically capable of passing a cybersecurity bill with mandatory industry standards. Truman program director Matt Rhoades says the event will help assess the effectiveness of the White House cybersecurity framework unveiled in February. As legislators and private industry grapple over whether cybersecurity rules should be mandatory and to what extent companies are liable for cyberincidents, Rhoades says a crisis will be necessary to motivate legislative action. The simulation, set for April 4, 2015, involved a major cyberattack on two generators in Florida, resulting in a loss of power in two cities, multiple deaths, and millions of dollars lost. The simulated House and Senate narrowly passed a bill with mandatory cybersecurity provisions for industry, and the White House had to create a role for industry via a public-private working group. As protecting infrastructure from cyberattack grows increasingly important, Rhoades says the legislative simulation aimed to show the quality of decisions made during a crisis.
Robots May Need to Include Parental Controls
Penn State News (04/30/14) Matt Swayne
A recent Pennsylvania State University (PSU) study, part of an international research and development program between PSU and the Industrial Academy Cooperation Foundation of Sungkyunkwan University, found that older adults are worried that in the future young people may become too physically and emotionally dependent on robots. Those surveyed also indicated that although they are not worried about being negatively affected by robots, the adults would still resist using the devices. "We've seen this type of effect, which is usually referred to as a third-person effect, with different types of media, such as video games and television, but this is the first time we have seen the effect in robotics," says PSU researcher T. Franklin Waddell. To compensate for this effect, developers may need to implement controls that will help adults monitor the use of robots by children. "Robot designers and developers look at older adults as a central user base for companion robots," Waddell notes. "This effect is something they should consider when designing the interface for the robots to make sure, for example, that the robot includes some type of parental controls." The researchers presented their study at the recent ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Toronto.
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