Welcome to the June 9, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Computer Chatbot 'Eugene Goostman' Passes the Turing Test
ZDNet (06/08/14) Jack Schofield
A computer program disguised as a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy named Eugene Goostman passed a Turing Test at the Royal Society in London by persuading a third of the judges it was human during a five-minute typed conversation. The program's success did not come as a shock, as the same chatbot won a Turing Test competition in 2012 by convincing 29 percent of the 25 human judges that it was a person as well. The latest victory marks the first time a chatbot has passed an open-ended test, instead of one in which topics or questions are established in advance, according to University of Reading professor Kevin Warwick. In a 2010 presentation, chatbot co-developer Vladimir Veselov said a key component of the Goostman program was a typo corrector, which enables the chatbot to derive sense from misspellings and mistypings that generally cause computers far more difficulties than humans. Chatbots could be employed to provide robot aid to website visitors, or be embedded in robots that serve as companions to people. The underlying technologies also could be applied toward improving automatic document parsing. Warwick says the Turing Test is an alert to the potential of cybercrime, and could serve as a vital tool for combating that threat.
Internet Giants Erect Barriers to Spy Agencies
The New York Times (06/07/14) David E. Sanger; Nicole Perlroth; Steve Lohr; et al.
Google and other major Internet service providers are accelerating efforts to make it harder and more costly for government intelligence agencies to penetrate their networks, which is seen as a threat to their business. For example, Google is laying its own fiber-optic cable under the oceans in an attempt to guarantee it has greater control over its customer data movement. This new resistance is spurring governments to push back, with Vodafone reporting a number of governments have demanded they tap directly into its communication networks. Google security chief Eric Grosse suggests the U.S. National Security Agency's (NSA) widespread intelligence gathering invited this new competition. Most U.S. companies say they never knowingly allow NSA to compromise their systems, but documents leaked by Edward J. Snowden indicate the agency was able to do so, for example by exploiting Google's data centers to intercept unencrypted traffic. Intelligence officials bemoan the lack of cooperation by U.S. tech companies, which has made their covert programs more difficult to carry out. Warnings from officials that this will inevitably lead to an intelligence failure has caused companies to respond the government is to blame, and intelligence agencies' actions have jeopardized online security for everyone.
Robots Can Grip Anything Thanks to Hands that Can See
New Scientist (06/06/14) Paul Marks
Kings College London researchers have developed Dextrous Hand, a robotic system that works with a Kinect depth-sensing camera to analyze the three-dimensional (3D) shape of any object on which a mobile robot focuses. The system's software builds a 3D computer model of the object and determines how the robotic hand can securely grip it. "Once it has seen an object, and worked out its orientation with respect to itself, it works out the best way to grasp it," says Shadow Robot's Gavin Cassidy, who helped develop the system. In addition, once an object has been identified by the system, it is placed in an archive to speed recognition the next time it is presented to the robot. Although the current system has an external depth-sensing camera close to the hand, in the future the researchers want to integrate a microchip-sized high-resolution depth camera into the hand itself. "Having a depth sensor on the hand offers a lot of promise, as the hand could scan the object from all sides and then compute an optimal grasp," says Plymouth University researcher Tony Belpaeme.
Hail Cyborgs! The Line Between Robots and Humans Is Blurring
Computerworld (06/06/14) Sharon Gaudin
The advance of robotics heralds an increasingly porous boundary between machines and people, with scientists such as Idaho National Laboratory's Victor Walker emphasizing the goal of this revolution is the enhancement of human beings, rather than the replacement. "The line between robots and people will be blurred with smart prosthetics and implanted components," predicts Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Russ Tedrake. "It won't be robots and people but robot people." Tedrake says the underlying idea is to combine the best of organic and mechanical systems so their advantages outweigh their limitations. He imagines robots will play a significant role in augmenting or replacing bodily parts. Analysts think the medical industry and the military will largely drive advances in human robotics through their respective innovations in robotic prosthetics and exoskeletons. Worcester Polytechnic Institute professor Dmitry Berenson anticipates a gradual advance of robotic technology, which will help humans adjust to the change. "With technology, it's not good or bad," he says. "It just comes as a package and we as a society have to decide what we're going to do with it. It's really up to us."
University of Michigan to Create Simulated City to Test Future Robotic Cars
University Herald (NY) (06/06/14) Stephen Adkins
The University of Michigan (UM) is building a simulated city center, spread across 32 acres on its North Campus, to serve as the testing ground for automated vehicles. The aim of the Mobility Transformation Facility is to ensure automated vehicles can maneuver safely on actual roadways. The facility features streets with road signs, intersections, roundabouts, and stoplights; highways, including a four-lane highway, with merge lanes; building cut-outs, and railroad crossings. Moreover, the facility contains programmable streetlights, simulated construction, and mechanical pedestrians programmed to surprise the driverless cars as they pass through. "We will actually be writing code for the test facility," says UM professor Edwin Olson. "We'll be able to trigger tricky traffic signal timings, or a pedestrian stepping into the intersection at just the wrong time, for example." Researchers say the goal of the facility is to ensure these sophisticated vehicles can maneuver safely under real-world conditions. Ford initially will use the facility to test its automated Fusion hybrid, which is not a fully driverless vehicle, and other companies will follow suit. The university will inaugurate the facility this fall.
Code for America Seeks New Recruits
Federal Computer Week (06/05/14) Adam Mazmanian
The Code for America (CfA) project is once again looking to place developers in state and local government agencies for one year to help find technology solutions to existing, offline ways of performing tasks. Founded by Jennifer Pahlka, who recently wrapped up a year-long stint as deputy CTO in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the project is now in its fifth year. CfA is looking for individuals with well-developed coding skills and project management experience, as well as soft skills. Fellows in the program serve on the front lines of moving government services into the digital arena. For example, current fellow Sam Hashemi is working in Atlanta on a project to notify motorists with traffic court cases about their hearing schedules. "In this day and age, a technologist can really inspire folks with what's possible--with things you can make that are lightweight and fast," says Alex Tran, program manager for the year-long fellowship. The deadline to apply for a CfA fellowship is July 15.
Innovative Diabetes App for Smartphones
University of Bern (06/04/14)
A smartphone-based system developed by researchers at the University of Bern makes it easier for diabetics to plan their meals and control their blood glucose. Existing apps for smartphones require users to manually record their meal, but the GoCARB program automatically estimates carbohydrate intake. GoCARB works by taking two photos of the meal with the smartphone camera, which the program uses to segment and recognize the various food items and reconstruct them in three dimensions. The app estimates the volume of the individual foodstuffs and makes use of a nutritional value database as it calculates the carbohydrate content of the meal. The system erred by only plus or minus 6 to 7 grams on average during tests. Moreover, GoCARB uses the carbohydrate content and additional information to calculate the optimal insulin dose for the meal. The GoCARB prototype, developed at Bern's ARTORG Institute in cooperation with Bern University Hospital, works on Android phones and will undergo further testing this summer.
Researchers Propose Tactics for Ethical Use of Twitter Data
Virginia Tech News (06/02/14)
Researchers at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) have proposed guidelines to make sure data mined from Twitter feeds is obtained and used ethically. Although Twitter data is public information, many users have a reasonable expectation of privacy. "Our guidelines are simple ways for researchers to respect the privacy of Twitter users while still conducting valuable research," says Caitlin Rivers, a doctoral student in Virginia Tech's Genetics, Bioinformatics, and Computational Biology Program. The Twitter guidelines are based on the U.S. Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, and contain six basic points. Twitter researchers should make objectives, methodologies, and data-handling practices transparent and easily accessible, and they should protect the anonymity of tweet authors by not publishing identifiable information without consent. In addition, researchers should not use tweet data to aggregate personal information from other sources, and they should honor Twitter users' efforts to control their personal data by not using private and deleted tweets. Finally, researchers should work with the Institutional Review Board for study designs that may compromise privacy and anonymity, and respect the context in which a tweet was sent. The proposed guidelines are meant to inspire an open discussion among the research community.
Discovery Opens New Path to Superfast Quantum Computing
WSU News (06/04/14) Eric Sorensen
Washington State University (WSU) researchers have used a super-cold cloud of atoms that behaves like a single atom to perceive a quantum phenomenon predicted six decades ago, opening a new experimental path to potentially powerful quantum computing. About 1 million atoms of rubidium were cooled to 100 billionths of a degree above absolute zero, causing them to cohere into a Bose-Einstein condensate after experiencing a phase change. Once the atoms acted in unison, they could be induced to display coherent superradiant behavior predicted by Princeton University's Robert Dicke in 1954. "This large group of atoms...behaves as one big super-atom," says WSU physicist Peter Engels. "Therefore it magnifies the effects of quantum mechanics." Engels notes researchers created the superradiant state only once before, using a more complex setup that involved coupling to photon fields. The WSU experiment's results are more easily observable, giving researchers a tool for testing assumptions and changes in the quantum physical space, Engels says. "We have found an implementation of the system that allows us to go in the lab and actually test the predictions of the Dicke model, and some extensions of it as well, in a system that is not nearly as complicated as people always thought it has to be for the Dicke physics," he says.
Teenager Unleashes Computer Power for Cancer Diagnosis
BBC News (06/04/14) Helen Briggs
Duke University undergraduate Brittany Wenger recently spoke at the Royal Society of Medicine in London about her research into using artificial intelligence to teach computers to diagnose cancer. In high school, Wenger began experimenting with neural networks, and decided to apply her research to improving the diagnosis of breast cancer. She developed an artificial intelligence program to analyze data from a breast tissue biopsy. "I'm trying to teach the computer how to think so it can detect patterns that allow it to diagnose cancers easier and quicker," Wenger says. Two hospitals, one in the United States and another in Italy, are testing Wenger's breast cancer program. Beyond the breast cancer research, Wenger is working on a cloud-based program that targets leukemia by seeking genetic patterns that can foreshadow relapse. Cancer Research UK senior science information officer Dr. Emma Smith says computers have significantly advanced cancer diagnosis and personalized treatments. "This depth of knowledge has already led to big steps forward in diagnosing cancer and getting patients more tailored treatments," Smith says.
Silicon Alternatives Key to Future Computers, Consumer Electronics
Purdue University News (06/04/14) Emil Venere
Purdue University researchers say they have reached key breakthroughs in the development of new semiconductors that could eventually replace silicon in future computer chips and be used in flexible electronics. The researchers demonstrated the potential of a two-dimensional semiconductor called molybdenum disulfide. Although this semiconductor has been studied before, a key obstacle to its practical use has been a large electrical resistance between metal contacts and single-atomic layers of the material. The Purdue researchers overcame this obstacle by doping the material with the chemical compound 1,2 dichloroethane, which results in a 10-fold reduction of contact resistance and a 100-fold reduction of contact resistivity. The researchers call the technique molecular layer doping. Molybdenum disulfide is similar to graphene, except that it is a semiconductor, which could make it useful in thin, flexible, and transparent electronic devices. Other research has found gallium arsenide is compatible with the complementary metal–oxide semiconductor (CMOS) manufacturing process used to build integrated circuits. "Research on gallium-arsenide MOS has been going on for about 50 years, and here we demonstrated for the first time that it is doable at the CMOS-circuit level," says Purdue professor Peide Ye.
Q&A: What Separates Women From Men in Tech Careers
SearchNetworking.com (06/03/14) Gina Narcisi
In an interview, HP Cloud Services vice president of product marketing and cloud evangelist Margaret Dawson discusses the technology gender divide. Dawson says girls are directed away from computers at an early age, limiting their options over time. Although many people believe a tech career equates to being an "IT guy," there are many paths to working in computer science, according to Dawson. "People tend to think, 'I don't have a computer science degree,' or, 'I can't code,' but we need more business and go-to-market brains too," Dawson says, noting many different personalities and skills are necessary in the technology industry. Technology leaders should find women with potential and encourage them to push their boundaries, because sometimes women lack the confidence to do so otherwise, she says. "I can tell you that one of the things that separates men from women is this willingness to take huge risks," Dawson says. "I think it has to do with giving women permission to be who they are; if they love video games or technology, we should be embracing that."
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