Welcome to the August 29, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Looking to the Future of Data Science
The New York Times (08/27/14) Steve Lohr
Dueling keynote speeches opening the first two days of ACM's Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining conference in New York this week demonstrated different visions of what the future of data science should look like. In his Monday keynote, Oren Etzioni, chief executive of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, warned data scientists against the rush to "big data" systems focused on mining massive data sets for correlations, inferences, and patterns on which to base predictions. Although Etzioni acknowledged the near-term benefits of such efforts in fields such as speech recognition and computer vision, he noted it also has major drawbacks. Etzioni said big data systems can tell you a lot of facts and even identify patterns in those facts, but they cannot reason the way humans do and he worries the attention being paid to big data will draw attention away from efforts such as those at the Allen Institute to create computer systems that can reason. By contrast, Microsoft Research's Eric Horvitz gave a keynote on Tuesday that was brimming with enthusiasm for big data. Horvitz said he understands Etzioni's points about the limitations of big data, but believes the two approaches to data science can be complementary. He said they can move forward together and have "a huge impact in so many fields, in the short term, along the way to reasoning systems."
Student-Built Apps Teach Colleges a Thing or Two
The New York Times (08/27/14) Ariel Kaminer
College students across the United States, frustrated with some of the software universities provide for course selection and other tasks, have been taking the initiative and developing their own apps, sometimes to great success. However, this success has also brought some of these students into conflict with the schools, making them realize that navigating the administrative bureaucracy can be harder than navigating legacy data systems. For example, the student developers of the Ninja Courses website at first found the staff at the University of California, Berkeley very helpful, even supporting the devlopers financially, but a break down in communication when one team member left resulted in a cease-and-desist letter. Yale University also shut down a course selection site app developed by a team of brothers, before later reversing course and apologizing. Yale Dean Mary Miller says the heart of the problem is questions about who university data belongs to and concerns about what and how much access to give student developers. Many student developers say schools could be more proactive in supporting them by developing application programming interfaces for course information data that student developers likely will want to access. Some universities are embracing student developers by employing them to develop apps for their schools.
Student Designs a Football Video Game Adapted to People With Cerebral Palsy
RUVID Association (08/26/14)
University of Alicante student Roberto Gomez has designed a prototype football video game that cerebral palsy sufferers can engage with. The tool enables players with different physical conditions to access the game equally by operating a foot switch, a push rod head switch, and a hand switch. The Cerebral Palsy Association of Alicante's (APCA) design team says the game enables strategic planning and perceptual ability, enhances spatiotemporal organization, and accelerates physical response so any disabled person can use it. The distraction-free interface enables all participants to concentrate on essential information, and Gomez says the project's biggest technical challenge has been filtering out the unintended clicks of players and replacing the traditional menu to choose a new game, player, and so on via automatic options scanning. The game features enable participants to exploit the same opportunities no matter their physical conditions, so they only require access to any type of switch. "All these factors contribute to the learning opportunities, interaction, and entertainment of this game," the APCA developers note. Users have played both individually and in groups during the game's testing phase, and users were more enthusiastic when playing in a group.
Spherical Display Lets You See 3-D Animations from Any Angle
IEEE Spectrum (08/25/14) Jeremy Hsu
Researchers at the University of Sao Paulo and the University of British Columbia have developed Spheree, a spherical display that enables users to see and interact with three-dimensional (3-D) objects. The researchers say Spheree is the first display capable of projecting uniform, high-resolution pixels on a spherical surface. The display also enables users to interact with 3-D objects using gestures. The technology requires eight pocket-size projectors mounted at the base of the globe, as well as software that can blend the individual projector views to create a uniform pixel presentation. The researchers used FastFusion, an auto-calibration algorithm, to combine the resolution and brightness of the many projected images without a decrease in quality. A webcam enables the algorithm to see the position of the individual projector images on the globe and compute each image's contribution to the overall final image. Spheree also uses six infrared cameras to track the movement of special headbands worn by viewers, the data from which feeds into a computer, constantly providing perspective-corrected virtual scenes based on the viewer's position with respect to the globe. Gesture-control software enables users to interact with the 3-D scenes or animations by using gestures to start, move forward and backward, pause, and stop animations. Spheree was showcased at the recent ACM SIGGRAPH 2014 conference in Vancouver.
Beyond Silicon: Transistors for the Future
Pennsylvania State University (08/28/2014) Walt Mills
Pennsylvania State University (PSU) researchers are developing a prototype transistor that can operate on lower voltage than standard complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) devices while maintaining high performance and power efficiency. The prototype is a high frequency, low-power tunneling transistor that could deliver high performance at about half the voltage of standard silicon transistors. The researchers tuned the material composition of the indium gallium arsenide/gallium arsenide antimony so the energy barrier was close to zero, which enabled electrons to tunnel through the barrier. The researchers also are exploring a concept known as "More of Moore," which means that in the next generation of information technology applications, users will be interested in interacting more directly with their devices. The technology would go beyond traditional hardware by creating user-machine interfaces that are not traditionally part of Moore's Law. The researchers are focusing on sensitive microelectromechanical systems-based magnetic sensors that are directly integrated with CMOS technology that could record and interpret brain signals. Finally, the researchers are studying an area called "Beyond Moore." "One of the areas that we are moving strongly into is to try to see whether, with artificial hardware, we can implement what we call this neuromorphic computing paradigm where we don't do things with ones and zeroes, but do them in an associative sense," says PSU professor Suman Datta.
Chameleon: Cloud Computing for Computer Science
Texas Advanced Computing Center (08/25/14) Faith Singer-Villalobos
The U.S. National Science Foundation recently announced a new $10 million project to create a cloud computing testbed called Chameleon, an experimental platform for cloud architecture and applications. Chameleon will enable researchers to develop and experiment with novel cloud architectures and pursue new cloud computing applications. "Like its namesake, the Chameleon testbed will be able to adapt itself to a wide range of experimental needs, from 'bare metal' reconfiguration to support for ready-made clouds," says principal investigator Kate Keahey, a scientist at the University of Chicago's Computation Institute. Chameleon is designed to support a variety of cloud research, as well as provide a learning platform for how to build better large-scale computing systems. "Finding suitable realistic experimental platforms to facilitate computer science research is always a daunting task, and that includes research in cloud computing," says University of Texas at El Paso professor Patricia Teller. The Chameleon testbed will comprise 650 cloud nodes with 5 petabytes of storage. Users will be able to combine hardware, software, and networking components and then test their performance. Chameleon's developers plan to add new capabilities in response to community demand or when innovative new products are available. Chameleon also supports heterogeneous architectures, including low-power processors, general-processing units, and field-programmable gate arrays.
Kurtis Heimerl Named MIT Technology Review Innovator Under 35
University of California, Berkeley (08/25/14) Tamara Straus
MIT Technology Review recently named University of California, Berkeley researcher Kurtis Heimerl one of the innovators under 35 in the Humanitarian category. Heimerl is among a growing number of computer scientists and engineers who are choosing to pursue humanitarian tech work, known as development engineering, rather than accept lucrative jobs at large tech companies. Heimerl's graduate and post-doctoral work focused on how to provide cellular communications to some of the estimated 1 billion people worldwide who live outside the range of cellular carriers. He says the challenge is not about technological innovation, but how to apply existing and low-cost cellular network advancements to places with regulatory and economic barriers. The Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) network is one of the largest communications networks on earth, but it is full of whitespaces, which are places off the grid and without cellular coverage. To fill the whitespaces, Heimerl and colleagues have created a GSM cellular tower that uses solar or wind power to provide villagers with local calls, text messaging, and Web access. The system, called Community Cellular Networks, consists of an outdoor PC in a waterproof box that uses OpenBTS, an open source technology, to implement a GSM base station.
Let the Hacking Begin: NYU Launches Largest Cyber Security Student Contests
NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering (08/25/14)
Registration has begun for New York University's Polytechnic School of Engineering Cyber Security Awareness Week (CSAW), which the school says is the largest set of student cybersecurity competitions in the world. A year ago, more than 15,000 students, from high school through doctoral programs, competed in the preliminary rounds for a spot in the final rounds of six different competitions. This year, winners of the preliminary rounds will travel to New York to compete for scholarships and prizes. The 11th CSAW is scheduled for Nov. 13-15, and Yahoo chief information security officer Alex Stamos will deliver the keynote address during the Finalist Reception. A competition for public policy developed by students will be new to CSAW this year, as well as an expanded CSAW THREADS research conference focused on scaling security to meet the growing demands of software development and operations. Returning contests include the Capture the Flag hacking competition for undergraduate students, the Digital Forensics Competition for high school students, the Best Research Paper Competition, the Embedded Systems Security Competition, and the U.S. Homeland Security Quiz. Participants also will have an opportunity to meet top technology and security firms during a career fair.
MU Researchers Develop More Accurate Twitter Analysis Tools
MU News Bureau (08/27/14) Jeff Sossamon
University of Missouri (MU) researchers say they have developed and validated software that analyzes event-based tweets and measures the context of tweets instead of just their quantity. The researchers say the program will help Twitter analysts gain better insights into human behavior associated with trends and events. "When analyzing tweets that are connected to an action or event, looking for specific words at the beginning of the tweets gives us a better indication of what is occurring, rather than only looking at hashtags," says MU professor Sean Goggins. He partnered with MU researcher Ian Graves, who developed software that analyzes tweets based on the words found within the tweets. "The program uses a computational approach to seek out not only a spike in hashtags or words, but also what's really happening on a micro level," Graves says. He notes this method of tweet analytics could help officials involved with community safety, disaster relief, or to help predict future events. "By focusing on the words within the tweet, we have the potential to find a truer signal in a very noisy environment," Goggins says.
Bombarded By Explosive Waves of Information, Scientists Review New Ways to Process and Analyze Big Data
The big data era is being propelled by massive amounts of unstructured data, continuously produced and stored at a decreasing cost. The increasing pace of data collection and analysis has resulted in scientific advances that are more data-driven, according to Princeton University researchers Jianqing Fan and Han Liu, and Johns Hopkins University researcher Fang Han. For example, they note expanding streams of social network data are being used to predict influenza epidemics, stock market trends, and box-office revenues for particular movies. "It is anticipated that social network data will continue to explode and be exploited for many new applications," the researchers say. Big data researchers have focused on the development of new computational infrastructure and data-storage methods, as well as on fast algorithms that are scalable to massive data with high dimensionality. In addition, the researchers note massive sample sizes have given rise to big data that fundamentally challenges the traditional computing infrastructure. "In many applications, we need to analyze Internet-scale data containing billions or even trillions of data points, which makes even a linear pass of the whole dataset unaffordable," the researchers say. They offer Hadoop as an example of a basic software and programming infrastructure for big data processing.
There's Headroom in the Cloud
Rice News (08/25/14) Mike Williams
Rice University researchers say they are developing open source cloud computing tools that will enable academia and industry to make better use of massive data sets without having to rely on supercomputers. The researchers, led by Rice professor Christopher Jermaine, will use a $1.2-million U.S. National Science Foundation grant to optimize statistical machine-learning techniques for distributed computing systems. "A lot of people are interested in 'big data,' and in the computer science area, we're looking for the correct programming model and implementation platform," Jermaine says. He says supercomputers are not needed for machine-learning systems, as thousands of small, connected system can perform the same computations more economically. The researchers will focus on extending Rice's SimSQL platform for stochastic-analytics. "The thesis behind this grant is that there's really not a need to go in and invent radical new programming models and platforms," Jermaine says. "A lot of what people want to do with statistical processing can be done with these classical relational database systems. The advantage is that a lot of the world's data actually sits in these systems already."
Local, National Efforts Aim to Draw Girls Into STEM Fields
The Spokesman-Review (WA) (08/24/14) Jody Lawrence-Turner
Educators and community leaders in Spokane, WA, and across the United States, are working to encourage girls to pursue education and careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Washington has one of the U.S.'s fastest growing STEM workforces and Grant Forsyth, chief economist with Avista Corp., says failing to engage women in STEM fields is "leaving a lot of human capital on the table." The Girl Scouts of Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho are working to kindle interest in STEM among girls from an early age by making use of a space where they can be exposed to science in a fun way without boys to compete against. The program proceeds up into scouts' teens and includes access to STEM mentors. Spokane Public Schools also seeks to install early interest in STEM and breakdown perceptions that such subjects are only for boys. The schools host STEM summer camps led by female high school and college students who act as role models for the younger girls. At the college level, Gonzaga University professor Joanne Smieja is leading a national effort supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation to help female STEM professors at U.S. colleges and universities to advance and secure their careers so they can act as role models for undergraduate students.
Digital Textbooks Adapt to Your Level as You Learn
New Scientist (08/20/14) Aviva Rutkin
Rice University researchers have developed OpenStax, an adaptive learning platform for digital textbooks that is being used to train machine-learning algorithms that can adapt to different individuals. If a user appears to be struggling with a particular topic, the book will add extra details and practice questions, and increase the emphasis on related subjects. OpenStax also incorporates retrieval practice, a learning method in which material that students already have learned comes up again in occasional quizzes. The researchers note this method has been shown to enhance students' ability to retain material, and the algorithmic textbooks will be able to decide when to ask questions based on past exercises. This type of personalized learning is designed to give students who are struggling more time to understand subjects, while faster learners can move ahead without getting bored. The initial roll-out of OpenStax in Houston high schools will be relatively small, but large institutions also have expressed interest. For example, Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) wants to pilot OpenStax's algorithm-enhanced textbooks next year in various courses. "We have such a varied student body in terms of college readiness," says SLCC's Jason Pickavance. "What they need is more individualized attention, more tutoring. The courseware has the potential for us to get that mix right."
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