Welcome to the September 8, 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. Intelligence Community Explores More Rigorous Ways to Forecast Events
The Wall Street Journal (09/05/14) Jo Craven McGinty
The U.S. intelligence community for the last several years has hosted tournaments to bring together new technological approaches for predicting major world events, pit them against one another, and see which emerges as the most successful. The competitions conducted by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, the research and development arm of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, include Aggregative Contingent Estimation (ACE), Forecasting Science and Technology (ForeST), and Open Source Indicators (OSI). ACE focused on using crowdsourcing to predict events. The winning group, the Good Judgement Project, used teams of specially trained predictors, who made predictions about major events and then aggregated those predictions into a single probability score. ForeST is an outgrowth of ACE focusing specifically on major events in scientific and technological fields. The winning team, SciCast, successfully predicted events such as the number of states to report cases of West Nile Virus this summer. Finally, OSI is focused on the use of machine-learning techniques to analyze vast amounts of publicly available data and then make predictions. The winning team, EMBERS, compared multiple machine-learning models using different data sets against each other to produce forecasts, which so far have a 90-percent success rate.
The Future Of Ultrascale Computing Under Study
Carlos III University of Madrid (Spain) (09/05/14)
The Carlos III University of Madrid (UC3M) is coordinating the NESUS project, which involves about 200 researchers from more than 40 countries studying what the next generation of ultrascale computing systems will be like. The researchers say new ultrascale computing systems will be characterized by their large size and great complexity, and present significant challenges regarding their construction and exploitation. "We try to analyze all the challenges there are and see how they can be studied holistically and integrated, to be able to provide a more sustainable system," says UC3M professor Jesus Carretero. "It is the largest COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology framework) Action ever, which shows the interest that exists for it." The project aims to develop large parallel supercomputers and will have large data centers with hundreds of thousands of computers coordinating with distributed memory systems by 2020. Carretero notes the NESUS project involves nearly 200 scientists, almost 40 percent of who are young researchers who will be able to carry out the work in the future. "We try to find the way that all solutions that are proposed can be transmitted to user applications with the minimum possible redesign and reprogramming effort," Carretero says.
SideSwipe: UW Team Uses In-Air Gestures for Phones
Phys.Org (09/04/14) Nancy Owano
University of Washington in Seattle researchers have developed SideSwipe, a system that enables in-air gestures above and around a mobile device. "We developed an algorithm to convert the bursty reflected GSM pulses to a continuous signal that can be used for gesture recognition," the researchers say in a paper describing a prototype device they designed. SideSwipe includes a receiver with four antenna elements attached to the four edges of a printed circuit board (PCB). The antennas are separately connected to RF power detectors at the center of the PCB. The researchers were able to get different signal intensity fluctuations from distinct antennas when the user performs gestures because every antenna has a unique radiation pattern. "In addition, we placed a ground plane on the back of the PCB to enhance the difference in radiation patterns of the antennas," the researchers say. During testing, the researchers say SideSwipe recognized 14 gestures with 87.2-percent accuracy. "Our system can be beneficial when user receives phone call in a non-appropriate situation," the researchers note. "Instead of taking the phone out of her pocket, she can just use hand gesture to respond to the incoming call."
Fingerprinting Infants Helps Track Vaccinations in Developing Countries
Technology Review (09/04/14) Martin LaMonica
Developing countries could be able to track pediatric vaccinations with greater accuracy using a fingerprint-scanning system developed by Michigan State University (MSU) researchers with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The researchers have created software that makes it possible to precisely match fingerprints of children under five using commercially available equipment. The researchers were tasked with processing images captured by fingerprint sensors using software to compensate for the small size of the children's prints, along with wet and oily skin. They also enhanced accuracy by generating matches based on both thumbs and index fingers. A trial in Africa demonstrated the software was about 70-percent accurate in matching prints, versus 98-percent accuracy in a Michigan-based trial. The disparity in accuracy was attributable to the outdoor setting of the African clinic, which was dusty and humid. MSU professor Anil Jain thinks the software's accuracy can be raised to 95 percent in such conditions; he says the technology also is usable "in any healthcare scenario where you have the potential for fraud, such as insurance fraud." Further tests of the technology are planned, with India being a potential test site because it already has a national biometric ID program.
IBM, CUNY Launch Watson Student App Competition
eWeek (09/04/14) Darryl K. Taft
The City University of New York (CUNY) and IBM have launched a competition that will enable students to use IBM Watson's cognitive computing system to build innovative apps. Registration for the CUNY-IBM Watson Case Competition opened Sept. 4 and runs through Oct. 20. Participants will focus on applying the IBM cognitive technology to improve the operation of higher education and the delivery of public services in New York City. Student teams will meet several milestones during the competition, while being mentored by IBM, CUNY, and other experts in the field. During Watson "boot camp," scheduled for Oct. 24-25, they will present their preliminary concepts. Finalists will participate in a round of presentations on Jan. 15, 2015, and cash prizes will be awarded for first, second, and third place. Participants also will have an opportunity to sign up for summer 2015 internships, join a CUNY Entrepreneurship Boot Camp, work in CUNY's Incubator, and access the entrepreneurship network in virtual and real space. Participants could use Watson technology to enhance the quality and effectiveness of public undergraduate education, or to help better deliver public services such as public safety, health, and transportation.
Social Networking Accord
University of Miami (09/04/14) Marie Guma-Diaz; Annette Gallagher
University of Miami (UM) researchers have developed a computational model and the associated conditions for reaching consensus in a broad spectrum of situations. "The new model helps us understand the collective behavior of adaptive agents--people, sensors, databases, or abstract entities--by analyzing communication patterns that are characteristic of social networks," says UM professor Kamal Premaratne. Basic queries addressed by the model include what constitutes a good way to model opinions, how these opinions are updated, and when consensus is reached. Moreover, the model features the ability to accommodate uncertainties tied to soft data in combination with hard data. "Our study takes into account the difficulties associated with the unstructured nature of the network," says UM professor Manohar N. Murthi. "By using a new 'belief updating mechanism,' our work establishes the conditions under which agents can reach a consensus, even in the presence of these difficulties." Previous studies involved consensus reached via a reliance on how agents' updated their beliefs, while Premaratne says the new research has consensus consistent with a reliable estimate of the ground truth. The model strengthens an agent's credibility if the consensus opinion is closer to the agent's opinion. The researchers want to expand the model to include organized opinion clusters, in which each cluster of agents share similar opinions.
Fabric Circuits Pave the Way for Wearable Tech
New Scientist (09/04/14) Paul Marks
Smart apparel needs to tolerate the stresses of repeated washing to be commercially viable, and researchers at Hong Kong's Institute of Textiles and Clothing have developed what they call a fabric circuit board, a textile threaded with electrical wiring. The fabric is composed of filaments of pre-stretched elastic yarn and polyurethane-coated copper fibers that are interweaved using a computerized knitting machine. Testing demonstrated the material can be stretched by 20 percent approximately 1 million times before any of the fibers fail. Lead researcher Xiao-Ming Tao says the fabric also can be used in multiple layers because of the polyurethane insulation cladding the copper. The researchers found no problems with the fabric's deformation or electrical resistance until the material had been subjected to at least 30 washes at 40 degrees Celsius and drying at 75 degrees Celsius. "Washability is a big plus for e-textile circuits, as is durability of the embedded conductors," notes the University of Minnesota in St. Paul's Lucy Dunne. "And as stretchable fabrics are increasingly common in everyday clothing, a conductor that isn't affected by stretching will improve both comfort and aesthetics."
Changing Temperature Powers Sensors in Hard-to-Reach Places
University of Washington News and Information (09/03/14) Michelle Ma
University of Washington (UW) researchers have created a power harvester that uses natural fluctuations in temperature and pressure as its power source. The device can harvest energy in any location where these temperature changes naturally occur. "Pressure changes and temperature fluctuations happen around us all the time in the environment, which could provide another source of energy for certain applications," says UW professor Shwetak Patel. The device includes a metal bellows filled with a temperature-sensitive gas that expands and contracts in response to the outside air temperature. Small, cantilever motion harvesters are inside the bellows and convert the kinetic energy into electrical energy. The energy powers sensors that also are inside the bellows, and data collected by the sensors is sent wirelessly to a receiver. The researchers say the technology could be useful in places where sun and radio waves cannot always penetrate. They note a temperature change of just 0.25 degrees Celsius created enough energy to power the sensor node to read and send data wirelessly to a receiver five meters away. "I think our approach is unique,” says UW doctoral student Chen Zhao. "We provide a simple design that includes some 3D printed and off-the-shelf components."
Researchers Send Electricity, Light Along Same Super-Thin Wire
University of Rochester NewsCenter (09/04/14) David Barnstone
Researchers at the University of Rochester and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology have developed a basic model circuit consisting of a silver nanowire and a single-layer flake of molybdenum disulfide (MoS2). Similar to graphene, MoS2 is composed of layers that are weakly bonded to each other, so they can be easily separated. The researchers used a laser to excite electromagnetic waves called plasmons at the surface of the wire, which caused the MoS2 flake at the far end of the wire to generate strong light emission. At the other end, as the excited electrons relaxed, they were collected by the wire and converted back into plasmons, which emitted light of the same wavelength. "We have found that there is pronounced nanoscale light-matter interaction between plasmons and atomically thin material that can be exploited for nanophotonic integrated circuits," says Rochester professor Nick Vamivakas. He says the research holds promise for guiding the transmission of light and maintaining the intensity of the signal in very small dimensions. In bulk MoS2, electrons and photons interact as they would in traditional semiconductors such as silicon and gallium arsenide, but as MoS2 is reduced to thinner and thinner layers, the transfer of energy between electrons and photons becomes more efficient.
Networked Home Gadgets Offer Hackers New Opportunities
Technology Review (09/03/14) David Talbot
Kaspersky Lab researchers warn that connecting a new home appliance to a personal Wi-Fi network or broadband modem could increase the risk that data such as passwords will be taken from other computers in the house. Appliances such as TVs, DVD players, and printers that connect to a home network are vulnerable to hackers, and these devices have no security protections built in whatsoever, says Kaspersky researcher David Jacoby. He recently hacked several Internet-enabled devices connected to his own home network and made a list of flaws in several typical products. Particularly vulnerable were two network-attached storage devices, one of which was easy to remotely commandeer because it had a default administrator password that was just the character "1." Although there currently is little evidence that many criminals are trying to exploit such flaws, this is likely to change as connected devices become more common. "Dealing with the privacy and security aspects of the Internet of Things is going to be one of the biggest challenges we have faced in security for a long time," says Lookout researcher Marc Rogers. He notes many features of security software that are standard on traditional computing devices also could defend these newer devices, but he thinks the optimal solution for many devices would be to not enable them to link to the Internet.
Tweets During 2013 Colorado Floods Gave Engineers Valuable Data on Infrastructure Damage
CU-Boulder News Center (09/03/14) Laura Snider
University of Colorado Boulder (CU-Boulder) researchers found that tweets sent during last year's massive flooding on Colorado's Front Range were able to detail the scope of damage to the area's infrastructure. The researchers say the discovery could help geotechnical and structural engineers more effectively direct their reconnaissance efforts after future natural disasters and provide them data that might otherwise be lost due to rapid cleanup efforts. "People were tweeting amazing pictures and videos of damage to bridges and other infrastructure systems," says CU-Boulder professor Shideh Dashti. "After the fact, we compared those tweets to the damage reported by engineering reconnaissance teams and they were well correlated." The researchers used Twitter data collected by the Empowering the Public with Information in Crisis (EPIC) Project, a program launched in 2009 to study social media use during disasters. "We provided the EPIC team with keywords that are relevant to disaster reconnaissance and infrastructure performance, which allowed us to filter the tweets to a manageable number for further analysis," Dashti says. In the future, the researchers plan to create a platform that integrates information taken from social media with other information citizens can self-report. "My goal is to eventually feed information on damage distribution back to the user," Dashti says.
Vicki Hanson Recognized for Outstanding Contributions to Accessibility and Computing
Rochester Institute of Technology (09/03/14) Scott Bureau
ACM has awarded the 2014 SIGACCESS Outstanding Contributions award to Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) professor Vicki Hanson. ACM is honoring Hanson for her career-long focus on issues of inclusion for people with disabilities. She has developed award-winning applications and software for older adults and individuals with hearing and vision impairments. As part of the award, Hanson will serve as keynote speaker at the 16th International ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers and Accessibility, which takes place Oct. 20-22 in Rochester, NY. "Vicki Hanson has devoted her whole career to studying the needs and characteristics of diverse people with disabilities and creating methods that can help them," says University of the Basque Country professor Julio Abascal. "Her innovations, research, and publications are influencing developers and being used by consumers around the world every day." Before joining RIT in 2013, Hanson led several research projects related to accessibility while serving as a professor at the University of Dundee in Scotland. Earlier in her career, she founded and managed IBM's Accessibility Research group. Her work in that group included accessibilityWorks, a project that enables users to personalize Web pages using browser extensions to make them more usable by older adults and people with visual, motor, or cognitive handicaps.
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