Welcome to the June 26, 2015 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
An Advance May Double the Capabilities of Fiber Optics
The New York Times (06/25/15) John Markoff
University of California, San Diego researchers have announced an innovation that could double the capacity of fiber-optic circuits, potentially enabling networks to carry more data over long distances at less expense. The method can pre-distort the data transmitted by laser light so deciphering it over long distances becomes simpler. A frequency comb is employed to encode the data prior to transmission, using precise and evenly spaced signals to embed a digital watermark in the original information. Until now, boosting the laser signal's power in fiber-optic networks has compounded the problem of interference and distortion. With this advance, it becomes possible to not only extend transmission distance, but also to eliminate the necessity of optical-to-electronic conversions at relatively short intervals. The researchers report setting a transmission record for a fiber-optic message, relaying it more than 7,400 miles in a lab experiment without having to recreate the signal. Their work brings the vision of an all-optical network one step closer, says the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technologies Photonics Laboratory's Nikola Alic. Former Bell Labs researcher Alan Huang says applying this technique under real-world conditions will come with challenges, noting "their results will be more or less effective depending on the type of data transmitted."
Girls Who Code From Around Globe
The Wall Street Journal (06/25/15) Jeff Elder
Iridescent's Technovation World Pitch Challenge is an opportunity for pre-college girls from around the world with an interest in technology entrepreneurship to win $20,000 in seed funding for their ideas. About half of the competition's participants plan to major in computer-related studies, according to organizers. Now in its sixth year, the event has collectively attracted 5,000 participants from more than 30 countries. Organizers say such efforts address a pressing need to increase the number of women filling computer-related jobs. The U.S. Labor Department forecasts the U.S. will add 778,000 computer-related jobs in the current decade, but the U.S. National Science Foundation estimates only 18 percent of bachelor's degrees in computer science majors are awarded to women. The Technovation Challenge's organizers asked entrants to create mobile apps that address local issues, and the finalists' proposals targeted childhood obesity, sports concussions, drunk driving, water waste, and waste disposal. Brazilian middle-schoolers demonstrated a mobile game about water conservation, while a five-girl team from India showcased an app that connects waste producers to recyclers to generate revenue. The United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization estimates women comprise 30 percent of the world's scientists.
AI's Next Frontier: Machines That Understand Language
Wired News (06/24/15) Cade Metz
Various efforts are underway to advance computers' ability to understand natural language, including artificial intelligence startup MetaMind's new work on a neural-networking system that taps a form of artificial short-term memory to answer wide-ranging queries about a piece of natural language. "The authors...approach or pass the state-of-the-art results on several benchmarks," says University of Montreal professor Yoshua Bengio. "Their architecture is also interesting in that it is aiming at something potentially very ambitious, trying to sequentially parse a large amount of facts...in such a way, via a learned semantic representation, that one can answer questions about them." MetaMind characterizes a Dynamic Memory Network, which enables a computer to be fed a specific piece of text and accurately answer complex questions about it. Moreover, the system can evaluate the text's sentiment, recognize parts of speech, ascertain the referent of a particular pronoun, and translate from one language to another. Bengio says the MetaMind research demonstrates the effectiveness of applying modern neural-networking algorithms to a broad spectrum of natural language, which cuts to the core of machine learning, which is to learn tasks in a generic manner.
How Machine Vision Solved One of the Great Mysteries of 20th-Century Surrealist Art
Technology Review (06/24/15)
A pair of identical paintings attributed to Belgian surrealist artist Rene Magritte has long mystified art experts as to which one is the original. Researchers Milan Rajkovic and Milos Milovanovic say the process of creating an original work of art is different from the process of copying one, and this difference can be detected using machine-vision analysis. They based their research on an analysis of work by contemporary Dutch artist Charlotte Caspers, who was commissioned a few years ago to create a set of seven artworks using various methods and then to copy them as closely as possible a few days later. Rajkovic and Milovanovic believe the use of wavelet analysis can discern differences between an original and a copy by transforming a two-dimensional image into a time-frequency representation that can capture information about the painting at various scales; these scales can be regarded as looking at progressively more blurred images of the paintings. Rajkovic and Milovanovic performed their analysis using the red, green, and blue (RGB) channels of a conventional RGB image of each painting, and repeated the analysis for patches of each painting. "For all patches and all the paintings, the mean global complexity of an original painting is larger than the corresponding value of a copy," they say.
6 Reasons Why We're Underhyping the Internet of Things
The Washington Post (06/24/15) Dominic Basulto
The potential economic value of the Internet of Things (IoT) is being vastly underestimated, and it could be worth more than $11 trillion a year, according to a new report from the McKinsey Global Institute. The Institute cites six reasons why the IoT is being underhyped, including the dramatic underuse of the data generated by sensors and other networked devices, mainly for simple tasks. Moreover, McKinsey says analysts are overlooking bigger-picture economic insights by focusing solely on verticals and industries, while the primary concentration on the IoT's business-to-consumer market opportunity is missing a potentially far larger business-to-business opportunity. In addition, with about 40 percent of the IoT's economic worth fueled by device interoperability, the revenue opportunity becomes obvious. McKinsey also argues the IoT's impact on the developing world's economies is being underestimated, with such economies benefiting from about 40 percent of the economic gains versus the developed world's approximately 60 percent share. McKinsey speculates some developing countries will be able to overtake advancements in developed countries because the retrofitting of equipment or infrastructure with sensors and actuators will become a non-issue. Finally, the IoT will support new business models that likely correlate with how data is tracked and evaluated in real time, causing tech and non-tech companies' boundaries to blur.
Four Challenges Facing Exascale Application Prep
HPC Wire (06/22/15) John Russell
IBM Research and European researchers have proposed a strategy for overcoming inherent challenges of readying high-performance computing (HPC) applications for exascale computing. The challenges include formal modeling, static analysis of optimization, runtime analysis and optimization, and autonomic computing. "We suggest that porting of HPC applications should be made by successive, stepwise improvements based on the currently available assumptions and data about exascale systems," the researchers say. "This approach should support application improvement each time new information about future exascale systems becomes available, including the time when the application is actually deployed and runs on a concrete exascale system." According to the researchers, an adjustable abstract machine model encompassing current assumptions about exascale machines would enable a priori application improvement before the concrete execution platform is known, along with posteriori tuning. To meet the formal modeling challenge, they propose capturing resource footprints of software models at different granularity levels and comparing different task compositions. Therefore, the modeling language needs massively parallel operators over task-level resource footprints. "These models can be used to predict the non-functional behavior of code before it is deployed, and to compare deployments using formal methods," the researchers say.
Carnegie Mellon to Experiment With Blended Learning for Computer Science
THE Journal (06/23/15) Michael Hart
Blended learning could offer a way for universities to accommodate more computer science students without increasing staff or classroom space. Carnegie Mellon University plans to test the concept this year by adding online instructional tools and targeted study groups to an introductory computer science course. Professor Jacobo Carrasquel will replace formal lectures with videos and optional mini-lectures, and use an online software application to gather feedback from students and identify concepts to reinforce during in-person instruction. He believes blended learning will enable him to target the needs of students across the entire spectrum of capabilities. Educators "can no longer teach to the middle," Carrasquel says. He will add the new elements this fall and fully implement them in the spring. The project will help show whether the concept is scalable and can be used in other academic fields. Carrasquel also plans to share some course materials with high school and community college instructors.
Super-Stretchable Smart Fabrics Could Enable New Wearables
IDG News Service (06/25/15) Tim Hornyak
Engineers in Japan are making conductive inks that can be stretched significantly to facilitate research on smart fabrics. The researchers printed electrodes and wires on a prototype wristband made of stretchable sportswear fabric. The device can act as a muscle sensor as well as be used for applications such as underwear that monitors a user's heart rate. The prototype is an organic transistor amplifier circuit that measures muscle electrical potentials through nine electrodes arranged in a square grid. The key element is a new functional ink that is highly conductive, stretchable, and printable in a single-step process using a metal or plastic stencil. The ink is made of silver flakes, organic solvent, fluorine rubber, and fluorine surfactant. The surfactant enables the silver flakes to self-assemble on the surface of the printed ink, giving it high conductivity even when stretched to more than three times its original length. The researchers say the material has the highest conductivity of any elastic conductor that can be stretched to more than two and a half times its original length. However, they note the conductor has to be made more robust and washable before it can be commercialized.
NSF Wants to Test-Drive the Cloud of the Future
Government Computer News (06/24/15) Amanda Ziadeh
The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) wants to help advance cloud technology through its future cloud prototype environments now available to researchers. The prototypes are part of the NSFFutureCloud initiative, which NSF announced in 2013. Chameleon is a large-scale, reconfigurable experimental environment for cloud research co-located at the University of Chicago and the University of Texas at Austin, while CloudLab is a large-scale, distributed infrastructure based at the University of Utah, Clemson University, and the University of Wisconsin. Both systems are open for use, with application instructions available on their websites, and NSF expects them to reach full capacity by December. NSF encourages researchers to reference the cloud's new prototypes when working with and submitting proposals to NSF programs in such areas as computer systems research, cyber-physical systems, networking technology and systems, and secure and trustworthy cyberspace. The cloud prototypes also can help advance research across areas of cloud computing, including cloud architectures and systems, security and authentication issues, and innovative applications of big data. NSF says some of the research may lead to future developments of cloud applications and architecture innovation, as well as new techniques and approaches for handling common cloud issues such as scalability, quality, elasticity, privacy, and availability.
Citizen-Focused Platforms for Closer Collaboration and Decision-Making
CORDIS News (06/23/15)
The European Union-funded D-CENT project was launched to provide citizens with a decisive voice and a fairer means of recognizing social value. The Internet has great potential as a civic and social engagement tool, but it has become increasingly centralized. The initiative, launched in October 2013, has sought to counter this by developing new ways of online organization through pilot projects and new online tools. For example, citizens in Iceland have asked to contribute to a new wiki-constitution, and the Open Ministry in Finland is viewed as an experiment in crowd-sourcing legislation. Many of the projects have highlighted the need to strengthen democratic debate and to take into account social value. To facilitate social impact, D-CENT has developed Freecoin, a digital social currency based on Bitcoin that places a value on efforts that benefit all members of society. In early July, D-CENT researchers will participate in a roundtable discussion in Brussels on the online tools and self-governance models needed to empower citizens. The project is scheduled for completion in May 2016.
Clarkson University Professor Says Iris Recognition Gives Smartphone Users More Security Options
Clarkson University News (06/23/15) Michael P. Griffin
Iris-recognition technology could improve the security of smartphones, says Clarkson University professor Stephanie Schuckers. The technology, which she notes has improved in recent decades, uses near-infrared lights to analyze the pattern of the muscles in the iris. Although the quality of iris recognition is very high, no biometric is perfect, Schuckers says. She notes the system and the sophistication of the software determine the level of reliability. Some iris-recognition systems may be vulnerable to printed photos of eyes or patterned contact lenses. Fujitsu has incorporated iris recognition into a new smartphone, and Schuckers believes there will likely be iris-recognition devices in the U.S. in the near future. However, consumers will need to focus on the quality of apps and devices that provide iris recognition. Clarkson's Center for Identification Technology Research, which is headed by Schuckers, is researching methods to protect iris recognition from biometric spoofing. The research center is financing a contest, the Liveness Detection Competition Series, which asks researchers to provide algorithms that distinguish between data from real and fake irises. "We're studying those vulnerabilities and ways to mitigate those vulnerabilities," Schuckers says.
Iowa State Engineers Develop Micro-Tentacles So Tiny Robots Can Handle Delicate Objects
Iowa State University News Service (06/19/15) Mike Krapfl
Iowa State University researchers have developed spiraling microrobotic tentacles only eight millimeters long and less than 1/100th of an inch wide, which they say will enable robots to handle delicate objects. The microtubes are made from PDMS, a transparent elastomer that can be a liquid or a soft, rubbery solid, which the researchers have been working with for about 10 years. The researchers created the tentacles by sealing one end of the tube and pumping air in and out. The air pressure and the microtube's asymmetrical wall thickness created a circular bend. The researchers then added a small lump of PDMS to the base of the tube to amplify the bend and create a two-turn spiraling, coiling action. Spiraling tentacles are widely utilized in nature, and "there have been continuous soft-robotic efforts to mimic them...but the life-like, multi-turn spiraling motion has been reproduced only by centimeter-scale tentacles so far," the researchers say. In order for the new system to work, the researchers had to develop new production techniques to create the microtubes. They also had to find a way to peel the microtubes off a production template, and to use computer modeling to find a way to create more coiling.
Wozniak Talks: Self-Driving Cars, Apple Watch, and How AI Will Benefit Humanity
TechRepublic (06/24/15) Teena Hammond
In a wide-ranging interview, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak said he envisions artificial intelligence (AI) eventually controlling the world for the betterment of humanity, predicting "they're going to be smarter than us and if they're smarter than us then they'll realize they need us." Wozniak stressed computers would have to control everything before AI could take over via advances such as the Internet of Things (IoT), but he said the IoT is a positive development, as it would be designed for human comfort. Among the AI developments Wozniak is interested in is driverless automobiles, and he foresees a reduction in human accidents if such a breakthrough is realized, to the degree that laws might be approved to have human motorists forbidden on certain roads. In terms of innovation, Wozniak splits engineers into two categories--those who study and solve problems, and those who invent and create new concepts. He also said large companies frequently find it difficult to encourage innovation because they are overloaded with rules and procedures. In Wozniak's view, the most innovative companies today are small and were built from scratch. He also sees the current model of education as a barrier to innovation, observing it too often requires learning skills and subjects that distract from students' preferred areas of concentration.
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