Archive for the ‘research horizons’ category


Are Robots Our Friends?

February 19th, 2015

technology background  with robot  android womenThere has been a tremendous amount of press on the astonishing advancement of artificial intelligence (AI) and the negative impacts that it could have on our society. Former Computing Community Consortium (CCC) council member, Eric Horvitz recently published a piece about the Benefits and Risks of Artificial Intelligence. Others have commented that AI could take our jobs and even potentially kill us.

Elon Musk, Tesla chief executive, called artificial intelligence our biggest existential threat at the MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics department’s Centennial Symposium in October.

I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I were to guess like what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that. So we need to be very careful with the artificial intelligence.

Then Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates got the Internet all fired up when he answered questions in a Reddit “AskMeAnything” thread.

I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence. First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don’t understand why some people are not concerned.

But have we stopped to think… are they really all that bad?

David W. Buchanan, an IBM Researcher, published an opinion piece in The Washington Post. It makes you think… huh, maybe robots aren’t so bad after all?

We have learned from science fiction movies and books that when the AI becomes conscious, it can decide to kill us all. However, as Buchanan argues, consciousness is hard to create because scientists “can’t really agree on a rigorous definition, let alone a research program that would uncover its basic mechanisms.” The qualities of humanity -love, anger, revenge- are a part of our consciousness. So without consciousness to drive an AI, there is no reason to expect that it could get revengeful and commit murder.

Whatever you decide, good or bad, just know you have people on both sides of the argument who have your back even if the robots eventually do not.

Addressing Privacy Issues at Davos

February 12th, 2015

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Recently, the world’s top leaders and thinkers gathered for the World Economic Forum’s annual conference in Davos, Switzerland. In addition to the great variety of world issues discussed, there were a few discussions on how technology is impacting the economy, laws, and society.

Margo Seltzer, a CRA Board Member, traveled to Switzerland for the conference and participated in a panel discussion, “New Cyber World Order,” organized by Harvard University. Since then, the discussion has attracted a lot of attention. While articles in  Digital Journal  and Daily Mail led with the dramatic headline, “Privacy is dead,” Seltzer emphasized to me that the main points conveyed during the session were more practical. Today we share an increasing amount of our personal data with technologies intended to make our life more convenient, and by doing so we are give up some of our privacy in exchange. During the panel discussion, Seltzer vocalized the need to begin developing policies and increasing regulations to help address these rising privacy concerns.

Her points in the discussion were best summarized in a TechCrunch article:

The point is, she later told TechCrunch, we are already at a privacy-eroding tipping point — even with current gen digital technologies. Let alone anything so futuristic as robotic mosquitos.


“The high order message is that we don’t need pervasive sensor net technologies for this to be true. We merely have to use technologies that exist today: credit cards, debit card, the web, roads, highway transceivers, email, social networks, etc. We leave an enormous digital trail,” she added.


Seltzer was also not in fact arguing for giving up on privacy — even if the Mail’s article reads that way. But rather for the importance of regulating data and data usage, rather than trying to outlaw particular technologies.

The Computing Community Consortium (CCC) has also identified the need for a broader research vision that frames and explores the problem at the conceptual, engineering, design, operational, and organizational levels and is sponsoring a series of four workshops aimed at identifying a shared research vision to support the practice of privacy-by-design. The first workshop in the series, “State of Research and Practice,” was held February 5-6, 2015 in Berkeley, CA, led by Deirdre Mulligan. Click here for more information.

Report on the White House Announcement on the Precision Medicine Initiative

February 2nd, 2015

precision medicine initiativeThe following is a guest blog post by Beth Mynatt, Computing Community Consortium (CCC) Vice Chair and professor of Interactive Computing and the executive director of Georgia Tech‘s Institute for People and Technology (IPaT). 

I had the opportunity to attend President Obama’s White House announcement of his “Precision Medicine Initiative” last Friday. The president was introduced by Elana Simon, a computer science major at Harvard University, who has conducted cancer research and was diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer as a teenager.

Obama’s $215 million request, included in his fiscal 2016 budget, would go toward research by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the NIH’s National Cancer Institute and the Food and Drug Administration. NIH would receive includes $130 million to create a national database of 1 million volunteer donors who will have their genetic profiles studied. In addition to the NIH funding, the National Cancer Institute would get $70 million to study genetic causes of cancer; $10 million would help the Food and Drug Administration increase its knowledge of individualized therapy to better regulate the field; and $5 million would be devoted to building the computing and privacy components of the genetic-data network.

Attendees listened to Obama describe the need to match medical treatments to genetic profiles akin to matching blood transfusions to blood types. The running metaphor was to eliminate “one size fits all” traditional healthcare treatments with personalized treatments based on precise genetic profiles. “The accidents of our birth should not determine our fate, or our destiny,” said Obama.


There appears to be bipartisan enthusiasm for this initiative based on the promise to cut healthcare costs by reducing ineffective treatments and spurring growth in “value-based care.”

The White House announcement was a well-attended event with the leadership of NIH, Institute of Medicine, Office for the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, Federal Trade Commission and other agencies present alongside leaders of many pharmaceutical companies. Families of children who have been successful treated with targeted genomic therapies personally vouched for the importance of these medical efforts. The event even had some star power with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar attending as he has been successfully treated for a lethal form of leukemia.

There are obvious opportunities for computing researchers in this initiative from the combined modeling and simulation of genetic information and disease to machine learning approaches that attempt to identify sub-cohorts of patients who share specific characteristics that may be amendable to genetic treatments.

That said, this initiative failed to highlight the potential to also incorporate environmental, behavioral and psychological information in the creation of personalized healthcare interventions. For example, asthma is a disease that plagues close to 26 million Americans, including over 7 million children. While genetic-based discoveries hold the potential for further distinguishing patient cohorts and drug discovery, environmental triggers, medication adherence and the ability and willingness of people to adjust their behavior for positive health outcomes will certainly still significantly influence successful management of asthma. This scenario repeats itself for every chronic disease plaguing our healthcare system (diabetes, heart disease, cancer and so on). While genetic research is unquestionably “sexy” in DC and beyond, our field and our scientific community needs to also embrace that major healthcare advances will require working across many, messier data sets and the creation of medical interventions that also empower patients to improve their health.



Tech Trends for 2015: In the Know

January 22nd, 2015

A few weeks ago, The Wall Street Journal posted the article, “The Tech That Will Change Your Life in 2015: Gadgets and Ideas With the Best Chance of Making an Impact … and What You Can Do to Prepare for Them.” It offered predictions on cutting edge tech trends for the new year. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Windows 10: Scheduled for release in the fall

The beloved Start menu is resurrected and modernized, and multiple virtual desktops will improve multitasking.…you may want to wait for the great assortment of new Windows 10 PCs that will appear in late 2015.”

  • Apple Watch: Debuting in the coming months

“It will undoubtedly kick-start a new wave of ideas about how to stay connected with your friends, work and fitness through a device that’s literally always on you. How to get ready: Don’t buy one of the smartwatches already on the market. Most don’t look great and aren’t especially useful. Even if you favor Android, Apple’s entry will likely stimulate the competition to build better, sleeker wrist-tops.”

  • Online TV Streaming For Less: Traditionally cable only channels (like HBO) will be available online without a cable TV subscription.

“How to get ready: Find a home broadband service that offers downloads of at least 5 megabits per second. (Yes, you might have to make a new deal with your cable provider.) Then buy a streaming box or stick for your TV.”

  • 4K TV: Will become standard at 65 inches or higher.

“These Ultra HD TVs pack four times the resolution of HD, so you can see every bead of sweat on the actors’ brows. The cost of making these TVs has fallen dramatically, and 4K video has arrived via streaming from Netflix, Amazon and others. Those extra pixels aren’t worthwhile on smaller TVs, but if you’re finally buying a big set, you’d be mistaken not to consider 4K.

How to get ready: By next fall, quality 4K TVs will be available for laughably low prices. (But since the tech is evolving fast, never ever buy last year’s model.) And for better color, keep an eye out for “quantum dot” technology.”

Wallet, ID, Keys- All in Your Phone: Services similar to Apple Pay expand other product categories like door keys, loyalty cards and even your Drivers License

How to get ready: You’ll need a recent phone with a technology called NFC to use Apple or Google mobile payment services. And since your phone contains even more sensitive information than ever, be sure to secure it with a screen lock and remote-wipe capabilities.

Biometric Readers: “The coming year will bring 007-style gadgets that scan your eye, listen to your voice or just recognize your heartbeat.”

“How to get ready: Start with a fingerprint scanner, available today on a number of phones including the Samsung Galaxy S5 and iPhone 6. Apps for iOS that already accept finger scans include American Express, Amazon and Mint; if you have a new Samsung phone, try PayPal and the password manager LastPass.”



Highlights from the New Class of TED Fellows

January 13th, 2015

The new class of Fellows for TED2015 has recently been released, and among the 21 “game-changing thinkers” are Laura Boykin, a biologist and Jonathan Home, a physicist. We’ve chosen to highlight them here because even though they have very different backgrounds and goals, both use advanced computing techniques to transform the world.


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Laura is a biologist who uses genomics and supercomputing to tackle food security in sub-Saharan Africa. She’s especially interested in figuring out what to do about whiteflies, which are devastating local cassava crops, a staple food in many countries.




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Jonathan is a physicist working to build a quantum computer, attempting to achieve high-precision control of individual atoms in order to build up quantum systems, atom by atom.




TED2015 will be held March 16-20 in Vancouver.

Young Scientists Invited to Apply for Third Heidelberg Laureate Forum

January 5th, 2015

HLF_logoPreparations for the third Heidelberg Laureate Forum (HLF) are in full swing, and applications from young researchers to attend are now being accepted. HLF will once again bring together winners of the Abel Prize and Fields Medal (mathematics), as well as the Turing Award and Nevanlinna Prize (computer science) for an inspirational week. The Heidelberg Laureate Forum Foundation is looking for outstanding young mathematicians and computer scientists from all over the world who would like the chance to meet distinguished experts from both disciplines and find out how to become a leading scientist in their field.

The third Forum will take place August 23 to 28, 2015 in Heidelberg, Germany. Applications will be accepted until February 28, 2015. You can submit online applications here. Successful candidates will be selected by an international committee of experts that will ensure only the most qualified candidates are invited.

For more information on the program, visit the HLF website and see the frequently asked questions.