News Update :: Tuesday, September 26, 2006


CMU, UC Berkeley Comp Scientists Win Genius Awards

Two campus information technology thinkers were recipients of the MacArthur Foundation “genius” awards last week. These are $500,000, no-strings-attached fellowships designed to help them only “to reflect, explore, and create.” Luis von Ahn, a 28-year-old professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University and Claire Tomlin, a UC Berkeley associate professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences, were among 25 winners named. “All were selected for their creativity, originality and potential to make important contributions in the future,” the MacArthur Foundation said.

The Foundation described von Ahn as “a young computer scientist working at the intersection of cryptography, artificial intelligence, and natural intelligence to address problems of profound theoretical and practical importance.” It also says he’s “tackling ever more challenging questions at the frontiers of computer science.”

Dr. von Ahn is credited with helping invent a new field in computer science known as “human computation,” which uses games and other techniques to harness computational abilities of humans to solve problems computers cannot yet solve. His “ESP Game” has been licensed by Google and used on its site. As a grad student at CMU, he helped invent “Captchas” – a method that uses words or numbers online in flowing script that one must identify and type into a space to access a Web site. The process makes sites more secure.

Claire Tomlin, 37, a UC Berkeley associate professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences, was also named a 2006 MacArthur Fellow for her work studying hybrid control systems to address problems in aircraft flight control and collision avoidance. Tomlin has developed practical algorithms for determining when unsafe in-flight conditions may arise, which has implications in the areas of military operations, business strategies, and power grid control...

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Campus Disaster Planners Study Web, eLearning Responses

Officials from Gulf Coast higher education institutions and leading experts in emergency preparedness in higher education gathered in New Orleans last week to discuss the uses of online education during emergencies like Katrina. One case study being dissected will be the Sloan Semester, a project funded by a $1.1 million grant from the Sloan Foundation that that created a functioning virtual university in 21 days for the Gulf region during the Katrina disaster.

Officials said the Sloan Semester made available more than 1,350 courses from over 150 institutions nationwide to more than 1,750 students. Nearly 3,000 course enrollments were processed, and more than two out of three Sloan Semester students completed coursework, with 70 percent earning a grade of A or B.

According to Ray Schr'eder, director of the Office of Technology-Enhanced Learning at the University of Illinois, Springfield, the working session was held to develop a series of online workshops to help colleges and universities across the country prepare for the delivery of their curricula online when emergencies – such as hurricanes, earthquakes, terrorist acts, or epidemics – close the physical campus.

A second goal is to develop a Sloan Consortium response center to assure that national resources are brought to bear to help colleges and universities in their efforts. Schr'eder said both goals are to be accomplished within 60 days after the workshop concludes...

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Santa Clara U. Hosts Summit on Municipal Wireless Divide

Santa Clara University’s Center for Science, Technology, and Society will host a public hearing next month on how to make free municipal Wi-Fi more effective in helping to close the digital divide. SCU officials, who will host the meeting with the Broadband Institute of California, said the meeting is part of a project to educate people from the region’s underserved groups so that they can make better-informed policy recommendations about commissioning their own broadband networks.

The project will assemble a diverse panel of Silicon Valley residents to discuss making effective use of the resources by helping shape local telecom policies undertaken by local governments. The project was inspired by “consensus conferences” that have been held worldwide to involve the public in technology policy issues, organizers said. “Silicon Valley is known for innovation, and new technologies call for new forms of public engagement,” said Chad Raphael, conference organizer and associate professor of communication at SCU. “For example, the public hearing will be like a Senate hearing, except members of the public will be sitting in the senators’ chairs.”

“If broadband is a critical economic engine for communities to provide jobs and a way to close the digital divide, it is imperative that we address existing inequalities in broadband access,” said Al Hammond, director of the Broadband Institute of California and law professor at SCU School of Law. “And the public needs to ask these questions before the networks are built, not after.”...

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W3C to Pursue Better Mobile Web Access in Poor Countries

MIT’s World Wide Web Consortium will host a December workshop in Bangalore, India, to help drive the expansion of mobile Web access in developing countries. The public workshop, to be held Dec. 5-6, is part of W3C’s mobile Web project to identify and resolve barriers to accessing the Web in countries without a mature communications infrastructure.

“While in some countries, mobile Web access is the latest must-have for executives, it is increasingly clear that it may play an important role in the development of some communities,” said Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director. “We must ensure that the Web is designed to meet the needs of sparser populations and of those whose only access to the Web may be on their phone.”

W3C is run by the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, the European Research Consortium for Informatics and Mathematics (ERCIM) in France, and Keio University in Japan. W3C said it considers access to e-mail and the Web vital for education, commerce, and communication. High speed mobile data networks and more affordable Web-enabled phones are helping to make this access possible in the developing world. For some, telephones may be the primary, or even sole, means to access the Web, according to W3C...

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Stanford Study: MMORPGS No Longer Adolescent Fortress

A study by a Stanford University graduate student has debunked the belief that most denizens of the world of Massively Multi-User Online Role- Playing Games (MMORPGs) are adolescent or college-aged men. In fact, the new study by Nick Yee, a doctoral candidate in the Stanford Department of Communications, shows that of 30,000 users studied, the median age was 27, ranging from 11 to 68.

On average, players spent about 23 hours a week in their chosen MMORPG (pronounced “More Pegs”) whether it was “World of Warcraft” or “Eve Online.” While 22 percent were full-time students, fully half of the respondents worked full-time, according to the study.

Female players were significantly older than male players, with the median age of 32 for females and 26 for males. “While the cause of this age difference may be hard to pinpoint,” Yee reported, one potential explanation lies in how male and female players were introduced to MMORPGs: 27 percent of female players were introduced to the game by their romantic partner, compared with 1 percent of male players.

Male players were significantly more likely to be driven to participate by the “achievement and manipulation factors,” while female players were significantly more likely to be driven by the “relationship factor,” said Yee. “MMORPGs are not simply a pastime for teenagers, but a valuable research venue and platform where millions of users interact and collaborate using real-time 3D avatars on a daily basis,” wrote Yee...

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