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Researchers Provide Collaborative Environment for Evolutionary Design

Engineers from Cornell University’s Creative Machines lab are offering people the opportunity to interactively design and take part in creating printable, three-dimensional objects online based on ideas taken from evolutionary biology. Endless Forms allows users to create items without specific technical knowledge, such as CAD skills, to do so. The concept was created based on a mathematical abstraction of organism development. The site shows a “generation” of objects. Users choose the object they like the best. This is then “bred” to create a subsequent generation; thus, the objects evolve over time. Users can then choose to make an end object via 3D printing companies. The researchers say the site educates users about evolution by showing how complex designs can be created over time with only small changes. They are exploring applying these concepts to robotics.  The work was published in the Proceedings of the European Conference on Artificial Life.
( University)(Endless Forms)

Putting Predictive Analytics to use in Law Enforcement

Police in Santa Cruz, California are testing a new method for apprehending criminals based on predictive analytics. The department is sending officers to places where crimes will likely occur based on crime statistical analysis. The department is basing its predictive models on those used to forecast earthquake activity. The system issues projections about those areas and times that are at highest risk for future criminal activity based on eight years of crime data. These projections are made daily as new criminal activities are entered into the system. The top 10 crime hot spots calculated are provided to patrol officers who can check those areas during their shifts. The system is also being developed for the Los Angeles Police Department, which will reportedly start implementing the program later this year. Thus far, the Santa Cruz Police Department claims its burglaries were down 27 percent in July compared to July 2010, “suggesting that the targeted policing may have a deterrent effect,” according to The New York Times.  (SlashDot)(The New York Times)(Santa Cruz and Los Angeles Predictive Policing Six Month Trial)

Amazon Launches Secure Cloud for US Government Agencies, Contractors

Amazon Web Services announced its new service AWS GovCloud, specifically designed to meet the regulatory and compliance needs of US government agencies and contractors. This includes regulations related to the handling of defense and health care data as well as its management and storage. Data stored in this cloud is reportedly only accessible by designated individuals within the US. Some government agencies, including the US Treasury's Recovery Accountability and Transparency board and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, have already been using Amazon cloud services for various hosting and processing tasks. (CNET)(PC World)(Amazon Web Services)

ISO Approves New C++ Standard

In its final committee ballot, the new C++0x standard was unanimously approved. C++0x, which is also known as C++11, is an object-oriented programming language standard designed to replace the existing C++ standard. The standard should be published 28 February 2012, according to the ISO. (SlashDot)(International Organization for Standardization)(The C++ Standards Committee)

[Conference News] End-User Assessments are Valuable – to a Certain Point

Intelligent assistants are on the rise in today’s high-tech society. From smart home security systems that serve a family in its home, to research “coding” assistants helping a group of project researchers, intelligent assistants customize their work around an end-user’s needs; they learn, among other things, how to recognize everything from junk email to photos of friends.

Unfortunately, intelligent systems sometimes handle tasks so important or large that they cannot be trusted implicitly. Systematic assessment of an intelligent assistant’s end users can establish certain levels of trust, but such assessments can be costly.

A group of researchers from Oregon State University and City University London investigated recently whether bringing a small crowd of end users (“mini-crowds”) to assess an intelligent assistant is useful from a cost/benefit perspective. The results? A mini-crowd of testers supplied many more benefits than the obvious decrease in cost and workload, but as the size of the mini-crowds increased, there was a point of diminishing returns where the cost-benefit ratio became less attractive.

In a paper titled “Mini-Crowdsourcing End-User Assessment of Intelligent Assistants: A Cost-Benefit Study”, to be presented at the IEEE Symposium on Visual Languages and Human-Centric Computing (VLHCC 11), 18-22 September in Pittsburgh, Penn., three different-sized mini-crowds assessed the performance of an intelligent assistant that classified textual messages. Findings showed that bigger was not always better. For example, the mini-crowd of six introduced fewer false negatives than the mini-crowd of 11. Even in tests where larger mini-crowds outperformed smaller crowds, the benefit of increasing the crowd size quickly dropped, while costs scaled linearly.

The researchers envision a future in which shared testing is paired with shared debugging to support small ecosystems of end users to quickly and effectively assess intelligent assistants that support important aspects of their work and lives.

To learn more about papers to be presented at VLHCC 2011, visit the conference website at

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