CACM Reports: New Computing Technologies Speed Biological Systems Research

January 2015 Issue Reports on the Internet's Adverse Effect on Cognition; the Rise and Fall of Industry Research Labs; H

Subtitle: January 2015 Issue Reports on the Internet's Adverse Effect on Cognition; the Rise and Fall of Industry Research Labs; How to Protect Systems and Data; and Designing Smart Transportation Networks


Biological and computational systems are often required to solve similar distributed information processing problems, report researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. By using ideas from one domain to study the other, they opened new doors to how biological systems function. Their work was triggered by new computing technologies like wireless, sensor, and mobile computing combined with an ever-increasing ability to obtain large datasets of biological systems. The coupling of these technologies dramatically improved their ability to study and model biological systems. Check out the video for this cover story.

  • Citing multiple authoritative claims that the Internet and related technologies are reducing our cognitive abilities to create, concentrate, and learn, Hermann Maurer, an emeritus computer science professor from Austria, asks whether we need to worry about this condition. He urges caution in accepting these claims, and argues that we not be completely dependent on technology, and that we retain the capability for logical thinking and creativity.
  • Technology writer Gary Anthes says that digitization of analog data, along with advances in algorithms behind data analytics, has enabled a dramatic leap in the ability of data brokers to track individuals. He cites efforts by policy experts in a report to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) that urges more focus on the use of personal data, and less on its collection.
  • Communications of the ACM Editor-in-Chief Moshe Y. Vardi recounts his experiences as a researcher at the IBM Almaden Research Center when business conditions led to a transformed company that focused more on technology than on research in the early 1990s. He perceives a similar pattern at Microsoft Research recently, asking whether Microsoft can retain its dominance and commitment to fundamental research.
  • People tend to overreact to dramatic events like terrorist attacks, but they underestimate mundane threats like account compromise caused by password reuse, writes Geetanjali Sampemane of Google. She advocates good internal access controls like regular automated monitoring and verifying of access configurations, and auditing user access data to make it harder for attackers to break in, and limit damage if a system is attacked.
  • Transportation engineers and computer scientists are now designing a smarter network of roads, traffic lights, signs, and vehicles to redefine traffic management in urban areas, reports technology writer Samuel Greengard. As the Internet of Things and connected machines take hold, traffic management is likely to speed forward, making it possible to transform everything from traffic lights and road signs to street and vehicle design.

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ACM, the Association for Computing Machinery, is the world's largest educational and scientific computing society, uniting educators, researchers and professionals to inspire dialogue, share resources and address the field's challenges. ACM strengthens the computing profession's collective voice through strong leadership, promotion of the highest standards, and recognition of technical excellence. ACM supports the professional growth of its members by providing opportunities for life-long learning, career development, and professional networking.


Virginia Gold