Thursday, 13 February 2014

Facebook graph reveals who you love

Even if you're not shouting it from the housetops, there's a good chance the structure of your Facebook neighborhood will identify your romantic partner. From a map of Facebook friends, a computer algorithm developed by Jon Kleinberg, the Tisch University Professor of Computer Science, and Lars Backstrom '04, Ph.D. '09, now at Facebook, will correctly identify a person's spouse, fiancĂ© or other romantic partner about 70 percent of the time. "We are trying to build up a sort of chemistry kit for finding different elements of a network," Kleinberg said. The team will present their results at the ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing, Feb. 15-19 in Baltimore. As you might guess, the method works best when the couple is married, and works better the longer the relationship has been in force. On the dark side, if the algorithm does not select the person who is the relationship partner, there is a significantly increased chance that in a month or two the couple will break up. The researchers tested their methods on anonymized data from 1.3 million randomly selected Facebook users aged 20 or older who listed their status as "married," "engaged" or "in a relationship." Along with a list of a Facebook user's friends, the data also show how those friends are linked to one another. The first guess was that the romantic partner would be "embedded" – that the couple would have many mutual friends. That works, the researchers found, but not very well, finding the partner about 25 percent of the time. So they introduced a concept they call "dispersion," where the couple's mutual friends are not highly connected among themselves, but rather are scattered over many aspects of the central user's life. In real-world terms, your spouse goes where you go, and knows the people in your office, your church, your bridge club and so on, although those people seldom meet one another across group lines. "You have to ask, 'How did the relationship get that way?'" Kleinberg said. "Your spouse acts as a sort of time traveler in your life, who went back and met with all those people." Combining embededness with dispersion boosted performance. The researchers then factored in the dispersiveness of the dispersed friends – whether the person your romantic partner knows at your office is also connected to some people in your church and your bridge club. Finally, they added measures of interaction, such as how often people look at each other's profiles, attend the same events or appear together in photos. Ultimately they were able to identify the partner 70.5 percent of the time. Others who might be chosen by the algorithm are most often family members or their partners. As a spinoff, the researchers were able to determine, 68.3 percent of the time, whether a given user was or was not in a relationship at all, and with 79 percent accuracy if the relationship was a marriage. There may be other applications for analysis based on dispersion, the researchers said, including grouping people into categories or, for social scientists, finding the person who just doesn't fit a category. Backstrom, who developed Facebook's friend recommender, is looking at ways to evaluate incoming messages to a Facebook user based on the user's relationship with the source. And identifying people with strong ties to one another may also show where to go to influence a group. "If you're someone who bridges between groups it can be a source of power," Kleinberg explained.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Yvette Prieto, Michael Jordan welcome twins

Michael Jordan has more to make him to be happy about, than just the improved play of his NBA franchise. His wife, Yvette, has given birth to the couple's identical twin daughters, Jordan's spokeswoman Estee Portnoy told The Associated Press.Portnoy said Tuesday night Yvette Jordan, 35, gave birth to Victoria and Ysabel on Sunday in West Palm Beach, Fla. "Yvette Jordan and the babies are doing well and the family is overjoyed at their arrival," Portnoy said. Jordan is the owner of the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats, who are currently the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference and have a chance to make the postseason for the first time since he took over as majority owner in 2010. Jordan, who turns 51 next Monday, married former model Yvette Prieto on April 27 of last year in Palm Beach, Fla. The reception which took place at a private golf club in Jupiter, Fla., designed by Jack Nicklaus. Jordan owns a home near the course. The couple met six years ago. Jordan has three children - two sons, Jeffrey Michael and Marcus James, and a daughter, Jasmine - with former wife Juanita Vanoy. They divorced in 2006. Jordan won six NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls and was a 14-time All-Star and five-time league MVP.

Quantum computers could crack existing codes and also create others much harder to break

The massive release of the US National Security Agency (NSA)'s classified documents by Edward Snowden continues to raise questions on security. One of these documents deals with the NSA's classified research program in the exotic field of quantum computing. This research investigates ways to process information using the laws of quantum mechanics, rather than the familiar physics underlying present-day computer processors. Code breaking Why should the NSA care? Because the single most famous application of quantum computing is in code-breaking. During World War II, a team led by Alan Turing used a primitive computer to break the Nazis' Enigma code The NSA document, which can be found online, deals with the excitingly named project "Penetrating Hard Targets". An unknown portion of the US$80-million budget is devoted to building a small quantum processor, capable of counting up to four. (No, not four-million. Just four!) This doesn't sound like much, but one has to start somewhere. Another portion supports research into quantum cryptography, which offers new, higher-security secret codes based on quantum mechanics. The news here is that the NSA had its own secret experimental program. It was already public knowledge that the NSA is interested in quantum computing. The NSA has been financially supporting non-classified quantum computing research at universities since the 1990s, and many academic journal articles acknowledge NSA support. Quantum computers could crack existing codes but create others much harder to break Statue of Alan Turing at Bletchley Park. Credit: Flickr/Loz Flowers In fact, my own PhD work on quantum computing with trapped ions was largely funded by the NSA. One day, our funding managers came to visit. They looked like my maths professors from undergraduate days – slightly nerdy men in sweaters. I was a little disappointed until I came up with a theory that when they went back to the NSA building, they would tear off the sweaters to reveal the long trenchcoats of a typical spy drama. Basic maths and cryptography But iIt's no accident that our NSA funding managers looked like mathematicians. That's what they were. Modern cryptography is, in many ways, a branch of applied mathematics. The Rivest-Shamir-Adleman (RSA) algorithm, which protects almost all e-commerce, relies on one fact that can be understood with primary-school maths (it can even be used to send love letters). Multiplying two large prime numbers is easy – say, 547 × 617 = 337,499. There's a simple process that you can follow and making the numbers a little bigger only makes the process take a little longer. In the jargon of computer science, the problem "scales polynomially". However, suppose someone just gives you a large number and asks you to work the process in reverse. In the example we give, you are given the number 337,499 and asked to find out which numbers (the "factors") should be multiplied together to produce 337,499.You would just have to try factors, almost at random, until you hit on the correct factors by chance (547 and 617). This would take an exceedingly long time since you would have to perform many multiplications. Making the numbers a little bigger makes the problem much harder – it "scales exponentially"! The efforts of the world's mathematicians over decades have not been able to find an easy way to solve this problem, and they've certainly tried. If an easy and practical solution were found, the RSA code would be broken and the prize is, well, most of the world's bank accounts. In a less criminal frame of mind, you might want to feel secure about your next internet purchase, so you might want to convince yourself that RSA is unbreakable. Email encryption also relies on RSA, so trying to break RSA is core business for the NSA's mathematicians. The quantum leap in code breaking Quantum computers could crack existing codes but create others much harder to break NSA headquarters in Maryland. Credit: US NSA Quantum computers became big business in 1994, when Peter Shor demonstrated theoretically that a quantum computer could find the factors of a large number easily. Making the number bigger shouldn't faze the quantum computer – it's enough to add a little more computing capacity. However, you needn't worry about your bank account. Translating Shor's algorithm into practice is tremendously difficult. No one has built a practical quantum computer that could break RSA, and that goal is still a long way off - decades, at the current rate of progress. Remember, the NSA's current program, if successful, will handlenumbers up to four, not exactly the "large numbers" we were talking about earlier. Quantum cryptography It's quite likely that a quantum computer will be built eventually, but quantum mechanics can make codes as well as break them. The complementary part of the picture is the NSA's effort in quantum cryptography, which provides new security methods that are resistant even to quantum computers or any other kind of code-breaking. Messages encoded in quantum systems have a perfect "tamper-proof seal". The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle tells us that measuring one property of a quantum system must always change another property of the system. Quantum computers could crack existing codes but create others much harder to break A microchip for trapping atomic ions which could be the heart of a future quantum computer. Credit: Kielpinski lab One can create a code based on this principle, such that if the coded message is intercepted and read, the process of reading the message actually changes it. The recipient can check parts of the message with the sender over an open line to make sure that there has been no tampering. Even better news, quantum cryptography is much further advanced than quantum computing. There are already commercial ventures deploying quantum cryptography links for banks and governments. Australia's own Quintessence Labs, based in Canberra, is a major player in this area. Quantum computing's roots may be in the cloak-and-dagger business, but it has great potential for civilian uses too. For instance, a quantum computer can efficiently simulate advanced materials, such as high-temperature superconductors, at the atomic level. The ability to direct manufacturing efforts for these materials in a clever way could save tremendous effort. However, just like all scientific advances, the uses of quantum computing will ultimately be determined politically and financially.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Google still controls your information, without the limit of EU ruling

After a long investigation, Google has finally reached a settlement with the European Commission about how it presents search results. The Commission had started investigating Google in the first place over concerns about its dominance of the search market in Europe, where it accounts for 90% of searches. This is even bigger than its dominance in the US, where it controls around two-thirds of the market. The company has been accused of prioritising its own webpages and those of rivals and has agreed to change its ways in order to avoid a fine of up to $5 billion.Search results will now have to report alternative options from other websites. Rather than demoting them in favour of sites that promote Google's own interests, as it has until now. To comply with the ruling, Google has agreed to give rival links greater visibility, using a dedicated shaded box that can't be switched off. This sits next to Google's own results from specialised services and will be used across mobile and any future versions of Google search that uses the specialised search function. But, crucially, Google was successful in protecting its secret algorithm from oversight by regulators. The reaction from other interested parties was not positive. According to, an advocacy group sponsored by companies such as Microsoft and Oracle, the deal is "worse than nothing". It argues that these measures will not be sufficient to challenge Google's dominance, citing its own study showing that proposals put to the Commission along the way to this agreement only served to drive up traffic to its own sites.

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Teaching robots linguistic hedges and discourse markers.

Very soon, robots will be giving us helpful advice, but we don't want them to be snippy about it. Research at Cornell and Carnegie Mellon universities suggests that if they sound a little less sure of themselves and throw in a few of the meaningless words humans are fond of, listeners will have a more positive response. People use these strategies even when they know exactly," explained Susan Fussell, associate professor of communication. "It comes off more polite." The study, "How a Robot Should Give Advice," was conducted at Carnegie Mellon while Fussell was teaching there, and reported at the Eighth Annual ACM/IEEE Conference on Human-Robot Interaction, March 3-6, 2013 in Tokyo. Co-authors are Sara Kiesler, the Hillman Professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon, and former graduate student Cristen Torrey, now at Adobe Systems. Giving advice can be tricky, because it can be seen as "face-threatening." You're saying in effect that the advisee is not smart. The best approach, the researchers suggest, is for the adviser not to claim to be all that smart either, and to use informal language. In a series of experiments, human observers saw robots and humans as more likeable and less controlling when they used hedges like "maybe," "probably" or "I think," along with what linguistic specialists call "discourse markers" – words that add no meaning but announce that something new is coming up: "You know," "just," "well," "like" and even "uhm." The researchers videotaped novice bakers making cupcakes while a helper gave instructions. To compare reactions to robot and human helpers, they have made duplicate videos in which a robot was superimposed over the image of the human helper – but keeping the original soundtrack. The human helpers were actors working from scripts that either used straightforward instructions or included various combinations of hedges and discourse markers. A series of subjects watched the videos and filled out questionnaires describing their reactions to the helpers. They were asked to rate the helpers on scales of consideration, controlling and likability, then write a free-form description of the video. Both humans and robots were described more positively when they used hedges and discourse markers, and robots using those strategies actually came out better than humans. One possible explanation for that, the researchers said, is that people are surprised to hear robots using informal language. "The robots need to seem human, so they may say things that don't seem normal when a robot says them," Fussell said. Psychologists have shown that such "expectancy violation" can produce a stronger reaction. Another surprise was that while hedges alone or discourse markers alone made the helpers more acceptable, combining both strategies did not improve their score. The ultimate message, the researchers said, is that designers of robots that deliver verbal advice should use language that makes the recipients more at ease. Along with the use of hedges and discourse markers, they noted, the literature of communications research may provide other helpful strategies. And all this may be good advice for human communicators as well. Perhaps with that in mind, the researchers whimsically end their paper with "Maybe, uhm, it will help robots give help."

Developer yanks 'Flappy Bird' after game soars to success.

Flappy Bird" has flown the coop. The addictive game that soared to the top of iPhone and Android app downloads disappeared from app stores on Sunday, though players who already have it apparently can keep on flying. A tweet from the game's creator suggested that its sudden success had become an albatross. "I am sorry 'Flappy Bird' users, 22 hours from now, I will take 'Flappy Bird' down," developer Dong Nguyen wrote on Saturday. "I cannot take this anymore." Say goodbye to 'Flappy bird' app Nguyen, a Vietnamese developer with a studio called DotGears, did not reply to CNN's request for an interview last week and has stayed mostly quiet in the wake of the game's recent and sudden success. His no-frills game gave players a previllage to steer a tiny bird through an obstacle course of metal pipes. But it's unclear why it shot to the top of the most downloaded charts. Although new players could no longer download "Flappy Bird," the game remains playable for those who had already added it to their devices. Hundreds of mobile phones with "Flappy Bird" installed have suddenly appeared for sale on eBay at prices up to $15,000. "Flappy Bird" was originally released for the iPhone in May but didn't become the top free iPhone app until mid-January, following a surge in popularity that seems to have kicked off in early December. Observers have voiced several unproven theories about the game's sudden success, including the use of bots to get it on Top 10 lists artificially, organic enthusiasm on social media and a surge in amusing user reviews in the Apple App and Google Play stores. Nguyen told Chocolate Lab Apps he created the game in two to three days and says he did not promote the app in any way after its release. In a series of Twitter posts Saturday, he said he wouldn't sell "Flappy Bird" and would continue to make games. "It is not anything related to legal issues," he said. "I just cannot keep it anymore." Last week, "Flappy Bird" had an average four-star rating from more than 543,000 reviews in the Apple App Store and 228,000 on Android. Many of the reviews were lengthy, tongue-in-cheek tales of time lost, marriages ended and people going cuckoo after playing the game.Follow this link to play online.

Samuel L. Jackson informs news anchor that he and Laurence Fishburne are, in fact, different people

KTLA’s Sam Rubin — a “multiple Emmy winner,” according to his official bio — will never live this one down. On Monday, the Los Angeles entertainment anchor welcomed Samuel L. Jackson on air for a short interview to promote Jackson’s latest film, MGM’s RoboCop remake. During their chat, though, Rubin made what seemed to be a fatal mistake: He asked Jackson about his recent Super Bowl commercial. At first, Jackson was confused. And as a result of that there was an awkward silence. But he quickly catch up, just as Rubin started to explain himself, Jackson let him have it: “You are as crazy as the people on Twitter!” he said, shaking his finger. “I am NOT Laurence Fishburne!” The actor, of course, was referring to a Matrix-inspired Kia spot that aired during the big game — one that featured Matrix star Laurence Fishburne, not not-Matrix-star Jackson.