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10 Bits: the Data News Hotlist

by Joshua New

This week’s list of data news highlights covers November 7-13, 2015 and includes articles about how Google is making its artificial intelligence platform open source and how a new smart watch developed by Disney Research can sense what the wearer is touching.

1. Boosting Government’s Data Skills

The U.S. Department of Commerce has announced a new initiative called the Commerce Data Service to entice workers with data science skills from Silicon Valley to work for the federal government. The Commerce Data Service will hire 24 software engineers and data scientists to improve the Commerce Department’s data infrastructure and develop new analytical tools that can make open government data more useful to businesses.

2. Open Sourcing Artificial Intelligence

Google has announced that it will make its machine learning software TensorFlow open source, meaning that members of the public will be free to use and modify its code. Google developed TensorFlow to serve as a general machine learning tool for a wide variety of applications, ranging from smartphone apps to large scale computing projects. Google expects TensorFlow to be particularly useful for academic and private sector researchers that could benefit from software adept at processing complex data.

3. Connecting Genomic Data to Cancer Treatment Outcomes

The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), a professional association for cancer researchers, has launched Project Genomics, Evidence, Neoplasia, Information, Exchange (GENIE) to link patients’ genomic sequencing data with clinical outcomes. By linking this data, which Project GENIE will aggregate from participating healthcare institutions around the world, AACR will be able to provide cancer researchers with valuable data for identifying new drug targets, understanding mutations, and spurring clinical research.

4. Fast-Tracking Diagnosis of Kidney Disease with Cognitive Computing

Boston Children’s Hospital has partnered with IBM to use its Watson cognitive computing platform to accelerate the diagnosis of steroid-resistant nephrotic syndrome, a rare genetic kidney disease in children. Boston Children’s will train Watson with medical literature and genetic data from patients with the disease and then use Watson to quickly identify markers of the disease in genomic sequencing data of new patients.

5. Collaborating to Build More Efficient Buildings

The U.S. Department of Energy has launched the Standard Energy Efficiency Data (SEED) Collaborative, an initiative to facilitate sharing and standardization of build energy efficiency data between state and local governments. The SEED Collaborative will partner with cities and states to coordinate how they collect and manage this data, which will make it easier for the public and private sector to better understand real estate market trends, make more informed investment decisions, and identify new opportunities to increase energy efficiency.

6. Making a Smartphone Supercomputer Network for Cancer Research

Mobile telecommunications company Vodafone Australia and the nonprofit Garvan Institute of Medical Research have developed DreamLab, a smartphone app that takes advantage of a phone’s idle processing power to sequence genetic profiles to bolster cancer research. While users charge their phone overnight, the app downloads genetic data from the Garvan Institute, processes it, and sends it back to the Garvan Institute to support research on breast, ovarian, prostate, and pancreatic cancers. The cumulative processing power from using smartphones quickly adds up. With 100,000 users, researchers will be able to analyze data 3,000 times faster than they can with their existing computing power.

7. Making Smartwatches Even Smarter

Disney Research and Carnegie Mellon University have developed a prototype smartwatch capable of sensing subtle electromagnetic signals that can indicate what the wearer is touching in real time. The prototype works by analyzing electromagnetic noise profiles—distinct electromagnetic frequencies given off by different objects—that a person absorbs whenever he or she touches that object. By classifying these profiles, researchers were then able to develop context-aware applications, such as a security application that automatically unlocks a laptop when the owner is touching it.

8. U.S. States Flunk Open Data Report Card

The Center for Public Integrity (CPI), an investigative journalism nonprofit, published its State Integrity Investigation report, finding that nearly all U.S. states have failed to make significant headway in publishing government data. CPI only gave three states an overall grade above a “D+,” scoring many poorly for lacking laws requiring government information to be publicly available and for failing to publish financial disclosure forms from legislators and lobbyists in usable formats, if they published this information at all.

9. Sowing a Better Harvest with Genomics

The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC), a genomic research institute based in England, has developed a comprehensive assembly of the wheat genome that could help farmers improve the quality, yield, and nutritional content of their wheat harvests. TGAC analyzed large portions of wheat DNA that traditional methods could not process, such as highly repetitive regions that comprise 80 percent of its genetic sequence, with software initially designed to analyze the human genome. This data, which TGAC will make publicly available, will help researchers rapidly compare particular genetic sequences of multiple wheat varieties, which could lead to more effective wheat breeding strategies.

10. Boosting National Security with Quantum Computing

The Los Alamos National Laboratory, a research institution supported by the National Science Foundation, has announced that it will purchase a quantum computing processor to investigate how the technology, which can process massive data sets much faster than traditional processors, could be applied to national security. Los Alamos National Labs will be the second federal entity to pursue quantum computing research, after the National Aeronautics and Space Administration partnered with Google in September 2015 to study how quantum computing could improve artificial intelligence.

Image: USDA

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