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10 Bits: the Data News Hotlist

by Joshua New

This week’s list of data news highlights covers February 27 – March 4, 2016 and includes articles about India’s efforts to develop genomics expertise and an analytical technique that identified British graffiti artist Banksy.

1. Congress Wants to Learn How to Grow the Internet of Things

U.S. Senators Deb Fischer (R-NE), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Brian Schatz (D-HI) have introduced the Developing Innovation and Growing the Internet of Things (DIGIT) Act, which would establish a working group of federal agencies, private sector stakeholders, and consumer groups to identify ways Congress can encourage the growth of the Internet of Things. The working group would study key challenges facing the Internet of Things, including spectrum needs, the federal government’s readiness to adopt the technology, and the regulatory environment. The bill directs the Secretary of Commerce to lead the working group and tasks the group with reporting its findings and recommendations within one year of its convening.

2. Predicting the Spread of the Zika Virus

Google and the United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have partnered to anticipate and map the spread of the Zika virus to aid awareness efforts and help combat the disease. Google and UNICEF will develop an open source platform that can analyze a variety of data sources, such as weather and travel patterns, to visualize the location of potential outbreaks so those fighting the disease can prioritize where they allocate their resources. The platform will focus specifically on the Zika virus, but Google will eventually make it available for future crises for which it could be useful.

3. Building India’s Genomics Opportunity

India’s government has published its fiscal year 2016-2017 budget, which includes a 12 percent increase in funding (18.2 billion rupees, or $27.2 million) for the Department of Biotechnology to support India’s National Biotechnology Development Strategy, an effort to make India a world leader in genomics. Launched in December 2015, the strategy involves a number of programs such as establishing research hubs specific to different fields related to genomics, including drug discovery and genetically modified organisms, providing researchers with genomic analysis skills, and developing 150 technology-transfer organizations to commercialize publicly funded research.

4. Turning Congressional Research Service Reports into Open Data

U.S. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Representatives Leonard Lance (R-NJ) and Mike Quigley (D-IL) have introduced the Equal Access to Congressional Research Service Reports Act in the House and Senate to direct the Congressional Research Service (CRS) to make its reports freely available online in a format that is searchable, sortable, and downloadable in bulk. The bill also requires CRS to create a machine-readable public index of CRS reports that provides descriptive metadata of each report. CRS creates reports studying policy issues at the direction of Congress, but the reports are only available to members of Congress and their staff.

5. Building a Biological Supercomputer

Researchers working for the European Union-funded ABACUS supercomputing research initiative have developed a prototype supercomputer that carries out advanced parallel computing functions with biological agents, rather than electricity. The computer uses a 1.5 centimeter chip with etched nanoscopic channels to carry short protein chains moved about by adenosine triphosphate, which biological cells use to transfer energy, to perform complex calculations. Because the chip does not rely on electricity, it does not generate nearly as much heat as traditional supercomputers, which could make it substantially more efficient, as well as space- and cost-effective.

6. Supreme Court Decides Against Health Data Transparency in Vermont

In Gobeille v. Liberty Mutual, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that a Vermont law requiring health insurance companies to submit claims data to the state violated the federal Employee Retirement Security Act. Vermont, along with many other states, collects claims data from insurance companies to analyze health care costs and promote greater price transparency. This decision could affect the ability of states to use data to improve their health care systems.

7. Making Government Data Centers More Efficient

The White House has published its draft Data Center Optimization Initiative that aims to boost the energy efficiency of government data centers and save $1.4 billion by the end of fiscal year 2018. The draft policy would require agencies to employ metrics to monitor data center power usage, ensure a high standard for efficiency, and include requirements based on these metrics for future data center procurements. The policy also directs agencies to, if possible, consolidate or close data centers that do not meet these efficiency standards.

8. Google’s Self-Driving Car Causes Its First Accident

A Google self-driving car prototype collided with a city bus in Mountain View, California, on February 14, marking the first time one of the company’s self-driving cars was involved in an accident that was not due entirely to human error in over two million miles of driving. The car was attempting to move into an adjacent lane at low speeds and incorrectly judged that an oncoming bus would yield to allow it to merge, causing minor damage but no injuries. The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority is investigating the accident, but initial reports do not reveal that the car violated any driving laws. Google has since simulated thousands of variations of the accident to refine its cars’ algorithms to avoid similar future accidents.

9. Unmasking Banksy with Geographic Analytics

Dr. Steven Le Comber, a biologist at the University of London, and Kim Rossmo, a criminologist at the University of Texas, modified a modeling technique normally used by criminologists to identify criminals to suggest the identify of the famously anonymous British graffiti artist known as Banksy. The pair used a system called Dirichlet process mixture modeling to plot the location of 140 suspected Banksy artworks and predict where Banksy likely lived. Their analysis revealed that he is almost definitely Robin Gunningham, a Bristol, England, resident who was inconclusively suggested to be Banksy in 2008.

10. Reducing Shootings with the Internet of Things

ShotSpotter, which produces gunshot-detecting sensor networks, has published a report revealing that its technology has helped several cities reduce the number of shootings by considerable amounts from 2014 to 2015, such as a 34.6 percent reduction in San Francisco and a 50.2 percent reduction in Huntington Station, New York. ShotSpotter relies on audio sensors dispersed throughout a city that can pick out the distinct audio signature of gunshots from other noises, such as fireworks or loud city noises, and automatically provide police officers with a precise estimate of where the shot originated. With this real-time information, police officers in the 60 cities that use ShotSpotter can learn about shootings faster and better crack down on gun crime.

Image: Scott Lynch

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