SciTech Briefs

Facebook unveils ‘groups’ feature

Facebook introduced a host of features this past week that will give users more control over personal data. “The changes today are about giving people more control over how they share in a lot of different contexts,” Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said. “There are some things you are comfortable saying to all your friends at once but a lot of things you only want to share with your close co-workers or your family, and there just hasn’t been a great way to do that until now.”

A Groups feature will allow users to specify groups of friends with whom they want to share data. Users will also be able to download the data they upload on Facebook on any computer. Privacy, however, has been a constant thorn in the side of the world’s biggest social network whenever it introduces new products or changes settings on the site. The new Groups feature can also create concerning privacy issues because users can be added to groups unknowingly, and would have to know which groups they have been added to, in addition to who else is in the group.

Source: BBC

Machine learns by scouring Internet

If you give a computer a well-defined task, such as winning a chess game or predicting tomorrow’s weather, it will beat any human in efficiency and accuracy. But if the task is ambiguous or abstract, the computer is no match for human intelligence. Tom Mitchell, chairman of the machine learning department at Carnegie Mellon, is the head of a team trying to make machines think more like humans. “For all the advances in computer science, we still don’t have a computer that can learn as humans do, cumulatively, over the long term,” Mitchell said.

However, a machine is being developed to change this. The Never-Ending Language Learning computer system, or NELL, scans hundreds of millions of pages for text patterns, which it uses to learn facts. These facts are then grouped into categories and added to the “knowledge base,” the name given to the database. According to Mitchell, a larger pool of facts will help refine NELL’s learning algorithms so that it finds facts on the Web more accurately and more efficiently over time. NELL is one project in a widening field of research and investment aimed at enabling computers to better understand the meaning of language.

Source: The New York Times

Nobel Prize awarded for graphene

Professors Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov from the University of Manchester were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics on Oct. 5 for successfully isolating graphene from graphite and identifying its behavior. Graphene is the thinnest, strongest material known to us today. It is so dense that even helium cannot pass through it. The Swedish Academy of Sciences said in the Nobel Prize announcement, “Carbon, the basis of all known life on earth, has surprised us once again.”

Graphene is already being used in many products, such as batteries. When added to a lithium-ion battery, graphene makes the batteries have a longer life and quicker charging capabilities. Also, electrons travel through graphene faster than silicon, which makes it a likely candidate to one day replace silicon in computer processors.

Source: Popular Science