Computing Innovations

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Chapter Overview

There have been many computing innovations that have had, are having, and will have, profound impact on our society. This chapter covers some of them.

Figure 1: A MakerBot three-dimensional printer.

3D Printing. 3D printing is any of various processes in which material is joined or solidified under computer control to create a three-dimensional object, with material being added together (such as liquid molecules or powder grains being fused together). 3D printing is used in both rapid prototyping and additive manufacturing (AM). Additionally, 3D printing techniques may lead to potential advancements in the medical field as research on designing artificial organs for transplantation further develops. Organ printing can potentially lead to the creation of functional artificial hearts, heart valves, kidneys, livers, and other major organs to aid in the organ shortage crisis. Read more on 3D Printing.

Social Media. Social media has been broadly defined to refer to 'the many relatively inexpensive and widely accessible electronic tools that enable anyone to publish and access information, collaborate on a common effort, or build relationships'. It includes applications such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, among many others. More information on Social Media.

Public Data. The Internet has facilitated widespread access to information which in turn facilitates the identification of problems, development of solutions, and dissemination of results. Public data enables solutions to scientific, legal, medical, and social problems. Examples include the LexisNexis legal database of court cases and the NASA/IPAC_Extragalactic_Database of astronomy data. Google's Public Data Explorer and Amazon's Public Data Set Web Service are two efforts to gather public databases into a directory to facilitate access and searching.

Figure 2: Influenza Activity

Search Trends. Trends of what people search for in the Internet are predictors of behavior that can be used in fields such as business and politics. For example, an article in the New York Times by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz used Google Trends to show that search volume for the word "nigger(s)" could be used to measure racism in different parts of the United States and was able to demonstrate the effects of racism on President Obama's 2008 election campaign. Search trend data can be used to track influenza-like illness in a population because the relative frequency of certain queries is highly correlated with the percentage of physician visits in which a patient presents with influenza-like symptoms, an estimate of weekly influenza activity can be reported. Shown in Figure 2 is an example of influenza activity in the US.

In the business world it has been shown that there is a correlation between search trends of company names and transaction volumes and prices of the corresponding stocks on a weekly time scale. Free access to Google trend information is accessible through Google Trend service.

Global Positioning Systems (GPS). A Global Positioning System, also known as GPS, is a system designed to help navigate on the Earth, in the air, and on water. A GPS receiver shows where it is. It may also show how fast it is moving, which direction it is going, how high it is, and maybe how fast it is going up or down. Many GPS receivers have information about places. GPSs for automobiles have travel data like road maps, hotels, restaurants, and service stations. GPSs for boats contain nautical charts of harbors, marinas, shallow water, rocks, and waterways. Other GPS receivers are made for air navigation, hiking and backpacking, bicycling, or many other activities. The majority are in smartphones. Most GPS receivers can record where they have been, and help plan a journey. While traveling a planned journey, it predicts the time to the next destination. More information on GPS.

Figure 3: Sensor Network

Sensors and Sensor Networks. GPS is one form of sensor (sensing the location of the earth) that has impacted society. There are many other forms of sensors. Sensor networks facilitate new ways of interacting with the environment and with physical systems. In these applications autonomous sensors monitor physical or environmental conditions, such as temperature, sound, pressure, etc. and cooperatively pass their data through the network to a main location that collects and analyzes the data. The development of wireless sensor networks was motivated by military applications such as battlefield surveillance. Today, such networks are used in many industrial and consumer applications, such as industrial process monitoring and control, and machine health monitoring. More information on sensor networks.

Smart Things (Grid, Houses, Transportation). Smart things are things or systems that use data collected from sensors and other sources, including monitoring of how the thing/system is used, to feed the data back into the control of the system. For instance, smart buildings use sensors to monitor activity in a hallway and turn lights off when the hallway has not been used recently, and turn them on as they sense movement. Smart homes do a similar thing and add support for domestic activities, such as controlling home entertainment systems, houseplant and yard watering, pet feeding, changing the ambiance "scenes" for different events (such as dinners or parties), and the use of domestic robots. More information on Smart Buildings. More information on Smart Homes. More information on the Smart Power (Grid).

The Internet of Things. The Internet of Things is the notion that there are "things" that can profit from offered additional functionality from being connected to the Internet. For instance, printers now offer the ability to order new cartridges right from the printer's Internet connection. Home DVR systems that are connected to the Internet allow the owner to use a web browser anywhere to program the DVR to record television shows. This full article discusses the impact of The Internet of Things on fields such as environmental monitoring, healthcare, manufacturing, energy management, entertainment, and transportation.

The Internet in Entertainment. The Internet is drastically affecting how people access entertainment. Open access channels such as youTube allow for all kinds of video entertainment from non-traditional sources. NetFlix and Hulu are on-demand streaming media services that are a prominent way in which people watch television shows and movies. Music and "books" are delivered via online streams and via Internet-connected apps such as IHeartRadio and Pandora for music, and Amazon Reader for books, and purchases of music and books is made through venues such as Amazon, ITunes, and Google Play.

Self-Publishing. Self-publishing is the publication of any book or other media by the author of the work, without the involvement of an established third-party publisher. The author is responsible for and in control of the entire process, including, in the case of a book, uploading to a self-publishing service the manuscript as a Word document or PDF, the design of the cover and interior, formats, price, distribution, marketing and public relations. The authors can do it all themselves or outsource all or part of the process to companies that offer these services. CreateSpace is Amazon's self-publishing branch that allows anyone to publish a book, place it for sale on Amazon, and have it printed on demand as books are ordered from Amazon. Kindle Direct does the same for Kindle formatted e-books. SmashWords supports self-publishing for other formats. More information on self-publishing.

Self-publishing is not limited to physical books. Ebooks, pamphlets, sales brochures, websites, and other materials are commonly self-published.

Figure 4: Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing is the process of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people, and especially from an online community, rather than from traditional employees or suppliers. The process of crowdsourcing is often used to subdivide tedious work by combining the efforts of numerous volunteers or part-time workers, where each contributor adds a small portion to the greater result. As an example, journalists have used crowdsourcing to fact-check information for their articles. The leading daily newspaper in Sweden has successfully used crowdsourcing in investigating the home loan interest rates in the country in 2013-2014. The leading daily newspaper in Finland crowdsourced investigation in stock short selling in 2011-2012. TalkingPointsMemo in the United States asked its readers to examine 3000 emails concerning the firing of federal prosecutors in 2008. More information on crowdsourcing and its impact on many fields.

Citizen Science. Science has used crowdsourcing to leverage the fact that large numbers of people, not necessarily expert scientists, have computing power on their personal computers and the ability to help in large scale scientific investigations. "Citizen scientists" help solve scientific problems by using home computers in scientific research, such as folding@home and Galaxy Zoo where the amount of data and the computation needed is too vast for the primary scientists. The amateur citizen scientists lend the time on their home computers, and sometimes their own personal time, to do tasks directed by the professional scientists to tackle part of an extremely large computation problem like analyzing data from satellite dishes monitoring space sounds. Some projects have tens of thousands citizen scientists helping the professional scientists with discovery. More information on Citizen Science.

Figure 5: Human Computation

Human Computation. Human computation harnesses contributions from many humans to solve problems related to digital data and the Web. Human computation uses differences in abilities and alternative costs between humans and computer agents to achieve symbiotic human-computer interaction. In traditional computation, a human employs a computer to solve a problem; a human provides a formalized problem description and an algorithm to a computer, and receives a solution to interpret. Human-based computation frequently reverses the roles; the computer asks a person or a large group of people to solve a problem, then collects, interprets, and integrates their solutions. An example is Games with a Purpose. More information on Human Computation.

Machine Learning. Machine learning is a subfield of computer science that evolved from the study of pattern recognition and computational learning theory in artificial intelligence. Machine learning explores the construction and study of algorithms that can learn from and make predictions on data. Such algorithms operate by building a model from example inputs in order to make data-driven predictions or decisions, rather than following strictly static program instructions. For instance, the military uses machine learning to classify surveillance images as threats or non-threats. By "training" the software through providing 100s of thousands of images of threats (e.g. enemy tanks) and 100s of thousands of images of non-threats (e.g. friendly tanks), the software learns the characteristics of threat and non-threat images and then when presented a new image, can classify it as threat or non-threat. Machine learning can be applied to do classification in many fields. More information on Machine Learning

Data Mining. Data storage has become remarkably inexpensive and the ability to collect data through sensors and monitoring has increased dramatically, so vast amounts of data is being collected and stored. Data mining refers to computing techniques to find new information in a lot of data. For example, a grocery store might save data on sales with the primary goal (called "first use" of the data) that it can automate its inventory management. Then, the store might realize that it could "mine" this same database (called "secondary use" of the data) to do targeted advertising to its customers based on their tastes and purchase trends. More information on Data Mining

Scientific Computing and Computational Science. Computational science (also scientific computing or scientific computation) is concerned with constructing mathematical models and quantitative analysis techniques and using computers to analyze and solve scientific problems. In practical use, it is typically the application of computer simulation and other forms of computation from numerical analysis and theoretical computer science to problems in various scientific disciplines. The field is different from theory and laboratory experiment which are the traditional forms of science and engineering. The scientific computing approach is to gain understanding, mainly through the analysis of mathematical models implemented on computers. Scientists and engineers develop computer programs, application software, that model systems being studied and run these programs with various sets of input parameters. In some cases, these models require massive amounts of calculations and are often executed on supercomputers or distributed computing platforms. The full article on computational science explores its use in many scientific fields.

Open Access and Creative Commons. Open access and Creative Commons have enabled broad access and reuse of digital information and computational artifacts. A Creative Commons (CC) license is one of several public copyright licenses that enable the free distribution of an otherwise copyrighted work. A CC license is used when an author wants to give people the right to share, use, and build upon a work that they have created. CC provides an author flexibility (for example, they might choose to allow only non-commercial uses of their own work) and protects the people who use or redistribute an author's work from concerns of copyright infringement as long as they abide by the conditions that are specified in the license by which the author distributes the work. The combination of widespread online access to information and artifacts and their release under Creative Commons has had a profound impact on creativity as creators can find and use artifacts in their own creations. More information on Creative Commons.

Open Source Software. Open source is a kind of free software where the source code that makes up the program/application is available to everyone. The source code is a set of instructions for the computer, written in a programming language. Anyone can see how the source code works and can change it if they want to make it work differently. Open source and free software have been around for decades. They became more popular with the Linux operating system in which a community of volunteers created a full operating system with most of the same functionality as Windows (Windows is owned by Microsoft and is not open source). To protect the code, a special user license such as GPL can be used. More information on Open Source software.

Authenticated Access To Information. Authentication is the process by which the identity of a user, system, or service is verified. This might involve confirming the identity of a person or software program, tracing the origins of an artifact, or ensuring that a product is what its packaging and labeling claims to be. Authentication often involves verifying the validity of at least one form of identification. Username/password combinations are the primary form of authentication used in computing systems. Multiple factor authentication, like Google's two-step authentication, that in addition to a password use another form of authentication like a text to your phone or scan of your fingerprint, is becoming widely used and is highly recommended that you consider using it if it is available (it is free and available for all Google services, including GMail). More information on authentication.

Figure 6: Digital Forensics

Digital Forensics. Digital forensics is the application of forensic science techniques for identification, collection, and analysis of digital evidence (such as files, emails, texts, social media activity, etc). It has become a primary source of evidence in just about any legal investigation. Using sources like Facebook posts, texts, emails, and Internet searches can help an investigation by establishing where people were, what they were doing, what they were thinking, and when they were doing things - which can be extremely important in any investigation. More information on Digital Forensics. Information on URI's college programs in Digital Forensics.

Encryption and Confidentiality of Data. Confidentiality ensures that data is only accessible to those for whom the data is intended. Encryption scrambles binary data using a known algorithm and a key (e.g. password) such that it is not feasible to unscramble the data without knowing both the algorithm and the key. The HTTPS protocol encrypts all network activity from a web browser. A virtual private network (VPN) encrypts all data on a network connection. More information on Data Confidentiality.

Cyber Security. Cybersecurity, computer security or IT security is the protection of computer systems from theft of or damage to their hardware, software or electronic data, as well as from disruption or misdirection of the services they provide. Cybersecurity includes controlling physical access to system hardware, as well as protecting against harm that may be done via network access, malicious data and code injection. Also, due to malpractice by operators, whether intentional or accidental, IT security personnel are susceptible to being tricked into deviating from secure procedures through various methods of social engineering. Read more on cyber security.

Cryptocurrencies. A cryptocurrency is a medium of exchange that is designed to work like a currency but is exclusive to digital currency meaning it only exists on computers. Usually, cryptocurrencies use features found in strong cryptography, such as digital signatures, to secure financial transactions, control the creation of additional units, and verify the transfer of assets. Bitcoin is considered the first decentralized cryptocurrency that was developed in 2009 to be independent of a government-issued currency. As of today, there are over four-thousand alternative coins (altcoins) that have been created as variations of Bitcoin in the hopes of achieving the same success as its predecessor. Read more on cryptocurrency and blockchain technology.

To simplify the definition of cryptocurrency, it is similar to using a debit card to pay for an item but instead of numbers that represent a dollar bill it shows numbers representing cryptocurrency. Similar to using a debit card, cryptocurrency will provide you with currency, record transactions, and manage accounts allowing people to send and receive this digital currency. The significant difference between a debit card and cryptocurrency is that a bank and/or government does not issue the currency and maintain ledgers. Rather, an algorithm is responsible for this in cryptocurrency meaning that there is no middleman such as a bank as cryptocurrency is transferred between peers. The transactions of cryptocurrency are recorded on a blockchain, or a digital public ledger, and its data and ledger are secured using cryptography. To read a more simplistic definition and underlying workings of cryptocurrency, check out the article How Does Cryptocurrency Work? (for Beginners).

Self Driving Vehicles. Vehicular automation involves the use of mechatronics, artificial intelligence, and multi-agent system to assist a vehicle's operator. These features and the vehicles employing them may be labeled as intelligent or smart. A vehicle using automation for difficult tasks, especially navigation, may be referred to as semi-autonomous. Read more on Self Driving Vehicles.

Figure 7: Researchers with the European Space Agency in Darmstadt, Germany, exploring virtual reality for controlling planetary rovers and satellites in orbit

Virtual Reality. Virtual reality (VR) is an interactive computer-generated experience taking place within a simulated environment, that incorporates mainly auditory and visual, but also other types of sensory feedback like haptic. This immersive environment can be similar to the real world or it can be fantastical creating an experience that is not possible in ordinary physical reality. Augmented reality systems may also be considered a form of VR that layers virtual information over a live camera feed into a headset or through a smartphone or tablet device giving the user the ability to view three-dimensional images. Read more on Virtual Reality.

Artificial Intelligence. Artificial intelligence (AI), sometimes called machine intelligence, is intelligence demonstrated by machines, in contrast to the natural intelligence displayed by humans and other animals. In computer science AI research is defined as the study of "intelligent agents": any device that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its chance of successfully achieving its goals. Colloquially, the term "artificial intelligence" is applied when a machine mimics "cognitive" functions that humans associate with other human minds, such as "learning" and "problem solving". Read more on Artificial Intelligence.

Drones. An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), commonly known as a drone, is an aircraft without a human pilot aboard. UAVs are a component of an unmanned aircraft system (UAS); which include a UAV, a ground-based controller, and a system of communications between the two. The flight of UAVs may operate with various degrees of autonomy: either under remote control by a human operator or autonomously by onboard computers. Examples include drones for military use, agriculture, delivery, and more. Read more on drones.

Wearable Technology. Wearable technology, wearables, fashionable technology, wearable devices, tech togs, or fashion electronics are smart electronic devices (electronic device with micro-controllers) that can be incorporated into clothing or worn on the body as implants or accessories. Wearable devices such as activity trackers are best example of the Internet of Things, since "things" such as electronics, software, sensors, and connectivity are effectors that enable objects to exchange data (including data quality) through the internet with a manufacturer, operator, and/or other connected devices, without requiring human intervention. Read more on Wearable Technology.

Digital Art. Digital art is any form of artistic expression and technique that uses digital technology as a fundamental aspect of the creative process. In 1985, the first introduction to the computer, Commodore Amiga, was used by Andy Warhol to create digital art using an image of Debbie Harry that he digitized and manipulated with color in a graphics program called ProPaint.

Digital technologies have expanded the possibilities of artwork with its significant impact on painting, drawing, sculpture and music/sound art, virtual reality, and more. There is a wide range of different forms of digital art encompassing scanned photography, vector graphics, digital painting, computer art, 3D computer graphics, computer animation, and more. Read more on Digital Art.