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The below articles were written by NICTA staff and students and featured on The Conversation.


Online shoppers: before you click that ad, read this

11 December 2013

Christmas is fast approaching, and this year is set to be the biggest ever for online shopping. Hundreds of millions of dollars will be spent by Australians alone.

And every year, the flurry of online activity prompts warnings about the dangers of internet shopping. While this has become less problematic over time as advanced online security technology becomes stronger at both ends of transactions, there is another, lesser-known (and easy) way to fall foul of hackers: malicious advertising. 

Read the full article at The Conversation.


Big data and big business: it’s what you do with it that matters

21 November 2013

The crucial thing about “big data” is the data. “Big” is relative, and while size often matters, real disruption can come from data of any size.

This is not a new idea, being several hundred years old. The key advance of the scientific revolution (and associated industrial revolution) was in order to understand something you had to measure it – that is gather the data. 

Read the full article at The Conversation.


Evacuation modelling: finding the best time (and way) to get going

18 November 2013 

Reports from the Philippines reveal a lack of typhoon preparation and evacuation efforts.

When to evacuate – and how – spells the difference between life and death. As we know, typhoons can cause widespread flooding of surrounding areas, and don’t just affect what lies in the path of the storm. Planning an evacuation is a game against nature.

Typhoon Haiyan (and similar events around the world) indicate that people do not play this game well … but computers do.

Read the full article at The Conversation


When bushfires sound alarms, social media can save lives

25 October 2013

These days, social media and online apps have become a major source of disaster information and warnings. But how much can we trust them?

Today, more than 82% of Australians use the internet and 76%can access it on a smartphone or other mobile device. These numbers have been rising rapidly – the rate of mobile accessmore than doubled from 2010 to 2013.

Read the full article at The Conversation.


Big Data poses big questions, so how do we answer them?

13 November 2012 

In recent years we’ve seen an explosion in the number of sensors and embedded computer devices being used by consumers and in a range of industries.

New cars have several computers and sensing capabilities built in, including anti-lock braking systems (ABS), automatic lights that turn on in dark areas, and automatic windscreen wipers that detect rain.

Most of us have mobile phones with an integrated camera, and GPS and electronic gyros are now standard extras. We can now even use small robots to automatically vacuum-clean the floor when we’re not home.

All of these devices and their ability to collect data pose a challenging and unprecedented question – the so-called Big Data question. That is, we’ve now got more data at our fingertips than ever before, but how do we make sense of it?

Read the full article at The Conversation.


Rise of the machines: how computer could control our lives

14 March, 2012

Predicting the future is a risky business. If it wasn’t, we’d all be very wealthy by now. The Danish physicist Neils Bohr famously opined: “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future”.

Despite this, I confidently predict that machines will come to run our lives. And I’m not alone in this view. US mathematician Claude Shannon, one of the fathers of computation, wrote: “I visualize a time when we will be to robots what dogs are to humans, and I’m rooting for the machines.”

And physicist Stephen Hawking, who is never short of a quote on life, the universe and everything has said that: “Unless mankind redesigns itself by changing our DNA through altering our genetic makeup, computer-generated robots will take over our world”.

Read the full article at The Conversation.


Eyes in the sky: how unmanned aircraft could patrol our beaches (and more)

9 March, 2012

For the past hundred-odd years, commercial aviation has relied on a human pilot sitting behind the controls of an aircraft. Today, designers and engineers are beginning to ask: “Is it even necessary to have someone onboard? Can we have adequate control with the human pilot on the ground, rather than in the cockpit?”

This school of thought is driving a revolution in aviation, with intelligent technology become thoroughly integrated into avionic systems and aeronautical processes. Sure, it might be a while before we see commercial airliners being piloted from the ground, but the development of miniature unmanned aircraft is well underway.

One early-adopter of this technology is Surf Life Saving Australia – one of the largest water rescue organisations in the world. The organisation has an extensive fleet of rescue helicopters and watercraft, a closed-circuit camera network linked with regional communication centres and, as of next summer, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to help protect beach-goers.

Read the full article at The Conversation.


Cutting Cake (and eating it too) – the sticky maths of fair division

29 August, 2011

I work on the mathematics of sharing resources, which has led me to consider emotions such as envy, behaviour such as risk-taking and the best way to cut a cake.

Like, I suspect, many women, my wife enjoys eating dessert but not ordering it. I therefore dutifully order what I think she’ll like, cut it in half and invite her to choose a piece.

This is a sure-fire recipe for marital accord. Indeed, many mathematicians, economists, political scientists and others have studied this protocol and would agree. The protocol is known as the “cut-and-choose” procedure. I cut. You choose.

Read the full article at The Conversation.


Crisis management: using Twitter and Facebook for the greater good

21 July, 2011

With new technology comes new ways of communicating with one another in times of crisis. Platforms such as Twitter and Facebook allow important information to be shared widely and instantaneously.

But new technology is needed to extract and preserve the fruit of these new media, to allow crisis managers, crisis communicators and other key decision-makers to better manage a response.

Read the full article at The Conversation.


Want to assemble the human genome on your desktop? Now you can …

5 July, 2011

Imagine taking a thousand copies of a phone book, shredding them all together, then trying to use the overlapping pieces to reconstruct a copy.

This is a simple problem compared to assembling the human genome, which has about 3 billion “letters”.

Now imagine trying to piece these together on a desktop computer. Sound impossible? The Computational Genomics group at NICTA have produced a new software program called Gossamer to do just that.

Read the full article at The Conversation.


Smart sensors save swimmers seconds

16 June, 2011

For Olympic swimmers, the blink of an eye can be the difference between first and forgotten. Everyone wants an edge, which is why elite athletes train relentlessly and why coaches push them hard. Alongside traditional techniques, wearable smart devices are now helping save those vital milliseconds.

You wouldn’t notice these devices: they’re smaller than a thumb and measure swimmers' movements – information that can then be uploaded to the internet and used by coaches to improve performance, whether or not at an Olympic level.

Read the full article at The Conversation.


Frustration to salvation: a code to end computer crashes

30 May, 2011

Computer crashes and software bugs are infuriating and – usually belatedly – teach us the value of regular back-ups. But could they be a thing of the past?

We’ve all been there: the work of days or weeks destroyed in an instant. It might have been a crashed word processor, a crashed operating system, the computer eating your homework, destroying your lab results, your report …

But what if software is responsible for more than data? What if your money or your life depended on a particular piece of software not failing?

Read the full article at The Conversation.


All-seeing eye: the future of surveillance and social media

May 27, 2011

Advanced surveillance and social media might seem like strange bedfellows. Until you look a bit closer, that is.

Technologies developed for surveillance applications are typically designed with robustness in mind: that is, they should work reliably at all times in a variety of lighting conditions (indoor/outdoor) and effects (glare, saturation or shadows).

Compare this to the task of recognition from a photographic portait. Here the professional photographer has positioned the camera, lighting and subject and then chosen the exact moment to click the shutter. The photographer takes dozens of photos and selects the best.

Read the full article at The Conversation.


Something to watch over me: policing our national borders

May 26, 2011

Commercial ports, railway stations and other crucial infrastructure are at constant risk from security incidents that can halt operations and, more worryingly, put you and I in harm’s way.

This is a reality around the world, and Australia is no different.

Intelligence officers and others have their work cut out, and advanced video surveillance systems – which use complex algorithms to analyse security footage – are a vital tool.

Read the full article at The Conversation.


Face-in-the-crowd biometrics: here’s looking secretly at you

25 May, 2011

In the surveillance world there are certain grand challenges – holy grails that researchers and those who use surveillance pursue doggedly, spurned on by the technical issues such challenges pose.

Paramount in these is real-time face-in-the-crowd technology: a recognition system advanced enough to sift through large crowds of people, none of whom are consciously facing CCTV cameras, to get results.

Not for nothing is this type of face recognition referred to as the “killer application” in biometrics.

Read the full article at The Conversation.


Big Brother is watching, but it’s nothing to fret about … honest

24 May, 2011

It’s hard to discuss public surveillance without immediately being asked about privacy issues. As technologists working on computer-based surveillance, it’s tempting to say this is outside our area of expertise, but we believe there may be a moral imperative to state our views on this thorny issue.

Firstly, it would seem public perception of CCTV surveillance has changed over the years.

Some 20 years ago, if I’d mentioned Big Brother to a class they would all think of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, and the abuse of video surveillance by a totalitarian state. Now they’re more likely to associate it with covorting housemates in the hit reality TV show.

Read the full article at The Conversation.


You, yes you: welcome to the world of advanced surveillance

May 23, 2011

The use of surveillance in public spaces is growing at an unprecedented pace in response to acts of terror and threats to critical infrastructure.

But while it is relatively easy (albeit expensive) to install increasing numbers of cameras, it is quite another issue to adequately monitor surveillance video.

The trend has been to simply record CCTV feeds without monitoring and then use the recordings to investigate acts of crime and terrorism after the event.

Read the full article at The Conversation.


The BitTorrent lawsuit: why Sly Stallone is out to get you

16 May, 2011

Ever downloaded a Hollywood flick from the internet?

If the answer is “yes” then you could be next on Rambo’s hit list. As reported recently, an American federal judge has agreed to allow the U.S. Copyright Group to subpeona at least 23,000 BitTorrent users for illegally downloading Sylvester Stallone’s meat-head heavy film The Expendables.

This decision could effect the single largest illegal BitTorrent downloading case in U.S history.

Read the full article at The Conversation


Turning it on for work meetings: is Avatar Kinect the new you?

May 11, 2011

New technology about to be released by Microsoft has the potential to revolutionise workplace meetings, removing the need to “be” anywhere for those all-important face-to-face encounters.

If you believe the hype, Microsoft’s Avatar Kinect system for the Xbox 360 will bring people together in a way that – even in the age of Skype and video calls – seems in the realms of science fiction.

As someone who often has to travel to meetings around the world (in my role as a Network Systems researcher at NICTA) this new technology has piqued my interest.

Read the full article at The Conversation.


Have computers finally eclipsed their creators?

March 28, 2011

In February this year, game shows got that little bit harder. And at the same time, artificial intelligence took another step towards the ultimate goal of creating and perhaps exceeding human-level intelligence.

Jeopardy! is a long running and somewhat back-to-front American quiz show in which contestants are presented with trivia clues in the form of answers, and must reply in the form of a question.

Host: “Tickets aren’t needed for this ‘event’, a black hole’s boundary from which matter can’t escape."
Watson: "What is event horizon?"
Host: "Wanted for killing Sir Danvers Carew; appearance – pale and dwarfish; seems to have a split personality."
Watson: "Who is Hyde?"
Host: "Even a broken one of these on your wall is right twice a day.” Watson: “What is clock?”

Read the full article at The Conversation.