DARPA-funded project to spark computer science education

TopCoder hopes its virtual community will increase student interest in pursuing computer science jobs.

To boost computer science education and help middle and high school students strengthen their science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills before they enter college and the workforce, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded TopCoder a $5.57 million contract to develop a new virtual community featuring competitions and educational resources.

TopCoder is a worldwide software development community known for its computer coding contests. DARPA representatives said they hope TopCoder’s new virtual community, focusing on computer science education, will entice students in grades 6-12 to pursue a computer science degree or other STEM-related fields.

There has been a significant decline in the number of students graduating with a computer science degree, said DARPA program manager Melanie Dumas—including a 70-percent reduction in students pursuing the field since its 2001 peak.…Read More

Aiming to learn as we do, a machine teaches itself

Researchers are fine-tuning a computer system that is trying to master semantics by learning more like a human, reports the New York Times. Give a computer a task that can be crisply defined—win at chess, predict the weather—and the machine bests humans nearly every time. Yet when problems are nuanced or ambiguous, or require combining varied sources of information, computers are no match for human intelligence. Few challenges in computing loom larger than unraveling semantics, or understanding the meaning of language. One reason is that the meaning of words and phrases hinges not only on their context, but also on background knowledge that humans learn over years, day after day. Now, a team of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University—supported by grants from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Google, and tapping into a supercomputing cluster provided by Yahoo—is trying to change that. The researchers’ computer was primed with some basic knowledge in various categories and set loose on the web with a mission to teach itself. The Never-Ending Language Learning system, or NELL, has made an impressive showing so far. NELL scans hundreds of millions of web pages for text patterns that it uses to learn facts—390,000 to date—with an estimated accuracy of 87 percent. These facts are grouped into semantic categories: cities, companies, sports teams, actors, universities, plants, and 274 others. NELL also learns facts that are relations between members of two categories…

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When defense meets education

DARPA said it recognizes that it must work hard to win back the attention of top researchers.
DARPA said it recognizes that it must work hard to win back the attention of top researchers.

Thanks to a new direction at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the phrase “always 10 years behind” no longer might apply to education: The agency that developed GPS and the internet is stepping up its efforts to deliver new technology to sectors other than the military—and schools will be among the key beneficiaries.

As part of its newly expanded focus, DARPA is advancing its collaborative work with universities. One example of DARPA’s new focus on collaboration with the education sector is the agency’s work with Louisiana State University (LSU).

A research group with LSU’s Center for Computation and Technology has received two awards to provide technical contributions to DARPA’s Ubiquitous High Performance Computing Program (UHPC).…Read More