IBM100: Memories of Benoit Mandelbrot, by Michael Frame

An early cosmology placed the earth on the backs of four elephants, 
all standing on a turtle. The question, "On what did the turtle
 stand?" always was answered, "It's turtles all the way down." Calculus 
and all of 19th century analysis worked because the functions studied
 are more closely approximated by their tangent lines the more closely we 
look. When we zoom in, the curves appear simpler. By the start of the 
20th century, mathematicians knew some examples where this was false,
 but these were regarded as monsters. Benoit Mandelbrot recognized the
 mathematics of these monsters described much of nature, and expanded 
this idea into fractal geometry. Very often, nature does not get simpler
 under magnification; Benoit gave us a way to quantify the fact that
 it's complicated all the way down.

Michael Frame, a Yale University professor, worked alongside Benoit Mandelbrot, a world renowned mathematician and IBMer, known for coining the word fractal and developing the Mandelbrot set. Read the rest of Frame's article, here.


Inventors' Corner: U.S. Patent #7,516,142 -- System, Method and Program Product for Optimizing a Research and Grant Portfolio

This invention describes a method, system, and program that assists academic researchers with tracking available grants, identifying potential collaborators and their skills, and locating available equipment and other materials. The system also matches up the people, projects and resources in an ordered and disciplined process. In addition, the patented technique can help university researchers properly respond to requests for grant proposals and to efficiently submit grant proposals.

Scientists from the University of Rhode Island (URI) and IBM Researchers are currently developing a solution based on Patent #7516142 that will enable researchers in the school's pharmacy school to efficiently find the resources they need to more effectively plan, manage and measure the progress of their research projects. Under the collaboration, IBM and URI are working on a tool that combines IBM's data analytics, social networking, and optimization software with URI's knowledge of the academic research experience to discover and capitalize on academic research opportunities.

The researchers are using IBM technology to scour the Internet and other networks for useful data from research publications, grant awards, term papers, etc. and storing in a data warehouse with the URI's data, such as student transcripts, academic expert details and papers, grant info, etc. Next, IBM's analytics software will analyze the content, identify potential projects and uncover available resources and IBM optimization software will recommend connections between open grants and available resources. Finally, IBM social networking software will provide an interface and forum for interested researchers to find and share information about the available projects, as well as their areas of expertise and interest.

U.S. Patent #7,516,142 was issued to inventors Robert Friedlander, Anwer Khan, and James Kraemer.

Nanotechnology and the future of computing

IBM Research - Zurich and ETH Zurich, a premier European science and technology university, announced today the opening of a new Nanotechnology Center. Joint research projects promise to combine the skills of industry and academic research in ways that neither party could achieve on their own.

The announcement of the new center being made at the first in a series of IBM Research Colloquia. Throughout IBM's Centennial year, IBM will convene thought leaders at our global labs to discuss technologies of the future and their potential impact on business and society. The goal of the Colloquia is to bring together the IBM ecosystem of business, government and academia to help define the computing age of the future.

The IBM Research - Zurich Colloquium will focus on Nanotechnology and the Future of Computing. View recordings of the events via livestream:

Opening Ceremony with IBM Research Senior Vice President John Kelly III

Colloquium Lecture 1: Computing for the Future

Colloquium Lecture 2: Value of Public-Private Partnerships

Colloquium Lecture 3: The Quantum Computer


Webby recognizes IBM site for simplifying Congress’ many bills

Editor's note: Bradley Schmidt, IBM Government Proposal program manager also contributed to this article.

How many bills did your member of Congress draft last year? On what topics? And what about provisions within the bills not directly related to the topic? Do you even know who your congressperson is?
Of the nearly 10,000 entries submitted to the 15th Annual Webby Awards, fewer than 10% were distinguished as an Official Honoree. This honor signifies an outstanding caliber of work.

Software researchers at the IBM Research Visual Communications Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts designed the website Many Bills “to make congressional legislation easier to digest.” For their work in simplifying Congress’ bills, the site was named an Official Webby Honoree.

The inspiration for Many Bills came, in part, during the team’s 2009 Transparent Text symposium. Attendees from the nonprofit MAPLight wanted to visualize seemingly unrelated subjects often written into legislation. Done to help gain votes from colleagues, among many other reasons, MAPLight Used the example of a credit card reform bill (HR 627*, sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-NY) that included a section about firearms in national parks.

“Guns in parks, in the same context as credit card reform, seemed a bit off topic,” said Researcher Irene Ros. “So, we began thinking of ways to visualize these potential inconsistencies.”

Reading and learning from many, many bills

Legislation is public record. Anyone can find “firearm” and “national park” in HR 627 – after 13,761 words, on page 32, in section 512, paragraph (a), sub-paragraph (3). Digital copies are available at the Library of Congress’ website, Thomas, which the site GovTrack.us aggregates to make bills downloadable in bulk.

This is where Many Bills comes in: it takes the data from GovTrack and organizes and color codes the bills by topic, congressperson, co-sponsor, and other ways, using web-standards such as HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript (no proprietary plug-ins required).

Bills are categorized by the Congressional Research Service, an arm of the Library of Congress. Many Bills breaks up the bills into these constituent sections and assigns topics to them. It assigned HR 627’s individual sections to the categories “economics,” “education,” and “natural resources.”

Many Bills “learned” how to decipher and categorize this legislative lingo by digesting 10 years worth of past bills using a machine learning toolkit called MALLET.

Users improve Many Bills

Searching for a topic in Many Bills not only shows which bills contain that term or terms, but also highlights the terms within the bill – making it easy to find the term “firearm” in HR 627, for example.

Many Bills also allows users to identify “misfits,” or the text that goes beyond minor category deviations, and into entirely different topics, within a bill (such as HR 627’s section 512). And because Many Bills may not always classify a bill correctly, the site offers users a crowdsourcing feature to flag topics and the “misfit” labels.

We wanted to create a place for people to go and easily look at legislation that is otherwise arcane, baroque documentation.
Yannick Assogba
IBM Research
The team also recently added a “Members of Congress” section. Now, users can look up their members of Congress to find out what bills they sponsored and co-sponsored, and which were voted into law.

Everyone from journalists, students, and armchair policy wonks can search, study, comment on, and share legislation that affects subjects they care about. Investigating the legislative record of an incumbent congressperson or senator around election time has never been easier.

Looking Ahead

This visualization technology has broad applicability in analyzing any large set of documents, such as the tax code; lengthy business documents and processes; state legal statutes – any place where the amount of text data is an impediment to its digestion.

For now, IBM hopes that Many Bills will help make a seemingly endless ocean of legislation more useful and accessible to everyone. Many Bills’ technology is another example of how analytics can help us understand and organize large data sets.

For more about Many Bills, the team presented at The ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in April. And in July, graduate student intern Elif Aktolga from UMass-Amherst will present how she improved Many Bills’ “misfit” detection algorithm at SIGIR 2011.

*Note: The example of HR 627, which passed into law in the 111th Congress, was used only to demonstrate Many Bills’ technology. No judgment or political statement is intended.