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NTU, Rice establish infodynamics institute

Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Rice University (Rice), a leading United States research university, today agreed to jointly establish the Institute of Sustainable and Applied Infodynamics in Singapore. Led by NTU, the multidisciplinary bi-national institute will create new science and engineer sustainable media devices, autonomous medical decision systems and other radical new information technologies that are more cost- and energy-efficient.

NTU Provost Professor Bertil Andersson and Rice Provost Professor Eugene H. Levy announced plans for the institute today at the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU).

"Information and communication technologies are increasingly seen as drivers for global economic recovery, but this will only happen if fundamental physical, economic and societal barriers are overcome," said Krishna Palem, Rice's Ken and Audrey Kennedy Professor of Computing, who will be leading the new institute. "The Institute of Sustainable and Applied Infodynamics will respond to this challenge with technologies that transform, transmit and communicate information in pioneering ways."

NTU President Dr Su Guaning said, "Emerging information-based industries are a key part of a knowledge-based economy. One crucial barrier these industries face are limitations in density and power consumption. Three years ago, we set up the Institute for Sustainable Nanoelectronics (ISNE), in collaboration with Rice University, to develop an entirely new generation of high speed IC chips with drastically reduced power consumption. The new centre will expand ISNE's original mission to tap bigger opportunities in information and its transformation. NTU is happy to work with one of the world's premier universities to position Singapore to lead the way in creating new knowledge and new commercial opportunities."

Rice President David Leebron said, "Working hand in hand with a leading engineering university like NTU complements Rice's traditional strengths and gives Rice a significant and strategic presence and a gateway to Asia. We hope to create revolutionary breakthroughs rooted in world-class science and to change everyday lives with technologies that provide ubiquitous personalized digital media, improved medical care and more."

Virtual hospital system One project that Professor Palem is planning for the new institute is the development of a virtual hospital system that collects vital statistics from biosensors, synthesises the data and selectively delivers only the information doctors and nurses need via novel digital media devices called "medical tablets."

"These tablets would be learning machines that have autonomous decision support systems. The tablets will be able to assist doctors in diagnosing medical conditions, even from remote locations through a wireless link," said Professor Palem, who is also the director of ISNE at NTU.

"Applied infodynamics" is focused both on the process and the price that is paid each time a piece of information is transformed, transcribed, transmitted, stored or recalled. The high-tech industry has historically paid the maximum toll for logical precision, but Palem said new technologies could allow infodynamic systems to be parsimonious. To achieve this, the institute will draw upon a multidisciplinary range of expertise in nanochemistry, neuroscience, signal processing, logic, probability, complexity and dynamical systems.

"Our brains are particularly good at translating vast streams of information into a few bits of useful information," Professor Palem said. "More than a century ago, filmmakers found they could create the illusion of motion by stringing together a few still images each second; the viewer's brain fills in the gaps automatically."

In contrast, he said, the hardware in modern media devices manipulates information perfectly and pays an unnecessary and high cost for that perfection.

Incorporating key neurobiological findings

"Like filmmakers of a century ago, we intend to capitalise on the power of the human brain," he said. "We will take advantage of the latest neurobiological developments to perform a sort of risk analysis that takes the power of our visual system into account to guide innovations that are 'good enough' rather than perfect. Our research project aims to lower costs significantly both in the transformation and the wireless transmission of the information."

Palem won the computing industry's most prestigious technical award in 2008 the IEEE Computer Society's W. Wallace McDowell Award for his pioneering contributions to "embedded" computing the special purpose information systems that are commonplace in virtually every appliance, automobile, electronic toy and gadget today. Infodynamics can improve the performance of these systems and of others such as hearing aids, video cameras and numerous portable devices that translate information from one domain to another.


Contact: Esther Ang
Nanyang Technological University

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