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July 10, 2006

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A Better Memory Chip
Technology Review (07/10/06) Greene, Kate

Freescale Semiconductor has unveiled the first commercial, magnetic-based semiconductor memory. The new chip, based on magnetoresistive random-access memory (MRAM), will compete with Flash, RAM, and other established types of semiconductor memory, potentially leading to more energy-efficient electronics. Freescale's announcement could signal a watershed in consumer electronics, as it demonstrates that MRAM manufacturing techniques and materials, after decades of research, are finally ready for practical commercial deployment, according to Doug Burger, professor of computer sciences and electrical engineering at Texas A&M University. Unlike Flash memory and RAM, which store information as an electronic charge, MRAM represents data through the magnetic orientation of electrons. MRAM chips are comprised of hundreds of thousands of memory cells, each containing one magnetic electrode with a fixed magnetic field and one whose polarization can change. The binary number that a cell is storing is a function of the resistance between the electrodes, which in turn is dictated by the electrodes' polarization. The magnetic properties create a "unique combination of characteristics that you can't get in any other semiconductor material," said Freescale's Saied Tehrani. MRAM chips are nonvolatile, meaning that they do not require a power supply to hold data, and their data can be written and read an unlimited number of times at rapid speeds. The property of nonvolatility and the potential to eliminate a computer's boot-up time make MRAM an appealing candidate to replace RAM. Its central advantage over Flash is that it can be used forever. While MRAM could eventually emerge as the dominant form of memory, Freescale's chip only has a capacity of 4 MB, which pales in comparison to the current Flash chips with capacities of several gigabits.
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FBI Plans New Net-Tapping Push
CNet (07/07/06) McCullagh, Declan

Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) intends to introduce legislation that would make it a requirement for ISPs to set up wiretapping hubs for law enforcement monitoring and for networking equipment manufacturers to incorporate backdoors for surveillance, according to FBI agent Barry Smith in a private conference with industry representatives on July 7. DeWine's bill would amend the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) to the effect that any maker of "routing" and "addressing" hardware would be required to offer upgrades or other "modifications" necessary to the enablement of Internet wiretapping; extend wiretapping requirements to "commercial" Internet services if the FCC believes it to be within the "public interest;" coerce ISPs to filter their customers' communications to spot, for example, voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calls only; and jettison the current legal requirement that Justice must annually issue a public "notice of the actual number of communications interceptions" as well as the "maximum capacity" needed to handle all the legally authorized wiretaps that federal agencies will "conduct and use simultaneously." The FBI says CALEA must be expanded in order to beat terrorists and other criminals who are exploiting technologies such as VoIP. "The complexity and variety of communications technologies have dramatically increased in recent years, and the lawful intercept capabilities of the federal, state and local law enforcement community have been under continual stress, and in many cases have decreased or become impossible," states a summary accompanying the draft bill. However, critics say the legislation infringes on Internet users' privacy, while the bill's political outlook is also muddied by continued debate concerning supposedly unlawful eavesdropping by the National Security Administration.
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Innovation and Competitiveness Authorization Updates
Computing Research News (07/07/06) Camese, Erica

The Research Competitiveness Act, which would give the NSF and the Energy Department a mandate to dole out career grants encouraging people to pursue professions in the sciences, and the Science and Mathematics Education for Competitiveness Act, which promotes mathematics, science, and technology education through scholarships, stipends, and mentoring programs, have both cleared the House Science Committee, though they failed to win a suspension status that could have accelerated their passage. Instead, the two bills will be subject to debate on the floor under open rule, making their passage a more distant prospect. Both bills are a product of the American Competitiveness Initiative, which has already won funding approval for fiscal year 2007, raising the question in the scientific community of the utility of further debate. Meanwhile, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has approved the PACE-Energy Act, which promotes basic research at the Energy Department through an experiment-based internship program, grants, and satellite summer programs at national labs. The PACE-Energy Act is expected to reach the Senate floor in the near future.
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Researchers Teach Robots to Evolve Their Own Language
InformationWeek (07/10/06) McDougall, Paul

Researchers in Europe are using the EC (embedded and communicating) Agents program to teach robots linguistics and cognitive skills that they ultimately will be able to develop on their own over time, without the assistance of communications rules provided by humans. Scientists from Sony's computer science labs in France are participating with researchers from the European Commission's Emerging Technologies Initiative and the Institute of Cognitive Science and Technology in Italy on the project, in which Aibo robotic dogs are placed in a room with objects, some of which are responsive to sound, to learn about their environment. Thus far, the super-Aibos have directed more of their "barking" to the objects that respond to them, and have learned which bark patterns generate certain responses. Another application allowed the Aibos to develop their own language, which would enable one dog to tell another the location of a ball and ask it to go fetch. Such interactions are the building blocks for advanced artificial intelligence that includes an innate language capability, according to the researchers. Meanwhile, Viktoria Institute in Sweden is using EC agents to give mobile devices the ability to talk with each other, such as an MP3 player with a cell phone. And the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology has embedded robots with EC agents, and the small, wheeled units are being taught to provide assistance in search and rescue operations. "We've managed to ground AI in reality, in the real world, solving one of the crucial problems to creating truly intelligent and cooperative systems," says Stefano Nolfi, coordinator of the EC Agents project.
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UI Researchers Create Computer That Recognizes Body Movement
News-Gazette (07/07/06) Kline, Greg

Nonverbal cues such as hand gestures, eye movements, and body language are an integral part of the way that people interact with each other. Researchers at the University of Illinois, recognizing that computers will never be able to have pure human interactions without being able to infer the meaning of nonverbal cues, have developed a system for computers to be able to detect shrugs. "I guess shrug is the first step toward trying to analyze body movement," said Thomas Huang, a professor of electrical and computer engineering whose lab is also developing facial recognition technologies that improve security and database search. "We're interested in mainly audio and visual clues," he said, "but also body language." Huang's software grabbed headlines last year when it was used to analyze the mood of the Mona Lisa (she turned out to be mostly happy). One of the researchers' goals is to improve computers' ability to understand what their users want from them. In one project, the Illinois researchers are using computers to track facial expressions in an attempt to help middle school students who are learning some of the basic principles of science. Huang's lab has also produced a hand-recognition system that reads and tracks the fingertips and palms, enabling a user's hands to manipulate objects in a virtual world. The shrug detector is comprised of a computer, digital camera, and software developed by the Illinois researchers. While the basic application of detecting a shrug was a relatively simple programming task, getting the computer to do it in real time and repeatedly was more difficult, Huang said, adding that more cameras may be required to overcome the system's difficulty coping with poor lighting or a person turned in profile to the camera instead of facing it.
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Seeking to Tighten the Net Against Attack
IST Results (07/10/06)

In an effort to shore up the Internet's defenses against cyberattacks in a time of rapid broadband uptake, the IST-funded DIADEM Firewall project has created a comprehensive security application for broadband services, with particular emphasis on denial-of-service attacks and mitigating the effects of an attack. Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, which overwhelm the target network by marshalling thousands of zombie computers to make simultaneous requests of the network's bandwidth, affected more than 13 percent of businesses in the United Kingdom in 2004. DDoS attacks can impose severe customer service costs on broadband service providers, as well as disrupting the broadband experience for residential users. "There is no doubt that denial-of-service attacks are a growing issue as more and more services, such as online games, IP telephony, television over IP, and e-shopping are provided to broadband users through the Internet," said Yannick Carlinet, DIADEM Firewall project coordinator. "It is a crucial and vulnerable aspect of broadband security and will become even more so in the future as more users move over to broadband connections." The project created a network-based distributed detection and reaction system to be managed centrally by network operators, unlike the current system, where each user is responsible for his own security. In shifting the burden of security back to the network provider, the DIADEM Firewall project developed new intrusion-detection algorithms and policy-based techniques that enable automated configuration and decision making. The main difficulty that the project encountered has been to convince the major network operators that they need to take responsibility for security through centrally administered policies.
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DHS Lags in Appointing Cybersecurity Czar
National Journal's Technology Daily (07/05/06) Greenfield, Heather

Nearly a year has passed since Homeland Security Department (DHS) Secretary Michael Chertoff created the position of a Cabinet-level cybersecurity czar in an effort to make sure the department can address possible past and emerging threats in the best way possible. The position has yet to be filled since it was first announced on July 13, 2005. The effort to appoint someone to the position started two years ago in Congress. Some see this as indicative of the lack of attention that exists in most senior levels of government. "The department is incompetent," says Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.). "When you say no one is home [at Homeland Security] it's not a joke." Lofgren, along with a House cybersecurity subcommittee, helped pass House legislation that would create a cybersecurity czar with authority in Homeland Security. Now many members of Congress and other groups are starting to question whether DHS National Cyber Security Division director Andy Purdy can effectively manage the Internet in a disaster situation. "What we concluded is if there were a major cyber disruption, our nation would not be able to restore or rebuild the Internet," says Tita Freeman at the Business Roundtable. "Our CEOs feel that the Internet is vital to the exchange of information that's vital to our nation's economic security and to our security in general." Lofgren says there needs to be a cybersecurity czar present at Cabinet meetings to successfully rebuild the Internet if a cyber disruption does occur.
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Virtual Reality Psychodrama Plays With Viewers' Minds
University at Buffalo Reporter (07/06/06) Vol. 37, No. 40,Donovan, Patricia

An interdisciplinary team of University at Buffalo academics from fields such as computer science, media arts, and drama has developed "Human Trials," a virtual-reality psychodrama "in which players immerse themselves in multidimensional virtual space and undertake an 'absurd quest,'" according to Josephine Anstey, assistant professor in the Department of Media Study. The participant in "Human Trials" interacts with both a virtual reality atmosphere and two human actors who improvise reactions to the participant's actions; the other actors in the drama are computer-controlled agents. The challenge for the participant is to overcome the rigged games, duplicitous characters, and the attendant sense of disempowerment as they try to make decisions, Anstey says. The participant, wearing a head-mounted virtual-reality system, enters the environment from a virtual-reality projection system, where he is met by the human actors, who confront him with a series of seemingly meaningless challenges. The Human Trials project is an extension of the work in the areas of intelligent agents and virtual-reality drama that Anstey and assistant media study professor Dave Pape have been engaged in with Stuart Shapiro, a professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. Human Trials is geared for immersive virtual-reality environments with 3D displays, one large screen or several screens, and head-mounted displays such as CAVE.
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Kansas State University Professors Working on Sensor-Based System to Monitor Livestock Herds
U.S Newswire (07/05/06)

Researchers at Kansas State University are developing a system to monitor the health and behavior of animals on the range in an attempt to protect against avian flu, mad cow disease, pneumonia, and other animal diseases. "The primary goals of the project are to develop new technology to increase meat quality by minimizing the impact of disease and to protect human/animal populations by detecting disease early before local herds are mixed with animals in large feedlots," said Steve Warren, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering. It could be days before a farmer notices that an animal is sick and calls out a veterinarian--ample time for an epidemic to break out, says Kansas State's Dan Andresen. "We hope through monitoring we can help the farmer detect disease earlier, have fewer animals to treat, and positively impact national security," Andresen says. The researchers are also looking at devices that can detect the speed and direction of an animal's movement, a key to identifying when an animal might be sick. The information collected by the system could enable the government to quickly react to a disease outbreak, as well as helping scientists better understand the effect of climate change and other environmental factors on the health and behavior of animals. They have developed two systems: a complex sensor application that would cost around $100 per animal and likely be only deployed with a few animals on a ranch; and a simpler system that would cost between $5 and $10 per animal. In the near future, all animals will be required to wear electronic ID tags, and Andresen notes that a temperature sensor could be added for around $2. The researchers are still collecting raw data and optimizing the wireless connection between the animals and the base station.
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Scientists to Automate Thought
Computing (07/06/06) Brown, James

Researchers at the Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit of the University College London have completed a brain-scanning experiment mapping the processes at work when humans make decisions, potentially leading to machines that could eventually replace human involvement in analyzing data. The researchers scanned volunteers' brains with a functional Magnetic Resonance Imager while they selected from a series of slot machines that paid out different amounts of money. "If we can understand how people solve problems using past experience we can design better decision-making machine algorithms that could be used in something like an autonomous robot, or in perfecting systems such as those used by Amazon.com to price books with," said Nathaniel Daw, one of the project's lead researchers. Machines that could make better decisions could be of tremendous benefit to businesses, according to Michele Bezzi of the Accenture Technology Lab. Bezzi notes that while machines can sift through enormous volumes of data, they do not have the intelligence to identify patterns and make interpretations. Accenture has been developing an intelligent surveillance system that could monitor multiple cameras more effectively than a person. "An intelligent system could detect abnormalities and suggest to a guard that something wrong is happening," Bezzi says. Futurist Ian Pearson believes self-aware machines could become a reality as early as 2015, but cautions that they could eventually displace people for many tasks.
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New Technology Could Measure the Pleasure of Playing Games
Vancouver Sun (BC, Canada) (07/07/06) Griffin, Kevin

Electronic Arts is funding research that could help game companies determine whether a new game is likely to become a hit with consumers. The company has enlisted the services of Regan Mandryk, who is developing a system that measures heart rate and facial muscle movements as people play games. Attaching physical sensors, with electrodes sewn in Velcro strips placed on the index and ring fingers of the hand of gamers, helps reveal players' level of excitement, challenge, frustration, or boredom with a game. Mandryk developed the system as part of her doctorate at Simon Fraser University, and the computer scientist believes it could be helpful in assessing the emotional response of players within an hour of finishing a game. "If you have a systematic way of determining whether games are actually fun and enjoyable to play in the developmental stage, developers and companies would be able to save a lot of money and have a better, risk-free way of developing good ideas," says Mandryk. Only 10 percent of games in development are released to the public, and they do not all become a success. Companies continue to develop games on the hunch of programmers and production managers, and sometimes rely on interviews and focus groups after introducing a new game. Mandryk believes her technology also could be used to analyze the emotional level of people in stressful lines of work such as air traffic controllers.
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Another Spec About to Hatch
SD Times (07/01/06)No. 153, P. 1; Connolly, P.J.

WSDL 2.0 will edge closer to reality later this month when about a dozen software companies meet at IBM's Toronto Software Lab in the first of two events aimed at validating their implementations of the specification, which is presently considered a "Candidate Recommendation" by the W3C. One of the new features in the specification is the notion of interface inheritance, which not only enables WSDL developers to define interfaces, but also to incorporate them into larger interfaces. The message construction of WSDL 2.0 is simplified, with the bulk of the work being performed by schema. The fact that WSDL 1.1 is still usable is an obstacle to the W3C's effort to pass the new version. "The problem is that WSDL 1.1 has been around enough for a while, and is good enough for many purposes," said Jonathan Marsh, co-chair of the W3C's Web Services Description Working Group, though that has given the working group the opportunity to make WSDL 2.0 as clean and functional as possible. A second working group event is scheduled for the fall, giving developers two opportunities to test out different implementations and pinpoint where the bugs are. Marsh is happy with the amount of review that the specification has received, as well as the coordination between the description and policy sides. HTTP binding remains an open issue, as many substantive new features have been included in the WSDL 2.0 binding. "The goal was not to provide a full HTTP description language, but just to have the kinds of interactions you would normally do in SOAP...[also] exposed through an HTTP Web service," Marsh said.
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DOE's Federated Model Aims to Identify Security Threats
Network World (07/05/06) Garretson, Cara

Last fall, Argonne National Laboratory started the Federated Model, an information-sharing project to be used by government, research labs, universities, and organizations that want to share or view information on different attempts by IP addresses to access networks and how organizations have dealt with the attempts. The Federated Model has about a half-dozen members and is steadily growing. The lab, a division of the Department of Energy (DOE), is trying to add features to the project such as an RSS feed that notifies members when new information has been added, according to Scott Pinkerton, manager of network services for the lab, which operates out of the University of Chicago. Members will eventually be able to stop an attack by following the examples and actions of fellow members. If a member of the Federated Model is the victim of an attack from a particular IP address, then another member will be able to block that IP address from the network. "We're reinforcing the idea that we could be smarter, and more prepared," says Pinkerton.
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A Virtual Roundtable
Fortune (07/10/06) Vol. 154, No. 1, P. 103; Hira, Nadira A.; Kirkpatrick, David; Levenson, Eugenia

Director of MIT's Center for Collective Intelligence Thomas Malone says inexpensive, Internet-enabled communication is allowing organizations to enjoy the economic benefits of both large and small entities--economies of scale in the case of the former and flexibility, freedom, creativity, motivation, and innovation in the case of the latter--by giving people in large organizations the information to make their own decisions. MySpace CEO Chris DeWolfe foresees a gradual improvement of individual empowerment through the enhancement of U.S. mobile networks and handset functionality, noting that "With mobile access you're no longer limited to a static depiction of a user's personality but have a real-time representation of their lifestyle." WPP Group CEO Martin Sorrell says the nature of media consumption is changing, arguing that it is folly to think you can manipulate independent media such as blogging for your own benefit; he also points out that traditional media users often have difficulty absorbing new media. China Interactive Media Group CEO and blog writer Hung Huang has found blogging to be a valuable tool for increasing awareness and circulation of her firm's publications, and notes that Chinese people are expressing themselves in a different way than they were before via blogging. Director of Microsoft's Live Labs Gary Flake compares the Internet's impact to that of the Renaissance or the Industrial Revolution by boosting the fluidity of information exchange and creating new value, and lists as examples the accelerated sharing of scientific knowledge and the emergence of communal intelligence to make the vast volume of data more comprehensible to individuals. Global Voices Online co-founder Rebecca MacKinnon says the Internet is emerging into a vehicle for social change, though its effects on any society's balance of power are still unknown. Wipro Chairman Azim Premji says increased connectivity and falling communication costs support offshoring, which "is creating a level playing field and making remunerative employment available to economically less developed countries."
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Taming the Digital Beast
Campus Technology (06/06) Vol. 19, No. 10, P. 40; Patrizio, Andy

Academic institutions are at the forefront of knowledge production, but they often lag behind their own students in the implementation of technology. Librarians are beginning to move up the curve, however, as they are partnering with campus IT departments to develop digital repositories to make resources available that would otherwise be inaccessible. Faculty members are sometimes reluctant to take the trouble to make their materials accessible to their colleagues at other institutions, according to Denison University Assistant Provost Scott Siddall. By way of incentive, Siddall says, "institutions have to say, 'If you create a unique collection, digitize it, put it up online, and let people access it, that is scholarship; that is valued, and we're going to count it in promotion and tenure.' Then people will put it on their radar screen." Early digital repository initiatives have largely skirted copyright issues by only placing materials that are in the public domain online. Convincing faculty that materials can and should be made freely available online can be a major challenge, particularly with members of the humanities disciplines. Creating a digital repository must be a campus-wide effort that includes library sciences administrators, on-campus IT, and the heads of various departments. Experts are in wide agreement that digital repository initiatives are doomed to failure and disorganization without metadata to make the resources searchable. When creating a digital repository, universities work under tight budgets, making open source software an appealing option to power repository efforts such as DSpace, a system built for digital media that is in use at 138 institutions around the world. Back-end support can add cost to open-source software, but data formatting is a more important concern. It is important to use internationally recognized standards, such as Dublin Core, JPEG 2000 for images, and Adobe PDF for documents.
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Speech and J2EE--A Foundation for More Creative Dialog Design
Speech Technology (06/06) Vol. 11, No. 3, P. 49; Chirokas, Steve

The ability to facilely combine speech systems and dynamic data retrieval to furnish a speech dialog is increasingly driving the platform for speech applications of greater distinction and interactivity. The Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition (J2EE) infrastructure can help enable enterprise integration of VoiceXML and HTML, which have emerged as the de facto speech content delivery language and the de facto Web content delivery language, respectively. A Java foundation can imbue a hosted or premise-based speech environment with flexibility, and provide a more consistent programming resource for embedding security from multiple vendors. In addition, J2EE can let speech application developers integrate with enterprise systems as well as bundle their components for enterprise integration into reusable elements. Speech applications based on VoiceXML supply a general architecture to integrate with back-end systems, and also forge connections between the application and agents and systems that provide advanced call routing and screen pops. Organizations can extend packaging as links to existing corporate resources via the VoiceXML-associated Java infrastructure. This can streamline the coding of database queries, CTI integration, and call transfers. The penetration of VoiceXML-based speech integration into the enterprise space will facilitate the continued diminishment of cost obstacles standing in the way of custom integration and levels of effort for troublesome "one off" solutions.
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The Semantic Web Revisited
IEEE Intelligent Systems (06/06) Vol. 21, No. 3, P. 96; Shadbolt, Nigel; Hall, Wendy; Berners-Lee, Tim

The lack of large-scale, agent-based mediation might be construed as a failure of the Semantic Web concept, write University of Southampton professors Nigel Shadbolt, Wendy Hall, and Tim Berners-Lee, but they argue that agents cannot thrive until standards are well entrenched, and progress in the development of Web standards for expressing shared meaning has been steady in the five years since the publication of the first Semantic Web article in Scientific American. The authors further see the Semantic Web's eventual success being foreshadowed by the e-science community's use of ontologies. Standards and languages alone cannot support the Semantic Web; also critical is uptake, the point where serendipitous reuse of data becomes possible. The Semantic Web's semantic components are provided by ontologies, and for this to happen, practice communities must devise, manage, and endorse the ontologies. The effort that goes into developing and managing ontologies depends on whether the ontologies are deep or shallow: Deep ontologies require a substantial effort, while shallow ontologies, which are composed of small numbers of unchanging terms used to organize very big data volumes, are simpler. Accommodating "the next wave of data ubiquity," as the authors put it, will constitute a major challenge, and the Semantic Web's success will depend on elements that were critical to the Web's success, social and design factors being just a few of these elements. Much if that success is associated with the ladder of authority, which the authors define as "the sequence of specifications (URI, HTTP, RDF, ontology and so on) and registers (URI scheme, MIME Internet content type, and so on), which provide a means for a construct such as an ontology to derive meaning from a URI."
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