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October 27, 2006

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Election Cliffhanger: Will it Work?
USA Today (10/27/06) P. 15A; Wolf, Rachel

As the November 7 election approaches, poll workers are currently being trained to use electronic voting systems, with varying success. Chuck Dietrich, 75, expresses the frustration of many concerning the transformation of a seemingly simple, albeit tedious, process being made into a complicated one that is largely kept from public knowledge: "I don't see what was wrong with the paper ballots. When you go into a bank or into a store, they tell you, 'We can't help you, the computers are down.'" Dietrich, though of a generation unfamiliar with computing devices, has a more relevant outlook on the voting process than most: he is very close to the average poll worker age, which is 72. In Ohio's Cuyahoga County, and many others across the country, private instructors and technicians from Diebold (or other voting machine makers) conduct four-hour training sessions, overseen by Election Board officials, in which poll workers are familiarized with the new machine. After the course, poll workers must take a test, which 26 percent failed the first time in Cuyahoga County. Technicians in this county must also take classes, although these are eight hours long. In the upcoming election 30 percent of U.S. voting districts are using new equipment, up from nine percent in 2004, and over 20 states are using machines that produce paper printouts for the first time. Dozens of states are using new voter identification and registration systems. Candice Hoke, director for the Center for Election Integrity at Cleveland State University thinks that "we're facing a huge problem as a nation. We've made the entire election system overly complex and technologically vulnerable, and lowered public confidence in the legitimacy of the results." Ironically, the use of electronic voting machines was a reaction to problems occurring in the 2000 presidential election; a way to assure future elections went smoothly. For information about ACM's e-voting activities, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm
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It's Back to School for IT
CNet (10/26/06) Blake, Brian M.

Despite reports about outsourcing and offshoring of IT jobs, IT professionals who are able to align technology with business will find plenty of intriguing opportunities, writes Georgetown University computer science professor M. Brian Blake. A reported 70 percent drop between 2000 and 2005 in the number of students majoring in computer science means that those who do acquire the necessary skills will be even more highly sought after. Today's IT professional is not relegated to simply writing code, but is involved in nearly every stage of the business process. School and professors must acknowledge the changing IT environment and change the way IT skills are presented. While the basics of computer engineering must remain, certain aspects of business should be added. Real world technology and business scenarios are most effective in preparing students for the careers awaiting them. Educators must take the burden upon themselves to realize what skills are required in the workplace at the present as well as the longevity of these skills. Beyond studying programming languages, students must learn the business forces that led to their creation. A Forrester Research report recently revealed that IT professionals are often expected to collaborate with business groups involving sourcing, architecture, management, and innovation. However, Blake says a growing demand is not enough; in order to ensure the success of the next generation, educators, students and IT professionals must cooperate to create educational paths that address critical business skills which will aid traditional computer science training.
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ACM Names 49 Distinguished Members for Contributions to Computing
AScribe Newswire (10/25/06)

Forty-nine ACM members have been recognized as ACM Distinguished Members. ACM created the new member recognition program as a way to honor members who have made significant contributions in computing and information technology. "The computing disciplines are the drivers behind much of the world's innovations," says former ACM President David Patterson, a computer scientist at the University of California, Berkeley. "These prominent scientists, engineers, and professionals have made breakthroughs in computing that benefit our world everyday." IBM topped the corporate sector in 2006 ACM Distinguished Members with nine, followed by Sun Microsystems Laboratories with five, and HP Labs and Yahoo each with two. Among universities, the University of Minnesota and the University of California, Irvine, had two ACM Distinguished Members. The winning ACM Distinguished Members have achieved breakthroughs in areas such as computer security, robotics, computer graphics, mobile computing, wireless networking, and Web searching. For a complete list of 2006 Distinguished Members visit http://distinguished.acm.org.
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Analysis: 'Total Information' Lives Again
United Press International (10/26/06) Waterman, Shaun

A computer system is being developed by the Office of the Director for National Intelligence John D Negroponte that is capable of mining great amounts of information in order to watch for terrorist planning--technology that recalls the Total Information Awareness (TIA) program. The new effort, known as Tangram, was discovered last week and has been criticized by advocates for privacy and civil liberties. "They are misdirecting resources toward this kind of fanciful, science-fiction project while neglecting the basics" of effective counterterrorism investigation, says Tim Sparapani, legislative council with the ACLU. The system is funded for $49 million in research over the next four years, and will build on earlier efforts to create "methods of...effectively searching large data stores for evidence of known [terrorist] behaviors." While intelligence officials insist that the program is within the law, similarities to TIA, which data-mined stores of information including credit-card purchases, telephone calls, and travel records, remain. Congress had cut all funding to TIA in 2003 after substantial concern arose over privacy and civil liberties implications. The Advanced Research and Development Activity, which oversaw the TIA, is also in charge of Tangram. "The administration has flat-out ignored Congress," says Sparapani. "They renamed it, retied the bow and off they went." Three contracts totaling almost $12 million have been awarded for Tangram research and development. Recipients include Booz Allen Hamilton and 21st century Technologies, both of which worked on the TIA project, and SRI International, which worked on a predecessor to TIA, known as the Genoa project. For more on TIA, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm
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Internet Voting Revisited
VoteTrustUSA (10/25/06) Simons, Barbara; Rubin, Avi; Jefferson, David

"Internet Voting Revisited: Security and Identity Theft Risks of the DoD's Interim Voting Assistance System," a new report from four academic computer scientists, details serious security issues with a new absentee-voting system for U.S. military personnel called the Interim Voting Assistance System (IVAS). Created by the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP), IVAS is designed to help military personnel and overseas civilians register and vote in the November 7 election, but the researchers say it has similar security issues to an earlier FVAP program known as SERVE that caused that system to be scrapped. The researchers, including former ACM President Barbara Simons, note that IVAS was publicly announced just last month and has never been used in a public election or primary. The Defense Department's own internal review of IVAS also raised security questions. The DoD's internal review noted that "the transmission of voting materials by unsecured email is a concern from both a privacy and security concern...it is easily monitored, blocked, and subject to tampering." While the report admits encryption is possible, it says "there is no plan" to do so. Transmissions sent over foreign phone systems cannot be secured; the U.S. has enough trouble securing its own telecommunications. The report evaluated two IVAS voting options. Option one: the voter logs into the system and submits information before a ballot is mailed to them, and they mail it back to the DoD. Option two: after logging in and submitting their information, the voter logs onto a server where the ballot can be downloaded, printed out, filled in, and sent back to the DoD. The report says that IVAS opens up voters to potential identity theft, returning ballots electronically allows hackers an opportunity to tamper, and the ballots are handled by DoD, an unnecessary step that places the ballots in possession of the voter's employer, which can be seen as a conflict of interest. The researchers suggest making sure ballots are only sent by mail, and adequately securing the system for requesting ballots via the Internet. Barbara Simons was also co-chair of a USACM committee that studied "Statewide Databases of Registered Voters." To view their report, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/VRD
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To Inspire Tech Kids, Inspire Tech Teachers
Investor's Business Daily (10/26/06) P. A4; Vallone, Julie

To combat the shrinking interest in computer science and engineering among college students, many organizations are targeting school teachers. Programs where teachers get hands-on exposure to technology, in order to help students understand how such disciplines apply to the real world, are increasingly sprouting up. Bing Chen, head of the Computer and Electronics Engineering department at the University of Nebraska, and his colleagues created the Silicone Prairie Initiative on Robotics in IT (Spirit) program for both teachers and students. This summer, 32 teachers from local schools were invited to participate in a two-week hands-on engineering workshop. "Frankly, our math and science teachers are not given many opportunities to explore engineering," says Chen. "Our workshop was designed to give them exposure and build skill sets in this area." San Jacinto College in Pasadena, Texas, administers a program called the National Middle School Aerospace Scholars (Namas) that invites 150 teachers from eight states to year-round workshops where they learn about the aerospace industry. The program takes advantage of the nearby NASA Johnson Space Center. These programs all focus on making sure teachers are able to incorporate what they learn into their curriculum in order to cultivate interest in science and engineering. Simona Bartl, who coordinates a program in Marine Biotechnology and Bioinformatics run by California State University, explains that "only a few [teachers] had experienced doing actual research and being in the lab with scientists. Most had gone through science (teacher) education programs, where they just not exposed to these aspects of the field." By giving teachers a better understanding of what science is, on a day to day basis, students will be given real-world experience and relevant advice that can open them up to the opportunities presented by the all-too-neglected fields of science and engineering.
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Weight Gain of U.S. Drivers Has Increased Nation's Fuel Consumption
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (10/24/06) Kloeppel, James E.

The weight gain of U.S. drivers is directly responsible for raising gasoline consumption by 938 million gallons annually since 1960, according to researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Virginia Commonwealth University. What is more, each extra pound in every vehicle today requires drivers to use more than 39 million gallons of extra gasoline each year, says the paper written by Sheldon H. Jacobson, a professor of computer science at Illinois, and VCU faculty member Laura A. McLay. Jacobson, director of Illinois' simulation and optimization laboratory, decided to study the issue after seeing gas prices average over $3 a gallon, and wondering whether weight gain of Americans was a contributing factor to the record level costs. "The key finding is that nearly 1 billion gallons of fuel are consumed each year because of the average weight gain of people living in the United States since 1960--nearly three times the total amount of fuel consumed by all passenger vehicles each day based on current driving habits," they write. "Although the amount of fuel consumed as a result of the rising prevalence of obesity is small compared to the increase in the amount of fuel consumed stemming from other factors such as increased car reliance and an increase in the number of drivers...it still represents a large amount of fuel, and will become even more significant as the rate of obesity increases." The research, funded by the National Science Foundation, will appear in the October-December issue of the Engineering Economist.
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New Software Method for Producing Medical Guidelines
IST Results (10/27/06)

The medical guidelines that provide doctors with state-of-the-art rules are receiving a boost from software engineering. An IST project, Protocure II, began by looking at the guidelines as modular software programs that can be written in a programming language, continuing on the theme of Protocure I, which looked at the guidelines as a computer program. "We created the tools to translate the guidelines into a programming language, verify them, and keep them up to date," explains Mar Marcos of the department of computer engineering and science at the University of Jaume I in Spain. The project has resulted in a process for producing machine-readable and machine-verifiable language based on XML that is able to translate raw data. Guidelines can now be used by doctors as a rather simple, and easily accessible, decision-support system. Protocure II is expected to underpin a movement toward true "living guidelines" that could be changed as quickly as medical advances occur. The implementation of guidelines must be done by IT specialists, presenting a momentary problem, but Marcos says a future project may take on this issue.
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It's the Next Best Thing to a Babel Fish
New Scientist (10/26/06) Biever, Celeste

Carnegie Mellon University researchers have improved upon a prototype system that can translate unspoken Mandarin Chinese words into synthesized speech in English or Spanish. Though the sub-vocal speech recognition system demonstrated in October 2005 could only translate about 100 words, speech researcher Tanja Schultz and colleague Alex Waibel have now developed software that will allow the system to recognize a potentially limitless lexicon. The software is designed to recognize words as well as phonemes and their order of placement, enabling the system to determine the likely sequence of unvoiced words it does not understand or recognize. Schultz plans to integrate the phonemes recognition software with the system once improvements have been made to the phonemes sequence accuracy rate of 62 percent. "The ultimate goal is to be in position where you can just have a conversation," CMU speech researcher Alan Black says of the system, which does not require users to speak out loud and push a button to play the translation. CMU's automated device is designed to detect electrical signals in the face and throat muscles as the user mouths words.
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'Thinking' Computers Get Creative
Chicago Tribune (10/26/06) Van, Jon

Although human-like intelligence is now being simulated by supercomputers, the definition of true artificial intelligence, and how it will be achieved, is not set in stone. Stephen Thaler's Imagination Engines has developed machines that can compose music, create consumer products, and advise federal agencies. Thaler, who calls his computers contemplative and deliberative, thinks he has achieved AI, while other computer scientists say true AI is still decades away. The next step, many believe, will be computers that can have original ideas and work alongside human scientists as colleagues. IBM's Blue Gene, another example of a thinking machine, is being used at the IBM computational biology center, where it is able to create models suggesting cell functions. "It's not giving me something that someone already knows, but in greater detail," says Ajay Royyuru, senior manager at center. "It's actually giving me something completely different that no one had a clue about." Blue Gene once suggested that water plays a role in the reaction in our brains that allows us to perceive light, which had never been theorized, but after investigation it was found to be most likely true. Thaler's machines are neural networks, electronic circuits configured by hardware and software to emulate the human brain, able to learn through trial and error. The machine "gets smarter and smarter:" it is equal to the human thought processes, claims Thaler. Kristian Hammond, co-director of Northwestern University's intelligent-information computer lab believes machines will one day have human intelligence, but not from the inspiration to do just this, but by countless small progressions intended to increase the computer's utility.
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NIST to Certify Voting Machine Security, Standards
eWeek (10/26/06) Rash, Wayne

The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will aid the federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC) in its efforts to verify that electronic voting machines meet federal standards. NIST will assist the EAC in creating standards that vendors of e-voting machines must comply with, as they submit their products for testing with private laboratories. "NIST will address security and wireless access," says Brian Hancock, director of voting systems certification for the EAC. Other standards exist such as for usability, performance, and accessibility, and NIST will also focus on these areas as well. Hancock says the EAC wants NIST to concentrate on developing tests, which will be carried out by private labs, that are transparent. Meanwhile, Ian Piper, a representative of the Election Technology Council of the Information Technology Association of America, who is also director of compliance for vendor Diebold Election Systems, says the EAC needs to make testing standards more consistent and stop changing requirements all the time. Over a third of U.S. voters will cast their ballots on e-voting machines this year, says EAC Chairman Paul DeGregorio. For information about ACM's e-voting activities, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm
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Sensor and Sensibility
ITBusiness.ca (10/24/06) Buckler, Grant

New uses for microelectronic sensors are being envisioned, but the gap between knowledge of these devices and their uses must be kept in mind for progress to be made. At this week's CMC 2006 Annual Symposium, keynote speaker Dr. Allesandro Cremonesi called the potential for microelectronics being applied to different technologies "more than Moore." The convergence he speaks of applies to innovations such as digital cameras that combine electronics and optics in a single system on a chip. Combined electronics with fluidics and biotechnology can be used in health-care technology, such as sensors that monitor vital signs and integrated analysis tools. Cremonesi pointed out the ability of sensors to foresee problems in cars so they can be addressed before causing a breakdown. He sees integrated microsystems making the same type of preventative monitoring possible for our bodies. Although the potential for the use of convergence in health care exists, Boneza Kaminska, Canada Research Chair in wireless sensor networks at the Simon Fraser University School of Engineering Sciences, says that engineers' lack of understanding the needs of medicine presents a stumbling block. In her own work, Dr. Kaminska tried the latest wireless sensors, but found older, bulkier analogue equipment more useful. Despite the equipment passing every test, the data obtained by the digital devices "started to drift" in real world applications, and was useless. Kaminska calls this an example of technology professionals being more concerned with testing the equipment they develop than understanding in-depth what the end users really need. Despite shortcomings by developers, Cremonesi predicts a new frontier in microsystems, as a shift is made from information and communications to efforts that could prolong human life.
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Honey Bee Genome Holds Clues to Social Behavior
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (10/23/06) Kloeppel, James E.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champagne hope to gain insight into the molecular basis of human social behavior through the study of honey bees. The team set out to locate social cues in the genome of honey bees, a form of pressure that causes bees to change their function in response to the hive's needs. "The honeybee has been called a model system for social behavior," says Saurabh Sinha, a computer science professor and an affiliate of the school's Institute for Genomic Biology. He explains that "by studying the social regulation of gene expressions, [the team] hope[s] to extrapolate the biology to humans." Social cues are caused by genes being turned on or off by DNA strings that can bind certain molecules known as transcription factors; when a certain site is bound by the right transcription factor the gene is turned on, and turned off when the site is unbound. Using a computer algorithm, Sinha's team was able to scan 3,000 genes and employ statistical techniques to research certain transcription factors associated with genes that were in different states, either turned on or off, between nurse bees and foragers. "We found five different transcription factors that showed a statistically significant correlation with socially regulated genes," says Sinha. The results of the study imply that honey bees may be useful in understanding the functions by which social factors regulate gene expression in the human brain.
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Deficit of Young IT Minds Can't Fill Demand
Des Moines Register (IA) (10/22/06) Elbert, David

The United States is not turning out enough high school students who are interested in studying information technology and college students who are interested in pursuing IT-related careers, according to Iowa State University IT security expert Doug Jacobson. As a result, employers and technology companies may not be able to fill their need for IT workers in the years to come. About five or six years ago, people started believing IT employment had bottomed out, Jacobson says. At the time, there was "sort of a triple witching hour," says Jacobson, which involved the Y2K fizzle, the dot-com crash, and fear that IT jobs would also be overrun by outsourcing. News reports of technology companies going out of business or downsizing gave students across the country the impression that the prospects for a career in IT were limited, and young people were no longer interested in studying computer science, software engineering, or other IT fields, he says. However, technology is a field in which innovation continuously sparks new opportunities. Today, big financial services continue to add IT workers, and local tech companies continue to expand.
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U.S. Control of Internet Remains Touchy
Associated Press (10/26/06) Gatopoulos, Derek

About 1,200 attendees are expected at the first Internet Governance Forum to be held in Athens starting Monday. A key topic at the forum is sure to be the U.S. Commerce Department's extension of its memorandum of understanding with ICANN. "Concerning ICANN...we believe, like the European Union, it should slowly become independent, and not to be subject any government influence," says Greek Transport Minister Michalis Liapis. "We would like to see ICANN become autonomous and work under the rules of the free market. And I think that is the direction we are headed." Another topic will be the perceived need for more domain names written in non-Latin characters, an issue, warns event organizer and special adviser to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan Nitin Desai, that could fracture the Internet if not addressed to the liking of countries such as China, where most people do not know the Latin alphabet and where use of the Internet is booming. Liapis said he hoped that Greece's hosting of the event would eventually boost broadband penetration in the country, now only at 3 percent, the lowest in the E.U. excluding the nations that joined two years ago.
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Australia Cannot Economically Sustain ICT Gender Imbalance
Computerworld Australia (10/24/06) Rossi, Sandra

Australia will need to attract more women to information technology if the nation wants to have a competitive advantage in the global market, suggests international leadership expert Dr. Catherine Norton. Women account for about 20 percent of the nation's ICT workforce. Norton is scheduled to deliver a series of workshops on the leadership style of women in November in Brisbane, Perth, Melbourne, and Sydney. The Australian Women in Science and IT Entity (AWISE) and the Australian Government Office for Women are supporting and funding the workshops, which will address the communication, organization, and analytic skills that women bring to IT and science. Also next month in Sydney, researchers will discuss the paper "Women and Men in IT: Breaking Through Sexual Stereotypes," which addresses the factors that determine interaction in the workplace. The presentation will also focus on the impact of gender difference on high-performing teams, and how workplace leaders can get the most out of gender diversity.
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Ubiquity Interviews USC's Dr. Alice Parker
Ubiquity (10/24/06) Vol. 7, No. 41,

University of Southern California electrical engineering professor Dr. Alice Parker's primary area of interest these days is constructing a synthetic cortex, a challenge that involves studying the sensory inputs that engage the cortex. "We are looking at models of the neuron that take into account complex aspects of neural behavior, in the interest of producing accurate models, and models that are flexible enough to model changes in neural behavior under different circumstances," she explains. Parker notes that nanotechnology--carbon nanotubes especially--is particularly promising as an enabling technology for a synthetic cortex. The USC electrical engineering professor says her current research focus is rooted in her first interest, which was building neural chips and neural network chips. Parker notices that it is more common for doctoral students to be motivated by the desire to solve problems or improve the world by contributing to technology, while masters' students tend to think in terms of their career prospects; she partially attributes this mindset to a lack of independent thought that is institutionalized in grades K through 12. Bright students in resource-scarce schools would certainly benefit from distance learning, although Parker remarks that the sector lacks software and system technology to facilitate optimal interaction between distance students and on-campus students at a reasonable price. She says the Internet has greatly expanded the potential for student collaboration and made research publications more readily available. "I think some of the technologists are going to need to focus on software and applications to figure out how can we best support the software enterprise, because it's a critical one and it's one that is very difficult to envision proceeding the same direction it's been going," Parker argues.
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Ballbots
Scientific American (10/06) Vol. 295, No. 4, P. 72; Hollis, Ralph

The ballbot is a robot that uses a spherical drive wheel design to fulfill one of the key criterions of interaction between humans and intelligent mobile machines, which is for the machines to maintain balance and move about gracefully. The majority of current experimental mobile robots have wide wheelbases, which can interfere with their movements in crowded environments with a large human presence. The tall, slender ballbots, on the other hand, can move quickly in any direction. This could be the flexible locomotion methodology that is necessary for future robots to interact with people in their daily lives, writes ballbot designer Ralph Hollis of Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute. The ballbot taps major recent breakthroughs in computing, fiber-optics, and microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) that have facilitated the creation of inexpensive devices that mimic the traditional spinning gyroscope's function. The machine features orthogonally mounted fiber-optic gyroscopes and accelerometers to sense motion in the pitch, roll, and yaw directions and produce the vertical orientation data needed for maintenance of balance, while motive force is supplied by the drive ball mechanism; the ball is turned by motorized drive rollers, the ballbot's travel is measured by optical encoders, and the machine deploys tripod legs to stay upright when deactivated. The ballbot's vertical direction is determined by orientation sensors, and this direction is then compared with the machine's current attitude. The ballbot's developers plan to add a pair of limbs and a head with binocular vision.
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First Steps in the Verified Software Grand Challenge
Computer (10/06) Vol. 39, No. 10, P. 57; Woodcock, Jim

Industrial and academic researchers believe it is feasible to use formal techniques to ensure the productivity and reliability of software design, development, integration, and maintenance, and the international computer science community has made a commitment to realize such a vision within the next 15 to 20 years by creating an integrated, automated toolset developers can use to determine the correctness of software. This mandate is called the Verified Software Grand Challenge. The goals of the Grand Challenge are to set up a unified program construction and analysis theory, construct a comprehensive and integrated set of tools that support verification activities, and compile a repository of formal specifications and verified codes. The development of mature tools and standards via community collaboration will consume the first five years of the project, while the results of experiments will be accumulated and progress evaluated through the Verified Software Repository. The willingness of the verification community to engage in collaborative and competitive projects was demonstrated by the Mondex case study, which will be followed by pilot projects of greater scope and sophistication. An ideal pilot project is complex enough to make traditional techniques of assessing correctness inapplicable. It is also simple enough for specification, design, and a committed team to complete the verification in two years. Furthermore, the ideal pilot project has an impact outside of the verification community, uses freely available existing documentation, and complies with diverse approaches.
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