Association for Computing Machinery
Timely Topics for IT Professionals

ACM TechNews (HTML) Read the TechNews Online at: http://technews.acm.org
ACM TechNews
September 17, 2007

Learn about ACM's 2,200 online courses and 1,100 online books
MemberNet
CareerNews
Unsubscribe

Welcome to the September 17, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


HEADLINES AT A GLANCE:

 

Google Calls for International Standards on Internet Privacy
Washington Post (09/15/07) P. D1; Rampell, Catherine

Speaking before a U.N. audience in Strasbourg, France, global privacy counsel for Google Peter Fleischer said that fragmentary international privacy laws burden companies and fail to protect consumers, arguing for new international standards on the collection and use of consumer data. Fleischer said the United Nations should create standards countries could adopt and adjust to fit their needs. "The ultimate goal should be to create minimum standards of privacy protection that meet the expectations and demands of consumers, businesses, and governments," Fleischer said. Google has frequently been criticized for its privacy policies and is currently under investigation by the European Union for violating global privacy standards. Critics are also concerned that Google's planned $3.1 billion merger with online advertising broker DoubleClick would place too much consumer data in the hands of one company. Fleischer criticized U.S. privacy law for being too complex and too patched-together because different laws apply to different industries and vary by state. Fleischer also called the European Union model "too bureaucratic and inflexible." Fleischer suggested adopting a model similar to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation guidelines, but critics say the APEC standards are too lenient. "The APEC guidelines are far below what Google would be expected to do in Europe or the United States," said Electronic Privacy Information Center executive director Mar Rotenberg. APEC does not limit data collects, for example, which is a significant problem and the key point in the dispute over Google's business practices, Rotenberg said.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Robots That Sense Before They Touch
Technology Review (09/17/07) Greene, Kate

Intel researchers have developed a sensor for robotic arms that allows the robot to sense an object before actually touching it. For example, a robotic arm is capable of telling the difference between an empty bottle and a bottle filled with water without touching either one. The technology, known as pre-touch, is intended to "improve the ability of robots to grasp objects in unstructured human environments," says Intel research scientist Josh Smith. Pre-touch's electric-field (EF) proximity sensors are electrodes made of copper and aluminum foil. A current is sent to one of the electrodes, which creates a magnetic field and induces a current in the other electrodes. When the robotic hand gets near metal or anything with water in it, the object reduces the induced current, which is detected by the sensors. Special algorithms process the information and instruct the robotic hand to move around the object accordingly. Smith developed similar EF sensors while he was a student at MIT. Those sensors were used to help determine the position of people in a car, information that was used to determine how to deploy airbags during an accident. Smith says his current EF research will now involve developing algorithms capable of handling the complex data that EF sensors produce, particularly when the object or the robot is in motion.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


CHI 2008 Conference
Designophy (09/14/07)

The CHI 2008 Conference, sponsored by SIGCHI, ACM's Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction, offers the CHI community an opportunity to share information and ideas through its Papers venue. Through Sept. 19, 2007, the CHI community can submit case studies on the development and application of interactive systems that will significantly impact our understanding of human-computer interaction. Interaction technologies should focus on a new technique or device, while reflective analyses should offer full support of conclusions made about HCI issues. CHI is also welcoming other papers on interactive systems, including those that concentrate on methods and tools, theories and models, as well as fieldwork and ethnography reports, and laboratory reports. Authors will have an opportunity to present their paper in a 25-minute talk, including questions, and CHI will notify participants on Dec. 10, 2007. The conference is scheduled for April 5-10, 2008, in Florence, Italy. CHI 2008 will offer a wide range of venues from workshops to doctoral consortium to courses to technical programs, in addition to social activities.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Weight Loss Game Looking for 'Neat-O' Results
University of Houston News (09/12/07) Holdsworth, Ann

University of Houston computer science professor Ioannis Pavlidis and research assistants Yuichi Fujiki and Kostas Kazakos have developed a computer game targeted at overweight people that uses motion sensitivity to encourage mild exercise. Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT-o) games, including races and logic puzzles, can be played on any handheld personal digital assistant while the user wears a sensor that detects movement such as running, walking, bending over, and even foot tapping. The movement data is wirelessly sent to the PDA, where the player can see the game avatar move in real time. The game can run on the PDA all day to track the user's movements as he or she walks around the office or home, and can be connected to other handheld devices to compete against other PDA users. Mayo Clinic physician and leading authority on obesity James Levine says a lack of daily mild exercise is largely responsible for the world's obesity epidemic. Levine created the term "NEAT" to cover any physical activity that is not conscious exercise. Pavlidis hopes the NEAT-o games will increase physical activity, add a little bit of fun, and build the NEAT mindset into modern lifestyles. "The allure of computer gaming and competition with other users encourages players to make small lifestyle changes that can add up to big health benefits," Pavlidis says.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Technique Links Words to Signing
BBC News (09/15/07) Adams-Spink, Geoff

IBM researchers have developed SiSi, a system that translates spoken words into British Sign Language (BSL). SiSi, short for say it sign it, enables deaf people to have simultaneous sign language interpretations whenever a human interpreter is not available, and could possibly be used for signing for television, radio, and telephone calls. SiSi uses speech recognition to animate a digital character. SiSi has already been approved by the Royal National Institute for Deaf people (RNID). "RNID welcomes any development that would make the information society a more equal place for deaf and hard of hearing people," says RNID's Guido Gybels. SiSi was developed by students during a 12-week initiative called Extreme Blue that IBM hosts. "We had a profoundly deaf mentor, so he kept a close eye on what was being done and checking whether our translation corresponded to real BSL," says Maria Vihljajeva, a student who developed the business plan for SiSi. In addition to the BSL avatar, the students also developed an avatar that uses Sign Supported English, a more direct translation that uses conventional syntax and grammar. Both avatars were developed by the University of East Anglia. Tom Klapiscak, another student who worked on the project, says SiSi was designed so other languages could be added fairly easily, though creating the translation module would be a fair amount of work.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


New Entanglement Findings Advance Quantum Computing Research
University of Maryland (09/07/07) Tune, Lee

University of Maryland and University of Michigan physicists demonstrated quantum "entanglement" between a pair of totally disconnected individual atoms a meter apart in separate enclosures through the careful manipulation of photons the atoms emitted, and the work could be an important step toward the creation of incredibly fast quantum computers. "Now that this technique has been demonstrated, it should be possible to scale it up to networks of many interconnected components that will eventually be necessary for quantum information processing," says physicist and research team leader Christopher Monroe. A second area of investigation by University of Maryland researchers focuses on the use of solid-state electronic devices to reach quantum states. Four years ago physicists probed the existence of entangled states between two quantum bits (qubits) produced with a solid state circuit called a Josephson junction. Qubits can exist in multiple states simultaneously through the phenomenon of superposition, and thus can exponentially accelerate problem-solving when arranged into a computer. The fragility of entangled quantum superpositions is a major challenge, and Monroe says his team's experiment "shows for the first time that it is possible to use emitted photons to entangle the fixed atoms that emitted them." He notes that while atoms are ideal for serving as qubits, photons are ideal tools for the transference and control of data. The National Security Agency, the Disruptive Technology Office, and the National Science Foundation Information Technology Research and Physics at the Information Frontier programs supported the work of Monroe's team.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


NSF Researchers Produce RFID Random Number Generator
Government Computer News (09/12/07) Jackson, Joab

University of Massachusetts researchers, with funding from the National Science Foundation, have developed an inexpensive way of producing truly random numbers for radio frequency identification tags, as well as a technique that produces a unique fingerprint for each tag. Although encryption programs require a reliable source of random numbers, computers are incapable of producing truly random numbers. Algorithms have been developed that can help machines produce numbers that statistically resemble random numbers, but they contain subtle repeatable patterns that can be used to decipher a message encrypted with those digits. The technique developed by the researchers produces a set of random numbers from an RFID tag by reading the binary states of the tag's memory cells while the tag is being powered up. A typical Electronic Product Code Class 1 RFID tag has between 1,000 to 4,000 gates, which is typically volatile memory that loses all information when power is lost. Each time a tag is powered up, a certain number of gates fluctuate randomly between having a residual charge or not having a charge. These fluctuations can be used to produce a stream of random numbers. The researchers say the numbers produced by this process have passed the National Institute of Standards and Technology's test for statistical randomness. The variations in each tag's gates can also be used to uniquely identify each tag, ensuring information derived from each tag has not been altered by a possibly malicious source.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Software Transforms Digital Photos Into Old-Fashioned Paintings
PhysOrg.com (09/12/07) Zyga, Lisa

Dalhousie University computer scientist Stephen Brooks has developed software capable of turning digital images into mixed-media paintings and drawings with almost no user input. Brook's system analyzes the image and creates a measure of detail for each pixel. Areas with different levels of detail are divided into regions, with each region processed independently with a different "nonphotorealistic rendering," which can include paint dubs, soft glow, crystallize, ink outlines, and cartoon. Selecting the filters is the only step of the process that requires instruction from the user. The different areas are blended together, which can either be done manually by the user or automatically by the system. To be able to convert facial portraits, Brooks had to develop systems for skin filtering, face-point detection, and face-point clustering. "The most advanced component of my system is the module that handles portraits," Brooks says. "Automatic face detection and processing is quite tricky if one wants to make the system robust. I use a combination of skin detection, cascaded weak detectors, and Gaussian mixture model clustering." Brooks is currently developing more advanced features, including integrating 2.5-dimensional physical materials such as felts and cardboards, and possibly adapting the technique for videos.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Microformats Hop on Semantic Web 'Griddle'
InternetNews.com (09/12/07) Kerner, Sean Michael

Microformats and Gleaning Resource Descriptions from Dialects of Languages (GRDDL) Semantic Web construct both use metadata descriptors to define content, but use slightly different approaches. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) wants to bridge the gap between the two approaches. "Microformats and the Semantic Web always had a lot in common at a high level, but GRDDL fills in a few technical details so that they interoperate at a practical, running-code level," says Dan Connolly, the W3C GRDDL Working Group staff contact. Microformats use XHTML and HTML while GRDDL uses Resource Description Framework data from XML so it can be transformed and understood by other application in a mashup or application setting. "Microformat authors that want their data to integrate seamlessly with other semantic Web data should use well-formed XHTML and profile URIs," Connolly says. "For example, the dbpedia project takes millions of facts from Wikipedia and exports them using URIs and RDF and SPARQL." Connolly says notes that HTML also has a special profile hook to use a URI to share document-local conventions on the Web. Some microformat documents use the hook, but GRDDL links the profile documents to XSLT transformations so microformats and other syntax conventions can be exploited.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Researchers Improve Ability to Write and Store Information on Electronic Devices
Argonne National Laboratories (09/13/07) Carson, Sylvia

Argonne National Laboratory physicist Matthias Bode has demonstrated a technique that makes it possible to switch a magnetic nanoparticle without the use of a magnetic field, which could lead to more accurate and efficient data storage. A special scanning tunneling microscope (STM) was used to force a spin current through a small magnetic structure. Bode and his colleagues demonstrated that the structure's magnetization direction is not changed by a small current, but can be manipulated if the spin current is high enough. Bode's experiment focused on magneto-resistive random access memory (MRAM), which uses magnetic storage elements consisting of two ferromagnetic layers separated by a thin non-magnetic layer. MRAM stores data by applying an external magnetic field to one of the layers to polarize it while the other layer remains polarized in a constant direction. As memory devices continue to become smaller, they are more susceptible to "false writes" or "far-field" effects, Bode says, where the magnetic field switches the magnetization of too many bits. Using a STM, Bode was able to manipulate a bit without altering any others accidentally, eliminating the false write effect. STMs could also allow scientists to look for small impurities in magnetic storage structures and to see how impurities affect the magnet's polarization, possibly leading to new materials or methods that make memory storage more efficient.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Leading-Edge Body Sensor Could Help Produce Sporting Champions
Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (09/13/07)

Imperial College London researchers are developing a sensor that can be worn behind the ear to collect information on posture, stride length, step frequency, acceleration, and response to shock waves during athletic training sessions. The information can be automatically transmitted to a handheld device or laptop used by a coach, who can use the data to create on-the-spot advice and instructions, allowing for ultra-effective training sessions. "The sensor we're working on is inspired by the semi-circular canals of the inner ear, which play a key role in controlling our motion and balance," says professor and project leader Guang Zhong Yang, a leading body sensor networks researcher. The data generated provides an authentic and realistic indication of how the athlete would perform without the sensor, which is often not the case for other body sensors because they can be cumbersome and cause poor performance, Yang says. The sensor could also be used to monitor patients suffering from a variety of injuries or illnesses, and could help promote a healthy lifestyle. The sensor could monitor patients with degenerative arthritis or neurological gait abnormalities. The device could also be used to create movement-based computer games and virtual reality-based sports training.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


University Program Targets Online Security
Augusta Chronicle (GA) (09/12/07) Few, Jenel

Armstrong Atlantic State University is researching and developing software that will be able to intercept secret messages transmitted over the Internet and destroy any malicious content. As part of a demonstration of the program, professor Ray Hashemi showed how a message can be hidden in a photograph and go unnoticed by the human eye. "A terrorist headquarters can send a hidden message to a sleeper cell in this photograph or music or the text of an email," Hashemi says. "What we did was develop a vaccine that is able to intercept the image; the sleeper cell will get the image with the message destroyed and the original can be held for a government agency to analyze later." The university's School of Computing is developing the program for companies that provided its new Cyber Security Research Institute with equipment and other resources. The institute also demonstrated other top-secret projects that are unlikely to receive further public attention due to the sensitive nature of the work.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Computerized Treatment of Manuscripts
Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona (09/06/07)

Researchers at the UAB Computer Vision Center have developed a more reliable computerized system for recognizing the content of difficult to read manuscripts, handwritten scores, and architectural drawings. The BSM (Blurred Shape Model) system is based on the way in which the human mind sees and interprets images to describe and classify models of handwritten symbols. The tool is unique in that it is able to detect variations, elastic formations, and uneven distortions when letters, signs, drawings, and any other type of symbol is manually reproduced, and it has the potential to work in real time, which would be a few seconds after a document has been entered into the computer. BSM would serve as a human machine interface for automatically reproducing documents as they are written or drawn. Current systems for reading handwritten symbols use the same process for detecting different types of symbols, while BSM is able to adapt to different areas, using a grid for dividing images into sub-regions to analyze and recognize symbols. In tests, BSM bested similar systems with more than 98 percent exactness in recognizing 18th and 19th century musical scores, and 90 percent exactness for recognizing handwritten architectural symbols.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Internet Governance Forum to Meet in Brazil, 12-15 November
eGov Monitor (09/10/07)

The second Internet Governance Forum will be held in Rio de Janeiro from Nov. 12 to Nov. 15. Conference organizers expect about 2,000 attendees from over 100 countries to attend, including representatives from government and non-governmental organizations, members of the private sector, and the Internet community. Last year's meeting in Athens centered on issues of access, diversity, openness, and security on the Internet. In addition to these themes, this year's meeting will touch on the use and direction of critical Internet resources, including administration of the Domain Name System and Internet Protocol addresses, technical standards, and administration of the root server system. Although not a decision-making body, the Internet Governance Forum will seek to promote dialog on public policy issues related to the Internet and provide opportunities for participating organizations to work together.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Quantum Threat to Our Secret Data
New Scientist (09/13/07) Vol. 195, No. 2621, P. 30; Graham-Rowe, Duncan

Quantum computing's ability to decrypt the codes that safeguard banking, e-commerce, and business data has taken a step closer to realization with the development of quantum computers that can run Shor's algorithm by two research groups working independently. RSA is an example of a highly common encryption system that can be defeated by Shor's algorithm. RSA involves a widely distributed public key for encrypting messages and a secret private key for decrypting them, and the trick to solving the private key is to work out the large prime numbers that produce the key when they are multiplied together. Shor's algorithm dramatically reduces the time it takes to find the prime factors by searching for telltale patterns in remainders when a key is divided by a prime factor, but quantum computation is essential for performing the massive number of calculations that the algorithm requires to be successful. The first quantum implementation of Shor's algorithm involved the manipulation of nuclear spin, while the more recent experiments--one led by Andrew White at Australia's University of Queensland and the other by Chao-Yang Lu of the University of Science and Technology of China--used quantum photonic computers. Photon pairs were produced with femtosecond lasers and passed through polarizing bismuth borate crystals to generate entangled qubits, which were coaxed by optical devices to run Shor's algorithm to factor the number 15 into its prime components. IT security specialist Bruce Schneier calls the development of techniques to run the algorithm using standard lab optics a significant achievement that could spell trouble for encryption down the road. White contends that cryptography would need to be fundamentally rethought if quantum calculations for much larger numbers could be carried out. "There are paths to a fully scalable quantum computer," he notes.
Click Here to View Full Article - Web Link May Require Paid Subscription
to the top


Checkers Is Solved
Science (09/14/07) Vol. 317, No. 5844, P. 1518; Schaeffer, Jonathan; Burch, Neil; Bjornsson, Yngvi

As many as 200 computers running since 1989 have applied artificial intelligence methods to consider the approximately 500 billion billion possible positions for the game of checkers, and determined that a draw is the inevitable outcome of perfect play. "Perhaps the biggest contribution of applying AI technology to developing game playing programs was the realization that a search-intensive ('brute-force') approach could produce high-quality performance using minimal application-dependent knowledge," the authors write. "Over the past two decades, powerful search techniques have been developed and successfully applied to problems such as optimization, planning, and bioinformatics. The checkers proof extends this approach by developing a program that has little need for application-dependent knowledge and is almost completely reliant on search." The solving of checkers has a high dependence on endgame databases, which are compiled via computations from the end of the game back toward the starting position. Forward search is conducted through the maintenance and exploration of a tree of the proof in progress to generate positions that must be probed in order to further the proof's progress. The third algorithm/data component of the proof procedure is the proof solver, which employs two programs to ascertain the value of a given position. The first program produces a heuristic value for the position, while the second program utilizes a space-efficient modification of Proof Number search to yield a proven, partially proven, or unknown result. The authors conclude that the checkers proof raises the bar in terms of what is achievable by search-intensive algorithms, and "provides compelling evidence of the power of limited-knowledge approaches to artificial intelligence." They note that the discovery of knowledge is an implicit function of deep search, and this puts search algorithms in a prime position to exploit growth in on-chip parallelism that will soon be offered by multicore computing.
Click Here to View Full Article - Web Link May Require Paid Subscription
to the top


Services at UCSC
CITRIS Newsletter (08/07)

Knowledge Services and Enterprise Management (KSEM) is a one-year, CITRIS-supported program offered by UC Santa Cruz that "[gives] students the skills to address challenges faced in high-tech enterprises that require an integrated understanding of both technology and business to solve complex problems," says Information Technologies Institute director Patrick Mantey. Economists reckon that services currently constitute up to 80 percent of the American economy, and a major portion of that percentage consists of "knowledge services." Each instance of service delivery offers providers an opportunity to learn something of value from the interaction, and UCSC professor Ram Akella says learning and incorporating new knowledge into operations is critical to businesses' sustained success. Mantey describes KSEM as a hybrid program that cross-pollinates business management and computer science and IT, and directs the combined discipline toward the influence of the global knowledge-based economy. "Students learn some elements of marketing, sales, finance, product development, and about the supply chain," Akella explains. "They learn how to integrate all those in a universe where we are constantly getting information." Akella expects every successful future enterprise to have an information management component, and two central goals of KSEM are giving businesses the know-how to compete via solid information management and arming proficient engineers and businesses with that knowledge. Mantey and Akella have witnessed the growth of a national consensus around the importance of knowledge sciences and services in lockstep with the KSEM program's expansion, and both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Foundation have emphasized the value of knowledge sciences investment.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


To submit feedback about ACM TechNews, contact: technews@hq.acm.org

To unsubscribe from the ACM TechNews Early Alert Service: Please send a separate email to listserv@listserv.acm.org with the line

signoff technews

in the body of your message.

Please note that replying directly to this message does not automatically unsubscribe you from the TechNews list.

ACM may have a different email address on file for you, so if you're unable to "unsubscribe" yourself, please direct your request to: technews-request@ acm.org

We will remove your name from the TechNews list on your behalf.

For help with technical problems, including problems with leaving the list, please write to: technews-request@acm.org

to the top

News Abstracts © 2007 Information, Inc.


© 2007 ACM, Inc. All rights reserved. ACM Privacy Policy.

About ACM | Contact us | Boards & Committees | Press Room | Membership | Privacy Policy | Code of Ethics | System Availability | Copyright © 2014, ACM, Inc.