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ACM TechNews
February 27, 2008

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Welcome to the February 27, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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'Robot Arms Race' Underway, Expert Warns
New Scientist (02/27/08) Simonite, Tom

Governments worldwide are racing to develop military robots capable of killing autonomously, but they are not considering the technology's legal and moral implications, says Sheffield University robotics expert Noel Sharkey. Over 4,000 semi-autonomous robots are currently deployed by the United States in Iraq, and other countries are developing similar technologies. In December 2007, the U.S. Department of Defense published an "unmanned systems roadmap" in which the DOD proposed spending about $4 billion by 2010 on robotic weapons. Sharkey says he is most concerned by the prospect of robots having to decide when to use lethal force. The Pentagon is nearly two years into a research program that is focused on having robots identify potential threats without human assistance. Sharkey says such research programs are based on a mythical view of artificial intelligence, and he believes robotic systems will never have the discriminative power to make such decisions. Governments and robotics engineers should re-examine current plans, Sharkey suggests, and consider a temporary international ban on autonomous weapons. Georgia Tech University robotics researcher Ronald Arkin shares Sharkey's concerns, but he believes robotic warriors could ultimately become a more ethical fighting force.
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Design Automation Conference Partners With Global STC Conference
Business Wire (02/25/08)

The Design Automation Conference (DAC) and the Global STC Conference (GSC) have formed a conference alliance partnership to make their events adjunct conferences. They also plan to work together on promotional activities and technical program synergies to make the gatherings more beneficial for attendees. "We are excited to make GSC an adjunct conference of DAC, and expect that our complementary events will draw an expanded audience by being timed and located conveniently," says Limor Fix, general chair of the 45th DAC Executive Committee. "This strategic collaboration reflects the overall trajectory of the semiconductor industry as manufacturers realize the necessity of considering test requirements during the design phase, and it reinforces DAC's commitment to being the epicenter of electronic design." The Semiconductor Test Consortium conference is scheduled a week before DAC at the Hilton Hotel, San Diego Mission Valley in San Diego, Calif., June 4-6, 2008. DAC will take place in nearby Anaheim at the Anaheim Convention Center, June 8-13. ACM's Special Interest Group on Design Automation (ACM/SIGDA) is one of the sponsors of DAC.
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STOP Terrorism Software
University of Maryland (02/25/08) Tune, Lee

Researchers at the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS) have developed the SOMA Terror Organization Portal (STOP), which enables analysts to query automatically learned rules on terrorist organization behavior, predict potential behavior based on these rules, and to network with other analysts examining the same material. Stochastic Opponent Modeling Agents (SOMA) is a formal, logical-statistical reasoning framework that uses data on the past behavior of terror groups in order to learn rules about the probable actions of an organization, community, or person in different situations. SOMA has generated tens of thousands of rules about the likely behavior of about 30 groups, including major terrorist organizations. "SOMA is a significant joint computer science and social science achievement that will facilitate learning about and forecasting terrorist group behavior based on rigorous mathematical and computational models," says computer science professor and UMIACS director V.S. Subrahmanian. "In addition to accurate behavioral models and forecasting algorithms, the SOMA Terror Organization Portal acts as a virtual roundtable that terrorism experts can gather around and form a rich community that transcends artificial boundaries." Four defense agencies use STOP, funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, to perform queries and run a prediction engine, mark rules as useful or not useful, and leave comments about the rules.
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Tech Group: Increase US Gov't Research Funding
IDG News Service (02/26/08) Gross, Grant

The Technology CEO Council wants Congress to make good on its promise to double funding at the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy's Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) over the next 10 years. Congress made the promise last August when it passed the America Competes Act, but the 2008 budgets of the agencies are a combined $918 million short of the targets. The American Physical Society says research funding is short 91 percent for the Office of Science, 77 percent for NSF, and 70 percent for NIST. The group of tech CEOs urged Congress to keep its promise in a letter sent to congressional leaders on Monday. The letter says the failure to restore funding for the agencies will lead to hundreds of layoffs of scientists, engineers, technologists, and support staff at universities and research labs, limit scholarships and research grant programs, and curb the training of math and science teachers. "Federally funded research at labs and universities is the ultimate seed corn that leads to the innovations, that develops the infrastructure, and that creates the talent that's powered our economy for the last 60 years," says Technology CEO Council executive director Bruce Mehlman.
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Kurzweil: 'Exponential' Change Ahead for Games, People
CNet (02/22/08) Sinclair, Brendan

As microprocessors are progressively able to perform more calculations for less money, we can expect to see the price-to-performance ratio of computers improve a billionfold over the next 25 years, predicted Ray Kurzeil during his keynote speech at the Game Developers Conference. Kurzweil says that modern electronics are so powerful that the other fields that rely on them will be subject to advancements at the same rate as the chips that power them, and that software will ultimately become the limiting factor. "You can't ignore the exponential projections," Kurzweil says. "If you're programming a game or any type of information-based technology two or three years from now, the world's going to be completely different." Kurzweil says that previously unrelated fields will essentially become information technology fields due to the growth in the power of computer devices. For example, he says artificial red blood cells could eventually duplicate the work of the real thing, only 1,000 more efficiently. "Biology is very capable and intricate and clever," Kurzweil says, "but it's also very suboptimal, compared to what we ultimately can build with information technology and nanotechnology."
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IBM's Big Iron Looks to Multithreading, Hybrid CPUs
EE Times (02/26/08) Merritt, Rick

IBM has introduced the System z10, its first mainframe to use a quad-core processor, which runs at 4.4 GHz. IBM says the z10 offers two times the performance of z9-class systems on some workloads and is as powerful as 1,500 x86 servers while using 85 percent less power and space. The z10 runs IBM's proprietary z/OS operating system, but the company is working to make it compatible with open source software such as Sun's OpenSolaris operating system. "We have it running internally, but there's more work to be done to clean it up and optimize its use of the underlying hardware before we are ready for an end-user beta program," says IBM distinguished engineer Jim Porell. "We're also looking at what will be the middleware and applications for the rest of the stack." The mainframe uses up to 64 four-core processors, compared with the previous system that has a maximum of 54 CPUs running at 2 GHz each. The chips have a new core design and are still single threaded, but IBM is working on multithreaded mainframe technology.
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NSF Partners With Google and IBM to Enhance Academic Research Opportunities
National Science Foundation (02/25/08) Cruikshank, Dana W.

The National Science Foundation's computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) Directorate has announced the Cluster Exploratory (CluE), a strategic partnership with Google and IBM that will enable the academic research community to conduct experiments and test new theories and ideas using a large-scale, massively distributed computing cluster. "Access to the Google-IBM academic cluster via the CluE program will provide the academic community with the opportunity to do research in data-intensive computing and to explore powerful new applications," says NSF CISE assistant director Jeannette Wing. "It can also serve as a tool for educating the next generation of scientists and engineers." Google vice president of engineering (and ACM President) Stuart Feldman says the company hopes the computing cluster "will allow researchers across many fields to take advantage of large-scale, distributed computing." IBM's Willy Chiu says the combined effort should accelerate research on Internet-scale computing and drive innovation to support applications of the future. Last October, IBM and Google created a large-scale computer cluster of approximately 1,600 processors to provide the academic community with access to otherwise unobtainable resources.
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The E-Voting Paradox
Government Computer News (02/25/08) Jackson, William

Computer scientists and researchers are extremely concerned over the accuracy and security of electronic voting machines, but voters are more concerned over usability, says University of Maryland professor Paul Herrnson, director of the Center for American Politics and Citizenship. In his new book, "Voting Technology: The Not-so-Simple Act of Casting a Ballot," Herrnson says that field tests of different types of equipment and ballots found that usability was a more pressing concern to voters than security. He says the type of ballot used and other factors, such as squishy membrane keyboards or screen glare, are a major concern for voters. Since the Help America Vote Act was passed there has been a reduction in the residual vote, or the number of votes not cast for certain races during an election, but Herrnson says that is not necessarily a good measure of errors. People are more likely to vote for the wrong candidate by mistake than to intentionally skip a race or forget to vote, he says. Michael Shamos, who runs the eBusiness Technologies program at Carnegie Mellon University's School of Computer Science and has been certifying voting systems for 27 years, calls the election voting system "the least reliable product in the U.S." He says the process suffers from a lack of standards, inadequate election worker training, and proprietary software. "There should be no trade secrets in voting technology," Shamos says.
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MacArthur Grant Supports Princeton Laptop Orchestra Initiatives
Princeton University (02/21/08) Altmann, Jennifer Greenstein

The Princeton Laptop Orchestra program (PLOrk), one of 17 winners of the Digital Media and Learning Competition, will receive a $238,000 grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The PLOrk program will use the award to support a mobile musical laboratory that students can use to explore new ways of making music on laptops and local area networks. PLOrk is an ensemble of computer-based musical meta-instruments that grew out of a freshman seminar taught by computer science and music professor Perry Cook and assistant professor of music Dan Trueman. The students who participate in the ensemble act as performers, researchers, composers, and software developers while exploring how the computer can be integrated into conventional music-making contexts, such as chamber ensembles or jam sessions, while transforming those contexts. Each "instrument" currently consists of a laptop, a multi-channel hemispherical speaker, and a variety of control devices, including keyboards, graphics tablets, and sensors. To create a mobile music laboratory, students will design new technologies and learn about various subjects, including musical acoustics, networking, instrument design, human-computer interfacing, procedural programming, signal processing, and musical aesthetics.
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Teaching a Computer to Appreciate Art
MSNBC (02/25/08) Nelson, Bryn

A mathematical program that started as a lark for University of Haifa computer science professor Daniel Keren has evolved into a serious effort to match some of the world's greatest painters with their masterpieces. If the project succeeds, it could help spot poor copies and eventually distinguish forgeries from authentic paintings. Keren says he was contacted by an Italian collector looking to validate some of his acquired paintings, and by aficionados dealing with a controversy over the legitimacy of pieces allegedly painted by Vincent van Gogh. Keren breaks masterpieces into sets of mathematical formulas. The program captures the distinctive styles of different artists by dividing their paintings into discrete blocks and converting each block into formulas that can be combined and compared. So far, Keren has applied the test to five artists--van Gogh, Rembrandt, Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte, and Wassily Kandinsky. In tests, the model correctly matched 86 percent of paintings. Keren says the current version is not ready for use by art experts, but he believes it can be improved for use to detect forgeries. "It will be good to have a database of 20 van Gogh forgeries," he says.
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Analogue Logic for Quantum Computing
ICT Results (02/21/07)

For the last two decades, quantum scientists have been trying to replicate the digital computer at the microscale through the employment of particles to carry information as quantum bits (qubits), but the Covaqial project is investigating an analog approach to quantum computing that uses continuous variables (CV). CV use a retinue of atoms or photons to convey information, and both digital and analog approaches to quantum information science apply the unique characteristics of quantum particles as the "signifier" of the carried data, such as a single electron's spin or the polarization of a photon for qubits, or the analog traits of a group of electrons or photons for CV. "It is the collective property of this group of electrons, or photons, that becomes the information carrier in CV," says Covaqial project coordinator Nicolas Cerf. "When you have this many particles you can call it continuous even though there are many very small steps in the information-encoding variable." CV are more manipulable and controllable than individual particles, and Covaqial has proven that CV could yield refined solutions to some of the basic problems of quantum information processing. The Covaqial team demonstrated memory for a light pulse carried in an atomic "ensemble" in one millisecond via CV, and also generated a light pulse that was in two states at the same time, which Cerf says is an important consideration in the development of a quantum repeater that will greatly extend the transmission range of quantum communications. Cerf also says that Covaqial ran a successful experiment in interspecies quantum teleportation.
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Mitch Kapor: 3D Cameras Will Make Virtual Worlds Easier to Use
CNet (02/15/08) Terdiman, Daniel

Mitch Kapor, speaking at Stanford's Metaverse Roadmap meeting, acknowledges that virtual worlds can be difficult to use. "I'm obsessed with what's going to make these things easier to use," Kapor says. "I think a piece of hardware is involved." He suggests using 3D cameras to provide a new kind of input that monitors what users are doing at any given moment. Kapor wants to move beyond using mouse-and-keyboard input systems and points to the futuristic display used in Steven Spielberg's "Minority Report" movie that allowed characters to move information on a screen using their hands. He says that in as little as 12 months 3D cameras will be built into computers much like regular 2D cameras currently are, allowing virtual world software to interpret how users are moving in the real world and translating that movement to the virtual world avatar. While he is unsure of what the interface will look like, Kapor suggests it could be based on something like a Segway, which responds to simple body movements. He says 3D cameras would also allow for better 3D object editing. "It's going to change how editing is done in 3D worlds," Kapor says. To demonstrate the value of 3D cameras, Kapor has developed a prototype that he plans to demonstrate through videos on YouTube within a few months.
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Put Trust in Your Pocket: CSIRO's Trust Extension Device
CSIRO (02/19/08) Finlay, Jo

The Trust Extension Device (TED), a prototype portable device developed by Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), solves the problem of having trust restricted to specific, well-known computing environments. TED creates its own environment on an untrusted computer and establishes trust with a remote enterprise server before running an application. The user and the enterprise that issues a portable device containing a small operating system, a set of applications, and encrypted data must establish that they are trustworthy by proving their identities and that the computing environments are as expected, before TED accesses the remote server and a transaction takes place. "TED makes that trust portable, opening the way for secure transactions to be undertaken anywhere, even in an Internet cafe," says Dr. John Zic of the CSIRO ICT Center. "Wherever you go, whichever machine you run on, you and the issuer can be confident both parties are known to each other, cannot engage in any malicious acts, and that the transactions are trusted." Banks could use the technology to provide authorized customers and employees with access to financial data, or to conduct financial transactions over the Internet.
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Sniffing Out Insider Threats
EurekAlert (02/19/08) Ang, Albert

Researchers at the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright Patterson Air Force Base are developing technology that could help find insider threats by analyzing email activity, helping identify malicious individuals hidden within groups of tens of thousands of employees. The technology uses data-mining techniques to search email and build a picture of social network interactions. The technology could be used to prevent security breaches, sabotage, and even terrorist activity that otherwise could have damaging results, says researcher Gilbert Peterson. The same technology can also find individuals who feel alienated within an organization or identify any worrying changes in an individual's social behavior. Peterson says security efforts have tended to focus on external electronic threats, and points out that insiders pose the greatest threat to an organization. Peterson's defense against insider threats is based on an extended version of Probabilistic Latent Semantic Indexing, which can discern employees' interests from email and create a social network graph showing their various interactions. The research is reported in the International Journal of Security and Networks.
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Starting Salaries for Most IT Pros Will Climb in 2008
InformationWeek (02/25/08) McGee, Marianne Kolbasuk

Bluewolf says Fortune 1000 companies and fast-growing startups are looking for open source coders and skills related to Ajax, Flash, PHP, and Ruby on Rails. "Our phone is ringing off the hook" for such talent, says Michael Kirven, co-founder and principal of Bluewolf. IT professionals in markets such as New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and North Carolina can expect starting salaries to rise on average of 5.3 percent this year, and application developers, application architects, and project managers can expect a bigger increase. Starting salaries are expected to jump 7.6 percent for application developers, ranging from $80,250 to $112,500; 7.5 percent for application architects, ranging from $87,500 to $120,000; and 7.4 percent for project managers, ranging from $85,000 to $150,000 annually. "Architects and project managers are skills that are not easy to outsource overseas," Kirven says.
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Computer-Science Professor Warns of 'Dot-Bomb' in the Discipline
Chronicle of Higher Education (02/29/08) Vol. 54, No. 25, P. A15; Goodall, Hurley

Brown University computer science professor Andries van Dam was recently selected to lead the Computing Research Association's education committee, which will focus on changing how computer science is taught in college. Van Dam warns that the United States is experiencing a "dot-bomb" and that the field is no longer attracting the best and brightest in the same way it once was. He says computer science is not considered "hot" and many students believe that all of the jobs are being outsourced. Van Dam acknowledges the loss of some jobs to outsourcing, but notes that many companies establish offices overseas because that is where the talent is. He says the only way for America to compete with the highly trained workforces in Europe and Asia is to improve American students and university programs, which requires modernizing the curriculum by creating new ways of studying computer science. Van Dam says schools need to incorporate new subjects such as game design and computer vision to attract students to the field. CRA's education committee will examine computer education in "the broad sense," van Dam says, not just in computer science education, but computing education in other fields as well, such as what high school students know about computation, and what college students should know no matter what they are studying.
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RFID Powder
Scientific American (02/08) Vol. 298, No. 2, P. 68; Hornyak, Tim

The use of radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags to track items is growing, and Hitachi has announced a prototype for a RFID chip that is so small as to be nearly invisible. The chip, which functions without batteries or a power supply, could be embedded within high-value vouchers such as gift certificates, concert tickets, securities, and cash to foil counterfeiters. Mitsuo Usami of Hitachi's Central Research Laboratory says the chip can be employed to identify "trillions of trillions" of objects because an almost limitless number of digit combinations is afforded by the chip's 128-bit architecture. Usami determined that the use of a 128-bit ID number would allow the chip's design to remain simple and still provide an extremely high number of digit combinations, while simultaneously guaranteeing security since the information stored in the read-only memory cannot be changed. The commercial version of Hitachi's small RFID chip has a maximum scanning distance of 30 centimeters with external antennas. An even smaller version, called a "powder chip," uses 90-nm silicon-on-insulator technology and electron beam lithography to effect additional miniaturization. Hitachi is currently at work on "anticollision" technology that would allow multiple chips to be read concurrently. The incorporation of ultra-small RFID chips into cash and other vouchers--and perhaps even onto people themselves--raises concerns about privacy infringement and intrusive surveillance. However, Usami notes that many civic groups have devised guidelines for privacy protection with RFID, and one of the basic guidelines is the non-surreptitious use of the technology.
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