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March 5, 2008

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ACM Recognizes Leonidas John Guibas for Pioneering Algorithms that Advanced Computer Graphics, Robotics Circuit Design
AScribe Newswire (03/04/08)

ACM Fellow and Stanford University computer science professor Leonidas John Guibas has won the 2007 Allen Newell Award for his groundbreaking work in applying algorithms across a wide range of computer science disciplines. Jointly sponsored by ACM and the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, the award was created to honor career achievements in computer science, or contributions that bridge the field and other disciplines. Guibas' research into interactions with the physical world and the development of efficient algorithms for geometric problems served as the catalyst for computational geometry becoming a recognized discipline with its own journals, conferences, and a large number of researchers. His research has had a major impact on computer graphics, computer vision, robotics, physical modeling, large-scale integrated circuit design, sensor and communications networks, and computational molecular biology. Guibas heads the Geometric Computation Group at Stanford, and is a member of the Computer Graphics and Artificial Intelligence Laboratories and the Institute for Computational and Mathematical Engineering. ACM will honor Guibas at its annual ACM Awards Banquet on June 21 in San Francisco, Calif.
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'Chic Geek': Computer Science Major Rebounds
Inside Higher Ed (03/05/08) Jaschik, Scott

The number of newly declared undergraduate majors at doctoral-granting computer science departments is on the rise for the first time in eight years, and experts attribute this upsurge to an improving job market, curriculum changes, and more effective marketing to prospective students and their parents. Stuart Zweben, associate dean for academic affairs at the Ohio State University College of Engineering, says the loss of jobs from dot-com failures and the market's subsequent inundation of experienced workers, concurrent with colleges churning out record numbers of graduates, led to turmoil and generated a perception that it was very difficult to land a job in computer science. The number of computer science majors at the seven universities in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System has risen from 1,425 to 2,105 over the last two years, while programming majors have climbed from 815 to 1,561. Bruce Lindberg of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System's Center for Strategic Information Technology and Security says he envisions students being drawn to the expansion of the computer science field to cover other disciplines besides hardware and software. "We are thinking about how we portray ourselves and what we do," says Cal Ribbens of Virginia Tech. "We do not want to be seen as just offering a bunch of programming classes." The Georgia Institute of Technology's computer science curriculum has been retooled to focus more on the creative process and what career roles computer science majors play. Georgia Tech's Giselle Martin notes that undergraduate applications are significantly higher in 2008, party thanks to new strategies in communicating to parents the career opportunities that exist for computer science majors.
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Artificial Intelligence Research Simmers at University of Memphis
Memphis Daily News (03/05/08) Vol. 123, No. 45, Shepard, Scott

The FedEx Institute of Technology and the University of Memphis recently hosted the first Conference on Artificial General Intelligence. The concept of artificial general intelligence (AGI) dates back to 1955, but only recently has the technology advanced to the point that AGI is feasible. Types of artificial intelligence exist in a variety of places in society, and people interact with artificial intelligence on a daily basis without every realizing it. "Artificial intelligence got away from its initial goal of AGI primarily because AGI rapidly proved too hard a problem to solve," says conference chair Stan Franklin, a University of Memphis professor and co-director of the university's Institute for Intelligent Systems. "AI researchers concentrated on narrow goals, building smart machines in narrow domains." Franklin says creating AGI is now an obtainable goal through a convergence of computer science, cognitive science, and neuroscience. Unlike specific AI applications, AGI is pure research, Franklin says, and a goal unto itself that in a few decades will have more applications than anyone has dreamed of. "No one would have predicted that the microelectronics industry would grow out of space flight," he says. "AGI will help me understand how minds work, perhaps the single most interesting problem there is."
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TechFest: Microsoft Researchers Show Off Future of Computing
Computerworld (03/04/08) Gaudin, Sharon

At Microsoft's seventh annual TechFest, the company demonstrated some of its research projects that go beyond the next Windows operating system or Internet Explorer browser. One of the research projects on display was the 10TB World Wide Telescope project, which aims to combine images and information from major telescopes, scientists, and astronomical organizations from around the world, including NASA. Also on display was a new programming language to study cell biology, work on new AIDS vaccines, software to monitor and predict global epidemics, and sensors that monitor the melting of glaciers in the Alps. Microsoft chief research and strategy officer Craig Mundie says that Bill Gates has encouraged the company to invest some of its assets in projects that will make a difference even if they do not relate directly to a company product or brand. "That's partly been the motivation to go beyond using computer science to just benefit us as a company," Mundie says. "It's important that we not just make money, but that we contribute to working on these other problems."
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Survey: Developers Seek Web, Dynamic Languages
eWeek (03/03/08) Taft, Darryl K.

Developers want Web technologies and dynamic languages for new projects, reveals a new Ziff Davis Enterprise survey, which also found that developers are planning to use Web development and scripting or dynamic languages more than traditional procedural languages over the next 18 months. The survey says the majority of developers plan to start using AJAX in the next 18 months, while the second most mentioned language was JavaScript. Open-source JavaScript library jQuery creator John Resig says the push toward using more Web development technologies and dynamic languages shows that AJAX and JavaScript are the universal meeting ground for Web development. "It doesn't matter if you're using ASP.NET, Ruby, Perl, or PHP, if you need to make your page interactive in a standards-based, accessible way, you turn to JavaScript," Resig says. He says that as developers turn to developing their next application they will realize that it is easier to deploy and distribute when using the Web as a platform. The emergence of dynamic languages is largely because they offer simplicity while many other languages are more strict, Resig says. "Many of them are easier to get started with, enforce less encumbrances, and encourage community contributions, such as Ruby, Python, and PHP."
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Computer Users Get Sense of Touch
Carnegie Mellon News (03/01/08)

Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Institute professor Ralph Hollis has developed a haptic interface that could provide computer users with the ability to sense texture and shape when manipulating virtual 3D objects. Hollis' device uses magnetic levitations and just one moving part. Users can feel textures, hard contacts, and even slight changes in position. "We believe this device provides the most realistic sense of touch of any haptic interface in the world today," says Hollis, whose research group built the first working version of the device in 1997. Using a $300,000 National Science Foundation grant, Hollis and his colleagues have improved the device's performance, enhanced its ergonomics, and lowered its production cost. The researchers built 10 copies of the device that are being distributed to haptic researchers in the United States and Canada. Giving the device to other researchers is important to the developing field of haptics, Hollis says. Research in magnetic levitation haptic interfaces has been particularly lacking because researchers have not been able to access the devices. "This is an affordable device that's also practical," Hollis says.
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Tiny Etch-a-Sketch
Technology Review (03/04/08) Inman, Mason

Researchers led by Jeremy Levy of the University of Pittsburgh have demonstrated a new technique that could be used to create rewritable logic circuits and denser computer memory. The researchers used an atomic force microscope (AFM) to draw nano-sized conductive paths that act like metallic wires on a special material, a two-layer material developed at the University of Ausberg in Germany. The interface between the two materials can be switched between insulating and conducting by applying a voltage across the interface. The lines drawn in the material were as thin as three nanometers, making them significantly narrower than the lines that can be drawn using electron beam lithography, currently one of the most precise techniques for etching devices from silicon. The wires can be erased by reversing the voltage and dragging the AFM tip across the wire, or by exposing the material to blue light. Being able to draw conductive patterns could allow researchers to create circuits that can be reconfigured on the fly, and could be used for high-density memory. Levy says it could be possible to integrate the new material with existing silicon chips.
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World-Wise Web?
Financial Times (03/04/08) P. 9; Waters, Richard

A revolution in the way information captured on the World Wide Web is retrieved and manipulated that will make Google's early breakthroughs seem archaic is on the horizon, according to optimists in Silicon Valley. This revolution will be facilitated by integrating core technologies that are transforming the Web with approaches drawn from the field of artificial intelligence. Powerset CEO Barney Pell says that "people are realizing that the goals of AI may be way out, but in the field of AI the time is here for really exciting applications." The core component of the new Web 3.0 technology movement is the semantic Web, in which data within documents becomes machine-accessible so that computers can follow related links between Web sites and draw together related information. Some semantic Web advocates are saying that enough building blocks are in place to construct the first true semantic Web services, but a major challenge lies in the need to make information on the Web comprehensible to machines so that it can be extracted, processed, and invested with usability. This requires the attachment of machine-readable "tags" to each piece of data to describe what type of information it represents, a massive effort that could be beyond the capacities of the human brain. The semantic Web attempts to tackle this problem through the creation of dictionaries known as ontologies. Meanwhile, other technologies originally developed for AI applications, such as natural language processing, are being tapped to establish practical Web 3.0 services, although their long-term viability is a matter of contention. Most people expect the repercussions of the Web 3.0 technological wave to be incremental, starting with such things as an increase in the intelligence of a broad spectrum of Web services and the enhancement of search engines to return results of higher quality.
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The New Art of War
Washington Post (03/03/08) P. A15; Pincus, Walter

Recent testimony before the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee focused on preparing for war in space and cyberspace. Space threats have received a significant amount of attention in the past, so it was the possibility of cyberspace warfare that received the most emphasis at the hearing. Head of U.S. Strategic Command Gen. Kevin P. Chilton said cyberspace is an "emerging war-fighting domain" and that potential enemies understand the U.S.'s reliance on the use of cyberspace and are constantly probing the country's networks to find competitive advantages, which is why the nation needs to develop defensive and offensive cyberspace systems. Several strategies and institutions have already been created to protect cyberspace, including the classified 2006 National Military Strategy for Cyberspace Operations, which concludes that "offensive capabilities in cyberspace offer both the U.S. and our adversaries an opportunity to gain and maintain the initiative." The Strategic Command and Joint Chiefs of Staff personnel are developing contingency plans and carrying out operations that protect the government's computer networks through detection and coordinated counterattacks against intruders. Chilton said the government is working "to operate, defend, exploit, and attack in cyberspace."
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From Pictures to Three Dimensions
Jacobs School of Engineering (UCSD) (02/29/08)

University of California, San Diego researchers have developed a 3D reconstruction algorithm that could enable users to convert their digital photos into 3D displays. Research in 3D reconstruction involves "autocalibration," a computer vision process that strives to recover the 3D structure of a scene using only images acquired from cameras with unknown internal settings and spatial orientations. The researchers say that their algorithm could be used for more informative e-commerce pictures, to automatically align security camera networks, or to create augmented-reality walkthroughs of cities, supermarkets, or other places of interest. They say their algorithm provides a "theoretical certificate of optimality," or the best possible 3D reconstruction possible from the available data. "Our algorithm is guaranteed to provide the best 3D reconstruction," says UCSD fifth-year PhD student Manmohan Chandraker. "Our approach utilizes modern convex optimization techniques to globally minimize the involved cost functions in a branch and bound framework."
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Sun, University of Tokyo Announce Research Partnership
HPC Wire (02/27/08)

The University of Tokyo and Sun Microsystems announced two joint research projects that will focus on high-performance computing and Web-based programming languages. The research includes the development of a library based on skeletal parallel programming in Fortress, and the implementation of a multiple virtual machine (MVM) environment on Ruby and JRuby. The Fortress library project will be led by professor Masato Takeichi and professor Zhenjiang Hu at the Graduate School of Information Science and Technology at the University of Tokyo, in collaboration with Dr. Guy Steele at Sun Labs. Skeletal parallelism is a programming method that uses pre-defined components extracted from general-purpose parallel processing constructs to make parallelization simpler and more scalable while helping programmers avoid difficult tasks such as communication and synchronization. Fortress is designed to do for Fortran what Java-based technologies did for C by enabling highly productive programming constructs. The implementation of a MVM environment on Ruby and JRuby will be led by University of Tokyo professor Ikuo Takeuchi and Sun director of Web technologies Tim Bray. The MVM environment is expected to make Ruby programs run more efficiently and allow multiple applications to run simultaneously without requiring multiple interpreters, which leads to excessive memory consumption. The research aims to solve technical issues such as the definition of common interfaces for using MVM, and the parallelization of VM instances and memory sharing.
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Tooling Up for Tomorrow's Clever Cars
ICT Results (02/28/08)

Cars are becoming increasingly complex, largely due to the growing number of sophisticated, software-driven electronics that now come as standard features. Automakers say today's cars contain as much electronics as commercial airliners did two decades ago. In 2002, electronic parts accounted for 25 percent of a vehicle's value, but by 2015 that could reach 40 percent. Researchers on the European ATESST project say a substantial percentage of vehicle failures can be directly traced to embedded systems, and research shows that electronic failures will continue to increase and reach unacceptable levels if no preventive action plan is established. The ATESST project wants to reverse this trend through the use of the Architecture Description Language, a new computer language the project developed to improve methodology to handle component failures and avoid design flaws. "New tools are needed to do a job which is becoming ever more complex," says project manager Henrik Lonn. "The many components which go into vehicles are being made by a host of manufacturers, often using different processes and working to different standards." Lonn says a common language at the highest level is needed to bind all of the electronics together. Other initiatives have made similar efforts, such as the European-developed AUTOSAR standard, and off-the-shelf modeling tools, but Lonn says such efforts are not enough. "What we have developed is an industry-specific system which works with these other standards and dictates what part of the system is performing what function, and makes sure the different components will work together," he says.
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Krehbiel Receives Grant to Further Research on Digital Media
Bethel College (02/28/08) Siebert, Aimee

The National Science Foundation is backing a series of cooperative experiments between Bethel psychology professor Dwight Krehbiel and College of Charleston computer science professor Bill Manaris. The researchers aim to create a musical search engine based on aesthetic similarity. Manaris has focused on identifying and analyzing musical metrics, such as the intervals between notes or chords, and whether patterns of these metrics affect the appeal of a song. His research is based on Zipf's law, a law commonly used with linguistics that says a body of text has a word that is used most frequently, and the word that has the next-highest frequency should have appear half as often as the word with the highest frequency. Manaris' work shows that the same pattern often exists in the musical metrics he studies. The two researchers are working together to compare the computer-based metrics with actual human, emotional responses. The researchers tested the predictions of a search engine against the emotional and physiological response of human subjects. Their research could lead to a search engine that is capable of analyzing the Zipfian characteristics of a person's favorite song and supplying a list of aesthetically similar songs.
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UCL Computer Science Research Revolutionises Computer Games Graphics
UCL News (02/28/08)

University College London researchers are developing a technique that quickly adds indirect light to simulated scenes. The fast method developed by Dr. Jan Kautz and colleagues has the potential to make computer games seem more realistic due to a greater variation in shade on an object, and hues of reflected light adding extra detail. Kautz has received a grant from the U.K. government's Technology Strategy Board to develop a system that can quickly simulate grades of shadows from indirect light bouncing off objects in both moving and static scenes. Kautz will work with software company Geomerics on the system. "I am excited about collaborating with an industrial partner in an area where it has been difficult to get new results from research into actual products," Kautz says. "This grant will allow us to develop new lighting methods that will have a direct impact on future computer games."
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Prof Posits Metananocircuits as Electronics' Next Frontier
EE Times (03/03/08)No. 1516, P. 16; Bains, Sunny

University of Pennsylvania engineering professor Nader Engheta theorizes that nanotech circuits can function in a scheme where "current" is reclassified as an electromagnetic wave, and he envisions the creation of metananocircuit-based switches that could drive a new form of optical information processing and possibly a new type of nanoscale computational unit. Engheta's theory is founded on three fundamental notions: Nanoparticles of various materials have characteristics that can be matched to electronic counterparts; the nanoparticles can be regarded as "lumped components" that can be linked into circuits through the use of additional guiding structures; and the design of efficient devices is crucially affected by the idea of metamaterials, in which composite materials manifest properties governed by their nanoscale structures rather than their chemistry. University of Toronto professor George Eleftheriades says Engheta's work offers "a vision, consisting of building blocks, along with instructions on how to arrange them together to enable transplanting well-known passive inductor-capacitor-resistor [LCR] electrical networks to the optical domain." The emergence of metamaterials could overcome the absence in nature of ideal materials to implement such circuits at optical wavelengths, but practical applications of Engheta's theory require the creation of metamaterials to ensure the reliable operation of such devices. Demonstrating basic nanocircuit principles is the focus of two research teams, one of which is developing optical nanoantennas that Los Alamos National Laboratory's Rohit Prasankumar says ought to function as lumped nanocircuit elements at visible wavelengths. Meanwhile, University of Pennsylvania physicist Marija Drndic says her team intends "to construct specially designed grating structures with periods much less than the operating wavelengths, and then experimentally verify the performance of such nanostructures in terms of optical reflection and transmission."
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Turning Disabled Into Gamers, MIT Aims to Spread Robot Rehab
Popular Mechanics (02/26/08) Sofge, Erik

MIT researchers in the Newman Lab for Biomechanics and Human Rehabilitation have developed a system that combines simple video games with different robotic joysticks to help rehabilitating patients regain lost skills and abilities. Designed for stroke, spinal cord injury, and possibly cerebral palsy patients, the robotic therapists assist the patients in playing video games if the patient responds too slowly, but the goal is to avoid having the robot help. As patients use the devices, gradually improving their reactions, the devices expect faster reaction times and will assist the player more quickly. The Department of Veterans Affairs is currently testing the therapeutic robots against traditional techniques. Designing robots capable of interacting with humans without hurting them, or without burning out their motors, was a significant challenge, and Newman Lab director Neville Hogan sees these devices as the first "contact robots." Developing contact robots is a crucial step toward having robotic maids and health care workers. If the Veterans Affairs trial is successful, Medicare could start reimbursing patients for the costs of the machines, which could lead to in-home treatment and online social networks where rehab patients can compete against each other. Hogan believes that within two to three years some form of robotic therapy could be available in every major rehab clinic in the United States.
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Student Web Language Gains International Recognition
Inside Rensselaer (02/28/08) Vol. 2, No. 4,

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute computer science doctoral student Gregory Williams, who works in the Tetherless World Constellation, has designed a Web language that allows Web sites to communicate with each other. Williams' language was given high marks by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and will be a foundation for other companies and researchers. In January, the W3C released SPARQL, a Semantic Web-based query language standard designed to enable Web sites to communicate. The SPARQL standard includes several different implementations developed by companies, university research teams, and individuals. Williams' SPARQL implementation was among the top five languages. The standard languages base will allow programmers and researchers to develop Web sites and technologies that can easily share data with one another. Williams began working on his SPARQL implementation in 2005. "My motivating base was to implement a version of SPARQL that was easy to use and access so researchers can quickly introduce themselves to the language and then begin playing with it," Williams says. "I hope this will allow researchers to quickly extend the language and continue to do new things on the Web."
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Secure and Easy Internet Voting
Computer (02/08) Vol. 41, No. 2, P. 08; Beroggi, Giampiero E.G.

A modular and service-oriented architecture was tapped as the platform for a fully scalable and portable Swiss e-voting system that allows people to cast votes using the Internet or cell phones, using two-step encryption and redundant storage systems to maintain the authenticity and confidentiality of votes, writes director of Canton Zurich's Statistical Office Giampiero E.G. Beroggi. The system seamlessly integrates with traditional ballot-box voting so that all citizens can vote, and no digital divide splits the population. Six weeks prior to the vote, the communities in the participating cantons enter the names of all citizens eligible to e-vote in the electronic ballot box, which opens four weeks before the vote. To vote, citizens use a password that they receive from the canton's Statistical Office by mail as part of their voting forms. Citizens can vote through the Internet by logging onto the e-voting Web site using ID numbers and following the site's directions for vote casting, and the system accepts the vote if it perceives a match between the security symbol the voters enter and the one they got in the mail. The two-step encryption process involves the voter's client computer first encrypting the votes and ID and authentication characteristics, and the e-voting system then checking the incoming votes for their structure and integrity before again encrypting them, with the votes stored within a database by a pair of redundant subsystems. On the day of the vote, the results from the regular ballot box are fed into the vote registration software, and the e-voting system transfers the e-vote to the voting system that manages the regular votes once the regular voting ballot box is closed. Rather than making source code available, the e-voting system depends on the ACM Statement on Voting Systems, which recommends that e-voting systems "embody careful engineering, strong safeguards, and rigorous testing in both design and operation."
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