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ACM TechNews
March 26, 2008

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Welcome to the March 26, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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Technology Policy in the Information Age: Computer Security Experts Debate Political, Social and Economic Impacts
AScribe Newswire (03/24/08)

ACM is sponsoring the Conference on Computers, Freedom, and Privacy (CFP 2008) as a way to help shape the public debate on information and communications technologies. CFP 2008 will offer expert keynote speakers, panels, tutorials, and birds-of-a-feather sessions to help raise the level of discussion on how the country should approach technology in the years to come. The conference will feature leading technologists, policymakers, business leaders, and advocates who are experts on voting technology, online campaigning, social networks, anonymity online, P2P networks, cybercrime and cyberterrorism, information policy and free trade, media and concentration, network neutrality, electronic medical records, and copyright and fair use. CFP 2008 is scheduled for May 20-23 at the Omni New Haven Hotel at Yale in New Haven, Conn. For more information, see http://www.cfp2008.org/wiki/index.php/Main_Page
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Replacing Wire With Laser, Sun Tries to Speed Up Data
New York Times (03/24/08) Markoff, John

A new generation of faster, more compact computers that boast greater energy efficiency could one day be realized thanks to a Sun Microsystems methodology to align silicon chips by substituting laser beams for wires so the chips can communicate with each other at very high speeds. "It's like the difference between having someone next door and having to get on an airplane to fly across the country," says Terabit Corp. optical networking designer Alan Huang. "This would be a way of breaking Moore's Law." The shortcomings of connecting chips by wire include limited processing power and bottlenecks that produce additional heat and electrical current because data flows between chips at lower speeds. Proving the technical feasibility and commercial manufacturability of the Sun researchers' idea would go a long way toward creating more compact machines whose performance trumps that of current computers 1,000-fold. Sun has received a five-year, $44 million Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency contract to investigate this concept. Sun's project partners include Stanford University and the University of California, San Diego.
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Employment and Salaries of Recent CS Graduates
CRA Bulletin (03/25/08) Vegso, Jay

People who received degrees in computer and information sciences (CS) in recent years are more likely to be employed in business and industry and to be working full-time than those who pursued several other majors. According to a recent NSF InfoBrief, 82 percent of CS majors who received bachelor's degrees in 2003, 2004, and 2005 were employed in business and industry, and 91 percent (along with engineering majors) had full-time jobs in April 2006. Among those with master's degrees, 76 percent were working in business and industry, and 93 percent were working full-time. The NSF InfoBrief also shows that CS graduates with bachelor's degrees had a median salary of $45,000, which was tied for second with health majors. CS graduates with master's degree made $65,000, tying engineering majors for first.
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Bringing Light to Computers
Technology Review (03/26/08) Greene, Kate

IBM researchers are working on a method for bringing fiber-optic network speed and bandwidth to PC chips, and they recently announced a nanoscale silicon switch capable of routing trillions of bits of data per second within an optical network. "We're talking about routing a terabit per second through a single switch," says IBM researcher William Green. The switch is composed of connected, resonating rings etched into silicon, and electrons are guided to a specific ring when the switch is activated, changing the ring's resonance frequency and effectively blocking the transmission of light; the light bounces off the resonator and is emitted in another direction. Green says the switch's design is novel because the device does not filter the light based on its wavelength, and it can endure a temperature variation of about 30 degrees Celsius to ensure network reliability. Top-of-the-line computers currently boast two or four general processing cores, but engineers expect to build devices with tens of cores within the next 10 years. Efficient communication between cores and between cores and other computer elements is a pressing challenge. Optical devices and waveguides built within the same silicon used to fabricate chips hold promise as alternatives to metal wires and electronic components, and IBM's switch represents an important step toward realizing a practical silicon photonics system.
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Industry Worried About State of Research in India
EE Times (03/19/08) Krishnadas, K.C.

Chip design is dominating research in Indian technical institutes, although industry executives say there should be greater concentration in embedded systems. About two-thirds of all research is in chip design, and embedded systems comprise about half of this share; the India Semiconductor Association estimates that overall, chip design and testing make up 43 percent of all research conducted by Indian institutes, with analog accounting for 50 percent of this. There is a paucity of people with doctorates and people earning doctorates in chip design-related fields, and companies are deemed to be complicit because they are not making a bigger commitment to institutes in the pursuit of research. Interest in research is undeniable, but observers cite insufficient numbers of experienced faculty, the absence of a local market, and disinterest among venture capitalists as impediments to research activity. "More research needs to be done in embedded systems, as the market is five time larger than chip design," insists Cosmic Circuits CEO Ganapathy Subramaniam. "In any case, the more there is research in embedded systems, research into chip design will also rise." ISA projects that embedded software will account for $11.8 billion of total Indian semiconductor design revenues in 2010, while chip design will only account for approximately $2 billion. Magma Design Automation India executive Anand Anandkumar predicts that up to three-quarters of engineers will be involved in embedded systems in the next seven to eight years, so India's competitiveness will depend on additional embedded systems research efforts.
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Avatar Mimics You in Real Time
PhysOrg.com (03/25/08) Zyga, Lisa

A digital avatar capable of mirroring a person's movements in real time has been developed by researchers at Deutsche Telekom Laboratories, Germany's Fraunhofer Heinrich-Hertz-Institut, and Israel's Ben Gurion University. The researchers say the technology opens up new possibilities for touch-free, intuitive human-computer interaction. The prototype system features real-time performance of audio-visual analysis so that the avatar can move immediately. The system's hardware ingredients are an inexpensive Webcam and a pair of standard headphones, and the system interoperates with a standard PC. Users must wave their hands around at first so the system can identify their skin color, as it depends on recognizing skin color to follow hand and head movements. The system is capable of recognizing a series of 66 parameters that classify facial expression, and there are also high-level facial expressions that users can manually activate with buttons. The system can recognize many basic gestures, including those from the American Sign Language alphabet, by finger position analysis. Future applications include its employment in virtual chat rooms and online call centers, where users are represented by avatars to maintain privacy. In mobile devices the avatar system could function as an interface that promotes user-friendliness.
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Printing Displays Screen Promise
BBC News (03/25/08) Fildes, Jonathan

Japanese scientists at the University of Tokyo have demonstrated unique ink-jet printing gear that could be used to cheaply and rapidly manufacture flat-panel computer displays through the employment of a new inkjet head capable of producing drops 1,000 times smaller than standard printers. This was achieved through the application of a high voltage to the print head, and the researchers were able to print continuous lines two microns wide and components just one micron across using ink composed of silver nanoparticles. "The present work demonstrates the feasibility of employing ink-jet technology ... for electronic device applications," write the researchers in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A methodology for printing electronics especially holds potential for organic or plastic electronics, the manufacture of which would be much cheaper and easier than conventional silicon fabrication. Because their current prototype is too sluggish for commercial applications, the researchers recommend that it should only be utilized to pattern precise and critical features of circuitry.
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New Breed of Cognitive Robot...a Puppy?
ICT Results (03/21/08)

The European Union-funded COSPAL project has discovered that the shortcomings of classical rule-based artificial intelligence and artificial neural networks (ANNs) can be overcome by combining the two approaches, and this strategy forms the basis of the project's artificial cognitive systems. A team led by Linkoping University researcher Michael Felsberg has devised a new type of cognitive, learning robot that employs ANNs to manage the low-level functions based on the visual input it receives and classical AI to serve as a supervisory mechanism. "In this way, we found it was possible for the robots to explore the world around them through direct interaction, create ways to act in it, and then control their actions in accordance," says Felsberg. "This combines the advantages of classical AI, which is superior when it comes to functions akin to human rationality, and the advantages of ANN, which is superior at performing tasks for which humans would use their subconscious, things like basic motor skills and low-level cognitive tasks." The COSPAL robot learned to complete a shape-sorting puzzle without being provided with specific directions, other than being told by a human operator when it had performed a correct action or when it had committed an error. The scalability of the COSPAL researchers' approach is what distinguishes it the most from what had been the state of the art.
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Communities and the Networks That Define Them
Dr. Dobb's Journal (03/17/08) Erickson, Jon

An algorithm that is capable of automatically identifying communities and their structures in different networks is the focus of a new paper by Weixiong Zhang of Washington University and Jianhua Ruan of the University of Texas at San Antonio. All disparate communities have networks that define their structure, Zhang says. As part of the natural division in the community structure of networks, the vertices in each subnetwork are highly interconnected but not as strongly with the rest of the network. Researchers tend to believe that each community may correspond to a fundamental functional unit. Zhang teamed up with Ruan to develop the algorithm, which exceeds similar algorithms in scalability and is capable of detecting communities at a finer scale and with higher accuracy. The algorithm has also been used to conduct genomics-related research.
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Terahertz Video Transfer Is Foretaste of Future Wireless
New Scientist (03/19/08) McKenna, Phil

Video footage has been sent utilizing a terahertz wireless signal. Although the connection was only 22 meters long, it signified an advancement toward employing much faster wireless spectrum. The faster wireless technologies operate in the gigahertz and megahertz spectrum. The utilization of terahertz bandwidth, which ranges between 300 GHz and 3 THz, could offer transmission speeds that are 1,000 times faster and create new communication frequencies. Christian Jastrow of Germany's Terahertz Communications Lab and his colleagues have merged several commercially-accessible frequency multipliers to make a 10 GHz microwave sensor yield the lowest terahertz frequency--a 300 GHz wave. Jastrow and his research team used a specially devised high-frequency transmitter and polyethylene lens to concentrate waves into a fairly low-power beam that sent a video signal 22 meters before it faded. University of Utah's Ajay Nahata, however, cautions that Jastrow's research has some drawbacks, including the fact that it cannot be scaled beyond 1 THz.
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TAU Student Develops Software That Ranks Facial Attractiveness
Ha'aretz (Israel) (03/21/08) Ilani, Ofri

A software program designed to make aesthetic judgments has been created by Tel Aviv University student Amit Kagian for his master's thesis in computer science. Kagian says his program "constitutes a substantial advance in the development of artificial intelligence." In the first stage of the project, 30 participants rated the attractiveness of several dozen images on a scale of one to seven, after which the images were processed and mathematically mapped. Kagian says this yielded nearly 100 numbers that represent the face's geometric shape, along with features such as skin smoothness, hair color, and facial symmetry. In the next step, new facial images were fed into the computer for grading, and comparisons between the computer's ratings and subsequent ratings by human subjects showed a remarkable consistency, Kagian says. The computer functioned according to certain impressions of beauty that had not been inputted into it, he says, yet learned by processing the information it was given. A conclusion of the experiment was that faces considered beautiful are average in terms of the level of facial trait extremity. "The computer learned a mathematical function, however it implicitly learned to prefer average faces," says Kagian. He adds that while people have differing opinions of attractiveness, a sufficiently large sample group will recognize a high level of agreement even when multicultural subjects are involved.
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Grant Links Animation and Psychology
Bournemouth University (03/20/08)

Researchers at the United Kingdom's Bournemouth University are launching a three-year project incorporating animation and psychology backed by a grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. Professor Jian Zhang from the university's National Centre for Computer Animation (NCCA) will lead the project, which includes psychology experts from the University of Lancaster, the University College London, and the Metropolitan Police. The experiment will examine how individuals respond to emergency situations, especially the "bystander effect." It is thought that the greater the number of witnesses there are during an incident, the less probable it is that a person will get involved. The animated "people" in the virtual arena that Zhang and his colleges will establish will provide researchers with greater insight into the behavior. "Other studies have already shown that real people tend to respond realistically in virtual social situations," Zhang says. "As our real participants take part in the study within the virtual environments we'll be creating, we will measure their physiological, behavioral, cognitive, and emotional responses to that environment."
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Robot Meet at UCF Hopes to Spark Future Engineers, Scientists
Orlando Sentinel (FL) (03/16/08) Jacobson, Susan

The Florida FIRST Robotics area competition took place on March 15 at the University of Central Florida arena in Orlando. It was designed to persuade high-school students to enter careers as scientists and engineers. Over 2,000 students from 61 schools constructed robots as teams and competed with other students who are proficient in computer science and engineering. Each team had six weeks to create their entries. The majority of teams employed a dolly-type platform, a metal frame, and a pneumatic system to fuel big metal claws or arms that could grab a large ball and throw it over a barrier. Computers programmed the automatic movements of the robots as they moved around a rink-style enclosure. Team members then maneuvered the robots, utilizing joysticks to make movements. Points were given for crossing particular lines and dunking a pair of large balls. The Florida contest was one of 41 regional contests sponsored by FIRST this year and will lead to the championship event next month in Atlanta.
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Cutting Edge Computing Helps Discover the Origin of Life
National Grid Service (03/19/08)

The United Kingdom's nationwide computing grid has teamed with TeraGrid of the United States and European peers to help researchers at the University College London determine how life on Earth began. Peter Coveney and fellow scientists at the college's Centre for Computational Science employed computer simulations to obtain insight into the infrastructure and stability of DNA while incorporated in layered minerals. The simulations recreated the hot temperatures and pressures that happen around hydrothermal vents. It was found that the strand of DNA implemented into the layered materials becomes stabilized in these circumstances and therefore shielded from catalytic and thermal disintegration. "Grids of supercomputers are essential for this kind of study," Coveney says. "The time taken to run these simulations is reduced from the years that a desktop computer would take, to hours by using the many thousands of processors made available across continents."
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Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Professor Gives Talks on Autonomous Driving
AME Info (UAE) (03/18/08) Hassan, Eman

Carnegie Mellon University robotics professor Chris Urmson recently discussed his work with autonomous vehicles in Qatar. Urmson is the director of technology for CMU's Tartan Racing team and coordinated the development of an unmanned car that successfully navigated an urban setting. Urmson feels that CMU's technological expertise and experience and Qatar's interest in racing could be combined to improve vehicle safety, and one goal of his visit to Qatar is to collaborate with computer science faculty members at Carnegie Mellon Qatar on a plan to make autonomous car racing a reality in Doha. Carnegie Mellon Qatar's Brett Browning says many modern-day vehicle technologies were developed from racing, which is "an excellent testing ground for developers because they can spend the time and money on creating and fine-tuning new technology." Browning notes that car manufacturers' concentration is moving from surviving accidents to preventing accidents, and says that "Qatar is in a prime position to lead this movement."
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How to Make Smarter Software
Forbes (03/19/08) Hardy, Quentin

Numenta founder Jeffrey Hawkins says artificial intelligence has come up short because it has concentrated too heavily on the results of the brain's operations without focusing on the general way those outcomes occur, and he is devoted to the development of unique software modeled after neocortical architecture and functionality in the hope that such an advancement will eventually lead to software and hardware that can truly emulate human intelligence. In 2007 Numenta released to developers an open-source version of software oriented around "hierarchical temporal memory," a theory formulated by Hawkins about how the human brain deals with incoming data. Hawkins says the brain is structured into a hierarchy of neuronal columns that absorb basic sensory input and sort it into patterns organized around time and space. The initial patterns are passed to more neurons that aggregate the information and feed it to more aggregators until the patterns become generalizations that lead to future projections. The Numenta software is designed to mimic this arrangement by forming a hierarchy of software nodes that seek to recognize patterns. Unlike neural network software, the Numenta software has no fixed number of levels because general topology and the use of time is altered with the desired outcome. It is Hawkins' hope that users will learn how to apply the software to the construction of smarter devices.
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Sophie Vandebroek
Computerworld (03/17/08) Vol. 42, No. 12, P. 19; Anthes, Gary

Xerox innovation chief and IEEE fellow Sophie Vandebroek says in an interview that paper has a much more ephemeral existence today thanks to the growing prevalence and availability of digital information, and cites a study finding that more than two-fifths of what is printed in a typical enterprise is recycled within a day. Vandebroek says universal connectivity and the communication and collaboration advantages it entails could render the concept of working in an office obsolete, and adds that "the future of the Internet" resides in 3D virtual environments such as Second Life. "In the future, you don't need to be in the same room to look each other in the eye and understand the issues and collaborate on projects," she says. Vandebroek notes that 40 percent of the new engineers Xerox hires are female, which is about twice the number that graduate from colleges with engineering degrees; a substantial portion of Xerox engineers also come from minority groups. Vanderbroek says the United States' innovation superiority is slipping because a declining numbers of students are interested in science and technology and fewer foreign students are encouraged to study in the United States due to difficulties in securing visas concurrent coupled with increasing opportunities in their native lands. She perceives fewer female as well as male students entering the technology sector, and says many high school girls need to be made aware of how science and engineering can help address critical societal problems. Vandebroek says women seeking a technology career need to quickly establish credibility and respect among their managers and peers as well as cultivate strong relationships.
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Urban Sensing: Out of the Woods
Communications of the ACM (03/08) Vol. 51, No. 3, P. 24; Cuff, Dana; Hansen, Mark; Kang, Jerry

Embedded networked sensing has successfully migrated from the lab to the natural environment, and is ready for a more difficult shift to metropolitan areas where citizens will likely be the target of data collection, write UCLA professors Dana Cuff, Mark Hansen, and Jerry Kang. The full centralization model cannot scale to the city because of the massive amount of funding it would entail, researchers' lack of property rights, and issues of personal privacy. Cuff and colleagues predict that the cell phone will be the primary tool of urban sensing, since the device can already sense sights, sounds, and locations, and could one day be upgraded to sense other kinds of environmental data via plug-ins. "We are confident that ... in most urban areas around the world, processing, visualizing, and uploading sensor data--even large amounts of it--will be accessible to a large percentage of their populations," the researchers say. This will be enabled through a distributed citizen-sensing model in which basic terms and conditions of data collection and a centralized data repository will be maintained by a central authority that utilizes local data collectors recording data on a voluntary basis. The researchers cite bad data processing and the "observer effect"--the phenomenon in which human behavior changes as a result of observation--as some of the potentially negative consequences of a distributed-sensing scheme, but they say these concerns can be addressed through distributed accountability. Urban sensing should also be applied to fields outside of science in order to create a "data commons" that Cuff et al describe as "a data repository generated through decentralized collection, shared freely, and amenable to distributed sense-making not only for the pursuit of science but also advocacy, art, play, and politics." The researchers conclude that deliberative effort and political engagement by citizens is essential if the data commons is to avoid pitfalls such as irrational decision-making fueled by a flood of information and the inability to facilitate political, social, and economic change notwithstanding foreknowledge.
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