Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the November 7, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Co-operation and Synergy Marks Out Road Ahead for European Software Research
ITEA 2 (11/06/08)

A recent three-day event on European technology competitiveness focused on the need for cooperation and synergy between all European software industry stakeholders and how this is being accomplished. The event involved the conference of the Information Technology for European Advancement (ITEA) 2 EUREKA Cluster for software-intensive systems and services and the Association for R&D actors in Advanced Research & Technology for EMbedded Intelligence and Systems (ARTEMISIA). A recent report on high-tech research in the European Union identified software-intensive systems and services and embedded systems as major drivers of innovation in the most competitive European industries. At the conference ITEA 2 unveiled the latest edition of its roadmap covering 2008 to 2014, and CEA DRT's Jean-Luc Dormoy stressed that "we are reaching the limit of Moore's law, we need to move from large systems to systems of systems." He said that "software requires brains and methods that we do not necessarily have, and we are facing challenges without precedent, so we now need some breakthroughs." In presenting ARTEMISIA's Multi Annual Strategic Program and Research Agenda for 2009, STMicroelectronics' Eric Schutz noted a new emphasis on the construction of self-sustaining innovating ecosystems for European leadership in embedded systems. ITEA 2 chairman Rudolf Haggenmuller cited the emergence of the Web of Objects and service innovation as key technologies, and mentioned several grand challenges facing the European industry in the next decade that call for the provision of a broader ecosystem. These challenges include the transition from a product-oriented to a service-oriented economy and sustainability. ARTEMISIA president Klaus Grimm said the fragmentation of the European software industry remains a key challenge.


I.B.M. Has Tech Answer for Woes of Economy
New York Times (11/06/08) P. B4; Lohr, Steve

New technology advances could play a significant role in the U.S.'s economic recovery, says IBM CEO Samuel J. Palmisano. Palmisano is calling for public and private investment in more efficient utility grids, traffic management systems, food distribution networks, water conservation systems, and health care networks. He notes, for example, that 67 percent of electrical energy is lost due to inefficient power generation and grid management, while congested highways cost $78 billion a year in lost work and wasted gas. IBM is already participating in several smart infrastructure projects, including a traffic management network in Stockholm and an electrical grid system in Texas. Experts say similar projects are a good way to improve the long-term health of the economy, potentially providing a foundation for innovation and growth in a variety of industries. Palmisano compares today's economic challenges with those faced by the United States as it struggled to emerge from the Depression or after World War II. He says one trend that makes his proposal possible is the increasing incorporation of transistors, sensors, radio frequency identification, and interconnectivity into cars, appliances, packaged goods, and roadways. For example, computerized grids, thermostats, and appliances can sense and report energy-line failures, or automatically turn of high-consumption appliances during peak load times to save money and fuel.


What's Most Pressing for Programmers?
eWeek (11/03/08) Taft, Darryl K.

Programming experts at the recent Microsoft Professional Developers Conference discussed how to improve programming languages to meet the challenges facing software developers. "The Future of Programming Languages" panel discussed a variety of issues, including whether integrated development environments (IDEs) matter more than languages, if modeling is important, and the degree to which programmers should be allowed freedom with the language. Panel members included Newspeak programming language creator Gilad Bracha, Yahoo!'s Douglas Crockford, Microsoft's Anders Hejlsberg and Wolfram Schulte, and University of Colorado professor Jeremy Siek. Bracha said that IDEs are enormously important, but that the language also is very important. Hejlsberg lamented the fact that languages evolve slowly compared to other areas of computing. Schulte said that languages and libraries do not matter as much, and programmers should look at the problem they want to solve and then pick the language. Crockford encouraged developers to learn as many languages as possible. When asked whether languages should be designed by committee or by a benevolent dictator, all five panelists agreed a dictator should be responsible. Siek said a key problem is getting frameworks to work with each other and keeping them in sync, while Schulte said the biggest problem is complexity in programming and languages. Crockford said security was the biggest problem, while Hejlsberg said concurrency is one of the biggest problems.


Opening the Cloud
Technology Review (11/06/08) Naone, Erica

Cloud computing's increasing popularity has led to a growing interest in open source cloud-computing tools that provide freely available source code. These tools could allow companies to build and customize their own computing clouds to work in tandem with more powerful commercial solutions. For example, the open source software-infrastructure project Eucalyptus imitates the experience of using Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud, but allows users to run programs on their own resources and provides a detailed view of what would otherwise be a black box of cloud-computing services. The University of Chicago's Globus Nimbus is another open source cloud computing project. Europe's RESERVOIR cloud-computing initiative, coordinated by IBM, features several open-source components, including OpenNebular, which is used to manage the virtual machines within a cloud. Eucalyptus project director and University of California, Santa Barbara professor Rich Wolski says that his goal is to develop a platform that is easy to use, maintain, and modify. Wolski says the project can make a productive contribution by offering a simple way to customize programs for use in the cloud. "We actually started from first principles to build something that looks like a cloud," he says. "As a result, we believe that our thing is more malleable. We can modify it, we can see inside it, we can install it and maintain it in a cloud environment in a more natural way."


Computer That Reacts to Thought a Lifeline for Brain Injured
University of Portsmouth (11/04/08)

University of Portsmouth researcher Paul Gnanayutham has developed a computer system capable of understanding thought. Gnanayutham's system uses patients' brain waves and eye and muscular movements, called bio-potentials, to move a cursor on a computer. The cursor can point to targets on the computer screen, including "yes," "no," "thank you," a switch to turn on electrical appliances such as a television, and a link to the patient's favorite Web site. The switches can be changed to anything a person prefers to say, watch, or control. Gnanayutham says the prototype device, which is designed for people who have suffered traumatic brain injuries, is ready for use on real people. "This technology has been around but very few people have used it for anything worthwhile," he says. The system is non-invasive and works by attaching probes on an alice band worn around the head. The band picks up brain waves and muscle and eye movement signals at the forehead. The signals are fed into an amplifier, which can cut out external noise and listen to only the bio-potentials of the person wearing the electrodes, and then are sent to the serial port, where the computer interprets the signals to control the cursor. As long as a person can move their eyes left and right, they can move the cursor left and right, and raising and lowering their eyebrows moves the cursor up and down. Over time, users can be taught to imagine their brainwaves being read by the computer, leading to them learning to navigate the cursor through the power of thought.


Board Urges Full Funding of Cybersecurity Initiative
NextGov.com (11/05/08) Brewin, Bob

A new U.S. Department of Defense Science Board report warned the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama to take steps to protect the nation's information infrastructure, which it said remains vulnerable to attack. The report contained a number of recommendations for how the Obama administration could improve cybersecurity, including placing the "highest priority" on the National Cybersecurity Initiative that the Bush administration implemented in January. The report said the Obama administration should fully fund the initiative and give it "highly focused and frequent management attention to ensure that agreed goals are met with the highest sense of urgency." The report also recommended that the cybersecurity initiative be expanded to protect the commercial information infrastructure used by the finance, transportation, manufacturing, and agriculture sectors. In addition, the report called on the Defense Department to prevent employees and contractors from hacking into or stealing data from information systems by aggressively auditing users who access its computer networks. Finally, the report urged the incoming administration to prepare for a long-term effort to protect against cyberthreats--an effort that will include repeated cycles of computer system testing, vulnerability identification, and application of new defensive strategies.


Artificial Intelligence Reaching New Heights
Daily Bruin (11/05/08) Terzyan, Seda

Exponential advances in artificial intelligence (AI) are expected to ultimately lead to technology that is able to mimic a human. "We're probably not too far from a time when an intelligent agent program could assist with our electronic communication," says Phillip Duncan, senior technology strategist at the University of California, Los Angeles' (UCLA's) Institute for Technology Advancement. Improved AI technology could enable someone to simultaneously speak with multiple people through electronic communication networks, with computer agents responding for people in certain situations, giving users more time to handle important matters. UCLA professor Judea Pearl says we already have advanced AI that surrounds us in subtle ways. For example, Pearl says the simple act of Web searching enables the computer to analyze a user's interests and decide what sorts of advertisements to show. Computers also are already able to reason, he says, and eventually search engines will be able to understand full questions and search for specific articles instead of just matching keywords. The ability to analyze massive amounts of data, and have uninterrupted access to almost unlimited amounts of information, will give computers the ability to process information at speeds far beyond the abilities of the human brain. UCLA professor Richard Korf says such advancements in technology may not be immediately recognizable, but AI agents are slowly advancing and becoming more integrated in the social fabric of society.


Tuning in to the Virtues of Virtual Labs
ICT Results (11/03/08)

European researchers working on the Remote Instrumentation in Next-generation Grids (RINGRID) project have mapped out how the computer capacity of a worldwide grid could allow scientists to gather data and run remote experiments around the world. RINGRID researchers say that, with the right tools, scientists anywhere in the world can access the grid to collaborate, control instruments, run experiments, and tap into its massive computing power. RINGRID deputy coordinator Marcin Lawenda sees significant potential for remote research using the grid. He says that in the future "almost all rare and expensive laboratory devices will be accessible to the worldwide science community via virtual laboratories. Thanks to remote access and collaboration tools, data could be easily shared and scholars from different countries or continents will be able to work together." RINGRID researchers are designing interfaces and protocols that could be used to establish and control a variety of experiments using a mixture of instruments. RINGRID researchers have worked with more than 50 scientists from various disciplines to learn what kind of equipment they use and how they execute their research. By identifying the most general and universal steps involved in research, the RINGRID team developed guidelines for developing practical, user-friendly interfaces and protocols for remote research.


Another Leap Forward in Exploring the Internet
Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya (10/31/08)

Spain's Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya has developed a system for exploring large information networks and an interactive Web site on genome information. Researchers led by Josep Lluis Larriba have designed DEX, a system for searching for information in a network or graph that can complement Internet search engines. DEX enables queries using values such as names and keywords, allowing users to graphically identify related records. Although such searches were possible on existing databases, DEX enables users to extract new information from interrelations and increases the speed and capacity of complex queries in large information networks. Spain's Notarial Certification Agency is using DEX to detect fraud in real estate transactions, while the Catalan Institute of Oncology is using DEX in a cancer study. Meanwhile, Catalunya's GenomPort system was designed to be a meeting point for scientists, doctors, patients, and companies to share data and experiences surrounding the human genome. GenomPort allows an entire genome to be viewed at once. Users can search and view information stored at different levels on each of the genes in the human genome, scanning the length of the genome using a computer mouse and zooming in and out to see entire chromosomes. Soon, GenomPort will allow users interested in more than one aspect of the genome to form a virtual community to exchange information.


Anticipating Needs of Users Is Fulfilling
Financial Times Digital Business (11/05/08) P. 5; Twentyman, Jessica

Accenture Technology Labs senior researcher Marion Mesnage says gender balance is critical to developing the ideas that Accenture will turn into new products. At one point in her career Mesnage was the only woman on her team, but now the team is far more diverse, and about half of the team is female. "Similar people, working together, tend to come up with similar ideas," Mesnage says. "You need a wide range of kinds of people working on a team to really stimulate true creativity and innovation." She says it is equality important that women be involved in shaping the information society that future generations will inhabit. "As technology increasingly shapes every aspect of our lives and our societies, it's important that everyone has a hand in its creation and that everyone benefits from it," she says. Mesnage's work at Accenture has focused on sensors to monitor the elderly and, when necessary, call emergency services, and on investigating how intelligent sensors can be embedded into devices to monitor their energy consumption and create data on energy costs and carbon emissions. Mesnage is convinced that IT will play a significant role in developing energy and carbon management products. She says the most fulfilling part of her job is anticipating the next wave of technology and the needs of users.


HP Labs Making Web Browsing Similar to Using an Appliance
IDG News Service (11/06/08) Ribeiro, John

Researchers at HP Labs India are working on simplifying Web browsing and searching. Lab director Ajay Gupta says Web browsing should be as intuitive and simple as using a TV. Gupta says that if Web use is to become pervasive in emerging markets it needs to be accessible through mobile phones and available in local languages. HP Labs India is working on user-generated widgets, ease of expression on the Web, and translation and automatic summaries of Web content. The lab's widget technology enables users to create a dedicated program that removes the need to repeatedly browse through various sites when looking for specific information. HP Labs India senior research scientist Geetha Manjunath says creating widgets will not require programming knowledge, and the technology will probably be offered as software development kits that people can download and use to create and distribute widgets. To provide content in local languages, the widgets can combine information services available on the Web with translation services also available online. The lab also is developing software that will make finding information easier than using search engines. The program, based on feedback from previous interactions of the user with a search engine, will reformulate the user's query in the background for better results.


Does Google Know Too Much?
Der Spiegel (Germany) (10/30/08) Bonstein, Julia; Rosenbach, Marcel; Schmundt, Hilmar

Google's gathering of information and making it available online is provoking outrage in Germany, triggered by such things as its Street View service to capture and post images of streets all over the world using car-mounted cameras. "These pictures, which are available for retrieval worldwide over the Internet, could easily be linked to satellite photos, address databanks, and other personal data," says Germany's federal commissioner for data protection Peter Schaar, who suggests that such information could be tapped for shady activities. The aggregate data Google has compiled makes many intelligence agencies seem "like child protection services" in comparison, says Hendrik Speck of the applied sciences university in Kaiserslautern. Peter Fleischer, whose job as Google's head of data protection is to defuse such concerns by shielding users' information, insists that nothing Google collects identifies any particular individual. Opponents such as author Gerald Reischl counter that Google cannot validate such assurances, and he warns that the free Google Analytics program that Web site owners use to keep tabs on usage patterns can be used for surveillance. Thilo Weichert, who heads Schleswig-Holstein's Independent State Agency for Data Protection, writes that most Google Analytics users do not realize that the service routes data to the United States. "This violates the data privacy laws protecting those who use the Web sites," he says. Weichert also complains of Google's non-transparent operation, and its refusal to disclose anything about its data management strategy except "what is absolutely necessary ... and then only under pressure."


School of Computing Researchers Develop a Methodology to Improve Participatory Democracy
Universidad Politecnica de Madrid (10/29/08)

The Universidad Politecnica de Madrid's School of Computing is developing a methodology that would enable lawmakers to gather the opinions of voters in real time and view the preferences as a chart on their computers. The methodology would allow Spain to include the beliefs and preferences of citizens in the political decision-making process. Citizens would go online to answer a number of questions, which would be converted to statistical values by software that would then display their preferences in the form of a chart. Computer scientists, mathematicians, and statisticians in the Department of Artificial Intelligence's Decision Analysis and Statistics Group have completed two-thirds of the methodology. The researchers say it can be used at the municipality level or country-wide and in time for Spain's local elections in 2011.


Cellphones Could Be Used to Build 'Audio Internet'
New Scientist (10/24/08) No. 2679, P. 22; Ananthaswamy, Anil

IBM India Research Laboratory researchers are attempting to bring the Internet to rural India by creating a "spoken Web" that taps mobile phones to get around such problems as illiteracy. "Conventional approaches have only looked at taking the existing Web and making it available on mobile devices," says Tapan Parikh of the University of California, Berkeley. "This is an opportunity for making an entirely new kind of Web." The spoken Web is conceived as a network of voice-based Web sites or VoiceSites, which can only be accessed by phone and require nothing from the user apart from the ability to speak and listen. Making VoiceSites easy to create was a critical component of the spoken Web, and users are guided through the process by VoiGen software that is accessible through a phone number. A number for the created VoiceSite that serves the same function as a URL is assigned, and anyone who calls the VoiceSite number receives a welcome message recorded by the VoiceSite owner and instructions for navigating the information. VoiGen creates links between VoiceSites by prompting the user at predetermined points to supply the phone number and a brief description of related sites, and transfers between sites are managed by IBM's hyperspeech transfer protocol. The use of complicated voice recognition software was deferred in favor of a small vocabulary and structured interaction to ensure that the system always recognizes the context of the spoken words.
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Mind-Reading Robot Takes Step Into Future
Nikkei Weekly (10/20/08) Vol. 46, No. 2359, P. 17

A humanoid robot was propelled by a monkey, walking a treadmill more than 10,000 kilometers away, through a brain-machine interface in experiments conducted by Duke University in the United States and Japan's Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International. "The signals from nerve cells in the brain that direct the movements of the legs were read out and the robot moved, walking as if the monkey was thinking of advancing forward," says Computational Brain Project research supervisor Mitsuo Kawato. The researchers' next challenge is to transmit images shown to the robot directly into the money's brain so the animal can virtually experience walking around outside. Changes in brainwave and blood flow patterns in the brain when a person focuses their attention or moves their body can be picked up to ascertain that person's intentions and render them as machine-directable instructions. This type of research may eventually yield practical methods for reading neuronal signals from the brain and translating them into data that robots, computers, or appliances can comprehend to allow physically challenged people to handle products by will alone. The commercial take-up of brain-machine interface technologies could trigger the proliferation of robots, computers, and other consumer appliances.
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