Welcome to the December 10, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Obama Stimulus Plan Aims to Boost Digital Economy
Computerworld (12/09/08) Thibodeau, Patrick
U.S. President-elect Barack Obama's pledge to "renew our information superhighway," and his outline for the economic stimulus package, will likely lead to significant increases in information technology spending, particularly in broadband deployment and health care and education technology. Obama has not released an estimate for the cost of such a plan, but because the overall stimulus package is expected to be hundreds of billions of dollars, there could be significant funding for Internet-related options. Pace University professor James Gabberty says the impact of such spending in technology and productivity is difficult to determine as there is no quantitative figure that defines the return on spending money on hardware, software, or communications. Robert Atkinson, a member of Obama's transition team and head of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), says he believes technology investments will stimulate the economy. Atkinson says Obama's plan will represent the first major stimulus effort since the creation of the digital economy. Broadband expansion will likely be strongly supported by the new administration, and Atkinson says the U.S. could increase PC ownership through a program that subsidizes the cost of computer purchases and Internet access. For less than $1 billion, the U.S. government could help about 1.5 million households obtain access to the Internet, he says. In medicine, Obama wants to ensure that every doctor and hospital is using electronic medical records and the most modern technology available to prevent medical mistakes that cost billions of dollars each year.
Robotics Integrated With Human Body in Near Future?
Plataforma SINC (12/08/08)
Research by Spain's National Distance Learning University (UNED) and the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies on the potential impact of robots in society has concluded that the enormous automation capacity of robots, and their ability to interact with humans, will create a technological imbalance over the next 12 years between the "haves" and the "have nots." During the next 15 years, the hybridization of humans and robots will become just as prevalent as mobile phones and cars are today, says UNED professor Antonio Lopez Pelaez, a co-author of the study. The authors interviewed international experts working on developing and adapting advanced robotics for practical use, all of whom agreed that 2020 will be a technological inflection point because by then robots will be able to see, act, speak, and process natural language, Pelaez says. The biggest change will be social robots, machines with artificial intelligence that have emotional and intimate interactions. "A robot might be a more effective partner and a better person than the humans we actually have in our immediate lives--just as you can see dog owners talking to their pets today, soon we will be talking to robots," Pelaez says. The study also examined the repercussions of incorporating robots into society, including a cultural distinction between those who can afford to buy the robots to help with activities and those who cannot. Another major concern is that unemployment could become a major problem as robots replace human labor, similar to how unemployment spread in the 19th century with the invention of textile machines.
What the Search Engines Have Found Out About All of Us
New York Times (12/10/08) P. A33; Dwyer, Jim
Google's recent report detailing search engine trends provides insight into the personal details that people are giving to search engines and related businesses, largely without their knowledge. West Point computer science professor Greg Conti says Google's internal tools make it possible to develop detailed pictures of not only group trends but of individual interests. "A complete picture of us as individuals and as companies emerges--political leanings, medical conditions, business acquisitions signaled by job searches," Conti says. "It would be very scary if we could play back every search we made. Those can be tied back very precisely to an individual." Information on the Web can be accessed for free, but Web interactions swap bits of data that businesses can use. For example, Google records Internet Protocol (IP) addresses generated by each computer, cookies permitted by users, the type of browser being used, and the operating system running on the computer, says Google's Heather Spain. Collected data is "anonymized" after nine months by deleting the last two digits from both the IP address and parts of cookie numbers, Spain says. Conti says few people understand how much information they share when using the Web, and many think they are only sharing information with trusted sites when in reality many sites use invisible code, such as Google Analytics, that can track users across large sections of the Internet.
ACM Expands International Initiatives With First SIGGRAPH Conference in Asia
AScribe Newswire (12/08/08)
ACM SIGGRAPH's first conference in Asia will take place Dec. 10-13, 2008, at the Suntec Singapore International Convention & Exhibition Center. SIGGRAPH Asia's roster of presenters, panelists, and creative artists includes Don Greenberg of Cornell University, a pioneer in computer graphics and an award-winning researcher; and Rob Cook of Pixar Animation Studios, the first industry professional to receive an Oscar for software. In addition to a technical program of talks and papers, SIGGRAPH Asia features a Computer Animation Festival, a computer art gallery, the first exhibition devoted exclusively to computer graphics and interactive techniques on the Asian continent, and a job fair. "As the world's largest international computing society, ACM plays a significant role in providing forums for the presentation of the highest quality research and the exchange of ideas that advance innovation in computer graphics and interactive techniques," says ACM CEO John R. White. ACM President Wendy Hall adds that "we have witnessed the increasing enthusiasm and interest in computer graphics and digital media industries in this part of the world, and we want to welcome these researchers, practitioners, and entrepreneurs to ACM's extensive array of programs and services."
Intel Pushes Ahead With Tiny Circuitry
Wall Street Journal (12/10/08) P. B4; Clark, Don
Intel says it has completed development on a new chip production process that creates circuitry with dimensions measuring only 32 nanometers. Intel does not expect to being selling chips based on the new process until the fourth quarter of 2009, but the company will share details on the potential benefits of the new technology, including transistors that switch 22 percent faster and are about half the size of transistors made by the current 45-nanometer process, says Intel's Mark Bohr. Intel also recently disclosed information on a variant of its 45-nanometer process that will be used to produce chips for portable computing devices that require components with low power consumption. Intel is aggressively maneuvering to match the energy efficiency of rivals that specialize in chips for handheld devices. For example, Intel replaced a mainstay semiconductor material, silicon dioxide, with hafnium as an insulating layer in transistors, and used metal instead of silicon as a key component called a gate. The new technology, known as high-k, helped reduce energy consumption and increased the switching speed in chips. Other companies also are developing high-k technology, including IBM and Advanced Micro Devices. Both companies say they are holding off implementing the technology until the next generation of chips.
SmoothIT - Incentive-Based Models for Peer-to-Peer Networks
University of Zurich (12/05/08)
University of Zurich researchers working on the European Union's Simple Economic Management Approaches of Overlay Traffic in Heterogeneous Internet Topologies (SmoothIT) project are developing economic incentive schemes that will enable Internet service providers (ISPs) to more efficiently adapt their networks for peer-to-peer (P2P) use. P2P Internet applications exchange massive amounts of data between users without allowing the flow of data to be controlled by an ISP's central server. With the rapid growth of Internet traffic, which doubles every 18 months, finding a solution for dealing with P2P data traffic is increasingly important. The SmoothIT project is developing mechanisms that will enable P2P networks to be structured so that they are as efficient and inexpensive as possible. For example, an ISP could provide P2P network users with a list, structured by distances, of peer computers that offer a specific file for download. Users would have an interest in downloading the file from the closest peer because it would mean the lowest delay times, and ISPs would benefit because the data would reach users in the most efficient way. To conceptualize suitable economic incentive systems for such cooperation, the researchers, led by Zurich professor Burkhard Stiller, first want to measure data traffic in existing P2P networks, and then simulate the effect of an incentive system. The results of the simulation will be used to design and test network protocols.
DHS Creates Privacy Principles for Scientific Research
CNet (12/09/08) Condon, Stephanie
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has developed privacy principles for science and technology-related research and development projects that involve data mining. The DHS privacy office worked with the agency's directorate of science and technology to create the "transparency principle," which would have the directorate conduct privacy impact assessments for all research projects using personally identifiable information. By creating privacy impact statements from the inception of a project, the department would be able to clearly articulate and document the purpose of its research initiatives, as stated in the "purpose specification principle." The DHS also would publish the assessments for any non-classified projects. The principles are meant to assure the public that DHS will only use data that it needs and keeps secure. They also address privacy training for personnel involved in projects, audits, and a redress program for handling complaints and questions. DHS sent the privacy policies to Congress on Dec. 8.
New System Can Improve Video-Sharing Websites Like YouTube
University of Toronto (12/08/08) Kemick, April
University of Toronto (UT) graduate student Alex Karpenko has developed Tiny Videos, a system that promises to make video-sharing Web sites such as YouTube more efficient. The Tiny Videos system is capable of compressing very large amounts of video data and conducting searches based on content. The system searches uploaded videos for generic characteristics and labels them properly. Assigning video data more useful labels or tags enables users to easily find videos, including videos of a similar or related event. Moreover, the ability to conduct a quick search of specific content allows copyright holders to identify videos that infringe on their copyright. Karpenko tested the system on a sample of 50,000 videos. "This system is truly revolutionary in its ability to improve popular video sharing Web sites for everyone," says UT professor Parham Aarabi, Canada Research Chair in Internet video, audio, and image search, who supervised the creation of Tiny Videos.
Computer Shortcomings Cited by Dignitaries
IDG News Service (12/09/08) Krill, Paul
During the recent Program for the Future conference in San Jose, Calif., computer industry veterans Alan Kay and Andries van Dam spoke out against the current state of computing. Van Dam warned that privacy and security problems could be the "killer" of the computing industry if a solution is not found, and that cyberwarfare and dangerous attacks on information bases could cripple everything that has been accomplished. Van Dam said the Douglas Engelbart vision of integrating systems does not exist today. "What we have is silos. Silos do not communicate or interoperate," van Dam said. "Instead, specialized programs are used...with importing and exporting of bit maps serving as the common denominator." He said the computer industry should go back to the idea of a wholly integrated environment. Kay argued that there is a need to get people to understand what computers are capable of, and said that he would be happy to "burn the whole thing down and start over again." Kay criticized the browser because it ruins the symmetric consumption and editing that was once the hallmark of personal computing. Kay called for greater innovation. "Give us the computer back and let people try various ideas that are much more high-minded than just having simple markup languages as the ways that represent things," Kay said.
Robust Watermarking Offers Hope Against Digital Piracy
ICT Results (12/05/08)
European researchers working on the ENCRYPT project are using watermarks to authenticate and verify the integrity of digital media. Digital watermarking can prevent copying and, depending on the application, allow consumers and producers to know what content is authentic and what is fake, helping authorities trace illegal copies. Using a virtual lab called WAVILA, a network of researchers across Europe studied methods and applications for digital watermarking and perceptual hashing. Some companies have started embedding anonymous watermarks into songs not protected by other digital rights management methods, enabling them to trace the origins of illegally copied material. The watermarks are hidden to the user, and are not eliminated if the content is compressed, reformatted, or otherwise tampered with. The watermarks are difficult, but not impossible to remove. The WAVILA researchers wanted to obtain a more thorough understanding of how someone could break the watermark algorithms, so they organized competitions that challenged researchers to remove watermarks from pictures without damaging the images. The WAVILA researchers also studied perceptual hashing, a branch of digital watermarking that uses software to identify, extract, and compress characteristic components of an audio-visual file to create a unique and easily identifiable fingerprint. Perceptual hashing allows digital content to be compared and verified quickly, and also creates new methods for searching for digital content.
Improving Internet Access on the Move
University of York (12/08/08) Reed, James
Train operators will be able to offer passengers more reliable entertainment and Internet services as a result of new technology that has been developed by researchers at York University. York research fellow John Thornton has used common plastics to create a dome-like "lens" that transmits and receives signals from an orbiting satellite at a high level. The lens overcomes the bandwidth and geographical coverage issues that have beset trains that use a dish. Thornton's team has also developed a system that will allow a single lens to track more than one satellite at a time. "Providing these services on a moving vehicle such as a train, anywhere in Europe, is a huge technological challenge and that is reflected in the limited number of routes where they are currently enjoyed by passengers," says Thornton. "Our research should make it far easier for train operators to offer a broader range of Internet and live media services in many more locations and at a lower cost." Thornton has turned his attention to finding commercial partners for the new technology.
Hackers, Others Seek DMCA Exemptions
Wired News (12/03/08) Kravets, David
The U.S. Copyright Office has received 19 comments as part of nine requests for exemptions to anti-circumvention provisions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Enacted 10 years ago, DMCA requires that the Copyright Office and the Librarian of Congress request proposals for changes every three years. More than a dozen DMCA exemptions have been granted, and public hearings on the most recent requests will be held in early 2009. Several groups have proposed a variety of exemptions. The American Foundation for the Blind has asked to renew an exemption allowing the hacking of an e-book's shuttered read-aloud function. Film studies professors are currently allowed to copy clips from copyrighted and encrypted DVDs for educational purposes, and several petitions have asked that the right be extended to documentary filmmakers and U.S. teachers of all subjects at all levels. University of Michigan computer scientist J. Alex Halderman has submitted petitions to hack copy-control measures on sound recordings, videos, and audiovisual works for good-faith testing, investigating, or correcting security flaws or vulnerabilities. The Electronic Frontier Foundation is asking for an exemption to circumvent DVD encryption to obtain clips for use in noncommercial videos that do not infringe copyright.
Starwars Style Holographic 3DTV Could Be a Reality in a Decade
University of Aberdeen (12/02/08) Cromar, Kelly
The results of a four-year European Commission (EC) project investigating the underlying principles and technologies of three-dimensional (3D) TV suggest that fully interactive, floating holographic images could be available to the mass market by 2018. Simpler stereoscopic 3D images that require the viewer to wear glasses may be only a few months away, and more advanced systems based on autostereoscopic technology, which would not require glasses, may be available in two or three years. A team of experts from the University of Aberdeen received an EC grant to perform a detailed analysis of 3D visual display technologies and the applications that could come from such systems, including the laser technology that would be required to record programs broadcast on such a system. The research drew from expertise gained at institutions in Finland, Bulgaria, Turkey, Germany, and the United Kingdom. University of Aberdeen professor John Watson says the research explored how 3D imagery could be used in medicine, air traffic control, underwater measurement, computer graphics, and gaming, as part of an effort to better understand how applications could make the best use of 3D images. Watson says the technological advancements needed to achieve 3D technology include improvements in data transmission to send 3D images, and the use of cutting-edge laser technology during the filming of images.
'Privacy Will End in 2013'
Financial Times - Digital Business (12/03/08) P. 6; Shillingford, Joia
CSC Digital Disruptions report lead researcher Alex Fuss says that information will become increasingly transparent in the future, and social networks will enable businesses to solve problems far faster and more effectively. Fuss envisions a future in which RFID-like tags enable the world to track every detail of the financial markets, similar to how department stores can track products. By 2013, technology will be widely used to monitor people's lives, but Fuss believes if this information is made available to everyone the Big Brother element would be negated. "You'll still be able to have secrets, but only if you can keep them off the Net," he says. "Privacy will be available, but only to those who can afford to pay for it. For most people, privacy will end in 2013, or a little beyond that." Multitasking will increase, so attention metrics will re-emerge to measure the success of TV programs, advertisements, and other initiatives, Fuss says. Quantum computing will make modern encryption obsolete, jeopardizing any transaction that relies on encryption. People also will be able to print toys, parts, furniture, and other products using three-dimensional printers. From 2025 to 2050, and beyond, nanotechnology will provide the ability to create anything, molecule by molecule, Fuss predicts. "The technology is at very early stages, but it is definitely going to happen," he says.
Making Computers Based on the Human Brain
BusinessWeek (12/01/08) No. 4110, P. 92; Hamm, Steve
Computer designers are increasingly looking at the human brain to create new technologies. For example, microchips designed by Audience are being used in mobile devices to improve the quality of conversations in noisy places. The chip is modeled on the functions of the inner ear and part of the cerebral cortex to help filter out noises that could disrupt a phone call. Meanwhile, advances in understanding biology are enabling scientists to model a new generation of computers based on how the brain works, specifically the microscopic chemical interactions and electrical impulses that translate sensations into knowledge and knowledge into action. IBM recently received a $4.9 million grant from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to create intelligent computers for use with battlefield monitoring systems capable of detecting threats and warning troops. The first phase of the multi-year effort will explore engineering computer systems that simulate brain activity in a system of approximately equal size. "We're creating a planet that is covered with sensors," says IBM Almaden Research Center manager of cognitive computing Dharmendra Modha. "We need a global brain-like device to aggregate, integrate, and make sense of all this data--and respond if appropriate."
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