Welcome to the March 16, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Berners-Lee: Semantic Web Will Have Privacy Built-In
ZDNet UK (03/12/09) Espiner, Tom
World Wide Web Consortium director Sir Tim Berners-Lee says the Semantic Web will improve online privacy protection by allowing Internet users to control who can access their data. Researchers have warned that the combination of personal information and a semantic Web could lead to privacy problems, including increased data mining. However, Berners-Lee says that teams working on the Semantic Web project are working to ensure that privacy principles are built into the Semantic Web's architecture. "The Semantic Web project is developing systems which will answer where data came from and where it's going to--the system will be architectured for a set of appropriate uses," he says. Berners-Lee also says the Semantic Web will be based on the principle that people who make a Web request for information held by third parties, such as a company or a government agency, will be able to see all the data those organizations will keep on them. The Semantic Web project will include accountable data-mining components, which enable people to know who is mining data on them, and it is exploring making the Web adhere to privacy preferences set by the users.
Many See Privacy on Web as Big Issue, Survey Says
New York Times (03/16/09) P. B5; Clifford, Stephanie
More than 90 percent of U.S. citizens polled in a recent TRUSTe survey said that online privacy is a "really" or "somewhat" important issue, and just 28 percent said they were comfortable with advertisers using behavioral targeting; more than half of respondents said they were not. More than 75 percent of respondents agreed that the Internet is not well regulated, and said that naive users are at risk. In February, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) revised its suggestions for behavioral targeting rules for the advertising industry, including that Web sites should disclose when they are participating in behavioral advertising and ask users for permission to use their browsing history. FTC commissioner Jon Leibowitz warns that intervention will be needed if the industry does not respond to the new suggested regulations. "Put simply, this could be the last clear chance to show that self-regulation can--and will--effectively protect consumers' privacy," Leibowitz says. More than half of the respondents in the survey said the government should be "wholly" or "very" responsible for protecting individuals' online privacy, although 75 percent of respondents also said that people should be wholly or very responsible for protecting their own privacy.
Brain on a Chip?
ICT Results (03/16/09)
The European Union-funded FACETS project is developing technology that will lead to "brain on a chip" processors that mimic the functionality and efficiency of the human brain. "We know that the brain has amazing computational capabilities," says FACETS project coordinator Karlheinz Meier. "I believe that the systems we are going to develop could form part of a new revolution in information technology." FACETS researchers are developing simplified mathematical models to accurately describe the complex interactions that take place between neurons and synapses with the goal of building a neural computer that emulates the brain. So far, a prototype chip has been developed that replicates about 300 neurons and a half million synapses. The researchers used a combination of analog electronics to represent the neurons and digital electronics to represent the communications between the neurons. Because the chip's neurons are so small, the system runs 100,000 times faster than the biological equivalent, and 10 million times faster than a software simulation. "We can simulate a day in one second," Meier says. The researchers are now working on a network of 200,000 neurons and 50 million synapses that will incorporate several neuroscience discoveries.
Tech Skills Crucial to Any Career, Students Say
Network World (03/12/09) Dubie, Denise
A recent IBM Academic Initiative survey found that 80 percent of 1,600 college students polled agreed that high-technology skills will help them succeed, and a majority expect to have to master new technologies while in the workforce. More than 50 percent of the students said they plan to improve their technology skills before they graduate, with technology being the top skill that students want to pursue, followed by writing and marketing skills. "The survey results show that students understand they need the ability to leverage technology for their employers across many careers," says IBM's Mark Hanny. "Students are realizing they can benefit in specific industries such as healthcare or energy if they are tech-savvy." Hanny says that many companies want employees with a broad knowledge base that can be applied across the business, as well as a deep understanding of their specific field. These workforce demands are inspiring universities to offer interdisciplinary courses in engineering, computer science, and business schools, among others. "Studying IT and technology in a broader sense is the right approach; it helps students understand how technology is applied to various businesses to help streamline operations," Hanny says. "IT is being embraced by students as a core competency across many professions and no longer considered a narrow, specialized skill set."
Ambient Assisted Living for the Ageing Society
Universidad Politecnica de Madrid (03/13/09)
The Perceptive Spaces Promoting Independent Aging (PERSONA) project, backed by the Technical University of Madrid, aims to develop ambient assisted living (AAL) services to help older adults stay socially active, and to provide support in daily life activities and personal protection against health and environmental risks. Project researchers are studying how to develop ambient intelligence through the harmonization of AAL concepts as part of the development of sustainable solutions for the independent living of older adults, integrated in a semantic framework. The PERSONA project will develop a scalable open standard technological platform, and create a variety of AAL services to demonstrate and test the concept of real-life implementation by analyzing their social impact and establishing the initial business strategy for the platform's deployment. The PERSONA technical platform will use micro- and nano-electronics, embedded systems, human-machine interfaces, network technologies, biosensors, distributed sensors, and intelligent software tools for decision support. An important measure of success for the project will be in the results of the evaluation and validation of extensive testbeds and trials that will take place in Spain, Italy, and Denmark.
Society's Vital Networks Prone to 'Explosive' Changes
New Scientist (03/13/09) Barras, Colin
Researchers led by University of California, Santa Cruz professor Dimitris Achlioptas have discovered that controlling the develop of random networks could lead to a better understanding of how to slow or stop the spread of diseases or make delivery networks more efficient. Networks that grow randomly, such as the connections between computers that create the Internet, often quickly gain a central backbone of connections that makes it easy to travel between any two points. The researchers used simulations to find a way of growing a network randomly while delaying the emergence of the backbone. However, they found that when the network becomes fully connected it tends to occur in an explosive manner. Random networks usually grow by selecting two random nodes that become connected. Instead, the researchers picked two pairs of random nodes, but only connected the pair with the fewest pre-existing connections to other nodes. The result is a network that grows steadily but does not become fully connected for a longer time. Eventually, the addition of a single connection triggers an instantaneous phase change and the network becomes fully connected. A variation of this technique makes it possible to execute the opposite process and accelerate the development of a network's backbone. "We know that for some networks, like the Internet, connectivity is a fundamental desired property," says research team member Raissa D'Souza from the University of California, Davis. "For others, like a virus spreading through a network of humans or computers, connectivity is a liability."
Twins Separated at Birth: Cloud Computing, HPC and How Microsoft Is Trying to Change How We Think About Scale
HPC Wire (03/12/09) West, John
Microsoft's Dan Reed is the director of the Cloud Computing Futures (CCF) organization, whose overall goal is the transformation of the way people construct and manage very large-scale computational resources. "The CCF story is about approaching cloud computing infrastructure as an integrated design problem, looking at the balance of support infrastructure, computing hardware and software, not only at a single site but across an international network of interconnected sites," Reed says. He sees similarities between cloud computing and high-performance computing (HPC) beyond scale, and observes that "the specific aspect relative to HPC is that cloud services are game changers, just as commodity clusters were a decade ago and graphics accelerators have been recently." Reed describes the design and construction of mega-scale data centers and current petascale and future exascale systems as "twins separated at birth," and lists interconnects, memory and storage hierarchies, and the future of non-volatile memories, heterogeneous multicore processors, system reliability and resilience, packaging, cooling and energy efficiency, and programming as shared design challenges. He says that CCF's objective is to inform the development of the future cloud infrastructure by drawing on new and emerging hardware and software technologies. Reed says clouds should not replace HPC, at least at the very high end, but should serve as a tool to more effectively underpin the rest of the infrastructure. He says clouds can act as a catalyst for new kinds of research, and concludes that cloud computing "can provide seamless extension of familiar desktop tools and interfaces, allowing computing and analysis to scale within the same environment that researchers use every day."
Re-Engineered Battery Material Could Lead to Rapid Recharging of Many Devices
MIT News (03/11/09) Thomson, Elizabeth A.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) engineers have developed a new method for charging lithium batteries that could lead to smaller and lighter batteries that can be recharged in seconds, instead of hours. The technique also could allow for the quick recharging of batteries in electric cars. MIT professor Gerbrand Ceder says the new lithium batteries, which use existing material that has been re-engineered, could be commercially available within two to three years. Previously, scientists thought that the lithium ions and electrons responsible for carrying the charge across lithium batteries moved through the material too slowly. However, Ceder and colleagues discovered through computer calculations of a well-known battery material, lithium iron phosphate, that the material's lithium ions should actually move extremely quickly. Additional calculations found that lithium ions can move quickly but only through tunnels accessed from the surface of the material. Ceder and his team developed a way of creating a new surface structure that allows the lithium ions to move quickly around the outside of the material. When an ion reaches a tunnel, it instantly enters and is stored. Ceder also says that unlike other battery materials, the re-engineered material does not degrade as much when repeatedly charged and recharged.
Q&A: The Robot Wars Have Arrived
CNet (03/12/09) Lombardi, Candace
Brookings Institution fellow P.W. Singer says in an interview that the military's funding of robotics will have ramifications in areas that people are as yet unaware of. In response to a query about the likely effects that ubiquitous, autonomous robot fighters on both sides will have, Singer predicts that "the future of war is more and more machines, but it's still also insurgencies, terrorism, you name it." He projects a near-term increase in human-robot collaboration, "with the humans calling out plays, making decisions, and the robots carrying them out." Singer says the ethical implications of robot technologies are not being widely explored, and observes that technologies such as unmanned aerial vehicles are already finding their way into police departments. He describes robot warfare as open source warfare because a massive industrial structure is not necessary to build the technology, and also because the technology is accessible to almost anyone, good or bad. Singer says the U.S. military is leveraging video game technology to train troops to operate robots on the battlefield, and one of the effects of this initiative is an increasingly dispassionate view of destroying targets by the robot's operators. He says people making policy decisions are largely unaware of technological developments in their perception of robotics as still being in the realm of science fiction. "This future of war is again a mix of more and more machines being used to fight, but the wars themselves are still about our human realities," Singer says. "They're still driven by our human failings, and the ripple effects are still because of our human politics, our human laws."
Sudoku Has Met Its Match: Math
USA Today (03/16/09) P. 1A; Vergano, Dan
Winthrop University computer scientist J.F. Crook has developed a guaranteed way of beating Sudoku puzzles. Crook says his study provides the first mathematically guaranteed way of solving Sudoku puzzles. First, players scan the puzzle for any "forced" numbers in blank squares, or blanks in which only a single number could fit. Players then mark up the rest of the puzzle by noting all the possible numbers that could fill each square. Finally, players examine the numbers row by row, column by column, and in the interiors of each box. If one number stands out as being unique in that column, row, or box, it belongs in that square. This process is repeated until only one of the numbers written in each of the squares is left. Even using this method, there could be two possibilities for a particular box, in which case the player would have to guess which is right and repeat the process to find a solution. Queen's University mathematician M. Ram Murty says Crooks solution follows well-known mathematical approaches to puzzles, such as chess problems. "Sudoku is really just a kind of math in action," Murty says.
Researchers: Cheap Scanners Can 'Fingerprint' Paper
IDG News Service (03/09/09) McMillan, Robert
Researchers at University College London and Princeton University have developed a technique they say can identify unique information from any sheet of paper using a scanner. "We've found a way to identify documents even when there was nothing additional printed on them," says University of Michigan professor Alex Halderman, a former member of the Princeton team. "This is like an invisible serial number printed on every piece of paper ever made." The technique identifies the unique patterns in a piece of paper's fibers. The researchers say they can identify the patterns using a standard scanner and custom software. By rotating a page 90 degrees and scanning it multiple times, the researchers can isolate subtle differences in the paper's texture and create a unique digital map of its surface. This map can act as a fingerprint for the document. The researchers say that a well-preserved sheet of paper can be identified with near 100 percent accuracy, and error-correction software can be used to make a definitive identification of damaged paper. The researchers say the technique could be used to identify counterfeit money, tickets, or packaging containers. Companies could take a fingerprint of their labels when products are shipped, which would be verified later by the government or a company representative to spot fake products.
Fewer Foreign IT Workers Head to UK
ITPro (03/09/09) Kobie, Nicole
The United Kingdom's information technology sector added fewer people from outside the European Union (EU) with work visas last year, according to the Association of Professional Staffing Companies' (APSCo's) analysis of government data. The U.K. government approved only 35,430 work visas for IT workers outside the EU, an 8 percent decline from the previous year. Still, the amount is a high number for the United Kingdom. "It seems crazy that with the economy in a severe downturn and thousands of IT workers having already lost their jobs, we are still bringing three times as many foreign IT workers to the U.K. than during the dot-com boom when we had a chronic skills shortage," says APSCo CEO Ann Swain. India accounted for nearly 83 percent of the work visas, as 29,400 Indian IT workers headed to the United Kingdom in 2008. The United States was second with 1,635 IT-related work visas. China, Australia, and South Africa rounded out the top five. The United States was the only country in the top 10 to record an increase in work visas, which rose 5 percent.
Carnegie Mellon Engineers Create Innovative Mobile Video Service to Give Sports Fans Unprecedented Access to Key Plays
Carnegie Mellon News (03/04/09) Swaney, Chriss
Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) engineers Priya Narasimhan and Rajeev Gandhi have led the development of YinzCam, a large-scale mobile wireless video service designed to enhance the experience of spectators at sports events. YinzCam enables fans to view live video feeds from unique camera angles throughout a sports arena, says Narasimhan, the director of CMU's Mobility Research Center. YinzCam enables users to view mobile video, real-time action replays, game-time information, statistics, and player bios using their mobile devices. YinzCam also scales to support real-time push-and-pull video delivery services to all fans in the arena. The researchers have launched a pilot program that will allow Pittsburgh Penguins fans to experience the enhanced viewing features while at Penguins home games. CMU student researcher Kelsey Ho says that YinzCam will revolutionize how fans watch sporting events. The YinzCam project is part of the newly created Mobility Research Center, which focuses on improving hardware and software technologies by studying how people work, play, shop, collaborate, and how new applications and services can improve their lives.
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