Welcome to the April 13, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Should Online Scofflaws Be Denied Web Access?
New York Times (04/13/09) P. B4; Pfanner, Eric
Policy makers attempting to make Internet access widely available while deterring digital piracy face the dilemma of defining such access as either a basic human right or a privilege earned by good behavior. This issue was raised recently by French lawmakers' rejection of a plan advocated by President Nicolas Sarkozy, which called for terminating Internet access for people who disregard repeated warnings to stop using unauthorized file-sharing services. "There's increasing understanding that broadband is fundamental to basic economic and social participation," says Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development economist Sacha Wunsch-Vincent. "Some people wonder whether this is consistent with cutting off Internet connections." In March, the European Parliament adopted a nonbinding resolution defining Web access as a fundamental freedom that could only be restricted by a court of law. Envisional's David Price says that although file sharing by peer-to-peer networks seemed to be flattening worldwide, sites that offered alternatives to downloading, such as streaming of pirated movies, were quickly proliferating. Pirates also are resorting to file-hosting services that let users upload files that are too large to email, to be downloaded by others.
Artificial Intelligence to Tackle Rogue Traders
University of Sunderland (04/09/09) Kerr, Tony
The University of Sunderland's Computerized Analysis of Stocks and Shares for Novelty Detection of Radical Activities (CASSANDRA) project is developing a software tool to detect financial fraud by combining artificial intelligence with headline analysis to monitor suspicious share trading. The Financial Times reports that as many as 25 percent of U.K. share trades may involve insider trading, and a study by the New York Times suggests as many as 41 percent of North American trades may be affected. CASSANDRA project manager Dale Addison believes that developing effective anti-fraud methods has never been more important. Addison says the major problem with current anti-fraud systems is false positives. "In contrast, the CASSANDRA system looks at the news stories which may affect a particular company," he says. "So, if two companies are in the process of a merger and someone gets wind that the merger isn't going ahead, a key player will go out and buy or sell stock shares and make a killing on the markets. Using our system that information may be detectable by analysis of news." The CASSANDRA system analyzes the movement of particular stocks and shares for a specific company while accessing headline news from providers such as Reuters, Bloomberg, the Associated Press, and the company's Web site to see what news is available to the company's employees.
Smarter Searches: Technology Merges Images, Data and Knowledge
University of Texas at Dallas (04/10/09) Moore, David
University of Texas at Dallas researchers are working to improve the results of searches that request multiple pieces of information, such as searching for an apartment that is near different locations. Professor Latifur Khan and a team of graduate students are working to create tools that take Web searches to the next level. "The tools we are developing utilize information regarding all the things that various people look for when searching for a place to live," Khan says. He says the key is merging evolving semantic Web technology with geospatial information systems. Combining semantic Web technology with maps, photos, and other visual information could significantly simplify complex searches. Khan's goal is to develop software that extracts useful information from a variety of unstructured databanks and documents. The project is funded by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, and Raytheon, and is being conducted in collaboration with researchers from the University of Minnesota. The researchers have already developed a semantic Web framework called Discovering Annotated Geospatial information Services to handle queries related to police blotter data, and they are now developing algorithms to facilitate the integration of additional geospatial data.
Faster, Better Patent Processing
ICT Results (04/09/09)
The European Union-funded PATExpert project used semantic Web technology to devise a tool to speed up and improve patent processing. "The greatest success of PATExpert has been to initiate the change of the paradigm currently followed in patent processing services from textual to semantic," says project coordinator Leo Wanner of Spain's Universitat Pompeu Fabra. The project has developed a multimedia content representation system for the retrieval, classification, and multilingual rendition of concise patent information. "Semantic technologies used in PATExpert facilitate access to the contents of patent documentation and, thus, improve the accuracy of search, analysis, and valuing--to mention just a few applications," Wanner says. He notes that the PATExpert consortium is already carrying out general performance studies ordered by external parties for selected technologies. "PATExpert, as a whole, is suitable for commercialization, since it offers cutting-edge technologies," Wanner says. "Any of its individual technologies can also form either a standalone commercial application or be incorporated into other patent processing services."
Cyber Spying a Threat, and Everyone Is in on It
Associated Press (04/09/09) Haven, Paul
The computers of Tibetan exiles and the U.S. electrical grid were recently breached by hackers, highlighting the growing threat of cyber espionage. The White House is currently finishing a 60-day review of how the federal government can better use technology to protect electronic information such as the U.S.'s electrical grid, the stock market, tax data, airline flight systems, and even nuclear weapon launch codes. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security reports that in 2008 there were 5,499 known breaches of U.S. government computers by malicious software, a big jump from the 3,928 known breaches in 2007 and 2,172 in 2006. A former U.S. government official says the hackers who compromised the electrical grid could have left behind computer programs that will allow them to disrupt service. He also says the sophistication of the attack indicates that it was state-sponsored and the government does not know the extent of the attack because federal officials cannot monitor the entire grid. "We expect that the attacks we've seen are only the tip of the iceberg," say the official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss details. "We follow the attacks to their source, and many come from China."
A New Technology to Secure Integrated Systems and Circuits
Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (04/02/09) Louis, Laetitia
The Laboratoire d'Informatique de Robotique et de Microelectronique de Montpellier (LIRMM) has developed Secure Triple Track Logic (STTL), technology that reduces data leakage in integrated circuits during electronic transactions. STTL can protect the integrated circuits in smart cards, SIM cards, processors, and other pieces of hardware that need both data authentication and confidentiality. STTL reduces data leakage from integrated circuits by up to 95 percent, compared to conventional logic circuits, through two distinctive features. STTL has constant computation time and keeps the circuit's power consumption at a steady level. LIRMM also has developed a framework for a collection of small components, using STTL logic, capable of performing basic functions.
Nominations Open for the 10th Annual Marie R. Pistilli Women in Electronic Design Automation Achievement Award
Business Wire (04/08/09)
Nominations are now being accepted for the 10th Annual Marie R. Pistilli Women in Electronic Design Automation Achievement Award, which is named after the former organizer of the Design Automation Conference (DAC). Nominations will be accepted until April 21, and the award will be presented on July 27 at the 46th DAC, which takes place July 26-31 in San Francisco. Individuals can be nominated by their colleagues, peers, and managers in recognition of notable contributions in their work that helped advance women in the electronic design automation industry. Both men and women in industry or academia and with technical or non-technical backgrounds are eligible for nomination. Previous winners include Louise Trevillyan from IBM Research Center, Jan Willis from Cadence Design Systems, Ellen Yoffa from IBM Research, Kathryn Kranen from Jasper Design Automation, and Mary Jane Irwin from Penn State University. The 46th DAC, sponsored in part by ACM's Special Interest Group on Design Automation, will attract system designers and architects, logic and circuit designers, validation engineers, senior managers and executives, and researchers and academics from leading universities.
A Twitter-Based Graphing Tool
Carnegie Mellon News (03/31/09)
Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) Human-Computer Interaction Institute Ph.D. student Ian Li has developed Grafitter, a Twitter-based program that lets users create and see a graph of their behavior. Grafitter won the 2009 Carnegie Mellon University Smiley Award, which recognizes CMU student innovation in technology-assisted person-to-person communication. Last year, Li's Web-based Moodjam application, which tracks users' emotional states, received an honorable mention. "I create technologies that help people collect and see information about themselves," Li says. "Grafitter is only as useful as you make it. If there is something about your life that you are curious about, start recording it and study your graphs." Li says Grafitter could be used to record a user's weight, the amount of exercise they receive, and the food they eat, by sending Twitter messages with special tags. The messages can be viewed as graphs and shared with a community of friends if desired. Grafitter is fun and easy to use, says CMU professor Scott Fahlman.
Researcher Finds Optimal Fix-Free Codes
Texas A&M Engineering News (04/03/09) Schnettler, Tim
Texas A&M University professor Serap Savari has developed a method for finding efficient fix-free codes. The discovery comes more than 50 years after David Huffman developed an entropy coding algorithm for lossless data compression in computer science and information theory. "Earlier algorithms produced good fix-free codes in a reasonably [time] efficient way, but without the guarantee of optimality," Savari says. "My work is like Huffman's in that it is basic research that is motivated by practically important problems and which contributes to the theory of data compression." Fix-free codes have been viewed as a solution for joint source-channel coding and have been applied within the video standards H.263+ and MPEG-4. They also are used to address issues in information retrieval such as searching for patterns directly in compressed text.
Making Robots More Like Us
University of Pennsylvania professor Daniel Lee is working to imbue robots with human-level thinking and behavioral ability. Lee believes the key to this advancement is achieving a better understanding of how living things compute information and transferring that information to the robot realm. "Traditional computer algorithms which do fast search and brute computation will not make machines intelligent," he says. "So we need to develop algorithms that approach these problems in different ways in order to build robots that can perform in complex environments." Lee says robots' artificial intelligence will be enhanced as their ability to sense their environment and execute motorized tasks steadily improves over time. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has given Lee and his team funding in recent years to teach robots to walk as well as to develop a class of machines that can navigate difficult terrain through the use of sensors. Lee's team engineered a Toyota Prius to navigate city streets while obeying traffic laws and signs and avoiding collisions with the other unmanned vehicles participating in a DARPA-sponsored competition. DARPA wants to make one-third of all U.S. military vehicles driverless by 2015. Meanwhile, the U.S. Pentagon is funding the development of machines that can assist or replace human soldiers. Lee and other members of a University of Pennsylvania team have received funding under the U.S. Department of Defense's Future Combat Systems modernization initiative.
NCAR Supercomputer Moves Forward
Wyoming Business Report (04/09/09) Curran, Dennis E.
Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal has signed a bill to contribute approximately $40 million to the National Center for Atmospheric Research's new supercomputer project. The legislation represents the last piece of funding from the state and the University of Washington (UW) for the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center (NWSC), and means that construction could start in December and the center could open in the summer of 2011. The National Science Foundation will cover most of the cost of the estimated $530 million project, including a $60 million building to house the research supercomputers, in addition to the cost of the computers and upgrades and maintenance during a 20-year span. NWSC will be located near Cheyenne and will be used for weather forecasting and to solve climate and other atmospheric and geoscience problems. "Our goal is to build a world-class scientific supercomputing facility that does not compromise on energy efficiency or sustainability, and that is adaptable to the ever-changing landscape of high-performance computing," the federal research laboratory says on its Web site. "This facility will give us the tools to strengthen these areas [of UW's expertise] and to compete internationally in critical science and research," says UW president Tom Buchanan.
Carnegie Mellon to Oversee IBM Smart Grid Model
InformationWeek (03/30/09) Jones, K.C.
The Global Intelligent Utility Network Coalition, which is composed of IBM and several utility companies, has passed control of their Smart Grid Maturity Model to Carnegie Mellon University's Software Engineering Institute (SEI). The model was developed to guide smart grid improvements by providing indicators for measuring progress toward smart grid development, analyzing return on investment, and supporting execution. IBM led the development of the model with support from the American Productivity & Quality Center. More than 40 utilities assisted in the development of the model. SEI director Paul Nielsen says the model provides a roadmap of activities, investments, and best practices that utilities can follow when deploying a smart grid. SEI will oversee the governance, growth, and evolution of the model, the consistency of its application, and the analysis of its use. It also will ensure that stakeholders can access related materials. The Work Energy Council also will help with the global dissemination and adoption of the model. "The software development industry is a prime example of how maturity models have moved entire industries forward," says IBM's Guido Bartels. "We selected SEI because of its demonstrated success in providing frameworks that enhance business and technical processes, security, resiliency, and interoperability." The model is supported by the National Energy Technology Laboratory and the Department of Energy's Office of Electricity Delivery.
The Future of Machine Intelligence
h+ Magazine (04/09) Goertzel, Ben
The shape of machine intelligence was the focus of the recent Second Conference on Artificial General Intelligence (AGI-09). Conference chair Ben Goertzel writes that "the AGI conference series represents a concerted effort by a group of professional AI researchers to create a cohesive research community focused on 'software displaying intelligence with the same sort of generality that human intelligence seems to have' rather than 'software displaying any kind of intelligent-looking behavior.' " The series aims to take action to refocus the AI community's concentration on its original mission of developing thinking machines with general intelligence at the human level and ultimately beyond. Goertzel attributes the narrowing of the AI community's vision mainly to researchers' failure to deliver on promises of human-level machine intelligence made in the 1960s and 1970s, but he thinks the time is right to revive this challenge given advances in computer hardware and software, neuroscience, and cognitive psychology in the intervening decades. In the keynote address, Juergen Schmidhuber, director of Switzerland's IDSIA AI lab, highlighted the center's practical AI innovations during the last 20 years--including programs for handwriting recognition, robot control, and data analysis--and placed them in context by characterizing his team's applied AI software as a very special instance of more general principles of intelligence, which he intended to represent with equations relying on algorithmic information theory. He speculated that "within two or three or 30 years, someone will articulate maybe five or six basic mathematical principles of intelligence," and that these precepts will serve as the platform of the creation of the first thinking machine. The prize for the Kurzweil Best AGI Paper was won by a paper focusing on a unique approach to automated program learning that combines analytical and evolutionary learning.
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