Welcome to the April 29, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
ACM and Infosys Foundation Cite Network Pioneer for Revolutionary Advances in Web Search Techniques
ACM has named Cornell University professor Jon Kleinberg the winner of the 2008 ACM-Infosys Foundation Award in the Computing Sciences. ACM and the Infosys Foundation created the award in 2007 to recognize personal contributions by young scientists and system developers to a contemporary innovation that exemplifies the greatest recent achievements in the computing field. Kleinberg's models show how information is organized on the Web, how it spreads through large social networks, and how the structure of these networks leads to the six degrees of separation phenomenon. "With his innovative models and algorithms, he has broadened the scope of computer science to extend its influence to the burgeoning world of the Web and the social connections it enables," says ACM President Dame Wendy Hall. "We are fortunate to have the benefit of his profound insights into the link between computer network structure and information that has transformed the way information is retrieved and shared online." ACM will present Kleinberg with the ACM-Infosys Foundation Award at the annual ACM Awards Banquet on June 27 in San Diego, Calif. Financial support for the $150,000 award is provided by an endowment from the Infosys Foundation.
U.S. Steps Up Effort on Digital Defenses
New York Times (04/27/09) Sanger, David E.; Markoff, John; Shanker, Thom
The United States is engaged in an international race to develop both cyberweapons and cyberdefenses. Thousands of daily attacks on federal and private computer systems in the United States, some malicious and some testing for weak points in the U.S.'s firewalls, have prompted the Obama administration to review the nation's strategy. Efforts include developing a highly classified replica of the Internet of the future to simulate what would be needed for the country's enemies to shut down power stations, telecommunications, and aviation systems. Obama is expected to propose a significantly larger cyberdefensive effort, including the expansion of a $17 billion, five-year program approved by Congress last year, as well as an end to the bureaucratic battle over who is responsible for defending the country's cyberinfrastructure. However, Obama is not expected to discuss the U.S.'s cyberoffensive capabilities, which has been a major investment area for the nation's intelligence agencies, as many of these cyberweapons remain classified. The White House declined to comment on whether Obama supports or opposes the use of U.S. cyberweapons. Some exotic cyberweapons under consideration would enable a military programmer to enter a computer server in Russia or China and destroy a botnet, or activate malicious code that is secretly embedded on computer chips when manufactured, enabling the U.S. to take control of an enemy's computer system.
Obama Announces New Commitment to R&D Funding, PCAST Members
Computing Research Association (04/27/09) Harsha, Peter
In a recent speech before the members of the National Academy of Sciences, U.S. President Barack Obama said the United States should invest 3 percent or more of its annual gross domestic product (GDP) in basic and applied scientific research funding. A 3 percent investment would represent the largest investment in U.S. history, an even larger share of the GDP than the U.S. invested during the space race of the 1950s and 1960s. Obama said the pursuit of discovery a half century ago fueled the U.S.'s prosperity and success, and that this new commitment will fuel the nation's success for another 50 years. Obama presented a wish list for the future, including educational software as effective as personal tutors, advanced prosthetics that could enable users to play the piano, and an expansion of the frontiers of human knowledge. Obama plans to finish the 10-year doubling of the budgets for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy's (DOE's) Office of Science, and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology, which would add $42.6 billion to the budgets for these agencies between 2009 and 2016. Obama also wants to launch the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), a new DOE organization, and a joint initiative by the DOE and NSF that would inspire tens of thousands of U.S. students to pursue careers in science, engineering, and entrepreneurship in clean-energy programs. Obama also used the speech to name the members of the President's Council of Advisors for Science and Technology, which will include Google chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt and Microsoft's chief research and strategy office Craig Mundie.
Telemedicine to Transform European Healthcare
ICT Results (04/24/09)
European researchers working on the HEALTH OPTIMUM project are using telemedicine technology to enhance healthcare across Europe while lowering its cost. "We set out to prove the sustainability of telemedical services from an organizational and economic point of view," says HEALTH OPTIMUM project coordinator Claudio Dario. "In our two years of market validation, we found that telemedicine not only gave advantages from an economic point of view, but was very useful for the needs of patients." For example, Dario says that before the project most head-trauma patients and possible brain-injury patients were transported by ambulance or helicopter to a neurosurgical center, but once diagnosed many patients did not need the center's specialized care. The HEALTH OPTIMUM project restructured the entire process. An IT infrastructure was established to support remote, full-service neurosurgical consultation using a hub-and-spoke model. Medical recordkeeping practices also were reorganized to enable computed axial tomography images and lab results to move smoothly and securely between specialized centers and peripheral clinics. The new infrastructure means patients no longer need to be transported from an accident site or emergency call location to a specialized center, but instead can be brought to a regular emergency room, where the patient can be stabilized and tests and other medical data can be digitally sent to the specialists, who can decide if the patient needs specialized care. "Our analysis showed that up to 80 percent of transportations have been avoided by this system, achieving a high level of savings," Dario says. "In addition, by speeding up expert assessment, telemedicine saves lives."
Swine Flu: Statistical Model Predicts Spread in U.S.
Indiana University (04/28/09) Chaplin, Steve
Indiana University informatics professor Alessandro Vespignani says that two recently developed swine influenza models predict a worst-case scenario of 1,000 cases in the United States within three weeks. So far, there have been about 40 cases of swine influenza reported, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The models were performed at Indiana University and Northwestern University. "What we are finding is that this is not a panic situation and that this thing is not ramping up in some crazy way," says Vespignani, an expert on the statistical analysis and computer modeling of epidemics. "Right now we are confident that in the next few days things will be more optimistic." However, he says the next few days will be critical, and models could change as often as every 12 to 24 hours, depending on worldwide events. Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis Center for Law and Health co-director David Orentlicher says governments can be slow to react to threatened pandemics because public health departments and programs are generally severely underfunded, which can make it difficult to detect public health threats and mobilize responses quickly, and because effective public health strategies can disrupt economic activity.
Sleep Talking PCs Save Energy and Money
UCSD News (04/23/09) Kane, Daniel
Researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and Microsoft Research have developed Somniloquy, a plug-and-play hardware prototype for personal computers that creates a new energy-saving state known as "sleep talking," which provides the energy savings of a PC's sleep mode while still allowing the PC to sustain some network-and-Internet connectivity. "Large numbers of people keep their PCs in awake mode even though the PCs are relatively idle for long blocks of time because they want to stay connected to an internal network or the Internet or both," says UCSD Ph.D. computer science student Yuvraj Agarwal. "I realized that most of the tasks that people keep their computers on for--like ensuring remote access and availability for virus scans and backup, maintaining presence on instant messaging (IM) networks, being available for incoming voice-over-IP (VoIP) calls, and file sharing and downloading--can be achieved at much lower power-use levels than regular awake mode." Somniloquy is a small USB-connected hardware and software plug-in system that allows a PC to remain in sleep mode while continuing to maintain network presence and run well-defined applications functions. Somniloquy supports instant messaging applications, VoIP, large background Web downloads, peer-to-peer file sharing networks, and remote access. The researchers say Somniloquy could be extended to work with other applications.
Computers With Humanlike Capacity to Remember
Engineering News (South Africa) (04/24/09) Smrcka, Karel
Scientists at the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence are working on Nepomuk, a project to give computers a human-like capacity to remember. Nepomuk has developed a process that uses semantic technology to support personal information management. Data contained in the traditional computer folder structure are automatically transferred to a personal information model. For example, emails are linked with contact data and images on the hard disk. The resulting connections created between information and concepts are used for storage and search features. For storage, content analysis algorithms create proposals on how new documents should be added to the existing system. The system is similar to a human's ability to remember the subject of a speech, as well as the face of the person who gave the speech, but not necessarily the person's name. The brain connects individual elements that it perceives at the same time, and makes associations, such as between conference proceedings and speakers or dates, for example. The new system could help a user find documents related to a subject if they only have a picture of a contact person related to that subject. The semantic network could find the correct documents using the connections from the picture.
Touch Screens With Pop-Up Buttons
Technology Review (04/28/09) Green, Kate
Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers have developed sensor feedback technology that features buttons that pop out from a touch-screen surface. The technology retains the dynamic display capabilities of touch screens, but also provides tactile buttons for certain functions. CMU professor Scott Hudson and graduate student Chris Harrison built several proof-of-concept displays with pop-out buttons. The screens are covered in a semi-transparent latex, which covers an acrylic plate with shaped holes and an air chamber connected to a pump. The pump can create positive or negative pressure to form concave or convex features around the cutouts. Projectors are used to illuminate the screens, and infrared lights and cameras positioned below the surface sense where the user touches the screen. Harrison says the display is the first to combine moving parts, display dynamic information, and be touch sensitive. Furthermore, because the system is pressurized, pressure information can be used as an input. For example, if the device was being used as an MP3 player, a person could press a button harder to scan through songs or radio stations faster. Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Rob Miller says this type of interface would work well in car dashboards, since driving requires staying focused on the road and not looking to see which button to push.
Europe Funds Secure Operating System Research
IDG News Service (04/27/09) Kirk, Jeremy
Vrije Universiteit in the Netherlands has received a grant from the European Research Council that will enable it to continue its research into a more reliable operating system. Vrije professor Andrew S. Tanenbaum has developed Minix, which is based on Unix, has a small code base, and offers strong security controls. As part of Tanenbaum's microkernel concept, drivers for features such as sound and other peripheral components would operate like applications outside of the kernel. As a result, when something goes wrong, the computer would carry on. "Having to reboot your computer is just a pain," Tanenbaum says. "The question is 'Can you make a system that actually works very well?' " The approach would have other components function in tightly constrained modules that cannot interfere with one another if they crash, which would help improve security. Analysts say Minix has the potential to be more reliable and secure than Linux or Microsoft Windows.
Computer Scientists Add Smell to Games
Times Online (UK) (04/26/09) Bingham, Matthew
Birmingham University computer scientist Bob Stone is developing artificial smell simulators that could be used to make video games more realistic or by the military to teach soldiers to identify and disable improvised explosive devices. For example, Stone has developed the scent delivery system (SDS) to make training simulations more realistic. SDS consists of eight sealed chambers, each containing a pot of wax impregnated with a pungent odor. A computer controls air flow over the chambers to release the smell. "Smell is the most underrated sense, but next to vision is the most information-rich one we have," Stone says. He is writing a program for games that will cause SDS to release smells at the right time. For example, during a battle SDS would release the smell of cordite, which is a pungent residue of gunfire, and for close-quarter combat the SDS would release the smell of body odor. SDS also is being used with sound effects to recreate the kind of environments troops are likely to experience, as well as to help identify post-traumatic stress disorder triggers in returning troops. Stone is also developing Novint Falcon, a force-feedback control system that gives players the sensation of handling real-life objects. The motors in the controller slow the player's movement when handling something heavy. Stone is using the Novint Falcon as part of a medical training program that challenges surgeons to stabilize a casualty.
Traffic Demands to Disrupt the Internet by 2010
ITPro (04/27/09) Wattanajantra, Asavin
The World Wide Web has reached a critical point, warns Nemertes Research in a new report, which claims that increased online traffic will likely result in slower and more unreliable Internet connections for Web users in the near future. According to the report, available bandwidth could be eaten up by traffic to and from services such as the iPlayer and Web sites such as YouTube as early as 2010. Experts say this will result in computers being disrupted and going offline for several minutes at a time. The report comes on the heels of warnings earlier this year from the University of Warwick's Martin Cave and the Open University's Richard Collins that the rapid growth in Internet traffic could make the "best-efforts" model--in which Internet service providers (ISPs) try to carry all the data they can handle to their destination--impractical. Cave and Collins found that about 10 percent of users accounted for about 80 percent of Internet traffic. They noted that one way ISPs can deal with this issue is by introducing different levels of quality of service so that users can decide how much quality of service they want to buy.
Clandestine Defense Hub Prepares to Open at UM
Baltimore Sun (04/28/09) Wood, David
Some of the U.S.'s leading theoretical mathematicians, behavioral scientists, software engineers, and futurists will gather at a top-secret University of Maryland (UM) research center during the next few months to develop cutting-edge intelligence technology. The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), currently under construction at UM's M-Square research park, will be dedicated to investigating new ideas for intelligence agencies. Challenges the center might tackle include a machine capable of quickly learning a new language so it can instantaneously translate intercepted communications, and software programs capable of using cultural and linguistic clues from interrogations to predict terrorist attacks. "The whole idea is to go beyond the threats of today, to anticipate the national security needs of tomorrow," says Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.). Funded by the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence, IARPA awards competitive grants for research into high-risk, high-payoff projects, with most of the research being highly technical and highly classified. A key area of research will explore modeling and other techniques to refine raw data, which officials say is overwhelming analysts, including new techniques, possibly including virtual worlds, that could help analysts sort through data more efficiently. One current research program is developing software capable of scanning eavesdropped conversations in foreign languages.
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