Welcome to the May 20, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
ACM Group Honors Researchers Who Discovered Zig-Zag Graph That Improves Design of Robust Computer Networks
AScribe Newswire (05/19/09)
ACM's Special Interest Group on Algorithms and Computing Theory (SIGACT) and the European Association for Theoretical Computer Science have awarded the Godel Prize to Omer Reingold, Salil Vadhan, and Avi Wigderson for developing a new type of graph that enables the construction of large expander graphs, which are important in designing robust computer networks and constructing theories of error-correcting computer codes. The new zig-zag graph was able to help solve the problem of detecting a path from one node to another in very small storage for undirected graphs. In their paper, "Entropy Waves, the Zig-Zag Graph Product and New Constant Degree Expanders," Reingold, Vadhan, and Wigderson discussed their research on a family of expander graphs, which are used for critical computer theory applications. The sparse but highly connected expander graphs were constructed using the zig-zag graph method, which enables the construction of large expanders from smaller expanders while preserving degree and connectivity. In a second paper, "Undirected Connectivity in Log-Space," Reingold proved that connectivity in undirected graphs can be solved in logarithmic storage, and that any connected graph is a very weak expander, but applying the zig-zag method makes it possible to turn the graph into an expander of only moderately large size. Omer Reingold is a professor of computer science at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Salil Vadhan is a professor of computer science and applied mathematics at Harvard University's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and Avi Wigderson is a professor at the School of Mathematics, Institute for Advanced Study. The Godel Prize, which includes an award of $5,000, is named after Kurt Godel in recognition of his major contributions to mathematical logic and the foundations of computer science.
Grid Browser Finds the Meaning of Life
ICT Results (05/20/09)
The European Union-funded Sealife project has developed a Web browser capable of understanding the technical terms used in life sciences and automatically finding additional resources and services related to those terms. The life sciences community has developed numerous databases for storing information, which are now available to researchers through grid services. However, connecting those grid services to other scientific information available on the Web has been problematic. The Sealife project has developed a semantic grid browser designed to seamlessly integrate the Web with grid services to make the grid services more accessible. "It tries to understand what it finds on Web pages, interprets this content, and then links it, on the fly, to services that might be useful to the user," says Sealife project coordinator Michael Schroeder. The key to the Sealife browser is a semantic hyperlink in the browser used to direct users to relevant services. The Sealife browser must first understand the content of the page and identify terms that could be linked to grid services. Sealife uses algorithms to determine the context of a word based on other words on the page. In an international competition to identify the names of genes, the Sealife algorithm won with an 81 percent success rate. Schroeder says the success rate is now 87 percent. The browser also must be able to comprehend the ontology in order to understand identified terms. "We developed algorithms that grind through this data, identify the key concepts, and then the ontology editor offers these concepts to you," Schroeder says. "If you agree, it then searches the Web to find things that look like definitions."
Researchers Aim for Cloud Standard
Australian IT (05/19/09) Foreshew, Jennifer
The development of a framework for building cloud computing infrastructure could improve high-performance computing services from the Internet to multiple clients. Andrzej Goscinski, a professor from Deakin University's School of Information Technology who is leading a team on such a project, says cloud computing would become more accessible, reliable, and efficient. Infrastructure that broadens the use of cloud computing could lead to standards that also would impact the cloud computing marketplace. Cloud computing still does not offer an easily accessible directory of its resources, and it also is difficult to determine the quality of the service and how resources are managed, Goscinski says. "We are able to identify and state attributes or characteristics of a service and that could be a computation service or a storage service or application service," he says. "If that is made available and provided and stored in a registry, users can easily identify those that suit their purpose."
CCC, CRA Launch New 'CIFellows' Opportunity for New PhDs
Computing Community Consortium (05/15/09) Lazowska, Ed; Lee, Peter
The Computing Community Consortium (CCC) and the Computing Research Association (CRA) have announced the Computing Innovation Fellows (CIFellows) Project, which offers new Ph.D. graduates in computer science, computer engineering, information science, or a closely related field the opportunity to obtain one-to-two year positions at universities, industrial research laboratories, and other organizations that are pursuing innovation in computing. The National Science Foundation is funding CIFellows, which will offer up to 60 positions. Ph.D. graduates from U.S. institutions between May 1, 2008 and Aug. 31, 2009, have until June 9 to apply, and will need commitments from one to three prospective hosts/mentors, which cannot be from an institution that granted their Ph.D. CCC and CRA will announce the awards on July 10, and the positions will begin this autumn. For more information, go to http://cifellows.org.
SIGGRAPH Emerging Technologies: Breakthroughs in Haptics, Robotics, and Gaming
Business Wire (05/18/09)
ACM SIGGRAPH 2009's Emerging Technologies will feature demonstrations and juried interactive installations from numerous fields, including alternative displays, robotics, input interfaces, gaming, audio, haptics and virtual reality, and experimental sensory experiences. "These installations showcase how technology and computer graphics might soon be enhancing the average person's everyday work and life," says SIGGRAPH 2009 Emerging Technologies chair Manabu Sakurai. "From helping those with physical challenges to improving the entertainment experience, Emerging Technologies offer a unique look into the future at how complex technologies can have a major impact." For example, the Sound Scope Headphones, developed at the University of Tsukuba, allow users to control an audio mixer through natural movements. The UnMousePad, developed at the University of Texas and Gotham Wave Games, is based on a flexible and inexpensive sensor technology called IFSR that allows for the acquisition of high quality multi-touch pressure images. The University of Tokyo has developed Touchable Holography technology, which provides tactile feedback for holographic images projected into space. Touchable Holography technology could be used to create a new class of video games, educational technology, or advertising opportunities that offer touchable graphic displays. SIGGRAPH 2009 takes place August 3-7 in New Orleans.
In 2010 Asia and Latin America Will Be Leading the Use of Free Software
Andalucía Innova (05/19/09)
The use of free software in South America and Asia will reach about 70 percent in 2010, and will be particularly prevalent in the education sector, according to a report by Maria Dolores Gallego from Salvador Bueno (of Pablo de Olavide University) and Paula Luna from the University of Seville. The report compiles the opinions of 18 experts from both the academic and professional fields, who answered two rounds of questions to define the future scenario for the implementation and spread of free software until 2010. One of the report's major findings is related to the implementation of free software from a geographic point of view. The report shows a greater spreading and implementation in developing continents, with South America and Asia leading the way at 69.5 percent, followed by Oceania at 61 percent, Europe at 59.9 percent, North America at 49.83 percent, and Africa at 34.5 percent. The researchers say the so-called first world may be lagging behind in free software deployment because of an excessive dependence on large software development companies. The report also shows that free software use could be as high as 80 percent in the education field, while other sectors are farther behind, with health services at 29.75 percent and the military at 30 percent. Experts believe that training activities at universities and schools are critical to spreading and implementing free software. The most popular free software programs are Internet services, followed by network management solutions, operating systems, office computerization software, and games and entertainment.
History-Making SpelBots Tie for First Place in Humanoid Competition
Spelman College (05/15/09) Mathis, Renita; Simmons, Terrilyn
Spelman College's robotics team, SpelBots, was the first all-female team to compete for the Standard Platform League title at RoboCup Japan 2009, and was one of only two teams to compete in the two-legged challenge. The SpelBots tied for first place in the RoboCup Japan 2009 Standard Platform League Nao League humanoid soccer championship. Spelman's four-woman team competed against a team from Fukuoka Institute of Technology in five matches and a tiebreaker, in which teams of three autonomous robots competed in a game of soccer without human controls. Since 2005, the SpelBots have been the only all-female, all-black undergraduate team to qualify for both the U.S. and international RoboCup events. "The SpelBots emphasize the study and research of robotics, which can help improve society and address issues in healthcare, entrepreneurship, and other areas," says SpelBots advisor and Spelman professor Andrew Williams. "The SpelBots are a way of encouraging girls and young women to go into science and technology." With the help of General Electric, the National Institutes of Health, Boeing, the National Science Foundation, and Apple, Spelman was able to purchase four Nao robots in early 2009, giving the team less than four months to study, train, and program their robots for the competition in Japan. The SpelBots are now preparing to compete in the Nao League at RoboCup 2010 in Singapore.
The Next Best Thing to You
National Science Foundation (05/15/09) Cruikshank, Dana W.
The LifeLike project, a collaboration between researchers at the Intelligent Systems Laboratory (ISL) at the University of Central Florida and the Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL) at the University of Illinois at Chicago, aims to create avatars with unprecedented realism. Their current results are still far from being truly lifelike, but their work has advanced the field and has opened up the possibility of numerous future applications. The EVL team, led by professor Jason Leigh, is perfecting the visual aspects of the avatar. Leigh says making an avatar truly appear human takes more than just strong visual rendering, since more than 70 percent of communication is nonverbal and is dependent on subtle gestures, variations in a person's voice, and other variables. To perfect these nonverbal signals, the EVL team took precise measurements of a person's face, capturing how it moves, along with other body language, to replicate those details in an avatar. The ISL team, led by professor Avelino Gonzalez, is working to give the avatar artificial intelligence capabilities. Efforts include technologies that enable computers to recognize and correctly understand natural language as it is being spoken, as well as automated knowledge updates and refinements, allowing the computer to "learn" information that it receives and apply it to future interactions. Gonzalez says the goal is to have a person be able to speak to the avatar with the same level of comfort and interaction that they would have with an actual person.
Are Computers Transforming Humanity?
Computerworld (05/18/09) Pratt, Mary K.
Researchers and technologists agree that computer technology is fueling significant changes in individuals and society as a whole, and the endpoint is unknown. Carnegie-Mellon University professor Dan Siewiorek says that our perception of privacy has changed in response to technology, and that a certain lack of concern about revealing personal details has infiltrated our lives. Jennifer Earl of the University of California, Santa Barbara observes that innovative uses of technology are enabling new communal efforts, in particular those that span heterogeneous groups. Social Solutions president Patricia Sachs Chess notes that technology also is creating changes in communication, such as the growing use of slang, jargon, abbreviations, phonics, and colloquial syntax in electronic discourse. This trend could augur a transformation of our values, skills, and capabilities, with some experts worried about declining grammar and writing proficiency, among other things. Others are concerned that meaningful interactions between people could be adversely affected by a digital narcissism, which Rochester Institute of Technology professor Evan Selinger describes as people's use of social networking and other electronic mediums "to tune out much of the external world, while reinforcing and further rationalizing overblown esteem for their own mundane opinions, tastes, and lifestyle choices." Another technology-driven change researchers are seeing is one of brain function, with Arizona State University professor Brad Allenby predicting that "once we get seriously into [augmented cognition] and virtual reality, the one who has the advantage isn't the one who is brilliant but the one who can sit in front of the computer screen and respond best." Researchers also wonder whether the unending stimulation and ongoing demands of technology, while perhaps making us better multitaskers, is lessening our deep thinking abilities.
Bots vs. Smugglers: Drug Tunnel Smackdown
Wired News (05/16/09) Madrigal, Alexis
New software developed at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) is being used with semi-autonomous robots in the war against drug smuggling. The software can be installed on different robots, allowing them to self-maneuver through smugglers' tunnels while mapping them. Navigation control is shared between a human operator and the robot, with operators telling the robots where to go but the robots doing the driving. The special intelligence software has already been used with robots beneath the U.S./Mexican border. "They are not places you want to send people, especially ones that are claustrophobic, so it’s a perfect application for robotics," says INL roboticist David Bruemmer, who runs the Robotic Intelligence Kernel laboratory. In December, researchers used a robot equipped with chemical sensors to search a tunnel near Arizona's border. "Within a few minutes, we were able to task it down and get the video back so [Homeland Security officials] could look at it," says INL roboticist Victor Walker. As robot development matures they are being adapted for use in very specific tasks. In Canada, for example, utility companies use robots to inspect pipes, while government agencies reportedly have inquired about converting robots for use in underground surveillance. "It's all about the man-machine interface. Like Windows just provided this simple user-understood interface, I think that's what we're really trying to do with robots," Bruemmer says. "Forget about trying to make robots massively intelligent."
ICANN: Apply Public Health Response Model to E-Security
IDG News Service (05/18/09) Gliddon, Joshua
Poor public policy is a bigger threat to the Internet than cyberthreats, according to ICANN CEO Paul Twomey. Twomey discussed how ICANN can help curb cyberthreats during a speech at the annual AusCERT conference, and suggested that greater government control of the Internet would create more problems. "We need to think about the Internet's fundamental principles of collaboration, coordination, and communication when dealing with cyberthreats," he said. War and espionage are likely to continue during the Internet age, but a response that is more in line with public health concerns than national security is preferable, Twomey said. The industry should accept that pandemics will occur, but should strive for maintaining a clean commons. "The idea is to attack the swamps, not the fever," he said.
Mini Helicopters as Disaster Helpers
Fraunhofer Institute (05/09)
Fraunhofer Institute for Information and Data Processing researchers have developed software for unmanned miniature helicopters, which could play a vital role in emergency response by investigating incidents such as a collapsed building from the inside, as either individual units or as a swarm. The software works with the quadrocopter, a small unmanned helicopter that is highly maneuverable. The software acts as a director of operations, allowing multiple quadrocopters to coordinate their own movements and act as a team while exploring a building. For example, one helicopter could find and inspect victims' injuries while another finds the fastest route for rescuers to reach them. The program features software agents that can be programmed to carry out specific tasks. Each software agent is assigned to a single quadrocopter. The helicopters are equipped with a variety of sensors and devices to detect and identify hazardous substances and send images, video, and other data to rescue workers. The software agents can sync with each other independently to exchange information, enabling them to coordinate their actions. The software agents also can learn from what took place in a particular situation and respond more quickly in a similar situation.
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