Welcome to the October 7, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
IT Sector to Create 5.8 Million New Jobs by 2013
V3.co.uk (10/05/09) Marshall, Rosalie
The global information technology (IT) sector will create 5.8 million new jobs and 75,000 new businesses over the next four years, according to a new Microsoft study conducted by IDC. The 52 countries that lead the way in IT spending will spend $1.4 trillion by the end of this year and $1.7 trillion by 2013, IDC predicts. The U.K. government views technological innovation as key to the economic recovery of the United Kingdom and has announced a U.K. Innovation Investment Fund to support small tech companies with high growth potential in digital and life sciences, clean technology, and advanced manufacturing. The United Kingdom could create almost 2,500 new businesses and 78,200 new jobs between the end of 2009 and the end of 2013. IDC says most of the companies will be small and locally owned, and they will offer highly skilled, high-quality jobs.
Pentagon Research Director Visits Universities in Bid to Re-energize Partnerships
New York Times (10/07/09) P. A18; Markoff, John
Regina E. Dugan, the new director of the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), is visiting universities across the United States in an attempt to mend alliances that were strained under the Bush administration, which cut back on basic research funding in favor of more classified research and shorter-term projects. Peter Harsha with the Computing Research Association also notes that during the Bush administration some financing was dependent on strict adherence to U.S. citizenship requirements. DARPA officials disclosed in 2005 that financing for university researchers declined from $214 million to $123 million. Harsha says that Dugan "is attempting to empower her program managers more than under the previous regime, and that makes it more enticing for members of the academic community to engage with the agency." Dugan says that university-based research is a key ingredient in her agency's future activities. "It is our goal to strengthen this partnership, enabling some of the best minds to serve with and in the government in the best interests of the nation and the U.S. Department of Defense," she says. Last week Dugan visited the University of California, Berkeley; Stanford University; the University of California, Los Angeles; and the California Institute of Technology. She previously visited Virginia Tech and Texas A&M. "She came by Berkeley on Wednesday and had a frank chat about the past and the future, and I'm pretty encouraged," says Berkeley professor and former ACM president David Patterson. "She seems to genuinely value academic input into the defense research enterprise and really wants to re-engage the research community in the DARPA mission."
Cambridge University Professor Honored for Contributions to Computer Networking
ACM's Special Interest Group on Data Communications (SIGCOMM) presented Jonathan Andrew Crowcroft with the 2009 ACM SIGCOMM Award at its annual conference in Barcelona, Spain. The Marconi Professor of Communication Systems at Cambridge University received SIGCOMM's highest honor for his pioneering contributions to multimedia and group communications. Crowcroft has worked with the Internet research community since its inception, pursuing research that would inspire developments in video and audio delivery and in collaboration and conferencing tools over the Internet. Over the course of three decades, Crowcroft authored more than 100 publications on computer networking, mentored several students who made their own mark in the field, and freely shared his creative ideas with many more in the networking community. Crowcroft, an ACM Fellow, has also served as chair of SIGCOMM and on the Internet Architecture Board. He also is the principal investigator in the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory for the European Union's Haggle project, a new autonomic networking architecture designed to enable communication in the presence of intermittent network connectivity.
Communicating Person to Person Through the Power of Thought Alone
University of Southampton (ECS) (10/06/09)
The University of Southampton's Institute of Sound and Vibration Research has carried out an experiment that pushes brain-computer interfacing (BCI) one step closer to brain-to-brain communication (B2B). BCI makes it possible for humans to send commands using their thoughts to computers, robots, rehabilitation technology, and virtual reality programs. Lead study author Christopher James asked a participant linked to an electroencephalogram (EEG) amplifier to use BCI to send binary digits over the internet. The first volunteer pictured moving the left arm for zero and the right arm for one. The numbers were then received by a computer being used by a second volunteer who also was connected to an EEG. Next, the computer used BCI to send the digits to a second volunteer, flashing a light-emitting diode lamp to transfer them directly to the person's brain. The second participant's brain activity was interpreted by the computer to check if the right numbers were received. The experiment demonstrates "for the first time, true brain to brain interfacing," James says. "We have yet to grasp the full implications of this, but there are various scenarios where B2B could be of benefit, such as helping people with severe debilitating muscle wasting diseases, or with the so-called 'locked-in' syndrome, to communicate." B2B communication also could be used for video games, he says.
Nobel for Revolutionary Optical Technologies
Technology Review (10/06/09) Bourzac, Katherine
The foundation of modern communications and digital imaging is supported by the work of three researchers who have been awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in physics. The recipients are fiber-optics pioneer Charles K. Kao and charged-coupled device (CCD) image sensor creators Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith. Kao shared the prize for his insights in the mid 1960s about how to coax light to travel long distances through glass strands, which led to a revolution in fiber-optic cables. "When combined with the laser and the transistor, the invention of an efficient, low-loss optical fiber has made nearly instantaneous communication possible across the entire globe," says American Institute of Physics director H. Frederick Dylla. Meanwhile, Boyle and Smith designed the CCD in 1969 at Bell Labs. Their device exploits the photoelectric effect, in which hitting certain materials with light dislodges electrons. Boyle and Smith devised a silicon chip covered with a grid of capacitor-pixels that, when the chip is illuminated, store the electrons emitted. The data from an array of CCDs can then be reconstructed as an image. Boyle and Smith made a video camera based on the CCD sensor a year after they invented it.
NSF: Federal Role in Academic R&D Funding Has Diminished
Campus Technology (10/06/09) Nagel, David
A report from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) concludes that the federal government's role in the underwriting of science and engineering research and development (R&D) has waned. NSF's survey found that the government's percentage of R&D funding reported by institutions fell from 64 percent to about 60 percent between 2005 and 2008. Meanwhile, funding from state and local government increased 8.8 percent, while industry contributions rose 7.1 percent and college/university funding climbed 7 percent. "Additionally, R&D funds for joint projects that were passed through primary university recipients to other university subrecipients nearly doubled from fiscal year 2000 to fiscal year 2008, from $0.7 billion to $1.4 billion in constant 2000 dollars," NSF says. The Department of Health and Human Services was the biggest source of federal R&D funding with $17.5 billion, while NSF came in second with $3.77 billion. Life sciences, engineering, physical sciences, environmental sciences, and computer sciences received $18.66 billion, $4.7 billion, $2.74 billion, $1.83 billion, and $1.03 billion from the federal government, respectively.
IBM Joins Pursuit of $1,000 Personal Genome
New York Times (10/06/09) P. D2; Markoff, John
IBM plans to disclose technical details of its initiative to reduce the cost of personal genome sequencing from between $5,000 and $50,000 to $1,000 or less, and its ultimate goal is to make the procedure cost no more than $100. IBM researchers plan to employ the company's proficiency in semiconductor manufacturing, computing, and material science to develop an integrated sequencing machine that is able to reduce sequencing costs while also upgrading speed and accuracy. In doing so, IBM is joining a number of international competitors racing to achieve a similar aim. IBM is banking on a DNA transistor designed to sequence genomes by reading DNA pulled through an atomic-size hole called a nanopore. The company says the objective is the construction of a machine capable of sequencing an individual genome of as many as 3 billion nucleotides in just a few hours. The system's core is comprised of a mechanism that repeatedly pauses a negatively-charged DNA strand as an electric field pulls the strand through the nanopore. Although this mechanism is reliable, the research team says the sensing technology to control the rate of movement and to read the specific nucleotides has not yet been demonstrated. The capability to read longer sequences is a critical advance needed for the improvement of DNA analysis quality. Harvard geneticist George M. Church says the system will need to read sequences as long as 1 million bases, while current technology can only read 30 to 800 bases.
Georgia Tech Broadens, Diversifies Computing Education
Georgia Institute of Technology (10/06/09) Wilson, Stefany
The Georgia Institute of Technology's College of Computing has received a $1.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation to continue its Georgia Computes! program, which promotes computer science to both students and teachers across the state. The program's initiatives include encouraging women, minorities, and people with disabilities to participate in computer science programs, doubling the number of schools that provide Advanced Placement computer science classes and the number of Hispanics that take the exam, designing eight summer computing camps, and improving 25 percent of the computing programs in George at the university level. Elementary and high school students are guided by mentors from a variety of backgrounds, including high school students, undergraduates, or members of youth organizations. Students ages 10 to 18 can attend summer computing camps, while high school teachers can attend computing workshops. Undergraduate students can attend computing workshops as well, and can serve as mentors to elementary and high school students. Researchers are studying why there is less interest in computer science at the undergraduate level. Graduate students can work as mentors and also chart the number of computer science majors in Georgia. In the future, Georgia Computes! will add computer centers to Columbus State and Armstrong Atlantic State University and will provide online access to computing workshops and classes. The program also will study state university computer science programs and will chart the course students take from secondary school-level summer camps, workshops, and classes to their current majors.
The eScience Revolution: Rensselaer Researchers to Create Semantic Web Platforms for Massive Scientific Collaboration
Rensselaer News (10/01/09) DeMarco, Gabrielle
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) Web researchers have embarked on the Tetherless World Research Constellation, a project they say will create Semantic Web technology enabling scientists, educators, and people worldwide to access data on various topics in a single place, opening up a new scale of scientific data compilation and sharing. The effort is funded by a $1.1 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation. Semantic-based Web technologies would enable a computer to supply its own underlying meaning to words and offer links to vast numbers of related sites and other content without human intervention. "With semantics, we can bridge the gap between the question that someone wants to ask in their limited scientific vocabulary and the extreme complexity of the underlying data," says RPI professor Deborah McGuinness. Semantic ontologies will be used by the researchers to construct customizable Web sites that will each be familiar, comprehendible, and navigable to its end user in accordance with the type and degree of expertise. The user enters a question that is answered using data entered by other users across the globe. The semantic coding will be open source and accessible to others on the Web looking for new data-sharing methods. McGuinness and her collaborators envision the technology supporting a radical advancement in the citation and perhaps the review of scientific data.
New ICANN Agreement Runs Into Criticism
Computerworld (10/01/09) Gross, Grant
There has been some concern that the new agreement between ICANN and the U.S. Department of Commerce will not provide enough accountability. Under the new agreement, called an Affirmation of Commitments, review panels will now monitor ICANN's compliance with the agreement every three years. These review teams will be made up of volunteers, independent experts, and representatives of the ICANN board of directors and the Commerce Department. The major concern with this proposal is that ICANN's chairman or CEO and the chairman of ICANN's Governmental Affairs Committee will have the final say on the makeup of the review teams. "The review panels are not external to ICANN," says the Internet Governance Project's Brenden Kuerbis. "They're selected by the very people responsible for what ICANN does. They're likely to produce the politics that already exist within ICANN." ICANN vice president Paul Levins has responded to this concern by assuring critics that the panels will not be made up of ICANN allies. "It's going to be extremely hard [for ICANN] to game the process," he says. Another criticism of the new agreement is that it was negotiated in secret between ICANN and the Commerce Department, which detractors say does not bode well for the organization's efforts to become more accountable and transparent to the public. Still, other observers offered their support for the agreement, including frequent ICANN critic Steve DelBianco, Go Daddy, the Software and Information Industry Association, and U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).
Police Sketch Artist Evolves
Optical Society of America (10/05/09) Stark, Angela
University of Kent researcher Christopher Solomon has developed the EFIT-V system, software that helps witnesses identify criminals. Unlike a police sketch artist, which combines individual descriptors to make a portrait, Solomon's program generates a facial image that evolves, based on the witness' input, using an interactive genetic algorithm. For example, if a victim saw a young white male with dark hair, the computer presents a series of faces that fit that description. After the witness selects the most similar one, the computer produces another series of faces representing a range of features within that first facial type. Solomon modeled the software's mathematics off the optics used to picture atmospheric disturbances. "I realized that the same technique could be applied to human faces, which in many respects are mathematically similar to turbulent wavefronts," he says. Eventually, the computer coaxes a workable portrait out of witnesses, even those who cannot recall any distinguishing features. Solomon says the program is successful because it mirrors the human recollection process. "There's quite a bit of research in the psychology field suggesting that we're not so good at this, at recalling and describing a face," he says. The EFIT-V system is being used by 12 European countries and 15 police departments in the United Kingdom, and is being studied for use in the United States.
Carnegie Mellon's Ole Mengshoel Wins Science Grant to Improve Computer Tools
Carnegie Mellon News (09/30/09) Swaney, Chriss
Carnegie Mellon University's Ole Mengshoel has received a two-year, $498,000 U.S. National Science Foundation grant to develop new computer tools that improve and integrate the way information is displayed and analyzed. Mengshoel has developed novel monitoring and data mining algorithms to improve operation estimates for large-scale networks such as those that power the U.S.'s electrical power grid. "The project will develop new techniques that integrate visualization processes and analytical tools, including data mining and machine learning, that will enable improved monitoring of large utility projects," Mengshoel says. Large electrical power and computer networks need to work more robustly, efficiently, and economically, he says. "As the global population grows and energy demand increases, and generation shifts toward the use of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, we all need to learn to create and use energy more reliably and efficiently, and our research will help us to push energy economy to the extreme," Mengshoel says.
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