Welcome to the November 9, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
ACM Names 84 Distinguished Members for Advances in Computing Technology
ACM has recognized 84 members as 2009 Distinguished Members. The number of honorees has more than doubled from a year ago, and ACM says the increase is a reflection of the growth of its membership and its initiatives around the world. About one third of the designees come from Europe, Asia, Russia, Australia, South America, and other areas outside of North America. "As an international society, ACM is pleased to recognize the growing number of nominees from countries across the globe who have met the stringent criteria required for the Distinguished Member grade," says ACM President Dame Wendy Hall. "These prominent men and women have demonstrated creativity, leadership, and dedication to computing and computer science." The Distinguished Members Program was created to recognize computer scientists, engineers, and educators who have made computing contributions that have sparked innovation. Thirty-six recipients come from international high-technology companies and have made achievements in areas such as data mining, systems engineering, memory and storage systems, processor designs, artificial intelligence, and mobile services platforms. Forty-eight recipients come from academia and have made achievements in areas such as programming languages, design automation, neural network techniques, grid computing, and natural language programming.
Researchers Develop a Facial Biometrics System Capable of Creating a Facial DNI
Carlos III University of Madrid (Spain) (11/04/09)
Researchers at Carlos III University of Madrid (UC3M) have developed a facial biometrics system based on individual models. UC3M study author David Delgado Gomez says the objective is to create a model for each person that highlights the most distinguishing features on each face. Delgado says one way to describe a person is through traits that other people do not have, and their new system aims to apply that approach to an algorithm. The researchers say the most complicated part is combining facial geometry and facial texture. "With only the geometric information, very low classifications are obtained, which is why we combine this information with that of facial texture to obtain a more robust model, and a statistical way of combining them occurred to us, which offered very good results," Delgado says. The researchers have shown that when their system is used in a controlled environment it can achieve 95 percent accuracy. The biggest challenge to facial-recognition systems is lighting, which can change the color of a person's face. Aging also is a challenge as people's faces can become heavier, thinner, or more wrinkled.
Validity of Software Patents Goes on Trial Today at Supreme Court
USA Today (11/09/09) P. 7B; Tessler, Joelle
The U.S. Supreme Court will consider what types of inventions should be eligible for a patent as part of a case that could undermine legal protections for software. The question facing the Supreme Court is whether the "machine or transformation" test the Patent Office uses to determine if an application is patentable is the right standard. The Patent Office denied a patent request for a method of hedging weather-related risk in energy prices that can lock in prices during unusually cold weather. The patent applicants appealed the decision. A ruling in favor of the U.S. Patent Office could restrict patents on business methods and processes, such as online shopping techniques, medical diagnostic tests, and procedures for executing trades on Wall Street. Analysts say the worst-case scenario for the technology industry would be if the ruling invalidated many existing software patents, or made them more difficult to defend in lawsuits. "Technology companies care about this case, because it will define what you can and cannot get a patent on," says the Business Software Alliance's Emery Simon. James Carmichael, a former judge on the Patent Office board of appeals, says the software industry would lose a major incentive for innovation if the government stops issuing software patents. An unfavorable outcome could force companies to apply for patents using new strategies or rely more on copyright and trade secret protections.
Video Fingerprinting Offers Search Solution
ICT Results (11/09/09)
The European Union-funded DIVAS project has developed a new way of sorting and searching audiovisual content. DIVAS project researchers set out to develop a way of quickly indexing and searching compressed video files regardless of their compression format or where they are stored, says DIVAS project manager Nick Achilleopoulos. DIVAS researchers developed two software engines. One creates fingerprints from compressed audio and video. The other uses these fingerprints to execute content-based searches. "The fingerprint extraction software defines audio and video features much as a human viewer perceives audiovisual elements," Achilleopoulos says. "It builds the fingerprint based on visual features, such as scene changes, the way the camera cuts and moves, the brightness level, and the movement of people and objects." The fingerprints are stored in the XML format in combination with the MPEG 7 multimedia content description standard, creating a searchable and accessible video index. The researchers say the technology could be used by media companies and Internet search providers looking for faster methods of indexing and searching videos, as well as by production companies looking to track down pirated versions of copyrighted works.
Triple Shadows and Fake Reflections: Future Graphics
New Scientist (11/06/09)
At the second annual ACM SIGGRAPH Asia conference, which takes place December 16-19 in Yokohama, Japan, computer graphics professionals and researchers will demonstrate the most recent developments in graphics. For example, Seoul National University researchers will use high-speed, high-resolution photography to reveal how water breaks into sheets and droplets as it splashes over an object. The researchers built a computer model that focuses on the interface between air and water, allowing it to simulate the complex dynamics of the interface. A team from the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology has developed a new take on shadow art, which presents users with a seemingly random assortment of objects that, when lit in a certain way, creates a recognizable two-dimensional (2D) shadow. The 2D shadow art uses a computer model to calculate the object shape needed to cast up to three distinct shadows simultaneously. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Informatics say they have developed a program that makes creating reflections far easier than existing methods. Current models produce reflections by tracing the path that virtual light rays take through a model's three-dimensional space. The Max Planck program enables users to manipulate those rays so the desired effect is created. Meanwhile, researchers at China's Tsinghua University have developed a photo-editing program that requires users to just roughly sketch and describe images they want to combine and the system then searches through online photo libraries to find, isolate, and reproduce the desired images in a new combined image.
Splitting Up Search
Technology Review (11/06/09) Graham-Rowe, Duncan
Researchers at Yahoo!'s Labs in Barcelona, Spain, have developed a distributed search approach that spreads the search index and additional data out over a larger number of smaller data centers instead of a centralized model. The smaller data centers would contain locally relevant information and a small portion of globally replicated data. Most search queries common to a particular area could be answered using information stored in the local data center, while other, more generic queries could be forwarded to other data centers. The concept of distributed search engines is not new, but until recently such a system was considered too expensive and too slow or that searches would return results that favor locally stored information. To create a viable distributed system, Yahoo!'s Ricardo Baeza-Yates and colleagues designed their system so statistical information on page rankings could be shared between different data centers, which allows each data center to run an algorithm comparing its results with the results from other data centers, ensuring the best result is returned to the user. Duke University professor Bruce Maggs calls it a valid approach and notes that it "also saves considerably on everything else in the same proportion, such as capital costs and real estate." The results of a feasibility study on the researchers' distributed search approach were presented at ACM's recent Conference on Information and Knowledge Management in Hong Kong.
Labour Shortage in IT Industry Despite Recession
Otago Daily Times (New Zealand) (11/05/09) Lewis, John
A new survey by New Zealand's Ministry of Economic Development found a significant shortage of skilled labor in the information technology (IT) industry, despite the recession and resulting job losses. The situation has prompted the University of Otago to increase its incoming information science students by up to 100 percent over the next two years. New Zealand's Information and Communications Technology chief Brett O'Riley says 83 percent of the companies surveyed had difficulties recruiting qualified staff, and those difficulties were having a significant impact on their business. The survey also found that companies were expecting to experience continued growth in staff levels during the coming months, and more than 50 percent of companies surveyed were planning to appoint technical staff. O'Riley says the survey demonstrates there will be continued employment opportunities in a variety of highly paid roles, including programming, project management, and network and systems engineering, in the IT and telecommunications industries. University of Otago professor Martin Purvis says about 80 IT and computer science students graduate from the university each year, and most, if not all, receive multiple job offers. The university is working to encourage secondary school pupils to study information technology at a higher level. O'Riley says that information and communications technology "education and skills are a global employment passport."
Queen's Research Could Protect Front Line Troops
Queen's University Belfast (11/04/09) McElroy, Lisa
Researchers at Queen's University Belfast's Centre for Secure Information Technologies (CSIT) are developing advanced communication systems that could help protect soldiers on the front lines. The researchers are exploring the use of highly specialized antennas that would be worn by combat troops to provide covert, short range, person-to-person battleground communications. The project could result in advanced wireless systems that allow small squads of soldiers to share real-time video, covert surveillance data, and tactical information with each other through helmet-mounted visors. "Through our work we aim to overcome some formidable challenges as the proposed wireless devices will be expected to operate in a range of environments much more exacting than those encountered in civilian life," says CSIT lead researcher Simon Cotton. "Our job is to help make them a reality by modeling how the devices would work in real life, how the signals would be transmitted to and from the body of each user, and what types of antennas would be required to allow them to function properly." The researchers plan to model specific combat scenarios using state-of-the-art animation normally used to create video games. Cotton says the research also could lead to new technologies for emergency services and the sports and entertainment industries.
Unlimited Compute Capacity Coming, IBM Says
Computerworld Canada (11/03/09) Ruffolo, Rafael
IBM Canada Lab director Martin Wildberger predicts that unlimited computing capacity will become a reality in the near future, putting the power of modern mainframes in devices such as smartphones. Wildberger, speaking at the recent IBM-sponsored Center for Advanced Studies Conference in Toronto, said the world is becoming increasingly digitized, and sensors and radio-frequency identification technologies are becoming more "abundant, pervasive, and ubiquitous." Simultaneously, the world is becoming more interconnected through mobile phones and increasing online access, which has raised the awareness and expectations of consumers and forced businesses to react faster. These trends have made an unlimited amount of data available to businesses, and the ability to use that data has become an important challenge. Wildberger noted, for example, that automotive companies are looking at driving pattern information to develop a real-time system capable of detecting if a driver is falling asleep. Despite such possibilities, Wildberger said that IBM data shows that 85 percent of computing capacity is idle, and 70 cents of every dollar spent on information technology goes toward maintaining systems instead of taking advantage of new data. He said the companies that invest in becoming smarter and successfully capitalizing on the data created in a world with unlimited computing capacity will be the most successful.
Michigan State Collaboration Spawns Robotic Fish to Monitor Water Quality
MSU News (11/02/09) Fellows, Mark
Michigan State University professors Xiaobo Tan and Elena Litchman are developing robots that swim like fish to explore underwater environments. "Fish are very efficient," Tan says. "They can perform very efficient locomotion and maneuvering in the water." Robotic fish could be used to collect precise data on aquatic conditions. "The robotic fish will be providing a consistent level of data that hasn't been possible before," Litchman says. "Such data are essential for researchers to have a more complete picture of what is happening under the surface as climate change and other outside forces disrupt the freshwater ecosystems." The robotic fish will contain sensors to monitor temperature, dissolved oxygen, pollutants, and algae. Tan is also developing electronics so the devices can navigate and communicate underwater. To mimic how fish swim, Tan developed fins for the robotic fish that use electro-active polymers that change shape when exposed to electricity. Similar to actual muscle tissue, ion movements twist and bend when voltage is applied to the polymer. The effect also works in reverse, which would allow for slender "feelers" to signal maneuvering circuits, creating an electro-active central nervous system. The robotic fish will wirelessly communicate with a docking station after surfacing at programmed intervals, and could be linked with other robotic fish for coordinating maneuvers or a single relay.
Computer Science Provides a More Sound Way to Test for Sleep Apnea
National Science Foundation (11/02/09) Cruikshank, Dana W.
University of Houston computer scientist Ioannis Pavlidis and University of Texas Health Science Center physician Jayasimha N. Murthy are developing a less invasive method of diagnosing sleep apnea. Diagnosing sleep apnea usually requires a sleep study, which involves at least one night of overnight monitoring in a sleep lab. "During a sleep study a subject has an average of more than 20 sensors attached to the head and body. It's a very complex procedure where many physiological parameters are simultaneously monitored to help in the diagnosis of sleep disorders," Murthy says. "However, these sensors can disturb sleep and contribute to the patient's anxiety." The researchers have developed a new procedure that uses a thermal infrared camera to monitor breathing waveforms and airflow as subjects breathe in and out of their noses. The measurements are processed using computational algorithms to provide results that have proven to be as accurate as traditional methods. The researchers say their method provides doctors with more information about a patient's breathing. "In contrast to the traditional one-dimensional methods, this new method is an imaging one and thus, multi-dimensional," Pavlidis says. "We get not a single, but multiple values for each nostril at every point in time and this makes a lot of difference when it comes to appreciating subtle pathology."
Is AES Encryption Crackable?
TechNewsWorld (11/03/09) Germain, Jack M.
The Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) system was long believed to be invulnerable to attack, but a group of researchers recently demonstrated that there may be an inherent flaw in AES, at least theoretically. The study was conducted by the University of Luxembourg's Alex Biryukov and Dmitry Khovratovich, France's Orr Dunkelman, Hebrew University's Nathan Keller, and the Weizmann Institute's Adi Shamir. In their report, "Key Recovery Attacks of Practical Complexity on AES Variants With Up to 10 Rounds," the researchers challenged the structural integrity of the AES protocol. The researchers suggest that AES may not be invulnerable and raise the question of how far is AES from becoming insecure. "The findings discussed in [in the report] are academic in nature and do not threaten the security of systems today," says AppRiver's Fred Touchette. "But because most people depend on the encryption standard to keep sensitive information secure, the findings are nonetheless significant." AirPatrol CEO Ozzie Diaz believes that wireless systems will be the most vulnerable because many investments in network media are wireless, and there is no physical barrier to entry. Diaz says that exposing the vulnerability of the AES system could lead to innovations for filling those gaps. Touchette says that AES cryptography is not broken, and notes that the latest attack techniques on AES-192 and AES-256 are impractical outside of a theoretical setting.
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