Welcome to the December 2, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Research Group to Tackle Cybersecurity
InfoWorld (12/01/09) Gross, Grant
Carnegie Mellon University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Purdue University, and Northrop Grumman have launched a five-year research effort to tackle the most complex problems in cybersecurity. Northrop Grumman's Robert Brammer says the Northrop Grumman Cybersecurity Research Consortium was created because the values for information services and systems have never been greater and the cybersecurity threats have never been greater. Brammer says large-scale cyberattacks are a "credible threat" in the coming years. "We need significant new technology developments, combined with improved security education, global standards, and understanding of security economics and psychology," he says. The participating universities were chosen because of their long-term, cutting-edge cybersecurity research. The consortium will work on several projects, including software analysis, secure computer design and forensics, improved software, and next-generation secure networks. Eugene Spafford, executive director of Purdue's Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security, says the cybersecurity threat is not new. "It's one that many of us have been warning about for nearly three decades, Spafford says. "The problems have been anticipated and seen in advance. Unfortunately, none of the warnings have been taken seriously, particularly by the government." He says many government agencies have been combating cybersecurity issues after they have happened, instead of acting proactively.
EU Says Supercomputing Key to Predicting Future Recessions
eWeek Europe (11/30/09) Donoghue, Andrew
The European Union (EU) has announced the finalization of the EURACE project, which used supercomputing technology to develop advanced financial models designed to help predict and prevent future financial disasters. The three-year EURACE project is based on agent technology known as Flexible Large-scale Agent Modeling Environment (FLAME). The EU says the software stimulates the interactions between different economic actors, such as households and companies, banks and borrowers, and employers and job seekers. "The results of this research project will complement traditional economic statistics and assumptions about how economic actors react by enabling better testing of a policy's effects on people, while still on the drawing board," says EU commissioner Viviane Reding. The EU believes that an agent-based approach to financial modeling could create realistic simulations that would be more useful for preventing future recessions. "Agent based modeling is one of the emergent branches of [artificial intelligence] which best demonstrates complex, social behavior of different communities living together in real-world scenarios," according to the EU. "The ideology allows agents, representing individuals or groups, to be put into a simulated environment where their individual interactions can then be studied more closely." The project's FLAME agent technology was developed by the University of Sheffield and has been used in a variety of projects, including the Epitheliome Project for developing various models of skin.
Bangalore Blooming Into Innovation Hothouse
silicon.com (11/27/09) Rai, Saritha
Once primarily a place for outsourcing call centers and repetitive software development, Bangalore is now home to a thriving research and development (R&D) industry that is driving advances in chip and software design and innovative healthcare products, writes Saritha Rai. Google's Map Maker, Intel's Xeon processor, Microsoft's Bing search engine, and Hewlett-Packard's Dynamic Smart Cool Technology were all designed, at least in part, in Bangalore. Bangalore's evolution into a mature global R&D center has taken place in only a few years, largely due to an ecosystem of inexpensive talent, maturing skills, and innovative ideas for new products and services. "There is a defined shift post-2007," says Zinnov Management Consulting's Praveen Bhadada, author of a recently released study titled "India R&D Talent Pool." Companies are not just shifting research and development to India, they are also shifting R&D management to India. "By giving core R&D responsibilities to their India heads, companies like Cisco, General Electric, and IBM have pioneered a new global innovation model," says Navi Radjou, executive director of the University of Cambridge's Center for India & Global Business. Costs in Bangalore are similar to other global R&D centers such as Shanghai, the Ukraine, and Russia, according to Zinnov's analysis. Bangalore does have some challenges, particularly a weak infrastructure. However, Radjou says that using Bangalore or Shanghai to shape Western businesses' global identities is a smart strategy given that emerging markets will account for much of their future economic growth.
H-1B Demand Spike May Signal Improving Outlook for Skilled Pros
Computerworld (12/02/09) Thibodeau, Patrick
Demand for H-1B visas has risen sharply over the past six to eight weeks, and the number of companies planning to increase college hiring is also rising, indicating that the job outlook for skilled professionals may be improving. Although demand for H-1B visas was uncharacteristically low earlier this year, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service recently released data showing that in just two weeks it received 3,300 H-1B petitions, continuing the growing demand that started in October and has driven the number of visa petitions to 58,900, close to the 65,000 cap. If the demand continues, the H-1B cap for the 2010 fiscal year may be met by early next year, according to estimates from immigration attorneys. Additionally, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) reports that a November survey of its members found that 28 percent plan to increase college hiring, compared to just 17 percent in August. "College hiring has started to look better, much better than it did," says NACE's Ed Koc. He notes that the unemployment rate for college graduates holding bachelor's degrees in October was 4.7 percent, down from September's rate of 4.9 percent. The increased demand for H-1B visas could indicate that companies are expecting larger budgets to work with, though part of the demand could also be some companies shifting L-1B workers to H-1B visas. Seasonal demand also could be behind the rise in H-1B applications, such as petitions being filed for students who completed degree requirements this semester.
Semantic Research Sets World Standards
ICT Results (11/27/09)
The European TONES project has developed new tools for semantic technology development. "The increased demand for multiple, large-scale and complex ontologies poses novel challenges on all ontology tasks, such as their design, maintenance, merging, and integration," says TONES project coordinator Diego Calvanese from Gree University of Bozen-Bolzano. "The starting point of TONES was to develop a logical formalization of ontologies. And using this logical formalization, we can allow machines to understand and reason with the knowledge that is represented [ontologically]." Logical formalization allows a computer to semi-automatically detect potential conflicts or repetitions, but TONES has developed a debugging tool to perform that function, making the management and integration of ontologies far simpler, faster, and more reliable. The project also has developed a modularization tool to make merging large ontologies easier by dividing ontologies into distinct parts. The TONES project also assisted in the development of a new official standard language, OWL 2, to help create standards for ontologies. Similar tools have been developed before, but Calvanese says that earlier attempts could not handle the evolution of technology. "The earlier technology did not scale," he says. "It could not handle large ontologies and large amounts of data accessed through them." The project tested its tools on real-world ontologies and initial results have been positive. The technologies developed in the project are already being used in several commercial and open source applications.
DARPA's Latest Challenge: Locate These 10 Balloons
CNet (12/01/09) Whitney, Lance
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) will award $40,000 to the first person who can complete a new social-networking challenge. DARPA wants to learn how people use social networks to solve a problem. "It's the techniques people use to solve the challenge we're focused on," says DARPA's Norman Whitaker. The contest will begin on Saturday, Dec. 5 at 7 a.m. PST, when DARPA will release 10 eight-foot balloons in different locations across the continental United States. The first person to correctly identify the longitude and latitude of each balloon will receive the prize. However, since the balloons will only be in the sky on Saturday until sundown, contestants must use social-networking skills and Web-based tools such as Facebook and Twitter to locate all of the balloons. Whitaker hopes the contest will show how the Internet and social networks can help people build teams to solve real problems and challenges. Although DARPA does not know what the information on social networks will lead to, Whitaker says, "we're DARPA, we like to do things that are really out of the box."
A System Developed to Facilitate Searching for Drug Interactions
Carlos III University of Madrid (Spain) (11/30/09)
Carlos III University of Madrid (UC3M) researchers have developed a system that detects the name of drugs in biomedical texts and integrates them into medical databases as well as into a prototype system that recognizes and classifies drug interactions that could be potentially dangerous to patients. Currently, there are databases to check possible interactions between drugs administered to patients, but many of these databases are not updated often enough, according to the researchers. "The biomedical literature is the best system for staying up-to-date with respect to new interactions, but each year 300,000 articles are published just within the pharmacology domain, which is an avalanche of information overwhelming medical personnel," says UC3M professor Isabel Sequra. The researchers have developed a system capable of automatically detecting the names of drugs in biomedical texts with 90 percent accuracy. "The system we describe permits identification of drug names and their classification within drug families in scientific texts," Sequra says. The researchers also are developing a system for extracting interactions. "We have already developed two different prototypes, one based on the use of linguistic patterns and information and a second based on techniques of automatic learning," says UC3M's Paloma Martinez.
3D Mash-Up Maps Let You 'Edit' the World
New Scientist (11/30/09) Barras, Colin
Accurate, large-scale three-dimensional (3D) computer maps could soon revolutionize how people manage and relate to urban environments. "Everyone is now familiar with 3D maps, we're trying to take them beyond simple visualization," says Glen Hart, the head of research at Ordnance Survey, the United Kingdom's mapping agency. In a project to demonstrate the potential of 3D mapping, researchers used Lidar technology to capture the height of buildings, trees, and other features in Bournemouth, a coastal resort town in south England. Combining the Lidar scans with information from aerial photos and traditional surveys produces a full-color 3D map, built from more than 700 million points and accurate to 4 centimeters in x, y, and z. In comparison, the 3D structures in Google Earth are accurate to about 15 meters. Other efforts to advance 3D mapping include transferring the overlaying techniques already used on detailed digital two-dimensional maps to large-scale 3D maps, including information such as the layout of electric cables or data on air pollution. "Now it's not just buildings, but floors within the building that could be annotated," Hart says. The newest generation of maps can capture information such as mailboxes and lamp posts, which are too small to appear on existing city-scale virtual maps. They also can be used to simulate how a proposed building would affect available light in neighboring buildings, for example, or predict wind corridors or dead spots in cell coverage.
Crime Scene Measurements Can Be Taken From a Single Image
Plataforma SINC (Spain) (12/01/09)
University of Salamanca researchers have developed a procedure that enables forensic investigators to extract metric data from a crime scene using only a single photograph and reconstruct it in three dimensions. "We have studied an unprecedented and original line of research in the field of criminology and forensic engineering, which makes it possible to derive metric data from a single image," says Salamanca researcher Diego Gonzalez-Aguilera. The process starts by capturing an image that includes easily identifiable details, at least three vanishing points, and at least one distance in the scene. Data from these features are used to automatically extract the structural components and the most important objects in the image. As the structural features are geometrically related to the features of the scene and the camera, it is possible to take measurements and analyze the dimensions of the scene based on distances, surfaces, and angles. The system is based on photogrammetry technology, which makes it possible to create a three-dimensional (3D) reconstruction of a crime scene using a single image by allowing "restrictions" to be introduced into the scene, such as the presence of parallel or perpendicular lanes. A tool written in Virtual Reality Modeling Language is used to visualize a crime scene from any viewpoint to create an interactive 3D simulation.
Glasgow Scientists Predict the Unpredictable to Guide Future Nano-Chip Design
University of Glasgow (United Kingdom) (11/29/09) Forsyth, Stuart
University of Glasgow scientists, working with researchers from the universities of Edinburgh, Manchester, Southampton and York, have developed simulation tools that will help microchip designers create advanced integrated circuits. The simulation tools use grid computing to predict how billions of nanotransistors will perform in a circuit. The tools will help chip designers handle the problem of statistical variability within transistors, a major hurdle in the effort to continue scaling complementary metal-oxide semiconductor microchips down to the nanoscale. Statistical variations between transistors primarily occur due to the random number and position of discrete dopants introduced in the silicon. Statistical variability means that circuits made from billions of transistors with individually unique properties may not perform as well as expected, despite identical manufacturing procedures. "If we are to continue to shrink the size of transistors in order to develop ever more powerful circuits, we need fundamentally new approaches to circuit and system design that can take account of the statistical variability," says Glasgow professor Asen Asenov. Asenov and his team used grid computing to manage the problem by running simulations of huge numbers of microscopically different nanotransistors, enabling them to accurately predict how billions of different transistors will perform in future computer chips. The simulations provided the researchers with information on the statistical distribution of transistor characteristics, helping to predict how many of the transistors on a chip will work.
As Robots Become More Common, Stanford Experts Consider the Legal Challenges
Stanford Report (CA) (11/23/09) Gorlick, Adam
Stanford University researchers are exploring the potential legal ramifications of the growing use of robots in society. "I worry that in the absence of some good, upfront thought about the question of liability, we'll have some high-profile cases that will turn the public against robots or chill innovation and make it less likely for engineers to go into the field and less likely for capital to flow in the area," says Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society residential fellow M. Ryan Calo. He says a flood of lawsuits could cause the United States to fall behind other countries that also are at the front of personal robot development, which could significantly limit the country in a field that is expected to exceed $5 billion in annual sales by 2015. Calo and his Stanford colleagues are some of the first in the U.S. to contemplate the potential legal questions that will emerge as robotics continue to advance, which go well beyond claims of personal injury and property damage. For example, robots use cameras and sensors to navigate, and because they run on software they are susceptible to hacking, so a robot designed to clean a house could potentially be turned into a spy, vandal, or thief. Issues surrounding humans' emotional attachment to robots also may arise, including the possibility of someone suing for the right to marry a robot. Already, people have demonstrated strong emotional attachments to robots that do not even look like people, such as the vacuum robot Roomba and robots used to disarm roadside bombs in Iraq.
Scottish Supercomputer Fired Up
Computerworld UK (11/26/09) Dunn, John E.
The University of Strathclyde's new supercomputer, based on a Sun Microsystems kit, is now up and running. Strathclyde spent 500,000 pounds on the high-performance computer (HPC), which has a performance peak of 13 teraflops and consists of 1,088 computing cores and 100 terabytes of data storage tied to a Quad data rate Infiniband network. The university defines its power in terms of the clustering of Sun HPC servers into a single logical computing unit, and notes that the use of Sun's parallel file system, Lustre, offers scalability without the development of bottlenecks. "This state-of-the-art facility will help us perform engineering and scientific modeling to a level of detail that would not be possible using physical experiments," says Strathclyde professor Jason Reese. "The investment reflects Strathclyde's vision to be a leading international technological university." The Faculty of Engineering will use the HPC to solve problems relating to the simulation of fluids at nanoscale levels, predicting welding distortion, and complex forms of aerodynamics.
New Algorithms for Computerized, Large-Scale Surveillance
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (11/19/09) Callier, Maria
The U.S. Air Force has adapted the advanced algebraic theories of mathematicians Myoung An and Richard Tolimieri to improve its object and target detection technology. The methodology was used to make reviewing photographic, video, and radar images to facilitate military planning more effective. Researchers at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) expect the algebraic structures to cut the time overhead for reviewing large amounts of surveillance material by 99 percent. The groups, rings, and fields will lead to enhancements for detecting subtle patterns or features in conditions such as dust, fog, bushes, and other visual obstructions. "One challenge of the research is the matching of the algebraic structure to the data and problems at hand," says AFRL lead researcher Richard A. Albanese. "We are applying algebraic structures to data index sets and in this way finding patterns that were not easily detectable before." Myoung An and Tolimieri assisted the U.S. Navy with a related technology that uses sonar to detect shallow water mines.
Nanowires Key to Future Transistors, Electronics
Purdue University News (11/26/09) Venere, Emil
A major discovery by researchers at Purdue University; the University of California, Los Angeles; and IBM has brought the enablement of future ultrasmall transistors and more powerful computer chips using semiconducting nanowires a step closer to reality. The researchers have determined how to produce nanowires with sharply defined layers of different materials or heterostructures, in this case silicon and germanium. Conventional transistors are manufactured on flat, horizontal silicon plates, while silicon nanowires are "grown" vertically. The vertical orientation could make it possible to fit more transistors on a chip, says Purdue professor Eric Stach. The researchers first heated and melted particles of a gold-aluminum alloy in a vacuum chamber and then pumped in silicon gas so that the silicon would precipitate and form wires. Each wire was capped with a liquid gold-aluminum bead, and then the temperature was lowered to induce solidification of the caps, allowing the direct deposit of germanium onto the silicon. With the provision of such a heterostructure, a germanium gate can be created in each transistor. The shrinkage of electronic devices made of conventional silicon-based semiconductors in order to continuously upgrade computing performance is becoming increasingly difficult to accomplish, and Stach speculates that the physical limits of silicon transistors will be reached within five to 10 years. Nanowire-based transistors are a potential solution to this problem.
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