Welcome to the January 15, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
In observance of the Martin Luther King Day holiday, ACM TechNews will not be published on Monday, Jan. 18. Publication will resume Wednesday, Jan. 20.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
FCC Looks at Ways to Assert Authority Over Web Access
Washington Post (01/15/10) P. A22; Kang, Cecilia
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is considering aggressive moves to claim its authority over consumer access to the Internet as part of the Obama administration's plan to treat broadband Internet as a national infrastructure similar to phone lines or the broadcast spectrum. Recently, a federal appeals court questioned the limits of the FCC in a 2008 case involving the Internet and cable firm Comcast, bringing the issue to a head. The judges questioned whether the FCC had acted outside of its authority when it ordered Comcast to stop blocking subscribers from accessing specific file-sharing services. Although the case is still being heard, analysts predict the FCC will lose, derailing its attempts to oversee Internet access. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has been pushing for net neutrality, but a loss in the Comcast case could undermine his authority. "If the court removes the legal basis for the current approach to broadband, the commission may be compelled to undertake a major reassessment of its policy framework … or Congress will have to act," says the FCC's Colin Crowell. That could mean that the FCC will put broadband services back into a category with phones services, reversing policies from the past decade.
Intercontinental Grid--Europe and China Link Up for Research
ICT Results (01/15/10)
The European Union-funded Bilateral Research and Industrial Development enhancing and integrating Grid Enabled technologies (BRIDGE) program links European and Chinese computing grids to enable researchers to carry out joint research. The BRIDGE program already has produced results in drug development, aircraft design, and weather prediction. The project was inspired by China's rapid growth in research and development. "If Europe does not want to lose ground, the response can only be to synchronize with these developments," says BRIDGE's Gilbert Kalb. The BRIDGE researchers say the project has created a foundation for the kind of multinational cooperation that is required to solve global problems.
The Greening of IT
Science|Business (01/14/10) Jenkinson, Anna
A seminar hosted by Science|Business focused on what needs to be done to make information technology (IT) more environmentally friendly. The cross-pollination of various disciplines, including computer science, economics, and psychology, was deemed crucial. Cooperation and dialogue between industry, academia, policymakers, and consumers also is essential. Another need highlighted at the seminar is the provision of more accurate and consistent predictive models, while the European Investment Bank's Juan Alario stressed the importance of information to make financing an "enabling instrument" for green IT and energy efficiency. The European Union's plan to solve the economic crisis has recognized three sectors--the auto industry, construction, and manufacturing--deserving of research support to enhance energy efficiency. Meanwhile, the user-friendliness of IT products must be augmented if more energy-efficient technologies are to be widely adopted. The ubiquitous proliferation of computers creates the challenge of harnessing, organizing, and absorbing all the information they collect so that it can be applied productively.
Group Thinker: Researcher Gets $2.9 Million to Further Develop Swarm Intelligence
Scientific American (01/13/10) Greenemeier, Larry
The European Research Council recently awarded a $2.9 million grant to Belgian Funds for Scientific Research's Marco Dorigo to develop a universal engineering methodology for designing and implementing swarm intelligence systems. Dorigo says swarm intelligence could provide a novel way of designing systems that are more autonomous and self-sufficient. "We believe that in the future, swarm intelligence will be an important tool for researchers and engineers interested in solving certain classes of complex problems," he says. Dorigo and his team have chosen certain areas to concentrate their research, including optimization, robotics, networks, and data mining. Dorigo has used swarm intelligence to solve complex human problems, such as routing trucks, scheduling airlines, and guiding military robots. He also founded the swarmanoid project, which aims to design, implement, and control a robotic system of small heterogeneous, dynamically connected, autonomous robots. "The swarmanoid that we intend to build will be comprised of numerous autonomous robots of three types: eye-bots, hand-bots, and foot-bots," according to the swarmanoid Web site. Foot-bots are used to transport objects on the ground, hand-bots can climb walls and manipulate objects, and eye-bots can fly around and provide information to the other robots.
Researchers Develop a University Business Simulator
Carlos III University of Madrid (Spain) (01/15/10)
Carlos III University of Madrid (UC3M) researchers have developed SIMulator for Business Administration (SIMBA), business simulation software that can mimic how a market behaves as companies make different business decisions. "It can be utilized from a competitive point of view since different companies can compete against each other to improve their own results," says UC3M's Fernando Fernandez. SIMBA uses different variables, including products, markets, client segments, technology, languages, currency, and socio-economic environments, to create a realistic simulated business environment. SIMBA also can be used as a tool for students who are studying the business world. The companies involved in a simulation can be controlled by humans or by computer programs using artificial intelligence. "This increases the complexity of the simulated market and creates the possibility of carrying out multi-player simulations, where some players are human, but where others are controlled by computer programs built by artificial intelligence techniques," Fernandez says.
How Touch Screens Could Shrug Off Shoulder Surfers
New Scientist (01/14/10) Graham-Rowe, Duncan
Users of touch-screen gadgets must contend with snoopers, and researchers at Britain's Newcastle University and elsewhere are working on alternative input mechanisms to thwart shoulder surfing, based on touch screens that can detect multiple simultaneous touches. ColorRings, developed by Newcastle's Paul Dunphy and Patrick Olivier in collaboration with colleagues at Northumbria University, is one such system. ColorRings is based on a user recalling a sequence of pictorial icons rather than numbers, and when entering this code, users are presented with a screen littered with icons, including their four secret ones. The users use their fingers to drag four different colored circles so that each surrounds the correct icon--and with each circle big enough to ring as many as six icons, it is impossible for snoopers to know which icon is part of the code. Meanwhile, an authentication system also developed by Olivier's team requires the user to choose a different known face in each of a sequence of grids containing numerous faces. The method is designed to deter shoulder surfers by having the user place three fingers on each grid, highlighting three rows or columns of faces. Northumbria University's David Kim says that users apply extra pressure to the row in which the known face is to make their actual choice, "so the user is not directly selecting each face."
Robots for Surgery, Farming and Valet Parking
Korea Times (Korea) (01/15/10) Tae-gyu, Kim
Korean Ministry of Knowledge Economy (MKE) officials recently announced the development of robots conceptually similar to the avatar humanoids seen in the movie "Avatar." "Already, domestic robot makers are working on prototypes of avatar robots and the consensus is that the commercial versions will come to town by late 2013," says an MKE director. The avatar robots would be connected to their users via the Web. If the user sends a message, the corresponding avatar robot will repeat the message in the user's voice. Avatar robots could help educate students about robotics technologies, says Korea National University of Arts professor Kim Jun-sup. And, as the technology develops and improves, "just as computers, robots will eventually be personalized," Jun-sup says.
Software Reveals the Inner Workings of the Human Genome
Lehigh University (01/11/10) Pfitzer, Kurt
Lehigh University professors Stefan Maas and Daniel Lopresti are engaged in a study on RNA editing. Lopresti has devised RNA Editing Dataflow Systems (REDS), a program that identifies the discrepancies that take place when DNA is transcribed into RNA, and then filters out those that are not induced by RNA editing. "We then take the data we obtain from the lab and feed it to our software to improve on our predictions," Maas says. "The more data we obtain, the more our predictions can be based on machine learning." Lopresti has created an algorithm designed to simulate RNA folding and correlate folding structures with editing sites. "The algorithm is not perfect, but it does rank all potential editing sites based on predicted folding because of structure," he says. Maas says that more knowledge about RNA editing could yield insights on the underlying causes for certain diseases and their possible treatments.
New Computer Vision System for the Analysis of Human Behavior
UAB Barcelona (01/12/10)
European researchers, coordinated by the Autonomous University of Barcelona, have developed a cognitive computational system using video cameras and software, which is able to recognize and predict human behavior. Human Expressive Graphic Representation of Motion and their Evaluation in Sequences (HERMES) analyzes human behavior based on three levels of video recording sequences. The information is processed by computer vision and artificial intelligence algorithms, which allow the system to recognize movement trends. The researchers say that HERMES uses two new ideas in the field of computer vision. First, it can describe the movement captured by the cameras in natural language using simple and precise phrases. Second, the system can analyze and discover potentially unusual behavior and give off warning signals. Researchers anticipate that HERMES can be used in several different fields, especially intelligent surveillance and accident and crime prevention, as well as marketing and psychology.
Reading Your Mind to Tag Images (and Work With Computers)
Singularity Hub (01/10/10) Saenz, Aaron
Studies done at Microsoft Research are using electroencephalograph (EEG) measurements to read users' minds in order to help tag online images. The researchers say the mind-reading technique is the first step toward a hybrid human-computer data analysis system. The manual process for tagging images is often tedious and repetitive, but with the new method of EEG tagging, workers may be able to perform other tasks during the tagging process. Computers can recognize shapes and movements very well, but they have a harder time with categorizing objects in human terms, says Microsoft Research's Desney Tan. During testing, researchers could determine if the subject was looking at a face, an animal, or an inanimate object with good results. The researchers found that no improvement was seen if the viewer was given more than half a second to look at each image. This leads researchers to think images could be displayed at that speed with no loss of accuracy.
W3C Posts Draft Standard for Local Database Storage
Computerworld (01/08/10) Jackson, Joab
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has drafted the Indexed Database API, a proposed standard for a set of application programming interfaces (APIs) that could be used to store structured content online. The Indexed Database API will supply an interface that Web application developers can use to make the user's browser store database content offline, says W3C's Philippe Le Hegaret. Web applications can use the APIs to store copies of data in the browser itself. "The database engine will be directly in the browser," Le Hegaret says. If browser makers adopt the standard, data storage can be controlled by the browsers rather than by individual applications. The W3C hopes the Indexed Database API will help redefine the Web from being a platform for viewing static content into one for hosting data-rich, Internet-based applications. The W3C is developing other APIs for offline storage in conjunction with the Indexed Database API, such as Web Storage, which is not intended for large amounts of data; and Web SQL Database, which is confined to storing SQL-formatted data.
Giving Babies a Head Start
Irish Times (Ireland) (01/08/10)
University College Cork (UCC) scientists are researching how to improve the detection and monitoring of neurological emergencies such as seizures and hypoxia in neonatal intensive-care units. UCC medical engineers and computer scientists are developing an automatic seizure detection algorithm to alert medical staff to seizures in newborns. While early tests show the algorithm works at a 95 percent success rate, it does not achieve the results in real time. To combat this problem, UCC collaborated with CareFusion. CareFusion contributed an electroencephalogram (EEG) with a video-monitoring system built in. "This was very useful to us as the babies aren't watched 24 hours a day so we are able to use it to see if there are any physical signs occurring at the same time as a seizure," says UCC's Geraldine Boylan. "We are working with the Boole Centre for Research in Informatics here in UCC to develop a system whereby the EEG information can be sent over the Web to any device, such as a laptop or even an iPod, which can run Flash Player."
Breaking Through the Language Barrier
CNN (01/06/10) Ford, Matt
IBM and other technology firms are researching ways to translate online content. IBM's n.Fluent project is developing software designed to instantly translate the Internet, and IBM's Salim Roukos says that researchers have developed a Web page interface that facilitates automatic page translation when the user types in the URL. "The ability to translate URLs is something that our customers love a lot, because once you translate the page, you can click on all the links and suddenly you are exploring the foreign language Web as an English speaker," Roukos says. Because vernacular and jargon presents a problem for translation software, n.Fluent has been designed to learn from its errors and pick up scientific terms used within IBM. This is achieved by opening up the project to hundreds of thousands of IBM staffers, using crowdsourcing to tap their collective wisdom and feedback. Meanwhile, Google is working on a tool to fully translate Web pages and searches. "Imagine what it would be like if there was a tool built into the search engine which translated my search query into every language and then searched the entire world's web sites," says Google's Marissa Mayer. "And then invoked the translation software a second and third time--to not only then present the results in your native language, but then translated those sites in full when you clicked through."
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