Welcome to the January 27, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
China Set for Global Lead in Scientific Research
Financial Times (01/26/10) P. 3; Cookson, Clive
China has demonstrated the most growth in scientific research of any country in the past three decades and is on pace to overtake the United States as the world's scientific leader by 2020, according to a recent Thomson Reuters study. The study found that China has experienced a 64-fold increase in peer-reviewed scientific papers since 1981. "China is out on its own, far ahead of the pack," says the Royal Society of London's James Wilsdon. Chinese researchers also have become more eager to work with international colleagues, with almost nine percent of Chinese-based papers having at least one U.S.-based co-author. Three main factors are driving China's boom of scientific research, Wilsdon says. The government has made an enormous financial investment, new scientific breakthroughs are organized to flow from basic science to commercial applications, and Chinese researchers based in the United States and Europe are being recruited back to China.
Safety in Numbers--A Cloud-Based Immune System for Computers
Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (01/27/10) Carron-Gasco, Cecilia
Researchers at Switzerland's Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) have incorporated cloud computing technology into Dimmunix, a new tool designed to make programs immune to future recurrences of bugs. When a bug manifests in software for the first time, Dimmunix saves its signature, then observes the response of the computer and records a trace, which enables the tool to recognize the bug the next time. When the bug appears again, Dimmunix automatically changes the execution of the program so it continues to run smoothly. The use of cloud computing technology means the tool can protect an entire network of computers from bugs, even in an environment such as the Internet. EPFL professor George Candea compares Dimmunix to the way the human immune system develops antibodies after an infection. "Subsequently, when the immune system encounters the same pathogen once again, the body recognizes it and knows how to effectively fight the illness," he says. Dimmunix is available online for free.
U.S. Keeps Foreign Ph.D.s
Wall Street Journal (01/27/10) P. A3; Wessel, David
The number of foreign scientists that earned Ph.D.s in science and engineering in the United States continues to grow, despite a weak job market and increased opportunities at home, according to a study by the U.S. Energy Department's Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education. The study found that 62 percent of foreigners who earned Ph.D.s in science and engineering at U.S. universities in 2002 were still in the U.S. in 2007, and 60 percent of those receiving Ph.D.s in 1997 were still in the U.S. a decade later. Foreign scientists account for about 40 percent of all science and engineering Ph.D. holders in the U.S. The Energy Department's Michael Finn says that Ph.D. graduates in computer science and the physical sciences are the most likely to stay in the United States after graduation. However, other analysts say that foreign scientists are more likely to return home, especially due to the current job market. "I have no doubt that the 2009 data will show a dramatic shift," says Duke University professor Vivek Wadwha. According to a recent National Science Foundation survey, there were 158,430 foreign science and engineering students enrolled in U.S. graduate programs in April 2009, up eight percent from the previous year.
Local Research Aids Microsoft in Breaking New Ground
LiveMint (01/24/10) Singh, Seema
The India lab of Microsoft Research (MSR) has had more than 12 breakthroughs that address India-specific technological challenges, such as the absence of a standard address format. Solving this problem is the goal of MSR's address geocoder, location search software that has been incorporated into the production of Bing Maps, Microsoft's searchable database of addresses worldwide. MSR has a global pool of 850 researchers, which lab founder Richard F. Rashid says is the largest concentration of basic research computer science professionals. MSR's fifth anniversary and annual research symposium featured a discussion about the future of computing and computer science. MSR technical fellow and 1992 ACM A.M. Turing Award recipient Butler Lampson expressed a persistent hope that robots will soon have a strong presence in the home. "We are 15 years away from when robotics would come to human aid in a big way, particularly in prostheses," he predicted. Meanwhile, 1980 ACM A.M. Turing Award recipient Tony Hoare said making computing universally relevant constitutes the most formidable challenge the field faces, and he speculated that mobile computing could solve the problem of the ever-widening digital divide.
Computer Mimics Nature by Using TV
BBC News (01/25/10)
University of Bath researchers led by professor Peter Hall and Ph.D. candidate Chris Li have developed software that enables a computer to process video of a tree and then generate lifelike computer animations of trees and the movement of branches and leaves in the wind. The program allows users to draw around the tree outline in the first frame of the video, and then make a model of the tree and track the movement of branches and leaves in the video. Algorithms copy this movement, enabling the software to generate trees that are slightly different from each other. Li says the program would be a helpful tool for animators and computer game designers. "Our system will make it faster and cheaper for animators to create animated backgrounds," he says. "In the future, we want to use this same technique to animate other objects like clouds, water, fire, and smoke."
In Digital Combat, U.S. Finds No Easy Deterrent
New York Times (01/25/10) Markoff, John; Sanger, David; Shanker, Thom
The U.S. government is exploring ways to combat and deter cyberattacks from abroad. After a recent Pentagon simulated cyberattack, it became clear that the enemy had all the advantages--stealth, anonymity, and unpredictability. The situation has led some in the government to compare it to that of the Cold War era, and there is intense debate inside and outside the government about what the United States can realistically threaten. Diplomatic demarche, formal protest, economic retaliation, and criminal prosecution have all been suggested as possible responses to increased cyberattacks. "We are now in the phase that we found ourselves in during the early 1950s, after the Soviets got the bomb," says Harvard University professor Joseph Nye. The Internet has blurred the line between military and civilian targets because an enemy can cripple a target without ever aiming at the government or military, which hinders the U.S. Department of Defense's authority to intervene. The U.S. government has responded to increasing cyberattacks by creating a new United States Cyber Command, run though the Defense Department.
Estonians Put ROBOSWARM Technology to the Test
A swarm robot demonstrator has been successfully tested by a European collaboration that brought together nine research and industry partners from seven countries. Part of the ROBOSWARM project, the demonstrator consisted of 10 to 15 devices that enabled the swarm of simple robots to carry out cleaning tasks. Fixed radio frequency identification (RFID) tags facilitated the positioning and navigation of the swarms, enabling project partners to coordinate the robots for sharing tasks. The project sought to develop swarms that would be robust, self-configurable, and inexpensive. The partners say the ROBOSWARM technology provides a level of communication that would enable robots to learn from other members of the swarm, and split tasks to allow for scalability of the swarm. The Department of Computer Science at Estonia's Tallinn University of Technology led the project, coordinating with teams from Estonia, Spain, France, Italy, Portugal, Finland, and Sweden.
Innovative Technique Can Spot Errors in Key Technological Systems
National Science Foundation (01/27/10) Dybas, Cheryl
Researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU) and the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) have developed the Intelligent Outlier Detection Algorithm (IODA), a computational technique that can detect errors in sensitive technological systems. IODA is designed to perform quality control on time series data. The algorithm uses statistics, graph theory, image processing, and decision trees to compare incoming data to common patterns of failure. IODA identifies problems with data points and determines how a particular datum is inaccurate by treating the data as an image. "We thought that, by using image processing, we could teach the system to detect inconsistencies, somewhat like a person would," says NCAR's Andrew Weekley. CU's Kent Goodrich says their approach "is a radical departure from the usual techniques found in the time series literature."
New Methods Developed for Interactive 3D Measurements of Objects
Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica (Netherlands) (01/25/10)
Interactive methods can be used to perform more accurate measurements of three-dimensional (3D) objects, according to Chris Kruszynski of the Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica (CWI). Kruszynski developed the interactive methods and techniques for his recent Ph.D thesis at TU Eindhoven. He applied the methods and techniques to branching marine coral, using a computed tomography scanner to digitize the coral, then reconstructed a virtual replica of the object and measured the replica. "In my research I focus on measuring the morphological characteristics of objects," Kruszynski says. He stresses that interaction in the measuring process is important because of the presence of artifacts in the data, which need to be understood and eliminated. Kruszynski's 3D interface consists of visualization and interaction components, the latter for touching and holding the object in your hand like a normal object. He believes biologists, industrial designers, and medical researchers stand to benefit from interactive 3D measurement.
To Beat Spam, Turn Its Own Weapons Against It
New Scientist (01/25/10) Giles, Jim
Researchers from the International Computer Science Institute and the University of California, San Diego have developed a method for blocking the most common type of spam. The researchers employed a trick that spammers use to defeat email filters. Each spam message is generated from a template that specifies the message content and a slight variation used to bypass the filter. The researchers analyzed the messages to reveal the template that created them, and since the template describes all the emails a bot will send, possessing it might provide a method of blocking all spam from that bot. After testing, the team was able to block spam from a specific bot with 100 percent accuracy. In addition, the new system did not produce a single false positive in more than a million messages, says team member Andreas Pitsillidis. "This is an interesting approach which really differs by using the bots themselves as the oracles for producing the filters," says the Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group's Michael O'Reirdan.
World Wide Web May Split Up Into Several Separate Networks
Investors Business Daily (01/25/10) Krause, Reinhardt
The recent dispute between the Chinese government and Google, and the latter's subsequent threat to leave China, has some analysts worried that the World Wide Web may fracture into several regional fiefdoms. "A new information curtain is descending across much of the world," says U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Analysts say that China wants to maintain control in shaping next-generation Internet standards, and note that it already has the tools to create and manage its own cyberspace. If Google leaves China for good, it could lead to a disintegration of the Internet into several regional or nationally sovereign clouds, says University of Toronto professor Ron Deibert. Several other countries have already isolated themselves from the global Internet by blocking Web sites. North Korea, Cuba, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Syria, Vietnam, Tunisia, and Bahrain are among the most isolated countries, according to a Harvard University-run Web site aimed at tracking Internet accessibility by country.
Clarkson University Professor's Software to Test Cybersecurity Systems for Flaws
Clarkson University News (01/25/10) Griffin, Michael
Clarkson University (CU) scientists, in collaboration with researchers from the University at Albany-SUNY, the University of New Mexico, the University of Illinois, and the Naval Research Laboratory are developing software that will test cybersecurity systems for flaws. CU professor Christopher Lynch wants to use automated reasoning to teach machines to scan cybersecurity systems for glitches. The research effort's goal is to design a program that can find cybersecurity flaws in a system before it hits the commercial market. "When you work in cybersecurity, everything has to be just right," Lynch says. "One little thing might be off, and that's the hole the intruder needs to come through and get everything." He says the system could have applications in a wide variety of fields, from banking to national security. "It would deal with pretty much anything where you need to be sure your information is kept secret," Lynch says. "The point is that almost everything in our lives today involves computers. We need them to be secure."
Colleges Look for New Ways to Help Women in Science
Chronicle of Higher Education (01/24/10) June, Audrey Williams
Colleges have developed programs to support women in science and engineering through the use of federal grants such as those offered under the U.S. National Science Foundation's Advance program. Advance offers "institutional transformation" grants that can be used to develop a signature initiative whose popularity and effectiveness makes it a leading candidate to continue with some other grant or with the institution's own money. Examples of projects developed with Advance grants include Case Western University's executive coaching sessions available to new chairs and deans and new female science and engineering professors. University of Washington professors were able to apply for funding from an Advance "transitional support program" to help them cope with major life changes such a parenthood, caring for an elderly relative, and dealing with the death of a family member. Once the grant money is depleted, institutions must become inventive to sustain such projects. Some schools have tapped on-campus resources, garnered support among top administrators, and scaled back projects in response to budget reductions.
The Ties That Bind
Science News (01/16/10) Vol. 177, No. 2, P. 26; Grossman, Lisa
Scientists are using the latest technology to analyze human social networks in order to map the spread of feelings and behaviors through the emerging research area of computational social science. Researchers from Harvard Medical School and the University of California, San Diego digitized three decades' worth of paper records from a long-term health study in Framingham, Mass., and from it built a network composed of about 5,000 individuals with more than 50,000 ties. They performed a series of studies in which they plotted how weight, smoking habits, and happiness changed over time, and each of these three traits seemed to move through the network in clumps, as well as spread from person to person as far as three degrees of separation. With the addition of a researcher from the University of Chicago, the study focused on loneliness, and determined that the tendency to feel lonely also spread as far as three social contacts away. The analysis suggests that lonely friends can increase a person's number of days spent in isolation per week--but only if they live in close proximity. Weaknesses in computational social science's progenitor disciplines could be overcome by the new field, as traditional social science research is typically restricted to snapshots of small groups and often depends on self-reported data.
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