Welcome to the March 17, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
How Privacy Vanishes Online
New York Times (03/16/10) Lohr, Steve
Personal privacy is being threatened as Internet users increasingly provide information about themselves on social networking sites, which can be collected and analyzed by computers to create a picture of a person's identity. "Personal privacy is no longer an individual thing," says Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Harold Abelson. "In today's online world, what your mother told you is true, only more so: people really can judge you by your friends." Although users can implement privacy controls on most Internet sites, researchers say that is rarely enough to protect privacy. For example, University of Texas professor Viatly Shmatikov and Stanford University researcher Arvind Narayanan were able to identify more than 30 percent of users of both Twitter and Flickr, even thought the accounts had been stripped of identifying information like account names and email addresses. At Carnegie Mellon University, researchers Alessandro Acquisti and Ralph Gross reported they could accurately predict the Social Security numbers for 8.5 percent of the people born in the United States between 1989 and 2003--nearly 5 million people. "When you're doing stuff online, you should behave as if you're doing it in public--because increasingly, it is," says Cornell University professor Jon Kleinberg.
Lie Detector to Fight Smugglers and Terrorists
Researchers at Aberystwyth University and the University of Bradford have developed a thermal-imaging scanner that can reveal the physical signs of guilt, such as minute fluctuations in blood flow and temperature. The researchers say the system, called Real-Time Dynamic Passive Profiling, could be used to identify smugglers or terrorists at border control points. "This new technology is based on the modeling of facial expressions, eye movement, and pupil changes in both the visual and thermal domains," says Aberystwyth professor Reyer Zwiggelaar. "In the future, it could have many uses, because it tells us how people are really feeling." The researchers plan to test the system at U.K. ports and airports next month. "We aim to automatically analyze people's facial expressions and eye movements in response to a series of questions through video images and computer-based intelligent algorithms," says Bradford professor Hassan Ugail.
Software: Running Commentary for Smarter Surveillance?
ICT Results (03/16/10)
European researchers have developed HERMES, a software surveillance system that automatically detects human motion, behavior, and facial expressions; generates a running commentary of what is happening; and virtually re-enacts events. HERMES consists of a scalable, flexible platform, which integrates software components that can detect events in real time and describe them semantically. The HERMES tracking technology functions like a human watching the same scene, making predictions about where a target is heading and reacting to other unusual events. The system can track people as they walk across a city with a combination of static cameras and pan-tilt-zoom cameras. Generating semantic information from video has led to the development of a tool that creates a virtual three-dimensional representation of the scene. "The virtual graphical representation of the footage is generated in near real time and can be displayed alongside the actual video stream," says Universitat Autonoma senior researcher Andrew Bagdanov.
UIC Researcher Looks Toward a Communication Revolution
Medill Reports (IL) (03/16/10) Jacobs, Kevin
Andy Johnson, a professor in the University of Illinois at Chicago's Electronic Visualization Laboratory, is developing ultra-high-speed connections paired with high-definition video collaboration. Johnson says the technology is similar to commercial video phone services, but is more reliable, larger, and has a much clearer display. A stable, high-resolution video connection could change how people consult with doctors, auto mechanics diagnose cars, or businesspeople hold meetings, he says. The technology pairs life-sized display screens with near-instant Internet connections. "That gives us a much higher resolution interaction, and could make it much easier for remote groups to work together," Johnson says. However, the system will require the United States to upgrade its Internet infrastructure with fiber-optic cables to increase access speeds.
Amputees Could Feel Artificial Limb If Put in the Virtual World
Times of India (03/17/10)
University College London computer scientist Anthony Steed will present a study on how virtual environments impact people with artificial limbs at the upcoming Virtual Reality 2010 Conference. In an experiment that had 20 volunteers play games in a virtual world in which an avatar's hands were represented as their own, the participants behaved as if the virtual hand was their own limb. Steed used a monitoring system to record the movements of muscles and nerve-endings firing. The monitoring system enabled him to track the reactions of the volunteers during the virtual game when a lamp on a table toppled onto the avatar's arm. The monitoring system showed that most of the participants made gestures with their arm that suggested an attempt to move it, and the volunteers acknowledged they had reacted as if the virtual hand was their own. When Steed conducted the experiment again, but using an arrow to represent the volunteers' arm, the participants showed no emphatic response to the falling lamp. The research suggests virtual reality can help amputees feel ownership of their prosthetic limb.
Asian Health Research Gets the Grid Treatment
SuperComputing (03/12/10) O'Neal, Chris
Biomedical and health researchers discussed how they were using grid computing at the recent International Symposium on Grid Computing in Taipei, Taiwan. The Genomics Research Center (GRC) of Academia Sinica in Taiwan is using the GAP Virtual Screening Service (GVSS), developed by the Academia Sinica Grid Computing Center, to model potential drugs for Dengue fever. "The beautiful thing about GVSS is that even people who don't know about computational methods can easily submit their job," says GRC's Ying-Ta Wu. Meanwhile, KISTI and Chonnam National University in Korea and HealthGrid and the National Institute of Nuclear Physics and Particle Physics in France are working to find novel inhibitors for the enzyme HMA, which would help limit the complications and the progression of type 2 diabetes. And the National Electronics and Computer Technology Center in Thailand is using grid technologies to build a National Health Information System, while ASTI in the Philippines has developed a portal to make grid technologies more accessible for researchers.
Human Arm Transmits Broadband
New Scientist (03/15/10) McKenna, Phil
Korea University researchers have developed a method for transmitting data at a rate of 10 megabits per second through a person's arm, between two electrodes on their skin placed 30 centimeters apart. The electrodes use significantly less energy than a wireless link because low-frequency electromagnetic waves pass through skin with little attenuation. The researchers say the technology has major benefits for the health care industry, including monitoring vital signs such as blood sugar levels or the heart's electrical activity. "If we use wireless for each of these vital signs we would need many batteries," says Korea University's Sang-Hoon Lee. A network transmitting through the skin could cut energy needs by about 90 percent, Lee says. The electrodes are coated with a flexible silicon-rich polymer and are 300 micrometers thick. Future versions of the device could be embedded beneath the skin for long-term monitoring applications.
Expert: Bracket Seedings Irrelevant After Sweet Sixteen Round
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (03/15/10) Ciciora, Phil
University of Illinois computer science professor Sheldon Jacobson recently completed a study on the NCAA's men basketball tournament showing that picking the higher-seeded team to beat the lower-seeded team usually only works in the first three rounds of the tournament. Once the tournament reaches the Elite Eight round, a team's seed in the tournament is irrelevant. "In the Sweet Sixteen round, the rankings still hold--but just barely," he says. Jacobson says the purpose of the study was to see if a team's seeding was a good predictor of how far the team ultimately would go in the tournament. He says the expectation was that higher-seeded teams had greater odds of winning, especially for games in later rounds. However, that did not prove true once the tournament was reduced to eight teams. At that point, "the odds of either team winning is reduced to a coin flip," Jacobson says. "People often overvalue seedings. The best advice is, pay attention to them early in the tournament, but as the tournament gets going, remember that their usefulness as a predictive measure fades."
A New System Makes Household Communication Networks More Versatile
Carlos III University of Madrid (Spain) (03/15/10)
Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) researchers have developed a configuration for a residential gateway (RGW) device, which would connect a residential communications network to an access network from any server. The RGW could be used to assist all household communications. "Other research focuses on defining which functionalities a residential gateway should have, while ours is aimed at facilitating the way to implement them and making them more flexible," says UC3M professor Jaime Garcia Reinoso. A RGW could connect the telephone, radio, TV, and any other device that uses an Internet Protocol to communicate over the Internet. The researchers say that an ADSL router with a RGW could be converted into a much more intelligent device. For example, Reinoso says the RGW would coordinate with the other devices to obtain the best performance possible and guarantee the necessary features. He says it also "frees up the users from awkward configurations since it is designed to be able to carry out all of its functions autonomously and efficiently."
AMARSi Project Could See Robots Learn From Co-Workers
Wired.co.uk (03/12/10) Cole, Emmet
The Adaptive Modular Architecture for Rich Motor Skills (AMARSi) project aims to build humanoid robots that can autonomously learn and develop motor skills in open-ended environments by learning from the data provided by movement and rewiring their circuits to process and store the new knowledge they have acquired. Technology supporting the robots includes dynamic neural networks, new robotics hardware designs, and complex software algorithms. AMARSi relies on a biologically inspired view of motor skills that goes beyond traditional robotic designs, says project coordinator Jochen Steil. AMARSi researchers hope their architecture will enable robots to learn by interaction, which involves a combination of kinesthetic learning, imitation, and exploration. To develop advanced, autonomous robotic systems, scientists need to both reverse and forward engineer biological systems, says University of Washington research scientist Payman Arabshahi.
MSU Programmers Develop Land Mine Avoidance Game
The State News (03/14/10) McMillin, Zane
Michigan State University (MSU) instructors and students are fine-tuning a computer video game designed to help unsuspecting children avoid land mines and other explosives in the Cambodian jungle. The Golden West Humanitarian Foundation approached MSU with the idea two years because it thought computer games would be an effective way to educate children about the dangers of unexploded ordnances (UXOs). The game has a pet accompany the player on a trek for food through a series of Cambodian landscapes, but the individual also will see UXOs, with warnings such as bright red lights emblazoned with a skull and cautionary words, that must be avoided. The game is a capstone project for students in MSU's game design and development specialization. Golden West plans to test the game on Cambodian children in April. The game will be compatible with One Laptop Per Child computers, and Golden West will be able to tweak game landscapes for distribution in other countries.
Cutting-Edge Tech for All From Indian Labs
Business Standard (India) (03/11/10) Shinde, Shivani; D'Monte, Leslie
Hewlett-Packard (HP) Labs India researchers are developing Web applications designed to make the Internet easier to use for illiterate populations and those in remote locations. One application enables users to take a picture of written text and email addresses, and automatically send the email based on the image alone. HP Labs also has developed technology based on touch and gesture, making the keyboard and mouse obsolete. The goal is to make interaction with the personal computer as simple as possible, says HP Labs India director Sudhir Dixit. Meanwhile, IBM's Spoken Web project is developing voice-enabled technology that helps people with little literacy to access and share information, perform business transactions, and create social networks using mobile or landline phones. IBM also recently announced a joint research initiative with the National Institute of Design in India and the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology to develop a common user interface platform for mobile devices geared toward elderly and illiterate populations in developing countries.
Traces of the Past: Computer Algorithm 'Reads' Memories
University College London (03/11/10) Brierley, Craig
University College London (UCL) researchers have created a computer algorithm that can convert brain activity into visual images. UCL professor Eleanor Maguire led the study, which built on her previous research that demonstrated how spatial memories are recorded in regular patterns. "What is more interesting is to look at 'episodic' memories--the complex, everyday memories that include much more information on where we are, what we are doing, and how we feel," Maguire says. The researchers asked volunteers to memorize and then recall three short films. While the subjects were recalling the films, the researchers used an fMRI scanner to measure changes in blood flow within the brain. The computer algorithm then studied the patterns and identified which film the volunteer was recalling based only on the brain activity. "The algorithm was able to predict correctly which of the three films the volunteer was recalling significantly above what would be expected by chance," says study lead author Martin Chadwick.
Mobile Phone Allows Boss to Snoop
BBC News (03/10/10) Fitzpatrick, Michael
KDDI Corporation has developed mobile phone technology that detects even the tiniest actions of the user by analyzing the movement of accelerometers embedded in the devices. Previous mobile phone sensors could only detect repetitive movements, but KDDI researchers say the new technology can identify activities such as walking, climbing stairs, and cleaning. "Technically, I think this is an incredibly important innovation," says International University of Japan's Philip Sugai. The KDDI system can detect more complex behavior by using analytical software to match patterns of common movements. The researchers say the system is designed to enable employees to work more efficiently and managers to evaluate employees' performance. "It's part of our research into a total ubiquitous technological society, and activity recognition is an important part of that," says KDDI's Hiroyuki Yokoyama.
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