Welcome to the April 23, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Germany Launches New Project to Boost IT R&D in India
A delegation from the German Academy of Science and Engineering (Acatech) has launched the German-Indian Partnership for IT Systems (GRIP-IT). The initiative will bring together researchers from Germany and India to pursue projects in areas such as embedded systems, the Internet of things and services, and green information technology. "The main objective of the project is to set up and build networks between German and Indian partners from industry and academia," says Acatech president Henning Kagermann. The delegation plans to organize symposia and workshops across India to encourage collaboration in research and development. The science academies of the countries will work to develop stronger ties. The Indo-German Max-Planck Center for Computer Science will play a key role in GRIP-IT. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research is backing and funding the new initiative.
Brains, Worms, and Computer Chips Have Striking Similarities
University of California, Santa Barbara (04/22/10) Foulsham, George; Gallessich, Gail
The human brain, computer chips, and the nervous system of a worm share many similarities, according to a new report from an international team of researchers. "Brains are often compared to computers, but apart from the trivial fact that both process information using a complex pattern of connections in a physical space, it has been unclear whether this is more than just a metaphor," says University of California, Santa Barbara's Danielle Bassett. The researchers uncovered novel principles that underlie the network organizations of the human brain, computer circuits, and a worm's nervous system. All three share two basic properties--a Russian doll-like architecture, with the same patterns repeating over and over again at different scales, and a principle known as Rent's scaling, a rule used to describe the relationship between the number of elements in a given area and the number of links between them. Given the similar constraints of brains and chips, it appears that both evolution and technological innovation have arrived at the same solutions to optimal mapping patterns, Bassett says.
Complex Systems Simulation Modelling Can Provide Solutions
University of Southampton (ECS) (04/22/10) Lewis, Joyce
Researchers at the University of Southampton's interdisciplinary Institute for Complex Systems Simulation (ICSS) are studying large-scale environmental issues such as the ash cloud from the Icelandic volcano. "The difficulty at the moment is that no one can accurately measure the concentration of ash in the atmosphere on a large scale," says Hans Fangohr, head of Southampton's Computational Modelling Group. ICSS will use the university's new supercomputer to model complicated turbulent air flow. By combining research from engineering, Earth sciences, remote sensing, and oceanography, the researchers will be able to develop methods to improve predictions of the concentration of pollutants in the air. "Our investment in complex systems simulation and our cohort of students will work to make these predictions better in the future, thus ensuring safety and minimizing cost and disruption," Fangohr says.
IBM Creates 1:5 Billion Scale Model of the Matterhorn
Computerworld (04/22/10) Lemon, Sumner
IBM researchers have demonstrated a patterning technique capable of creating structures as small as 15 nanometers, and say the technology is a simpler and less expensive way to make nanostructures in semiconductors and other components. The demonstration consisted of two three-dimensional patterns created using the technology--a 1:5 billion scale replica of Switzerland's Matterhorn mountain that is less than 25 nanometers tall and a relief map of the world measuring 22 micrometers by 11 micrometers. The patterning technique uses a silicon needle measuring 100 nanometers across at the base and tapering to a width of a few nanometers at the tip. Through a combination of heat and force, the needle is used to remove substrate material based on a predefined pattern. The technology has the potential to go even smaller, according to IBM, and produces structures at a cost 80 percent to 90 percent lower than the cost of using electron-beam lithography.
A Report From the Visions and Grand Challenges Conferences
Computing Community Consortium (04/22/10) Bernat, Andy
Edinburgh University recently hosted the ACM-BCS Visions of Computer Science 2010 and UKCRC Grand Challenges conferences. The Visions conference featured invited plenaries and submitted talks focusing on research visions for the future. Ross Anderson discussed how the combination of social issues and computing are impacting the design of systems, while Nicolo Cesa-Bianchi explored the future of machine learning. Jon Kleinberg focused on social networks, and Barbara Liskov provided a retrospective on the work that led to her 2008 A.M. Turing Award, while offering lessons for the future. The UKCRC conference presented a mixed status report, showing areas such as dependable systems evolution as active and self-sustaining, but others, such as ubiquitous computing, are no longer a focus of the grand challenges. There were discussions on new areas such as tele-health, information technology & global climate change, and computing for nine billion people. Recent proposals focus more on societal issues, and it is unclear whether research funding has increased.
Quantum Cryptography Hits the Fast Lane
ScienceNOW (04/19/10) Cho, Adrian
Toshiba researchers have developed a quantum cryptography system they say is fast enough to encrypt a video transmission. The system can send bits of key at a megabit per second across a 50-kilometer fiber, says Toshiba's Andrew Shields. The researchers also have demonstrated that the system can run continuously for 36 hours. The key to running faster is a better photon detector, Shields says. The Toshiba system use devices called semiconductor avalanche photodiodes, in which a photon hits a bit piece of semiconductor to trigger an "avalanche" of electric charge. New photodioes can detect smaller avalanches and run faster, according to Shields. The researchers used a feedback system to stretch certain optical fibers by a few nanometers, which keeps the ratio of those lengths constant and enables the system to run for hours at a time. Without such stabilization, key distribution would have to stop every few minutes to allow the equipment to recalibrate itself.
ICT Research: EU Invests 500 Million Euros in Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) to Improve People's Lives
Balkans.com (04/21/10) Roberts, Michael
The European Union (EU) is spearheading the European Commission's Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) program by proposing an investment of roughly 500 million euros in exploratory research into high-risk future information and communication technologies. "The European Commission wants to double the budget for FET research by 2015 and I urge member states to match this effort with their own investments," said EU commissioner Neelie Kroes. The most advanced FET research is being led by neuroscientists, biologists, computer scientists, and nanotechnology specialists. Examples of European FET research include the development of intelligent artificial hand prostheses for amputees, and a high speed digital camera that can snap images of impulses traveling between brain cells and broadcast them in high resolution video. Another FET research project is CLONS, which is developing neural prosthetic devices with direct linkage to the inner ear as tools for correcting vestibular disorders. Meanwhile, the Brain-i-Nets effort is striving to achieve an understanding of how the brain processes information by recording the neural network modifications that occur during the learning process.
Peeking Into Users' Web History
Technology Review (04/21/10) Naone, Erica
In a test of Google's privacy protections, European researchers were able to hijack Google's personalized search suggestions to reconstruct users' Web search histories. "The goal of this project was to show that personalized services are very dangerous in terms of privacy because they can leak information," says Claude Casteluccia, a senior research assistant at the French National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control. The researchers obtained personal information by taking advantage of the fact that Google uses two protocols--https and http--for dealing with search queries, a design they say can inadvertently reveal information. The researchers were able to obtain users' Web history by intercepting cookies. "The main lesson of the attack is that companies should use https as much as possible," Casteluccia says. Google responded to the researchers by changing its Web history so that it always uses encrypted communications.
Touch, Gesture, Speak, Scan: A 'NUI' for Enterprise IT
Computerworld Canada (04/20/10) Schick, Shane
Microsoft's Natal is one of several natural user interfaces (NUIs) under development in the company's Envisioning Lab. Natal features heat-sensing displays and an infrared camera and is designed to work as a game controller for the Xbox. Other NUI prototypes include touch-screen consoles, smart tables that can scan a handheld device, and speech-enabled applications. "You'll still use a [graphical user interface] to open a document, to edit a document, things like that ... the idea here is to turn the computer into a helper, more than a tool," says Microsoft's Craig Mundie. Microsoft expects NUIs to go beyond mere input and become deeply embedded into productivity tools. Meanwhile, Carleton University professor Robert Biddle is developing SurfNet, a user interface that uses a touch-screen tabletop similar to Microsoft's Surface technology. Biddle and his team are interested in the collaborative review and management of data, especially for those involved in system administration and security. "We're particularly interested in development environments that feature strong team rooms, instead of cubicles or carrels," Biddle says.
Can Computers Read?
Brown and White (04/20/10) Fennelly, Aidan
Lehigh University researchers are studying optical character recognition (OCR) software in an attempt to bridge the gap between artificial intelligence and artificial perception. Lehigh professors Henry Baird and Daniel Popresti are developing computers that can read, translate, and understand written documents as well as humans. Baird says OCR research could lead to the creation of a massive searchable online database of the world's written texts, which would allow users to electronically access a nearly unlimited supply of printed information. The researchers have received grants from the U.S. government's Multilingual Automatic Document Classification, Analysis and Translation (MADCAT) project and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The MADCAT project is developing software that can scan documents in foreign languages and convert them into English in the field. The researchers also are working on DARPA's Document Analysis and Exploitation project, which is developing tools to convert written data and research for use in online databases.
A Step Towards Quantum Computing
Cardiff University News (04/20/10)
A Cardiff University experiment on hybrid light-matter particles supports the theoretical predictions about their properties that were first made in the 1960s and suggests that building logical systems based on their interaction is possible. A team of physicists fired light particles, or photons, into a tiny tower of semiconducting material, which collided with a smaller structure within the tower, oscillating briefly between the states of light and matter, before re-emerging as photons. The physicists fired both individual and pairs of photons, with the photon pair showing an increase in the frequency of oscillation between light and matter over individual photons. Particles would move faster and use less energy in quantum computing, which would offer more efficient processing. "This interaction can produce a steady stream of photons, and can also be the basis for single photon logic--which requires the minimum amount of energy to do logic," says Cardiff professor Wolfgang Langbein. "To use this technology in real computing devices will take a significant improvement of the low-temperature properties and ideally its translation to room temperature."
Schrodinger's Cash: Minting Quantum Money
New Scientist (04/20/10) Mullins, Justin
The concept of quantum money--money that exists only as a stream of information and can be transmitted--is appealing because it cannot be counterfeited. Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher Scott Aaronson has brought quantum money a step closer to reality by outlining a computationally secure quantum money scheme founded on the type of asymmetric mathematics underlying public key cryptography. Public key quantum money is first issued in the quantum state, which is kept secret by the issuing bank, and then as a circuit, or the plans for a circuit, that confirms whether the secret key is present in something claiming to be quantum cash. The challenge now facing Aaronson and colleagues is to find a quantum process that appears to have a solid asymmetrical foundation, and which the security of quantum money could be based on. In the last year Aaronson and colleagues have organized a quantum money club to find new ways of imbuing quantum cash with computational security, and then search for vulnerabilities in their concepts.
New U of T Technology Will Mean Shift for Internet Advertising
University of Toronto (04/19/10) Kemick, April
Technology that automatically resizes Internet ads for any Web space has been developed by University of Toronto professor Parham Aarabi. Currently, Internet ads are limited to three or four specific sizes, and Web sites have to be designed around the restrictions in order to maximize the placement of ads as well as the look of ads on devices such as smartphones. "Our technology is the first ever to conform ads to any available Web site space in an automated and practical way," Aarabi says. "Essentially, advertisers provide a single ad at a preset size and our technology can, automatically and dynamically, regenerate the ad at any size, resolution, or aspect ratio by taking into account the contents of the ad, relevant text, and other information." Aarabi says the technology will make it easier to place Internet ads, and also will make Web advertising more profitable.
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