Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the June 7, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Data Show Increase in First-Time Science and Engineering Graduate Students
National Science Foundation (06/02/10) Mixon, Bobbie

The number of new full-time students entering U.S. science and engineering (S&E) graduate programs in the fall of 2008 was the largest in the history of the U.S. National Science Foundation's Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering (GSS). The 2008 edition of the survey found that graduate enrollment in S&E programs rose 2.5 percent from 2007. Moreover, first-time, full-time enrollments of S&E graduate students rose 7.8 percent and increased in all S&E fields. The latest GSS also found that enrollment of S&E graduates rose each year over the past 10 years, except for a one-year decline from 2003 to 2004. The variation in first-time enrollment by citizenship was a key factor in the growth during this period. Increases in enrollment by U.S. citizens and permanent residents drove the growth from 2001 to 2003. From 2007 to 2008, first-time, full-time enrollment of foreign students on temporary visas rose 11 percent, while enrollment by U.S. citizens and permanent residents rose 5.9 percent.


Program Makes Math Easy as 1, 2, 3
Boston Globe (06/07/10) Johnson, Carolyn Y.

University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMA) researchers have developed Wayang Outpost, a computer math tutoring program designed to reduce the frustration and anxiety students feel about math by detecting and responding to their emotions. The researchers are studying whether changing the context of a math problem and other subtle environmental cues can influence student's, especially girls', performance and confidence in their math ability. "We've seen girls perform similarly [to boys], but what we have seen also is that in high school, when we arrive and give them surveys about how they feel about math ... they score worse," says UMA's Ivon Arroyo. Wayang Outpost offers students hints, video tutorials, and an avatar who sits in the corner of the screen. After using the software, girls reported less frustration and more confidence, and all students performed better on math problems. "Intervening at this early stage is critical for buffering women's identity in math, science, [and] engineering," says University of Illinois at Chicago's professor Mary Murphy.


Scaling the Exa
HPC Wire (06/03/10)

The University of Tennessee's Jack Dongarra is involved with the International Exascale Software Project, a global effort to devise a roadmap that outlines issues, priorities, and the software stack required to support exascale computing. He says the transition to exascale computing is going to be more dramatic than earlier transitions, and this will result in a great deal of strain at the software point. He argues that exascale software development should begin as soon as possible, given the steepness of the change from petascale to exascale. "The extreme parallelism, the hybrid design, and because the tightening of the memory bandwidth bottleneck is going to become more extreme as we move to the future, we have to start addressing these issues now," Dongarra says. He cites cost and power consumption among the limitations of exascale architecture, while exascale hardware is expected to follow two paths--lightweight processors and commodity processors combined with accelerators. Dongarra says the development of exascale architectures may require government encouragement, such as financial incentives offered to manufacturers.


Robots Now Therapists, Playmates to Autistic Children
Manila Bulletin (06/06/10) Mone, Gregory

A University of Southern California (USC) research initiative is creating sympathetic robots that serve as both playmates and therapists for autistic children. The robots are programmed to perform simple facial expressions and movements, and the researchers are working to give them the ability to respond appropriately to a child's behavior. The researchers hope the robots will help draw socially detached kids into simple games and social activities with other people. "The robot is a catalyst for social interaction," says USC computer scientist Maja Matari'c. Robots, computers, and electronic gadgets may be appealing to autistic children because they are predictable, says University of Cambridge psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen. Robot-therapists could be customized to fit the needs or comfort level of the child. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Rosalind Picard has developed sensor wristbands that record movement, temperature, and perspiration. The wristbands are designed to detect hidden physiological cues and inform robots if the wearer might be getting anxious.


Open Source Could Mean an Open Door for Hackers
Technology Review (06/07/10) Lemos, Robert

Flaws in open source software are exploited more quickly and more often than flaws in closed software systems, according to a paper by Boston College (BC) researchers that analyzed two years of attack data. "If you think about this whole thing as a game between the good guys and the bad guys, by reducing the effort for the bad guys, there is much greater incentive for them to exploit targets earlier and hit more firms," says BC professor Sam Ransbotham. The researchers used alert data taken from intrusion-detection systems managed on behalf of 960 companies by SecureWorks. Ransbotham also found a correlation between the existence of signatures, which are used by various security products to match a known pattern with a flaw, and earlier attacks, suggesting that the updates used to improve defenses actually help the attackers. "That tells me that there is something about having that signature that is helping people ... giving them a clue about how to exploit the vulnerability," he says.


Toshiba Invention Brings Quantum Computing Closer
Reuters (06/02/10) Hirschler, Ben

Researchers at Toshiba's research center in Cambridge, England, have designed a device that could open the way to super-fast quantum computing through the development of ultra-powerful semiconductors. Toshiba's Entangled Light Emitting Diode (ELED) is an easy-to-assemble device that can be connected to a battery to generate entangled light on an as-needed basis. Quantum computers based on optical processes require a large number of entangled photons, and producing entangled light has up to now been limited to bulky lasers. The ELED device employs standard semiconductor technology and is fashioned from gallium arsenide, a common material in optoelectronics. Although similar to conventional light-emitting diodes, the ELED contains a quantum dot that transforms electrical current into entangled light. "It's a big step because it means you can now start to integrate lots of devices on a single chip," says lead researcher Andrew Shields. He believes that basic quantum computing circuits that use ELED technology could be ready within five years.


Carnegie Mellon's Soccer-Playing Robots Get Creative With Physics-Based Planning
Carnegie Mellon News (PA) (06/03/10) Spice, Byron

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers have developed soccer-playing robots equipped with a new algorithm that helps them predict the ball's behavior based on physics principles. The new algorithm should help CMU's RoboCup 2010 team, the CMDragons, compete at the world championships. "Over the years, we have developed many successful teams of robot soccer players, but we believe that the physics-based planning algorithm is a particularly noteworthy accomplishment," says CMU professor Manuela Veloso. The CMDragons will compete in the Small-Size League, which uses wheeled robots less than six inches high, as well as the Standard Platform League, which uses 22-inch-tall humanoid robots as players. In addition to physics-based planning, the CMDragons are preparing to use a more aggressive strategy than in previous years. "Figuring out how to get robots to coordinate with each other and to do so in environments with high uncertainty is one of the grand challenges facing artificial intelligence," Veloso says.


All Eyes and Ears on March of the Cyborgs
Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) (06/05/10) Smith, Deborah

Medical implants such as heart pacemakers, cochlear implants for the deaf, and brain implants for those with Parkinson's disease are just the beginning of the process of cyborgization, the development of high-tech implants and prostheses that will benefit many people, says Australian National University professor Roger Clarke. On the horizon are bionic eyes that enable the blind to see and muscle implants that could allow paraplegics to stand and even walk, says the University of Melbourne's Rob Shepherd. "The field of medical bionics is rapidly expanding,'' Shepherd says. ''The thing we get excited about is that Australia is at the forefront.'' Researchers also are developing electrically conducting plastics that could stimulate and guide nerve fibers to repair spinal cords. "Cyborgization will give rise to demands for new rights,'' Clark notes, such as using devices to enhance, not just restore, function.


HP Researcher Predicts Memory-Centric Processors
EE Times (06/02/10) Merritt, Rick

Hewlett-Packard (HP) researchers are studying ways to make memristor processors the centerpiece of future server designs. The researchers found that low-power processors are superior for some data center workloads and determined that various workloads need different kinds of designs. "Re-thinking the balance of computer, storage, and communications will happen, and it will have big implications," says HP researcher Partha Ranganathan. As part of that rebalancing, HP developed the nanostore, a three-dimensional stack of processor cores connected to nonvolatile memory cores such as HP's memristors. "We've run some experiments [on the nanostore concept], and found the new approach is a factor of 10 better [performance] for the same energy or dollars," Ranganathan says. HP Labs has identified three kinds of server designs that are optimized for different kinds of data center workloads and has created metrics to match workloads to the various designs. Nanostores could emerge to speed switching and routing of traffic running in virtual machines within two years, Ranganathan says.
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Part-Human, Part-Machine Transistor Devised
Discovery News (06/02/10) Bland, Eric

University of California, Merced (UCM) researchers have created a part-human, part-machine device that features a nano-sized transistor embedded in a cell-like membrane that is powered by the cell's fuel. The researchers say the device could be used to relay information about disease-related proteins inside the cell membrane, and eventually lead to new ways to read and influence brain or nerve cells. "This device is as close to the seamless marriage of biological and electronic structures as anything else that people did before," says UCM's Aleksandr Noy. The transistor is based on a carbon nanotube, a tiny straw-shaped material made from a single curved layer of carbon atoms arranged like the panels of a soccer ball. The carbon nanotube transistor was coated with a lipid bilayer and an ion pump was added, which is fueled by a solution of adenosine tri-phosphate. The ion pump changes the electrical charge within the cell, which then changes the charge in the transistor. However, researchers say that in future versions of the device an outside electrical current could power the device, which could enable the transistor to monitor and treat diseases.


How the Brain Recognizes Objects
MIT News (06/07/10) Hardesty, Larry

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's McGovern Institute of Brain Research have devised a computational model describing how the primate brain recognizes objects visually. The model maps out visually interesting features for a given image and makes predictions on which image elements will draw a viewer's attention. The model was deployed in software, and its predictions were tested against experimental data from human subjects. The subjects were asked first to consider a street scene displayed on a computer screen, then to count the cars in the scene, and then to count the pedestrians, while their eye movements were recorded by an eye-tracking system. The software had a high degree of accuracy in predicting which regions of the image the participants would focus on during each task. The software is capable of immediately adjusting its object and location models. If asked to search an image for a specific kind of object, the system will downgrade the interestingness of features not found in that object and proportionally upgrade the interestingness of features found in the object. This enables the system to anticipate the eye movements of people viewing a digital image, which could be helpful in the design of computer object-recognition systems.


Rochester Student at Yale Wins Award for Computer Game
Rochester Post-Bulletin (MN) (06/04/10) Muzzin, Suzanne Taylor

Yale University graduates Chris Riederer and Henry Corrigan-Gibbs won first prize at the U.S. Imagine Cup in the game design category for developing Alterra, a computer game that shows how humanitarian intervention can impact developing countries in real life. In the game, people in developing areas are represented by dots, which can move about a country or region. The size and color of the dots change based on the state of the people, with an increase in size occurring as the condition of the population worsens. Players can click to choose different intervention efforts, such as the construction of a school or hospital, and will see the dots fade away as the region's critical issues are addressed. "It's an interesting experience to play and to see how intervention techniques produce feedback on the macro level," Riederer says. The student software competition, which attracted entries from 14,000 students, encourages the use of technology to improve the lives of people across the globe. "It was a great opportunity for the two of us to use the skills we learned in class to think about ways to positively change the world," Corrigan-Gibbs says.


The Age of the Interface
Futurist (06/10) Vol. 44, No. 3, P. 14; Yonck, Richard

The term "interface" encompasses a link between systems, equipment, or people, and it can be applied to virtually any engagement between humans and machines. The advent of the natural user interface will facilitate control with much greater intuitiveness derived from natural actions and behaviors. Improved integration between the human body and electronic devices should usher in the age of the organic user interface, whose potential implementations include biometric sensors, displays projected onto the user's skin, and eventually brain-computer interfaces. Among the possible functions such interfaces could help enable are vehicle control, emergency services dispatch, augmented reality, global disease monitoring, architectural design, telemedicine, and traffic flow modeling. One potential element of future interfaces is eye tracking, which in passive applications can be employed for advertising and marketing feedback, collecting useful data about where a user's gaze is directed. In the most interactive application of the technology, eye tracking is already letting quadriplegics interface directly with computers, choosing letters and commands by fixing their gaze on the appropriate region of the screen. This form of interaction also might provide an outstanding input control mechanism for wearable computers.


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