Welcome to the August 9, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
First Robot Able to Develop and Show Emotions is Unveiled
Guardian (United Kingdom) (08/09/10) Jha, Alok
Researchers at the University of Hertfordshire and eight universities in the United Kingdom, France, Greece, Switzerland, and Denmark have created Nao, a robot that can develop and display emotions and form bonds with people it meets. "We are working on non-verbal cues and the emotions are revealed through physical postures, gestures, and movements of the body rather than facial or verbal expression," says Hertfordshire professor Lola Canamero. Nao, developed by the European Union-funded Feelix Growing project, is modeled after a one-year-old child and is designed to learn and interpret specific cues from humans and responding accordingly. Nao uses cameras and sensors to determine where its human companions are looking, follow their gaze, and memorize different people's faces. Nao also can be programmed to have different personalities. The researchers hope that Nao can eventually have specific medical applications. "We want to explore different roles--the robots will help the children to understand their treatment, explain what they have to do," Canamero says.
Cybersecurity R&D in Review
Computing Research Association (08/05/10) Hensel, Chase
Several well-publicized cybersecurity proposals have recently been introduced by both the U.S. Congress and the Obama administration. One bill would establish a National Center for Cybersecurity (NCC) within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and initialize a plan for the NCC to devise age-appropriate curriculums in cybersafety, security, and ethics. The NCC would coordinate all DHS-based cybersecurity research, with specific projects in various areas. The bill also would promote computing research, with operational rather than pedagogical changes proposed. Meanwhile, the main goal of the Senate version of the America COMPETES Reauthorization bill is to reauthorize a funding hike for the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Department of Energy's Office of Science, along with programs aimed at boosting U.S. student participation in science and engineering disciplines. Each bill urges the establishment of "cybersecurity testbeds capable of realistic modeling of real-time cyberattacks and defenses," and appends a sentence to the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development program on developing standards and guidelines for cybersecurity. Both bills provide funding authorizations that include a substantial commitment to cybersecurity research over the next five years.
New Paradigm for Scientific Publication and Peer Review
ICT Results (08/09/10)
A European research project aims to replace scientific papers and peer reviews with a process inspired by social networking. The LiquidPublication project seeks to revolutionize how scientists share their work and evaluate contributions from others. The current scientific publication paradigm leads to wasted time, a heavy load for peer reviewers, and too many papers that recycle already published research or dribble out results a bit at a time, says project leader Fabio Casati. The researchers are developing a new way to share scientific knowledge, which they call liquid publication. The method takes advantage of the Web's ability to speed communication, facilitate data storage, search and retrieve data, and foster communities of interest to replace traditional peer reviews and paper publications. "If we can make scientists' work even 10 percent more efficient, it will give a great benefit to the community," Casati says. He says liquid publication could reduce the number of multiple papers that just report incremental new results. Instead, the researchers want to see incremental changes clearly identified by versions. They also suggest replacing peer reviews with the assessment that is implicitly given by the relevant community while editing and reading liquid journals.
Evaluating the Usability of Aggregated Datasets in the GIS4EU Project
Directions (08/02/10) Cross, Iain; Palahi, Joana
The goal of the GIS4EU project is to provide base cartographic datasets for the European community on various themes from the Infrastructure for Spatial Information in the European Community (INSPIRE) directive, including administrative units, hydrography, transportation networks, and elevation. The project has assessed the usability of harmonized, INSPIRE-adherent datasets, in order to fulfill the needs of a potentially diverse spectrum of users. The absence of an established protocol for evaluating the usability of spatial datasets required the development of a testing approach to be employed in the GIS4EU project. Initially, four stages were employed to define spatial data usability and consider how these definitions would be used to assess the usability of INSPIRE compliant datasets--identification of usability elements, definition of those elements, test design, and refinement of spider diagrams and definitions. The usability elements identified by the spider diagram strategy were then incorporated into a questionnaire to be given to the data providers engaged in the GIS4EU project. Among the data providers' concerns was that the encoding of metadata via extensible markup language (XML) was not easily comprehensible to non-expert users.
R2 Tweets, Too
Toronto Globe & Mail (Canada) (08/05/10) Stechyson, Natalie
NASA says Robonaut 2 (R2) is ready to become the first humanoid robot to visit space. R2 is scheduled to land at the International Space Station in November. On the space station, R2 will perform maintenance tasks, small jobs that will enable human astronauts to focus on more complex work. R2 is semi-autonomous, and will carry out programmed tasks on its own with periodic status checks. "You can kind of think of Robonaut as helping as a nurse would to a doctor in an operating room," says NASA's Nicolaus Radford. R2 has started sending tweets--generated by engineers at Johnson Space Center in Houston--about its preparations for space, and the messages will continue when it lands at the space station. "We want you to come along for the ride," Radford says of the effort to engage the public and inspire a new generation of engineers. NASA wants to design a new version of the robot that would be capable of living outside the space station and performing emergency space walks.
Pitt-Led Researchers to Build Foundation for Quantum Supercomputers With $7.5 Million Federal Grant
University of Pittsburgh News Bureau (08/03/10) Kelly, Morgan
A University of Pittsburgh research team recently received a five-year, $7.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to solve some of the problems preventing the development of quantum computers. As part of the Multi-University Research Initiative, $227 million was distributed to 32 projects nationwide, including those at Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the University of Pennsylvania. The Pittsburgh team, led by professor Jeremy Levy, will use superconducting semiconductors to develop new types of quantum memory, perform quantum simulations, and create new methods for transferring quantum information from one medium to another. Another research goal involves using superconducting semiconductors to perform quantum simulations of physical systems. The team will use a technique that allows for atomic-scale devices to be created and erased on a single platform.
UMass Amherst Computer Scientists Help Police Apprehend Internet Child Pornographers
University of Massachusetts Amherst (08/03/10) Lathrop, Janet
University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMA) researchers have developed RoundUp, software that helps state law enforcement collect evidence against people who possess and share illegal images and produce child pornography for the Internet. RoundUp is used in 58 out of 61 Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces around the United States. The program enables law enforcement officers to observe and search open peer-to-peer networks and gather evidence of criminal possession and image sharing. "This allows regular shoe-leather, routine police work, the steps of which can be tracked and verified just as in any other search for evidence," says UMA researcher Brian Levine. He says RoundUp provides law enforcement with an "optimized interface for observation," which enables investigators to watch the open activities of remote peers on the network. It alerts investigators when users announce they are sharing files of interest.
Computer-Designed Vaccines Confront New Flu Strains
The Engineer (United Kingdom) (08/02/10)
University of Miami computer scientist Dimitris Papamichail and a team from Stony Brook University have developed an approach that could be used to quickly produce vaccines for new strains of the influenza virus. The method uses computer algorithms to design viruses that serve as live vaccines, which are then synthesized to specification. The researchers used the approach, called Synthetic Attenuated Virus Engineering (SAVE), to make a synthetic genome of the virus containing hundreds of changes to its genetic code, which weakened the influenza virus. The algorithms found the best places in the genome to make the changes. "The probability of all the changes reverting themselves to produce a virulent strain is extremely unlikely," Papamichail says. The new and original sequences both direct the synthesis of the same proteins, but the new sequence gives a weakened version of the virus. Although the live vaccine is capable of drawing an immune response against the wild-type virus, it is not strong enough to cause the symptoms of the disease. The researchers also want to use their techniques to design synthetic organisms with predetermined functions and controlled properties.
The Anti-Crisis Project: Thinking Our Way to a Better Future
ETH Zurich (08/02/10)
A multi-disciplinary European scientific effort aims to transform the ability to understand complicated social, economic, and technological systems. The initiative will exploit modern computation and information technologies (ICT) to create a more powerful science of human systems and their interaction with global environments. "It's time to explore social life on Earth, and everything it relates to, in the same ambitious way that we have spent the last century or more exploring our physical world," says ETH Zurich researcher Dirk Helbing. The project will assemble experts in physics, computer science, environmental science, economics, psychology, ecology, sociology to use ICT to establish three systems on an unprecedented scale. The Living Earth Visualator is a super-computing platform that can simulate and visualize the world at the global scale, while focusing on the interaction between technical, social and economic systems. Crisis Observatories are laboratories running huge data mining and computing systems designed to detect crises before they occur. The Knowledge Accelerator will identify important social or technological innovations early on and devise practical programs to further their wide social benefit.
Driverless Cars Just Around the Corner
Kansas City Star (08/02/10) Hack, Greg
Researchers worldwide are developing technologies that enable cars to drive themselves. Experts say that recent advances in sensors, global positioning systems, electronic steering, and computerized braking are helping make driverless cars a reality. Automotive systems have advanced to the point that current driverless projects include an Italy-to-China trek and a high-speed run up Pikes Peak in Colorado. Semi-autonomous systems such as cruise control and anti-lock breaks have been available for years, and cars that park themselves are rapidly becoming mainstream. BMW offers a system that can fully stop a car in slow traffic and speed it up again when the car in front of it starts moving again. "You can buy a car today that I'd like to say is 90 percent driverless," says Cato Institute's Randal O'Toole. Recently, two pairs of driverless electric-engine vans left Milan, Italy, on an 8,000-mile trip, hoping to arrive in Shanghai, China, by the end of October. Meanwhile, Stanford University professor Chris Gerdes is testing an autonomous Audi for a 14,000-foot run up Pike's Peak.
Elite US Cyber Team Courts Hackers to Fight Terror
Agence France-Presse (France) (08/02/10) Chapman, Glenn
Vigilant, a U.S. cybersecurity team that has clandestinely tracked cybercriminals for more than 10 years, has an agenda to swell its ranks with an additional 1,750 "vetted volunteers" by 2012, and to this end it was invited to the recent DefCon hacker conference to recruit new talent. More than 600 volunteers currently constitute Vigilant, and director Chet Uber says that his group mines Internet traffic for hints about online attacks, terrorists, cartels, and other prioritized targets. Uber says that Vigilant's research into attacks, underlying reasons for attacks, and preventative measures yields intelligence as a byproduct. Vigilant is determined to collect intelligence through any legal recourse and then assemble the pieces into a larger picture. Uber says that Vigilant does not exceed the bounds of U.S. law while having greater flexibility than government agencies burdened with bureaucracy and internal strife. The group shares significant conclusions with U.S. intelligence agencies, while its ultimate objective is uncovering the identity of those who engineer cyberattacks. Uber is developing a mathematical model that can detect when terrorist groups are enlisting adolescents online.
Wanted: Cybersecurity Pros
Baltimore Sun (08/01/10) Sentementes, Gus G.
Demand for a cybersecurity workforce is heavy, as U.S. federal agencies, contractors, and technology companies vie for a limited pool of qualified employees. A Booz Allen Hamilton study on national cybersecurity readiness found that federal scholarship programs designed to fill government openings produced just 120 graduates annually, when about 1,000 are needed yearly across federal agencies. Meanwhile, federal officials announced a $10 million grant to establish a National Cyber Security Center of Excellence at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which would enable public-private collaboration on digital security standards. There are abundant challenges inherent in building a cybersecurity workforce, especially for the federal government's intelligence and defense agencies and the private contractors that collaborate with them. Finding people with sufficient skills is only part of the solution, as they also must be able to qualify for a security clearance. This translates into competition between government agencies and the private sector for experienced cybersecurity specialists.
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