Welcome to the August 13, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Senator Schumer: H-1B Use Undercuts Pay, Discourages Tech Enrollments
Computerworld (08/12/10) Thibodeau, Patrick
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) says the H-1B program has created "multinational temp agencies" that undercut U.S. wages and discourage students from entering technology-related fields. The U.S. Senate recently passed a border security bill that includes a $2,000 fee increase on firms that have 50 percent or more of their U.S. employees on H-1B and L-1 visas. Schumer also says the H-1B visa is likely to be "dramatically restricted" in a comprehensive immigration bill expected next year, although he notes their use has greatly benefited the United States. A recent report from the United States Chamber of Commerce supports the use of H-1B visas. "In the global economy, investment follows the talent and attempts to restrict the hiring of talented foreign-born professionals in the United States encourages such hiring to take place overseas, where the investment dollars will follow," the report says. Meanwhile, computer science enrollment is rising, according to the Computer Research Association. After bottoming out in the 2006-07 academic year, enrollment has increased 14 percent in the past two years.
Social Networking for Innovators
ICT Results (08/13/10)
The European Union-funded Laboranova project is an initiative to create a social networking platform to facilitate collaboration between innovators. The goal is to help people conceive ideas and support their development through multiple approaches, says project manager Darren Morrant. Laboranova elected to create a suite of innovation tools that could work together or separately. The tools were developed to support five innovation phases--innovation games, representational tools for presenting ideas in different media, support tools for core programs, assessment, and community tools for sharing and collaboration. The RefQuest innovation game engine, for instance, introduces "disruptive idea generation" using applied creativity, such as lateral thinking and other methods. The representation or cataloging of concepts can be accomplished through Laboranova's InnoTube and Melodie tools. The former allows users to upload content that others can subscribe to, while the latter visually maps out a range of ideas. The Idem program enables evaluation by unlocking the wisdom of crowds to support the selection of ideas.
A New Blueprint for Artificial General Intelligence
KurzweilAI.net (08/12/10) Angelica, Amara D.
Demis Hassabis, a research fellow at University College London's Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit, is working to create artificial general intelligence (AGI), the blueprint of which he will unveil at the upcoming Singularity Summit. "I'm interested in what algorithms the brain is using to solve the problems we need to solve to get to AGI," he says. Such problems include the mechanisms for knowledge acquisition, and the transition from perceptual information to abstract information. Hassabis says the university's focus is on employing the latest neuroscience methods to uncover the brain's algorithms and incorporate them into an AGI system. However, he says "it may not be appropriate to implement those algorithms in exactly the same way the brain does it, because we are going to implement them in" silicon. Hassabis' current focus is on generating more brain-inspired algorithms.
Browsers' Private Modes Leak Info, Say Researchers
InfoWorld (08/11/10) Keizer, Gregg
Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers have found that browsing in private mode is not as secure as users think. "There are some traces left behind [by all browsers] that could reveal some of the sites that you've been to," says CMU professor Collin Jackson. Web browsers such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari leave traces of secure socket layer encryption keys even when they are run in private mode. Firefox also retains evidence of some certificates, particularly non-standard certificates used by some government agencies, in a file that can be mined by others, according to the researchers. "Some browsers do a better job of protecting you from other types of scenarios, such as Web-site tracking," Jackson says. He notes that all browsers leak some information, and every browser has flaws to fix, but he says private browsing is still worthwhile. "This is an important feature for users to have, and the fact that it's not perfect is no reason to avoid using it on the Web," Jackson says. The researchers found that Safari and Firefox users run in private mode more than those using either Internet Explorer or Chrome.
Rubik's Cube Quest for Speedy Solution Comes to an End
BBC News (08/11/10) Fildes, Jonathan
An international research team used a bank of Google computers to determine the minimum number of moves needed to solve every possible Rubik's Cube configuration. "We now know for certain that the magic number is 20," says Kent State University professor Morley Davidson. The results suggest that there are more than 100,000 starting positions, of a possible 43 billion billion, that can be solved in 20 moves or less. The researchers divided all of the possibilities into 2.2 billion groups, known as cosets, each containing 20 billion positions. The number of possibilities was further reduced to 56 million cosets by spotting duplicates and using symmetry to find other similar combinations. Google's computers were used to sort through as many combinations as possible, and as the computations progressed, the probability of there being a combination that required more than 20 moves to solve became very small.
What Do We Mean When We Call a Game 'Immersive'?
London Guardian (United Kingdom) (08/10/10) Stuart, Keith
Studies in the phenomenon of game immersion are finding that many of the immersion mechanisms reside within the players themselves rather than within the games. York University's Paul Cairns is focusing on immersion and its relationship to the human traits of attentiveness, imagination, and absorption. He has discovered that people who are more susceptible to daydreaming and fantasizing have a greater capacity for becoming immersed in game environments. "Becoming immersed is partly that you really care about the outcome, for whatever reason, so you need some sort of emotional sensitivity to be able to connect to the game and want to have that connection," Cairns says. The best games help players to cultivate immersive emotional responses through nuanced human clues, and a prime example is convincing relationships with other game characters. Characters who react realistically to the player's presence are marks of some of the most immersive video games.
Carnegie Mellon Tries Crowdsourcing to Develop Optimal Electric Car Formula
Campus Technology (08/09/10) Schaffhauser, Dian
Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) scientists are using crowdsourcing to develop new ideas for managing power in electric cars. CMU researchers recently announced an open contest to find the most efficient methods for power management, with the winner receiving an electric car. The contest is part of a CMU-sponsored project called ChargeCar, which aims to make electrical vehicle travel practical and affordable. "The number of variables that could possibly affect an electric car's performance and the strain on its batteries is virtually infinite," says CMU professor Illah Nourbakhsh, director of the Community Robotics, Education and Technology Empowerment Lab. "Crowdsourcing is our best hope for sifting through those variables to find the optimal method for managing the flow of current between the motor and the power storage system." Basic knowledge of Java programming is necessary to develop a contest entry, which involves a power management algorithm. The contest's goal is to find the most efficient way to handle the flow of power among the components of the electric car, including the batteries, supercapacitors, and motor.
Research to Improve Speech Recognition Software
Binghamton University (08/10/10) Coker, Rachel
Binghamton University (BU) researchers are developing methods to improve the accuracy of automatic speech recognition technology. BU professor Stephen Zahorian is creating a multi-language, multi-speaker audio database that will be available for spoken-language processing research. "The challenge is to get speech recognition working better in real-life situations," Zahorian says. The database's speech samples come from publicly available sources such as YouTube. The BU team annotates each sample, creating a more detailed version of closed captioning, including time stamps and descriptions of background sounds. Once the transcription is complete, automatic speech recognition algorithms align the recording with the captions. The software then verifies and corrects errors in the time alignment. "We want the algorithms to extract just the most useful characteristics of the speech, not all of the possible data," Zahorian says. "That’s because more detail can actually hurt performance, past a certain point." He says the BU database will join others in the Linguistic Data Consortium, providing researchers with a new way to test theories with real-life speech samples.
Glaucoma Sufferers to Benefit From Supercomputer
University of Melbourne (08/10/10) O'Neill, Emma
The Victorian Life Sciences Computation Initiative (VLSCI), led by researchers at the University of Melbourne, will use the IBM Blue Gene supercomputer's large-scale processing capacity to conduct computer simulations of eye tests that assess the whole field of vision. The researchers say the results could lead to the development of faster and more accurate vision tests. "Currently these take days on a standard computer, but with Blue Gene we can do them in minutes, allowing even more complex approaches to be evaluated," says Melbourne professor Andrew Turpin. He notes that current clinical tests of the vision field are highly variable, and adds that a reliable determination of whether vision is deteriorating due to glaucoma can take several years. "Our novel combination of data from both images of the optic nerve, and our new visual field testing strategies, will hopefully markedly reduce this time," Turpin says.
Hiding Files in Flickr Pics Will Fool Web Censors
New Scientist (08/09/10) Giles, Jim
A new anti-censorship tool uses digital steganography to hide stories from blocked Web sites and does not require any specialist skills to publish and download stories. A prototype version of Collage will be unveiled by the Georgia Institute of Technology's Sam Burnett at the USENIX Security Symposium in Washington, D.C. Collage can be used to copy news stories from a Web site and embed articles into Flickr images in a process that is almost entirely automated. The system can hide as many as 15 news articles in seven medium-sized Flickr images. Anyone who has Collage will be able to download the Flickr image and extract the stories, and a censor monitoring a prohibited site would only see the reader visiting Flickr, which is usually not blocked by Web censors. Collage identifies which images have been used to hide material, and readers only have to click on the date of a story they are interested in.
WVU Researchers Develop Data Sharing Network 'Science 2.0'
State Journal (WV) (08/09/10) Moniot, Stacy
A team at West Virginia University (WVU) is researching ways to make better use of digital data. WVU professor Tim Menzies says getting information online is akin to drinking water from a fire hydrant, but all we need is just enough relevant information. The researchers are working on the Science 2.0 project, which proposes technology that knows a user's goals for searching and sifts through data to provide the pertinent information. "Imagine having filtering technology that comes back with what you need to know rather than you staring blankly at the screen for an hour or two," Menzies says. The system would require a lot of data to work, including some information people may not want to share on a digital network. Menzies says he does not mind making his medical records available to find cures if there is an epidemic. "At the same time, if there's no cause to look at my data, I want it locked away in the deepest, darkest filing cabinet," he says. The team will work to strike a balance between access and privacy.
Women Missing From Video Game Development Work Force
Chicago Tribune (08/05/10) Wong, Wailin
Although women are playing video games in greater numbers, few are working in the industry developing new games. About 40 percent of video and online game players are female, according to the Entertainment Software Association, but just 11.5 percent of game developers are women, according to an International Game Developers Association survey. In 2009, Columbia College's graduating class of game design majors had one woman out of 26 students. "Our feeling in our department is that clearly, we can make better games if we diversify the designers," says Columbia College's Mindy Faber. She notes that young girls who play video games are unlikely to turn that interest into a career. Faber has organized a four-day summit focused on girls, gaming, and gender. University of Southern California professor Tracy Fullerton hopes the summit will showcase female role models and the types of games they develop. Recruiting more women to the game development industry often involves a shift in mindset so that students understand they can create games for new platforms such as mobile phones and social networking sites, says DePaul University professor Jose Zagal.
Award-Winning Supercomputer Application Solves Superconductor Puzzle
Oak Ridge National Laboratory (08/09/10) Freeman, Katie
Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) researchers have found that superconducting materials perform best when high- and low-charge density varies on the nanoscale level. The researchers rewrote computational code for the numerical Hubbard model that previously assumed copper-compound superconducting materials known as cuprates to be homogenous from atom to atom. "Cuprates and other chemical compounds used as superconductors require very cold temperatures, nearing absolute zero, to transition from a phase of resistance to no resistance," says ORNL's Jack Wells. The colder the conductive material has to get to reach the resistance-free superconductor phase, superconductor power infrastructures become more costly and less efficient. "The goal following the Gordon Bell Prize was to take that supercomputing application and learn whether these inhomogeneous stripes increased or decreased the temperature required to reach transition," Wells says. The researchers hope a material could become superconductive at an easily achieved and maintained low temperature, eliminating much of the accompanying cost of the cooling infrastructure.
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