Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the October 20, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


Officials Push to Bolster Law on Wiretapping
New York Times (10/18/10) Charlie Savage

U.S. law enforcement and counterterrorism officials are urging the revamping of a federal statute requiring phone and broadband carriers to guarantee that their networks can be wiretapped, citing gaps in compliance with surveillance orders. The officials are pushing for tougher legislation because some telecommunications firms have started new services and made system upgrades that interfere with surveillance. An Obama administration taskforce recently began drafting legislation to bolster and expand the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act, and attorney Albert Gidari Jr. says corporations are likely to balk at greater government intervention in the design or launch of services, with subsequent fallout affecting industry innovation, costs, and competitiveness. The drive to expand the law is the latest instance of the lingering problem of establishing equilibrium between Internet freedom and security needs in an era of rapidly advancing and globalized technology. Proposals for legislation that would broaden the government's authority over carriers include boosting the probability of a carrier paying a financial penalty over wiretapping lapses, or establishing an incentive for companies to show new systems to the FBI prior to implementation.

Dead Sea Scrolls to Be Digitized and Put Online
Washington Post (10/19/10) Joel Greenberg

Google and the Israel Antiquities Authority are collaborating to produce digital images of the entire collection of Dead Sea Scrolls and put them on the Internet. The project combines "one of the most important finds of the previous century with the most advanced technology of the next century," says IAA director Pnina Shor. The approximately 30,000 scroll fragments, which comprise 900 documents altogether, will be digitally photographed using infrared and multi-spectral imaging, producing high-resolution enlargeable images of the original scrolls, Shor says. The photographic technique, based on NASA-developed technology, can detect physical changes in the scrolls as well as improve the legibility of parts of the text that have faded with age and are not visible to the naked eye. The project will "enrich and preserve an important and meaningful part of world heritage" by making the Dead Sea Scrolls universally accessible, says Google Israel's Yossi Matias. The digital collection will include translations, transcriptions, and a bibliography, as well as the ability to search the images in a variety of languages and formats. "It opens whole new fields of research and facilitates more scholarly work," Shor says.
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Flexible LEDs for Implanting Under the Skin (10/18/10) Lin Edwards

A team of researchers from the United States, China, Korea, and Singapore have developed flexible ultra-thin sheets of inorganic light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and photodetectors for implanting under the skin. The flexible arrays measure 2.5 micrometers thick and 100 by 100 micrometers square, which is much smaller than any commercially available arrays. The researchers printed circuits directly onto a rigid glass substrate, and then transferred them to a biocompatible polymer called poly dimethylsiloxane (PDMS) to create a mesh-like array of LEDs and photodetectors. The circuits can still function when the PDMS substrate is twisted or stretched by as much as 75 percent. The team also has encapsulated the flexible arrays in a thin layer of silicon rubber to make them waterproof, and they can function when implanted or completely immersed in biofluids. The flexible LEDs could be implanted under the skin for a variety of biomedical uses.

UA Working to Create a Bilingual, Bicultural 'Roboceptionist'
University of Arizona (10/15/10) Lori Harwood

Researchers at the University of Arizona and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) are developing Hala, a bilingual, bicultural robot receptionist that can understand English and Arabic, as well as identify cultural ambiguities and misunderstandings. Hala is part of a three-year, $1 million Qatar National Research Foundation grant, and is led by CMU in Qatar professor Majd Sakr. CMU will provide the robotics equipment, while Arizona will supply the language technology. Hala will be able to adjust its responses based on cues from a visitor by building a profile of the user throughout the interaction. "We foresee a future in which robots will help bridge gaps between people of different cultures, acting as intermediaries, to enable them to communicate more naturally and effectively," says Arizona professor Sandiway Fong. He says the research also could be applied to other human-computer interaction systems, such as computer-help agents, automated international call centers, multicultural information kiosks, and tour guides.

Adding Human Intelligence to Software
Technology Review (10/18/10) John Pavlus

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed TurKit, a toolkit that enables users to write algorithms to coordinate online workers using Javascript and create human intelligence-equipped applications. "This is a bridge for writing code that interacts with the workers on Mechanical Turk, so we can easily explore new methods of human computation," says MIT's Greg Little. TurKit acts as a backup data storage system in case the software under development crashes. "If you wait an hour for the humans to finish their task, and then the program throws an error, you don't want to wait another hour just to see if your bug fix works," Little says. MIT's Michael Bernstein used TurKit to create a word-processing application called Soylent, which uses small groups of turkers to do on-demand proofreading and paragraph shortening in Microsoft Word. Another Mechanical Turk application, called VizWiz, enables blind users to identify objects using their smartphone cameras and sighted turkers. University of Rochester computer scientist Jeffrey Bigham used TurKit to create quikTurkit, an algorithm that reduces lag time by queuing up groups of turkers before they are needed.

Analyzing Almost 10 Million Tweets, Research Finds Public Mood Can Predict Dow Days in Advance
IU News Room (10/18/10) Steve Chaplin

Indiana University researchers found that by analyzing millions of tweets they can predict the movement of the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) up to a week in advance with near 90 percent accuracy. Indiana professor Johan Bollen and Ph.D. candidate Huina Mao used two mood-tracking tools to analyze the text content of more than 9.8 million Twitter feeds and compared the public mood to the DJIA's closing value. One tool, called OpinionFinder, analyzed the tweets to give a positive or negative daily time series of public mood. The other tool, Google-Profile of Mood States, measures the mood of tweets in six dimensions--calm, alert, sure, vital, kind, and happy. The two tools gave the researchers seven public mood time series that could be matched against a similar daily time series for the DJIA closing. "What we found was an accuracy of 87.6 percent in predicting the daily up and down changes in the closing values of the Dow Jones Industrial Average," Bollen says. The researchers demonstrated that public mood can significantly improve the accuracy of the basic models currently used to predict Dow Jones closing values by implementing a prediction model called a Self-Organizing Fuzzy Neural Network.

SpamBot Wants to Be Your Friend
Vienna University of Technology (10/18/10) Florian Aigner

Vienna University of Technology (VUT) researchers, studying security issues related to social networking Web sites, were able to match more than 1.2 million social network profiles with their corresponding private email addresses. "Even if my email address is supposed to be kept secret and it is not visible in my profile, the Web site still uses it to identity my profile," says VUT researcher Christian Platzer. The researchers developed software to match email addresses with active user profiles on various social networks, and to find more users using the different "friends" lists. User groups also pose a major risk because malicious Web sites can identify a user based on the list of groups the user has joined. "Of course we were very careful in our research project not to harm the Web sites and not to violate the privacy of users in any way," says VUT researcher Gilbert Wondraschek. "We only evaluated the data scientifically--but malicious attackers could indeed do quite a lot of harm with data like that."

Computer Modeling of Swimming Fish Could Lead to New Robots and Prosthetics
UM Newsdesk (10/18/10) Kelly Blake

Researchers at the University of Maryland and Tulane University have developed a computational model of a swimming fish that addresses the interaction of both internal and external forces on locomotion. The model simulates how the fish's body bends in response to the forces of the water moving around it as well as its muscles inside. "This is the first time that anyone has put together a computational framework to simulate this for large, fast animals like fishes," says Maryland researcher Eric D. Tytell. The research could help design humanoid robots and medical prosthetics for humans that work with the body's natural mechanics. Tulane professor Lisa Fauci developed the mathematical models and computer simulations required to understand the complex biological systems in which flexible structures interact with a surrounding fluid. "The simulations demonstrate that matching the mechanical properties of future prosthetic devices to the body's natural mechanics will be crucial," says Maryland professor Avis Cohen.

I Want to See What You See: Babies Treat "Social Robots" as Sentient Beings
UW News (WA) (10/14/10) Molly McElroy

University of Washington (UW) researchers are studying how 18-month-old infants determine which entities are psychological agents that can think and feel. The researchers found that four times as many infants who watched a robot interact with people were willing to learn from that robot than babies who did not see the interactions. "It is not just what something looks like, but how it moves and interacts with others that gives it special meaning to the baby," says UW researcher Andrew Meltzoff. The researchers hypothesized that babies would be more likely to view the robot as a sentient being if they saw other people interacting with it. "The babies are telling us that communication with other people is a fundamental feature of being human," Meltzoff says. UW professor Rajesh Rao says the research suggests that in order to maximize their effectiveness, companion robots should be able to interact socially with humans.

3-D Maps Without the Glasses
Student Life (10/18/10) Allyson Scher

Students at Washington University in St. Louis' Media and Machines Lab have developed Project Live3D, an Internet application that uses webcams from around the world and Google Earth scenes to create real-time images of international locations in three dimensions (3D). Project Live3D has identified more than 17,000 webcams worldwide and added them to its database. Users drag around a two-dimensional (2D) point and place it at a known location on the original image to execute the process of matching 2D images to the 3D world. The students also are developing the Archive of Many Outdoor Scenes, which features a collection of more than 1,000 webcams, including an array of outdoor scenes. "What motivated this project was that we wanted to attach some geography to webcams," says doctoral student Austin Abrams.

Scientists Perfect New Nanowire Technique
University of Leeds (10/14/10) Hannah Isom

University of Leeds scientists have developed a technique that can produce molecular nanowires out of thin strips of ring-shaped molecules called discotic liquid crystals (DLCs), a development they say could lead to the next generation of electronic devices. DLCs are disk-shaped molecules that could be used to build organic electronic devices, but controlling their alignment has proved problematic. "The difficulty comes in controlling the orientation of such columnar stacks with respect to the surface on which they lie," says Leeds professor Stephen Evans. The new technique involves using patterned surfaces to selectively control alignment, allowing the molecules to be arranged in neat piles. The researchers apply a droplet of liquid crystal to the heated patterned surface, which causes it to disperse like liquid fingers over the high-energy stripes, leaving the low-energy regions bare. "Within the stripes we found molecules arranged into hemi-cylindrical columns each several microns long, which we believe to be the highest level of control over DLC alignment to date," Evans says.

Drivel on Facebook More Valuable Than We Think
Uppsala University (10/18/10) Anneli Waara

The seemingly meaningless comments and updates that appear on Facebook are valuable to users because they serve as constant reminders of a highly useful network of old classmates, acquaintances of acquaintances, and the like, according to a new report from the National IT User Center in Sweden. "The effect is that we perceive our Facebook friends as closer than other acquaintances who are not on Facebook," says Uppsala University's Hakan Selg. Selg's study also found that private individuals have taken the lead in using social media for communication. As a result, companies and public agencies are looking for ways to take advantage of private individuals who have contact nets and user experience. Private individuals can use their networks to find jobs and housing, and business people can find help for problems and new contacts. The report also suggests social media will enable users to reach more people, publish something for free, and establish foundations for their own activities. "This will probably enable more people to start their own businesses in the future, thus successively altering working life," Selg says.

Cellphones Reveal Emerging Disease Outbreaks
New Scientist (10/15/10) Jim Giles

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have found that flu outbreaks can be detected by looking for changes in the movement and cell phone communication patterns of infected people. The research team, led by MIT's Anmol Madan, gave 70 undergraduate students cell phones equipped with software that transmitted data to the team about the students' movements, phone calls, and text messages. Students who became ill tended to move around less and make fewer calls late at night and early in the morning. The researchers programmed the software to look for this signature in the cell phone data, and a daily check correctly identified flu victims with 90 percent accuracy. The researchers are developing a cell phone application that will alert a named contact when a person's communication and movement patterns suggest that they are sick. The researchers say that public health officials also could use the technology to identify emerging outbreaks of illness ahead of conventional detection systems.

I Win, You Lose
University of Bristol News (10/13/10) Joanne Fryer

University of Bristol researchers recently conducted a study using brain imaging to reveal how people can learn from failure and success using a computer. The team, led by Bristol senior lecturers Paul Howard-Jones and Rafal Bogacz, scanned the brains of players as they battled against an artificial opponent in a computer game. The researchers found that the computer's unexpected failure generated additional brain activity in the participants and created reward and learning signals in the players. In addition, when the players were observing the computer make selections, their brains were activated as if they were performing the actions themselves. The study showed that this type of "mirror neuron" learning, which is typical when people learn from other people, also can take place when learning on a computer, even without the use of animated graphics. "We were surprised to see the mirror neuron system activating in response to a computer," says Howard-Jones. "If the human brain can respond as though a computer has a mind, that's probably good news for those wishing to use the computer as a teacher."

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