Welcome to the December 22, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
FCC Approves Net-Neutrality Rules
Washington Post (12/22/10) Cecilia Kang
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) passed net neutrality regulations that require Internet service providers (ISPs) to treat all Web content equally. For example, the rules prevent ISPs from blocking streaming videos from other companies or interfering with purchases from online retailers. However, they do not extend to wireless carriers, a decision that drew criticism from consumer groups and net neutrality supporters. The new measures were backed by President Obama, who made an election campaign promise to establish net neutrality. "Today's decision will help preserve the free and open nature of the Internet while encouraging innovation, protecting consumer choice, and defending free speech," Obama says. However, the regulations were met with strong opposition from Republican lawmakers, many of which vowed to overturn them. In addition, cable and telecommunications companies are expected to file lawsuits challenging the FCC's authority. The regulations were intended to divide net neutrality rules between standard broadband and wireless communications networks in an attempt to appease both supporters and opponents of net neutrality, says FCC chairman Julius Genachowski. "I reject both extremes in favor of a strong and sensible framework--one that protects Internet freedom and openness and promotes robust innovation and investment," Genachowski says.
House Clears America COMPETES Reauthorization
National Journal (12/21/10) Juliana Gruenwald
The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that reauthorizes the America COMPETES Act, which promotes basic research and programs geared toward enhancing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education and other measures designed to boost U.S. innovation. The bill reauthorizes the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Standards and Technology, and the Energy Department's Office of Science research programs. The American COMPETES Act will fund the development of STEM education programs in addition to establishing an inter-organizational STEM education coordination committee. The bill also creates a Commerce Department program that provides guaranteed loans to small and medium-sized companies for the use or production of innovative technologies. "If we are to reverse the trend of the last 20 years, during which our country's technological edge in the world has diminished, we must make the investments necessary today," says Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.). The bill also contains provisions that direct the president to develop a national competitiveness and innovation strategy. The bill has already passed the Senate and is expected to be signed by President Obama.
Smarter, Not Faster, Is the Future of Computing Research
New York Times (12/21/10) Steve Lohr
The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology's (PCAST's) recently released report suggests that pure supercomputing speed is not the best indicator of technological prowess and that the United States' research funds would be better spent developing effective software and applications for supercomputing technologies. Gaining the top spot on the annual ranking of supercomputers is "an arms race that is very expensive and may not be a good use of funds," says PCAST's David E. Shaw. PCAST's report examined nonclassified federal funding for computing research and found that about half of the $4.3 billion per year budget goes toward technology development in support of research at various science agencies. University of Washington computer scientist Edward Lazowska says that less funding is spent on long-range computing research than the overall numbers indicate, and notes that "computer science is crucially about discovery as well." The report says computing research should prioritize developing new techniques for exploring large-scale data sets and algorithms for machine learning, as well as research on privacy and cybersecurity. Lazowska says solving those types of problems requires developing software and computers that can mine vast data sets to uncover patterns and insights.
Photo Project Aims to Preserve Time in 3D
CNet Asia (12/20/10) Darren Pauli
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology researchers have developed a method to preserve the world's treasures in three-dimensional (3D) life-like models using open source software and super-high resolution photographs. The researchers took about 11,000 18-megapixel images from a variety of different angles that were combined using the computer software to create the models. "For historical purposes, we can capture, say, a statue as it is in this point of time so if there is a change in the world and the statue is gone, generations will be able to see it as it was," says Hong Kong University professor Pedro Sander. "It will show a snapshot of the city in a point in time. You will be able to zoom in and see what people are doing, how they lived. This is our final goal." The method also could be used to create 3D pictures, to be viewed with traditional 3D glasses, which would combine two images taken from adjacent angles. Sander says the technique also could be used to help tourists see never-before-seen details of foreign cities, or too see 3D representations of organs or other details of the human body.
Best Careers 2011: Computer Software Engineer
U.S. News & World Report (12/06/10) Ben Baden
Computer software engineer is one of the fastest growing careers, with the U.S. Labor Department projecting that employment of such professionals will soar by nearly 300,000 jobs between 2008 and 2018. The most rapid growth in the industry is occurring among engineers focusing on specific applications, and business spending is rising in such areas as mobile technologies and cybersecurity. The job has tremendous potential for upward mobility, while wages are determined according to the individual's education, experience, and technical proficiency. Last year, the median annual salary ranged from $87,480 to $93,470. The career involves a moderate stress level marked by many hours of work and tight project deadlines but mitigated by the increasingly popular option to telecommute. In addition to technical skills, software programmers should ideally be adept at communicating between members of corporate technical and business teams, while a bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field is a must for most jobs. Strong management and interpersonal skills also are required for many software engineering positions.
Reading Avatar's DNA
American Friends of Tel Aviv University (12/21/10)
Tel Aviv University researchers have developed a method for detecting pirated video by treating the video footage like DNA in a new technique called video DNA matching. The research team developed a DNA analogue, similar to a unique fingerprint, which can be applied to video files, resulting in an individual DNA fingerprint for all movies. "If a DNA test can identify and catch criminals, we thought that a similar code might be applicable to video," says Tel Aviv University's Alex Bronstein. The technique involves a series of grids applied over the film, which translates the footage into a series of numbers. The video DNA matching tool can scan the Internet for Web sites where pirated films are believed to be offered, identifying mutations of the original sequence. The researchers plan to use the tool on popular video-sharing Web sites. Catching pirated videos takes thousands of man-hours to watch the content being downloaded, so production companies typically automate the process to save time and money. The researchers say the video DNA tool can provide a more accurate and useful way to automate the search for pirated videos.
Software Support Tool Will Allow Doctors to Better Access Neuromuscular Diseases
New Brunswick Business Journal (Canada) (12/20/10) Rebecca Penty
Mount Allison University professor Andrew Hamilton-Wright is developing a software-based decision support system that has the potential to transform the diagnosing of neuromuscular diseases and the monitoring of their progression. Hamilton-Wright says he is close to completing a prototype of the software, which would support the Cadwell Sierra Wave II platform for evaluating and recording the electrical activity of muscles. The software tool would make it easier and quicker for clinicians to evaluate quantitative information. "The interest there is to take an analytic software and eventually diagnostic software and put it on a computer you would attach to that [platform] when the data collection is happening," Hamilton-Wright says. "Where we want to go is not just present that raw data, but present the data in the context of how well that data correlates with various disease stages." Hamilton-Wright also wants to address the issues of lack of data quantity and quality. He will work on a function to show clinicians when data is too weak to analyze and whether more data needs to be collected.
Artificial Intelligence Makes Some Progress, but Robots Still Can't Match Humans
Washington Post (12/20/10) Brian Palmer
Despite advances in artificial intelligence (AI) research, a robot that can pass the Turing test has yet to be developed. The development of human-like intelligence has eluded AI researchers because it involves skills, such as perceiving the environment and incorporating past experiences into decision making, that machines are still not good at. Humans can recognize objects and distinguish them from one another even in different lighting and on different backgrounds. However, it takes a massive amount of computing power to execute this innate human ability, but computers are beginning to gain skills that bring them closer to human-like intelligence. For example, Google is developing an omnivorous search box that can recognize images and sounds recorded on a smartphone. Meanwhile, the U.S. Defense Department is working with University of Michigan professor John Laird to develop a military robot that can monitor dangerous areas before soldiers move in. Humans will train the robots in advance by walking them through model buildings. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, engineer Victor Zue is developing life-like digital human images that work in airports to tell passengers if their flight is delayed.
New Cognitive Robotics Lab Launched at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
RPI News (12/20/10) Mary L. Martialay
Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Cognitive Robotics Lab are studying how human thought can be more effective than raw computing power in the real world. The lab has 20 robots that enable researchers to test the real-world performance of computer models that represent human thought processes. "With robots, we can see the problems humans face when navigating their environment," says Rensselaer professor Vladislav Daniel Veksler. Cognitive scientists have developed several elements, including perception versus action, planning, reasoning, memory, and decision making, which are thought to make up human intelligence. When these elements are properly modeled and connected, they can solve complex problems without using large amounts of computing power to complete mathematical computations. The researchers say that cognitive robotics are a good testbed for this principle because robots work in the real world and the use of a cognitive model will hold up against any unexpected variables that may appear. Early results of the different projects have shown that a more cognitive approach using limited resources is more effective than computationally powerful computers, Veksler says.
What's Just Around the Bend? Soon, a Camera May Show You
New York Times (12/18/10) Anne Eisenberg
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed a computational camera that uses reflected laser light, computer processing, and other tools that enable it to see around corners. The device fires laser light, acting as a flash, in pulses lasting shorter than a trillionth of a second. The light scatters around the room, hits objects within the room, and bounces back to the detector. Columbia University's Shree K. Nayar also is developing computational photography technologies. "We are interested in how you design a camera that goes hand in hand with computation to create a new kind of picture," Nayar says. Other researchers are developing applications for ordinary camera phones. "The industry is beginning to think that if the megapixel war is over, computational photography may be the next battleground," says Stanford University professor Marc Levoy. He has led an effort at Stanford to develop a portable computational camera, called Frankencamera, which runs on the Linux operating system. The Stanford researchers also have developed a cell phone-based Frankencamera with the support of Nokia. In addition, they developed an application for the Frankencamera that enables users to find the exact spot where an earlier picture was taken.
Finding the Needle in the Haystack, Instantly
Northeastern University News (12/17/10) Jason Kornwitz
Researchers from Northeastern University, the University of Virginia, and Advanced Micro Devices have developed supercomputing hardware and software technology for conducting superfast searches. The researcher say that making use of graphics processing units (GPUs), the application can find a match for a photo in an image database 10 to 15 times faster than traditional computing methods. "GPU technology will have huge implications for the intelligence community," says Northeastern professor David Kaeli. For example, the GPU-based technology could help determine exactly where a bomb has been planted along a gas line in a residential neighborhood. Law enforcement officials would be able to upload photos emailed by a terrorist, and the application would compare them to images in an image database until it finds a match. "Pinpointing certain people or places needs to be done quickly," notes Northeastern's Perhaad Mistry. The researchers plan to open source the application in the near future.
DARPA Goal for Cybersecurity: Change the Game
DVIDS (12/20/10) Cheryl Pellerin
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has developed programs that deal with cybersecurity threats by surprising the attackers. The agency created the Clean-slate Design of Resilient, Adaptive, Secure Hosts (CRASH) and Programming Computation on Encrypted Data (PROCEED) programs to enhance the agency's cybersecurity research, says DARPA's Kaigham Gabriel. CRASH aims to develop new computer systems that resist cyberattacks the same way organisms fight bacteria and viruses. Gabriel says the researchers are developing computer hardware that give systems a kind of genetic diversity that would make them more resistant to cyberinfections by learning from attacks and repairing themselves. He notes that over the last two decades, the lines of code in security software has increased from approximately 10,000 to about 10 million lines, but the number of lines of code in malware has remained constant at about 125 lines. This analysis and others "led us to understand that many of the things we're doing are useful, but they're not convergent with the problem," Gabriel says. The PROCEED program is working to improve the efficiency of working on encrypted data that has not been decrypted. "If we were able to do relevant sorts of operations without ever having to decrypt, that would be a tremendous gain because ... whenever you decrypt into the open, you create vulnerability," he says.
LSU CCT Research Group Develops Next Generation Cyberinfrastructure Environment
Louisiana State University (12/16/10)
Researchers at Louisiana State University's (LSU's) Advanced Networking Lab have developed a cyberinfrastructure environment to help physical networks facilitate large-scale scientific discovery. The new system, called Cyberinfrastructure of Reconfigurable Optical Networking (CRON), provides multiple virtual networking sites consisting of routers, delay links, and workstations operating at 10 Gbps. "CRON will give application developers and networking researchers the ability to use virtual high-speed networks and computing environments without much technical knowledge," says LSU professor Seung-Jong Park. He says the system also lets large-scale scientific experiments share CRON without mutual interference. CRON connects with the Louisiana Optical Network Initiative and national cyberstructures such as Internet2 and National Lambda Rail to provide high-speed connections for researchers, which enables them to analyze large amounts of data across varying fields. "With the CRON project, LSU researchers will be able to extend the benefits of its very high-speed research connectivity deep into their research by dynamically accessing different high-speed networks and computing resources depending on their demands," says LSU professor Joel Tohline.
UMass Amherst Scientist Helps Design System Using RFID Devices to Guide Blind Visitors Inside Unfamiliar Buildings
University of Massachusetts Amherst (12/16/10) Patrick J. Callahan
University of Massachusetts Amherst researchers are developing PERCEPT, an electronic system that assists the visually impaired in navigating unfamiliar buildings. The system features the placement of radio frequency identification (RFID) tags throughout a building to serve as audio landmarks, and a visually impaired person uses an RFID reading device to tune into these electronic signposts and receive verbal instructions through headphones. The team has developed a prototype of PERCEPT and plans to install it in a building on campus next June and begin human testing in the summer. The visually impaired will use a kiosk that has an outline of the building layout represented using raised and Braille alphabet, and they will be able to enter a desired floor, room number, or destination such as restroom or elevator to receive simple directions spoken into their Bluetooth headsets. They also can use their handheld PERCEPT device to scan the RFID tags along the way for additional directions. "This system was created to be deployed in any building, and it's geared toward visually impaired visitors who have never been there before," says professor Aura Ganz. "Our goal is to produce this technology for public buildings everywhere."
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