Welcome to the January 21, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Survey Reveals Potential Innovation Gap in the U.S.
MIT News (01/19/11)
Young women in the United States represent an untapped group of potential inventors, according to the 2011 Lemelson-MIT Invention Index. The latest gauge on the perceptions of invention and innovation focuses on people between the ages of 16 and 25, and shows that women have many characteristics necessary to become inventors. The characteristic women most associate with inventors is creativity, and while 71 percent said they were creative, only 27 percent said they were inventive. Among men, 66 percent said they were creative and 39 percent said they were inventive. Also, 42 percent of women said math and science were their favorite subjects in school, compared with 53 percent for men, and 35 percent said they have a family member working in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM). The index shows that women have an innate interest in inventive fields, but less than 10 percent are pursuing STEM degrees. "This country needs innovative new programs to stimulate the interest of young men and women in STEM and to challenge them to use their intellect and creativity to invent solutions to some of the world's most pressing problems," says Chad Mirkin, a member of the U.S. President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. "Women have an enormous amount to offer in this regard, but aren't currently pursuing science or technology fields at a high enough rate."
Convergence Requires Interdisciplinary Research
The Hindu (India) (01/20/11) D. Murali
The meaningful convergence of disparate fields necessitates interdisciplinary research, says Waran Research Foundation director N. Venkateswaran. "Research in computational/experimental neuroscience has not received its due importance in Indian institutes and universities and I think it should also be a part of engineering program and, in particular, computer science," he argues. Venkateswaran points to the penetration of the commercial market of products that use high-performance parallel computing systems, such as play stations that run real-time simulations on multicore processors. Multicore processors also can provide the raw computational power for projects such as the analysis of the effects of drugs and the genetic code for certain human traits via genome-wide investigation. Although Venkateswaran notes that awareness of computers is strong among students, there is a profound lack of understanding "that computer science and engineering can be something different from their conception." A profusion of information technology dream jobs also is dampening students' motivation to do research, and Venkateswaran believes interest can be sparked by frequently holding small-scale qualitative workshops to expose students to a broader range of science, technology, and engineering.
New Device May Revolutionize Computer Memory
NCSU News (01/20/11) Matt Shipman
North Carolina State University (NCSU) researchers have developed a double floating-gate field effect transistor device that makes large-scale server farms more energy efficient. It also performs both volatile and nonvolatile memory operation, which enables computers to start faster. "We've invented a device that may revolutionize computer memory," says NCSU professor Paul Franzon. "By using two floating gates, the device can store a bit in a nonvolatile mode, and/or it can store a bit in a fast, volatile mode--like the normal main memory on your computer." The device would allow computers to start immediately because the computer could retrieve startup data from its main memory instead of from the hard drive. The new device also would permit power proportional computing, which means that power usage will remain in line with user activity. "This would allow portions of the server memory to be turned off during periods of low use without affecting performance," Franzon says. He notes the device "can have a very long lifetime, when it comes to storing data in the volatile mode."
"Outrageous Ideas" at CIDR: Seeking to Stimulate Innovative Research Directions
Computing Community Consortium (01/18/11) Hank Korth
The Computing Community Consortium is sponsoring a series of "wacky idea" sessions aimed at identifying major new research opportunities. The program hopes to move beyond the conventional scientific reviewing process by making new papers more widely accessible. The latest session, called the Outrageous Ideas and Visions (OIV) track and held at the recent Conference on Innovative Data Systems Research (CIDR), focused on long-term issues for the database and data management communities that are outside of current mainstream research in the field. The CIDR program committee accepted 12 OIV papers that introduced new application domains, approaches, and ways of thinking about data management and analysis. First prize was awarded to Saarland University researchers Jens Dittrich and Alekh Jindal, who proposed an architecture for database systems that can act as a log-based storage model. Second prize went to University of California, Berkeley researchers Kuang Chen, Joe Hellerstein, and Tapan Parikh, who examined techniques for data collection in public health organizations. Third prize went to Duke University's Sarah Cohen and Jun Yang, University of Texas at Arlington's Chengkai Li, and Google's Cong Yu, who studied methods for computational journalism.
Computers That Can Understand Our Emotions?
Bangor University (01/20/2011)
Bangor University's Thomas Christy is developing a computer system that uses hands-on pattern recognition and machine learning to read human emotions in real time. The system features a headset equipped with an electrode connected to the forehead, which reads brainwave information. Perspiration readings and a pulse signal are combined with the brainwave data and fed into a classifier ensemble set to determine the user's emotion. "It will combine already existing biometric detection devices into a lightweight portable system that will be able to perceive and indicate a person's mood and level of stress and anxiety," according to Christy. He says the system could be especially useful to the video game industry by enabling developers to create characters that can respond to users' emotions. "This area of emotional study is fast becoming an important part of research within computer science and is known as affective computing," says Bangor professor Lucy Kuncheva. Additional applications for the technology include consumer research, brand effectiveness, and military training.
Researchers Turn USB Cable Into Attack Tool
CNet (01/19/11) Elinor Mills
George Mason University researchers will demonstrate a computer device attack using a USB cable at the Black Hat DC conference. Professor Angelos Stavrou and student Zhaohui Wang have written software that changes the functionality of the USB driver, enabling keyboard and mouse functionality to be added to the connection. The exploit of the USB protocol, which can be used to connect any device to a computing platform without authentication, allows the attacker to start typing commands, click the mouse to steal files, and download malware. Although Macintosh and Windows machines will produce a pop-up message saying a new human interface device has been detected, there is no easily recognizable way to stop the process. Stavrou describes the compromise as viral. "Say your computer at home is compromised and you compromise your Android phone by connecting them," he says. "Then, whenever you connect the smartphone to another laptop or computing device I can take over that computer also, and then compromise other computers off that Android." The original compromise can result from downloading the exploit from the Web or running a compromised app, and antivirus software would not be able to determine whether the exploit's activities are controlled or sanctioned by the user.
Surgeons, CCTV & TV Football Gain From New Video Technology That Banishes Shadows and Flare
University of Warwick (01/18/11) Peter Dunn
University of Warwick researchers have developed a high dynamic range (HDR) video system designed to film scenes with quick changes from shadow to light, as in soccer stadiums and operating rooms. "We have put together unique compression software with a high performance HDR camera and HDR displays that will revolutionize the use of HDR in a range of applications," says Warwick professor Alan Chalmers. The technology provides a more realistic representation of real-world lighting by storing data with a greater bit depth per pixel than other conventional systems, Chalmers says. In addition, he says the system can cover a minimum of 20 f-stops, at high-definition resolutions, operating at 30 frames per second, and is compatible with current three-dimensional technologies. "The impact will be enormous, for example, the ability to clearly see the football when it is kicked from the shadow of the stadium into sunshine, or surveillance cameras which can detect detail even in extreme lighting conditions," Chalmers says.
A Real 'Dick Tracy Wristwatch' May Be Coming From HP
Mercury News (01/17/11) Brandon Bailey
Hewlett-Packard (HP) is developing a small, wearable device that can view digital maps and other data. HP's prototype could be among the first in a new wave of products incorporating flexible electronic displays. Freed from the constraints of a rigid glass screen, designers could one day build flexible plastic displays into clothing, wall coverings and even e-readers that can roll up like a newspaper. "You can start thinking about putting electronic displays on things where you wouldn't ordinarily think of having them," says Arizona State University's Nick Colaneri. HP Labs director Carl Taussig says that in the very near future flexible plastic displays will be used in tablets, smartphones, and other portable devices with big screens that weigh less and are far more durable than conventional models. The HP researchers are using a plastic film that is lighter and thinner than glass and can be stored in rolls. They say the rolling method, similar to the way newspapers are printed on long spools, is much more efficient than current batch techniques for creating glass displays. Taussig says HP also is developing organic light emitting diodes to be used in flexible displays capable of showing color and videos.
'Flasher Detection' Algorithm Aims to Clean Up Video Chat
Technology Review (01/19/11)
University of Colorado at Boulder researchers have developed SafevChat, a flasher detection algorithm that can identify potential flashers on social Webcam sites such as Chatroulette, forcing them off the sites. SafevChat analyzes images using a variety of criteria to determine if a user is preparing to expose himself. The program combines skin detection with motion detection to see if the skin is moving, in addition to eye, nose, and face detection to distinguish facial skin from non-facial skin to identify offensive images. In testing, the researchers say SafevChat worked significantly better than other widely used pornography detection systems, prompting Chatroulette to start using the new system on its Web site.
Internet 'Kill Switch' Could Cause Chaos, OECD Report Warns
Techworld (01/17/11) John E. Dunn
A proposed Internet kill switch to be activated in the event of a cyberwar could produce worse consequences, according to a study commissioned by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The researchers rated the likelihood that a cybersecurity event on its own would have a major global impact as small, while it was highly unlikely that the Internet would ever experience a pure large-scale cyberwar. The report says it is more probable that a separate event such as a natural catastrophe would be exacerbated by an implosion in a nation's electronic infrastructure. The OECD report also points to a tendency among governments to assign traditional military evaluations of importance to cybersecurity. The study suggests that civilian and private-sector assets that are outside the protection of military cybersecurity would suffer the most significant national disruption. The report's authors also are skeptical that the kill switch proposal is workable. "In the very simplest sense the Internet cannot really be switched off because it has no center," the report says. It recommends that governments seek to protect citizens in addition to government assets, while a greater effort should be made to establish computer emergency response teams that can have a better perspective of events as they play out than today's national agencies.
Google's Artificial Intelligence Translates Poetry
NPR Online (01/16/11)
Understanding and translating poetry while preserving the poem's length, meter, and rhyme is the focus of Google artificial intelligence (AI) researchers led by scientist Dmitriy Genzel. Their software can translate a haiku by preprogramming a computer to produce online lines of five, seven, and five syllables, while the translation of a sonnet in iambic pentameter can be accomplished by having the computer read a pronunciation dictionary, Genzel says. Once the computer knows where the stress falls in a given word, it can properly position that word in a metered sentence. Genzel says rhyme is the toughest challenge for the AI software, "because it connects to different places in a sentence," and because a pair of rhyming words in English may not rhyme in another tongue. Google's approach in such a case involves cycling through a lengthy list of optional matches to find a proper rhyme. Genzel says improving any type of software translation tool is useful because "most of the content on the Web is not in English anymore. So even for English speakers, there's a huge amount of stuff on the Web that you don't have access to."
Taiwan Develops Face-Recognition Vending Machine
IDG News Service (01/14/11) Ralph Jennings
The Institute for Information Industry in Taipei has developed a vending machine that uses face-recognition technology to recommend purchases to consumers. The machine identifies characteristics such as complexion and hair color, which helps it guess the consumer's gender, age, and other types of information that would be useful in recommending a product, says researcher Tsai Chi-hang. "If you stand in front of it, the machine has ways of recognizing your characteristics, though it doesn't know exactly who you are as that would infringe on personal privacy," Tsai says. The machine also can detect smartphones and other devices that would tell the system whether the user can download books, music, and other media. The system searches for clues such as whether a person has glasses, a mustache, or a beard, Tsai says. Based on that information, it speculates their use of makeup or frequency of shaving, and thus might recommend a facial mask, razor, or health products that people in a certain category are statistically likely to purchase.
A Computer Scientist Works to Get the Real Bugs Out
Chronicle of Higher Education (01/16/11) Tom Bartlett
University of California, Riverside computer scientist Eamonn Keogh is building a network of sensors that can count and identify malaria-carrying mosquitoes in an effort to control the spread of the disease. The system involves capturing reflected laser light with a photodiode, which can convert light into voltage. When an insect passes through the laser, the device measures and records the change in voltage with enough precision to determine the number of wing beats per second. A typical male mosquito has a per-second wing beat total of 600, while the female mosquito has about 400, an important distinction because only certain varieties of female mosquitoes carry and transmit malaria. Keogh also is building a robotic system that works with the sensors to remove the deadly mosquitoes. The system would trap the mosquitoes, determine if they are carrying malaria, and release the harmless bugs while transferring the infected ones to a container. Keogh is working with entomologists to design the system to be able to differentiate between the thousands of species of mosquitoes and identify only the few dozen that carry malaria.
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