Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the January 28, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Obama's Call for Innovation Follows Slowdown in Most Sectors, Scholars Say
Washington Post (01/28/11) Brian Vastag; Marc Kaufman

President Obama's call for the United States to rekindle innovation in his State of the Union address comes on the heels of a slump in almost every sector except agriculture and information technology. American Association for the Advancement of Science CEO Alan I. Leshner says tight budgets make it very difficult to take on risky projects. A National Science Foundation report found that from 2006 to 2008 only 9 percent of U.S. businesses innovated in either products made or in the processes needed to make them. The software sector was at the vanguard with more than three-quarters of those companies innovating. Georgetown University professor Charles Weiss attributes the lack of innovation not to a dearth of good ideas, but to the pursuit of new concepts being impeded by old innovation models. Innovation scholars note that new technologies often fall into a "valley of death," a chasm between federally funded basic research and commercialization of that research by private industry. "We have investors with lots of money, and we have entrepreneurs with ideas that can get you across the valley of death," notes Progressive Policy Institute economist Michael Mandel. "But it's a lot easier when you have a big winner out there, a gleaming star in the distance."


On the Hunt for Universal Intelligence
Plataforma SINC (Spain) (01/27/11)

A team of Spanish and Australian scientists is using the scientific method to measure intelligence by developing a platform for such a method as well as a new intelligence test. "We have developed an 'anytime' intelligence test, in other words a test that can be interrupted at any time, but that gives a more accurate idea of the intelligence of the test subject if there is a longer time available in which to carry it out," says Jose Hernandez-Orallo with the Polytechnic University of Valencia. He says the test can be applied to any subject, biological or non-biological, at any developmental stage, for present and future systems, and with any level of speed or intelligence. Hernandez-Orallo and Monash University's David L. Dowe have employed interactive exercises in environments with a difficulty level estimated by calculating the number of computational resources required to describe an object or a piece of information. The researchers say the universal intelligence test directly applies to artificial intelligence, but it can be used in many other fields, including most cognitive sciences. "The universal and unified evaluation of intelligence, be it human, non-human animal, artificial, or extraterrestrial, has not been approached from a scientific viewpoint before, and this is a first step," Hernandez-Orallo says.


Hardware, Software Advances Help Protect Operating Systems From Attack
NCSU News (01/26/11) Matt Shipman

North Carolina State University (NCSU) researchers have developed a system that utilizes hardware and software to restore an operating system (OS) if it is attacked. The researchers are focusing on attacks involving compromised computer applications, such as Web browsers that can then be used to access the OS. "Our approach has three components--attack detection, security fault isolation, and recovery," says NCSU professor Yan Solihin. The method works by analyzing the OS when it is functioning properly and rechecking it at different points in time. If the system is found to be compromised or not working properly, it will erase everything that has been done since the last "clean" check, in addition to identifying the source of the attack. "We've developed hardware support that allows the OS to incorporate these survivability components more efficiently, so that they take up less time and energy," Solihin says.


Professor Paves the Way for Easier Town Center Navigation
Kingston University London (United Kingdom) (01/27/11) Anita Gupta

Kingston University London professor Nigel Walford is developing a mobile device that can help the elderly and disabled navigate around cities. The system alerts users to potential hazards such as steep slopes, stairs, physical obstructions, and poorly lit streets. "It would provide older people, in particular, with greater independence by allowing them to widen their horizons and travel to unfamiliar places without having to worry about how easy it is to get around," Walford says. The device is an extension of an earlier project, known as Older People's Use of Unfamiliar Space, which was part of a seven-year multi-disciplinary research program into improving older people's quality of life. "Our work indicated that there were a growing number of technology-savvy older people for whom some sort of navigation device would be useful," Walford says. Testing showed that a group of users age 60 and older were able to navigate an unknown city just as well as a group of younger users, with both groups using the new device.


How a New Software Can Help Save the Planet
AlphaGalileo (01/27/11) Catarina Amorim

Lisbon University computer scientists have developed SPIRIT, software that reduces carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by turning certain computers on a server off if those computers are not being used, and then turn them on again when they are needed. SPIRIT was used on 200 computers at Lisbon University last year and saved the equivalent of five tons of CO2 emissions. If the system is "used worldwide, SPIRIT could result in yearly savings equivalent to the energy produced by a 1000 MW Nuclear Power Station, or, in other words, a reduction of about 5 million tons of CO2 emissions every year," say Lisbon researchers Carlos Reis and Jorge Pacheco. They say SPIRIT is especially effective in parallel computing, in which large projects are divided into small tasks that can then be run in parallel on the server's computers. When all the computers are being used, new tasks are added to a queue to wait for the next available computer. SPIRIT works with the queue, turning off idle computers when the queue is empty and then turning the computers back on as new tasks are added.


Inventors of Unix Win Prestigious Japan Prize
Network World (01/26/11) Jon Brodkin

The Japan Prize Foundation has awarded the 2011 Japan Prize to Unix creators Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie. Thompson and Ritchie "developed the Unix operating system, which has significantly advanced computer software, hardware and networks over the past four decades, and facilitated the realization of the Internet," according to the foundation. Thompson said they developed Unix while working as Bell Labs researchers four decades ago because they wanted something better to use to get their work done than what was currently available. Today, countless personal computers, embedded systems, and supercomputers use Unix. The development of Berkeley Software Distribution, sometimes called Berkeley Unix, is based on the operating system, and it also has led to the development of Linux. ACM honored Thompson and Ritchie with the A.M. Turing Award in 1983. Thompson, now a distinguished engineer at Google, and Ritchie, who is retired, will each receive $300,000.


Light Shines on Quantum Computing
Griffith University (01/24/2011) Sabrina Rashid

Tiny lighthouse lenses can increase the processing speed and accuracy of quantum computers, according to Griffith University researchers. Conducting experiments with Fresnel lenses developed for use in lighthouses in the 18th century, a team from Griffith's Center for Quantum Dynamics reports that the lenses enable more light to be collected, which helps boost information processing. The use of Fresnel lenses, which make lighthouses visible from far away by shining light over greater distances, has the potential to lead to applications for secure, long-distance networking. Griffith professor David Kielpinski says collecting light is a key issue for quantum computing, which processes problems based on whether light was on or off. "The light from a single ion, an electrically charged atom, indicates the result from a computation and its brightness is typically less than a trillionth that of a light bulb," Kielpinski notes. "We successfully used miniature lenses to efficiently image the light emitted from a single ion and this will result in faster processing speeds and lower error rates in quantum computers." Griffith's Erik Streed says the lenses are made with similar methods to computers chips, and notes that the number of lenses can increase with little change in price as quantum computers get larger and the amount of ions grows.


Obama Turns Attention to Supercomputing
Computerworld (01/27/11) Patrick Thibodeau

U.S. President Obama's emphasis on technology, especially supercomputing, in his State of the Union address supports expectations that U.S. information technology investment will survive his planned five-year freeze on domestic spending. Argonne National Laboratory's Peter Beckman says Obama's description of the United States as "a nation of inventors and innovators" is "fantastic--and that's how I see our work in computing." IDC analyst Earl Joseph notes that other countries are making heavy supercomputing investments because they believe the technology is key to economic competitiveness. Joseph points out that China is "building out a vast new infrastructure of supercomputer centers to address both economic growth and scientific standing--more than a dozen are under way already." IDC estimates that U.S. supercomputing investments approach about $2.5 billion annually, not including building, staff, power and cooling, and other costs. Joseph says the U.S. will need to boost its supercomputer spending to $5 billion annually in five years if it is to remain competitive. He also sees a need for software development centers that can make hundreds of programs more scalable and useful.


Virtual Self
National Science Foundation (01/24/11) Miles O'Brien

Stanford University's Jeremy Bailenson worked with the U.S. National Science Foundation to build the Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL), which was created to study how avatars affect their real world creators. "As a lab, we've gone a bit out on a limb and argued that the reason you have an avatar is because an avatar makes you more human than human," meaning avatars give their users the ability to do things they never could in the physical world, Bailenson says. The lab's research has shown that avatars can influence the real life persona. "We've demonstrated that if I increase the height of your avatar by 10 centimeters, you'll win a negotiation compared to if I decrease the height of your avatar by 10 centimeters," Bailenson says. In another test, the researchers morphed subjects' faces with those of presidential candidates, and found that the volunteers preferred the candidate that had some of their own features. "People like things that are similar to them whether it's verbally, non-verbally, or an appearance," Bailenson says. "We like people that look like us."


Linux Skills Are Hot in an Improving IT Hiring Front
PC World (01/24/11) Katherine Noyes

The hiring environment for information technology (IT) professionals last year was the best it's been since 2000, according to a recent Challenger, Gray & Christmas report, indicating that the technology industry has been more resilient than most during the weak economy. "These firms are definitely on the leading edge of the recovery, as companies across the country and around the globe begin to upgrade and reinvest in their technology," says Challenger, Gray & Christmas CEO John A. Challenger. The proliferation of smartphones and tablets has played a large part in keeping the tech industry thriving. Forrester Research predicts that 2011 technology spending will increase 7.5 percent in the U.S. and 7.1 percent globally. Skills in Linux are in particular demand, according to Dice research. "More and more devices and systems and services are built based on Linux, and therefore, more and more manufacturers and vendors are looking for Linux talent," says Intel's Dirk Hohndel. Linux professionals also tend to get as much as 10 percent more in salary than other IT workers, according to Dice.


Cloud Robotics: Connected to the Cloud, Robots Get Smarter
IEEE Spectrum (01/24/11) Erico Guizzo

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers are developing robots that use cloud computing to obtain new information and data. The method, known as cloud robotics, allows robots to offload compute-intensive tasks such as image processing and voice recognition. Cloud robotics could lead to lighter, cheaper, and faster robots, says CMU professor James Kuffner. He is working with Google to develop cloud robotics systems that involve "small mobile devices as Net-enabled brains for robots." In the future, cloud-enabled robots could become standardized, leading to an app store for robots, Kuffner says. "Coupling robotics and distributed computing could bring about big changes in robot autonomy," says Jean-Paul Laumond with France's Laboratory of Analysis and Architecture of Systems. Kuffner sees a future in which robots will feed data into a knowledge database, sharing their interactions with the world and learning about new objects, places, and behaviors.


How the World's Most Powerful Visualization Lab Turns Hard Data Into Scientific Cinema
Popular Science (01/21/11) Clay Dillow

Since 1985, a team of researchers has been constructing high-resolution, data-driven three-dimensional (3D) visuals of the universe at the University of Illinois' Advanced Visualization Lab (AVL). "A lot of places do not have the supercomputing power that we have, so we have focused on leveraging state-of-the-art computer graphics tools and embedding them in a supercomputing environment where we can devote all these processors to the problems of visualization," says AVL director Donna Cox. AVL's interdisciplinary visualization teams come from many fields, including science, visual art, mathematics, film, and software design. The team crafts custom software to address problems for specific data sets or to produce certain types of renders. Among the tools the AVL has developed is Virtual Director, a program that lets users travel rapidly through data on a 3D screen, plotting out camera moves. Cox says the AVL is not just about creating entertaining scientific cinema, but also about representing information in a way that makes sense to the public as well as to scientists. "In the future we want to take abstract relational databases on society and demographics--migration and migration of ecologies, for instance--and couple that with our large-scale geoscience data," Cox says.


Future Phone Networks to Use Miniature Base Stations
The Engineer (United Kingdom) (01/21/11) Stephen Harris

University of York researchers are working on the Beyond Next Generation Mobile Broadband (BuNGee) project, which is developing a network infrastructure to support future mobile devices that can receive data more than 50 times faster than current third-generation smartphones using intelligent miniature base stations to manage the data. Instead of using one large tower for a location, there will be several miniature stations to provide coverage. "If you want to significantly increase the capacity density you would have to put in many more mobile masts and increase the capacity of the backwall links [to the Internet]," says York researcher David Grace. The smaller base stations will be built on existing buildings and structures. The BuNGee system also will use software and unlicensed radio frequencies to manage the data transfer. "In order to deliver the required amount of spectrum, it will have a dedicated amount of licensed spectrum with high quality of service and then use the unlicensed spectrum on an opportunistic basis to supplement the data rate when it's available," Grace says. O2 has been testing the technology since last March. "Our conclusion is that small-cell technology, as we go through this data tornado, is absolutely essential," says O2's Andrew Conway.


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