Welcome to the March 11, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Researchers Show How a Car's Electronics Can Be Taken Over Remotely
New York Times (03/09/11) John Markoff
Researchers at the University of California (UDSD), San Diego and University of Washington have shown that computer hackers could gain remote access to a car and take over the vehicle's basic functions including control of the engine. The hackers accessed the car through the vehicle's built-in cellular connections and Bluetooth wireless technology, enabling them to track the car's location, eavesdrop on the cabin, and steal vehicle data. "This report explores how hard it is to compromise a car's computers without having any direct physical access to the car," says UCSD professor Stefan Savage. Services such as General Motors' OnStar system, Toyota's Safety Connect, Lexus' Enform, Ford's Sync, BMW's Assist, and Mercedes Benz's Mbrace all use a cellular connection embedded in the vehicle to provide a variety of automated and call center support services to a driver. These cellular channels "can be accessed over arbitrary distance [due to the wide coverage of cellular data infrastructure] in a largely anonymous fashion, typically have relatively high bandwidth, are two-way channels [supporting interactive control and data exfiltration], and are individually addressable," Savage says.
European Commission Calls for More Women in Tech on International Women's Day
V3.co.uk (03/08/11) Dan Worth
The European Union needs to do more to encourage young women to pursue careers in the technology sector, said the European Commission's Neelie Kroes on the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day. She called for a change in the way technology is taught to help girls understand why science and computing is important, before they rule out those fields as options. "It is not enough to puzzle over why there are too few women [information and communications technology (ICT)] executives when we know the problem starts in school," Kroes said. She said the problem needs to be addressed early and from many angles. Kroes noted that women have not set up and run their own ICT companies, and she said the lack of entrepreneurship was another sign that the industry lacks balance. She stressed that female staff need to be treated fairly to keep them from leaving the sector. "It's about career progression, equal pay, and facilities to reconcile their family and professional life and so on," Kroes said. Europe faces a massive skills gap and will be held back if more women do not work in ICT, she emphasized.
Homemade CPUs on the Way for Local Supercomputers
People's Daily (China) (03/07/11)
China's supercomputers will use Chinese-made chips by the end of this year, says Hu Weiwu, the chief developer of the Loongson series of processors at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). Hu says the forthcoming Dawning 6000 supercomputer will use Loongson microchips as its core component and will have a computing speed of more than 1,000 trillion operations per second. "Just like a country's industry cannot always depend on foreign steel and oil, China's information industry needs its own [central processing unit]," he says. The Dawning 6000 supercomputer will employ less than 10,000 Loongson microchips and will boast greater energy-efficiency. The Institute of Computing Technology of CAS, the Jiangnan Institute of Computing Technology, and the National University of Defense Technology all have their own supercomputer projects that are scheduled to be running on Chinese-made microchips by the end of 2011. However, Hu notes that few applications have been developed for them so far. "We have enough supercomputers in China but still can't fully utilize them," he says.
White House Wants Agency for Education IT
Federal Computer Week (03/09/11) Alice Lipowicz
The White House recently announced the goals of a proposed new agency that would award grants for developing educational information technology (IT). President Obama wants $90 million to create the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Education (ARPA-ED), which would be modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. ARPA-ED would invest in innovative technology for learning and teaching to help improve student performance, says Tom Kalil, deputy director for policy in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. For example, ARPA-ED would sponsor the development of digital tutor applications that are as effective as personal tutors, tools that improve student learning the more students use them, and educational software that is as compelling as video games. Kalil says the success of ARPA-ED would depend on federal leadership, school districts' willingness to spend on learning IT, investors in educational startups, Internet companies, game developers, and philanthropists.
How Can Robots Get Our Attention?
Georgia Tech News (03/08/11) David Terraso; Matt Nagel
Georgia Tech researchers have developed a robot that can understand when it gains a human's attention and when it is being ignored. "The primary focus was trying to give Simon, our robot, the ability to understand when a human being seems to be reacting appropriately, or in some sense is interested now in a response with respect to Simon and to be able to do it using a visual medium, a camera," says Georgia Tech professor Aaron Bobick. During testing, Simon was able to use cameras to determine if a human was paying attention to it or ignoring it with 80 percent accuracy. The researchers plan to continue their investigations into how robots can read communication cues by studying a human's gaze and using elements of the language. "In order for these robots to work with us effectively, they have to obey these same kinds of social conventions, which means they have to perceive the same thing humans perceive in determining how to abide by those conventions," Bobick says.
Spotting Virtual Intruders
Technology Review (03/09/11) Erica Naone
University of North Carolina researchers have developed HomeAlone, software that enables companies that request that their data be stored in a physically isolated location confirm that it is actually alone on a server. The North Carolina researchers, led by professor Michael Reiter, designed the system to support an extreme situation in which the data and processing must be separated. Several virtual machines can run on the same server, but because it is difficult for users to know when this is occurring, it is often impossible to tell if data and information are at risk or have been compromised. HomeAlone can confirm that data is alone on a server by detecting the presence of unexpected virtual machines. HomeAlone uses side channels, such as power usage data or the pattern in which software accesses temporary memory, to determine if other virtual machines are present. In testing, HomeAlone was able to detect unexpected virtual machines with an 80 percent success rate.
Real March Madness Is Relying on Seedings to Determine Final Four
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (03/08/11) Liz Ahlberg
University of Illinois processor Sheldon H. Jacobson has developed an operations research analysis model designed to determine the probability of different seeded teams reaching the Final Four of the NCAA men's basketball tournament. Jacobson's model uses only the seeds of the teams, not the individual schools that hold those seeds. Using NCAA tournament data from 1985 to 2010, Jacobson's team applied a goodness-of-fit statistical testing method, which identified patterns in seed distribution in each round of the tournament. The researchers found that certain seeds have specific statistical patterns. Jacobson, with the help of students Ammar Rizwan and Emon Dai, integrated the model into a publicly accessible Web site. "What our model enables us to do is look at the likelihood or probability that a certain set of seed combinations will occur as we advance deeper into the tournament," Jacobson says.
Microsoft Techfest Shows Near and Distant Future
Seattle Times (03/09/11) Sharon Pian Chan
Microsoft Research recently displayed some of the projects that the company's scientists are working on and that will be showcased at the forthcoming Techfest. The projects included natural user interfaces similar to the Xbox Kinect motion sensor and predictive computing applications that anticipate what users want. Techfest will feature 150 projects and the company expects as many as 7,000 workers to attend. One of the projects being developed is a three-dimensional (3D) talking head. Microsoft researchers are developing software that can animate a 3D photo of a person based on a two-dimensional video of that person talking. Microsoft researchers also are working on MirageBlock, software that, when combined with a 3D projector and a Kinect camera, can capture an object image and project it in three dimensions on any surface and enable users to manipulate the virtual object with their hands. In addition, the researchers are developing Virtual Window, which enables users in different parts of the world to interact face to face in a virtual 3D environment.
Quantum Engineers Remove Roadblock in Developing Next-Generation Technologies
University of Queensland (03/08/11)
An international team has found a way to efficiently characterize quantum systems, and believes their method will help turn small-scale laboratory experiments into real-world applications. Adapting techniques from compressive sensing, the team has applied the mathematical data compression method to experimental quantum research for the first time. The measurement of quantum systems is simplified with compressive sensing, while in quantum systems, the number of measurements required increases exponentially with the number of quantum parts. The researchers developed a compressive sensing algorithm, tested it on a photonic two-qubit quantum computer, and demonstrated that they could obtain high-fidelity estimates from as few as 18 measurements, compared to the 240 normally required. The technique can be used in a wide range of architectures, including quantum-based computers, communication networks, metrology devices, and biotechnology.
'Million Song Project' at Columbia U. Seeks to Build Better Internet Radio
Chronicle of Higher Education (03/07/11) Ben Wieder
Columbia University researchers are collaborating with the Echo Nest to create a better music recommendation system using artificial intelligence. Echo Nest has provided the researchers with data that includes identifying features for 1 million popular songs, which will make it easier for researchers to develop algorithms that can tag and recommend music to people, says Columbia professor Daniel P.W. Ellis. He says the scale of the dataset is important because it provides the researchers with a larger pool of data from which to detect underlying patterns. The research could be particularly applicable to copyright lawyers trying to determine if a piece of music is original or if it has been copied to an early piece. Ellis says that each of the songs is broken down into a series of approximately 1,000 events, which could be a single note, chord, or syllable. The researchers have shared the data with the University of San Diego and New York University.
Intelligence Analysts Need Not Fear 'Watson,' Study Shows
Mercyhurst College (03/07/11)
Intelligence analysis will not be replaced by emerging technologies such as IBM's Watson anytime soon, according to a Mercyhurst College study that examined the outlook for intelligence analysis in the computerized age. "What you saw on Jeopardy! would not play out the same in the world of intelligence analysis today because none of these new technologies--including Watson--deal well with deliberately deceptive data," says Mercyhurst professor Kristan Wheaton. "While there are technologies that can extract data from unstructured sources like emails and blogs, they are unable to identify the validity of those sources," notes study researcher Lindy Smart. Machines eventually might be able to mimic human intelligence, but they are still unlikely to perform the work of an intelligence analyst, Wheaton says.
Oak Ridge Looks Toward 20 Petaflop Super
HPC Wire (03/07/11) Michael Feldman
Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is planning to build a third supercomputer called Titan, that will run at 20 petaflops and should be completed in 2012. ORNL's other two supercomputers--Jaguar and Kraken--run at 2.3 and 1.0 petaflops, respectively. The Titan system will cost about $100 million, according to ORNL associate lab director Jeff Nichols, making it less expensive than the Department of Energy's other 20-petaflop system, the IBM Blue Gene/Q Sequoia supercomputer, which is expected to cost more than $200 million. Titan will be a Cray supercomputer powered by NVIDIA Tesla graphics processing units, and both it and Sequoia could challenge Chinese systems for the title of most powerful supercomputer in 2012. Sequoia will be primarily used for classified nuclear weapons simulations as part of NASA's Stockpile Stewardship program, in addition to running scientific applications in astronomy, energy, genomics and climatology. Titan will be dedicated to running a variety of open science applications.
The Performance Doctor Is In
Texas Advanced Computing Center (03/02/11) Aaron Dubrow
Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, Texas State University (TSU), and the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) created PerfExpert, a performance diagnostic tool designed to enhance the quality and efficiency of high-performance computing applications. "The idea was to write a tool that takes our experience and makes it available to people whenever they want it," says TSU professor Martin Burtscher. After running an application, the tool supplies the user a series of the most critical functions and loops that stand for performance bottlenecks and their root causes. PerfExpert produces a graphical output that provides examples of how to augment the code's structure and data layout. PerfExpert users also can track the progress of optimization so they can see if the modifications suggested by the tool actually improve code performance. The researchers tested the tool on TACC's Ranger supercomputer by using it to optimize four science codes, and realized performance gains of as much as 40 percent. "Lower turnaround times, bigger problem sets, more simulations per time unit--PerfExpert helps in all of these dimensions," Burtscher says.
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