Welcome to the June 29, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
World's Data Will Grow by 50X in Next Decade, IDC Study Predicts
Computerworld (06/28/11) Lucas Mearian
The number of servers managing the world's data will grow tenfold over the next 10 years, according to the IDC Digital Universe study. The study also predicts that overall data will grow by 50 times by 2020, mostly due to the proliferation of embedded systems such as sensors in clothing and medical devices. In addition, the study found that unstructured information will make up about 90 percent of all data created in the next 10 years, while metadata is growing twice as fast as the digital universe. Despite the inevitable increase in data, new hardware and software technologies have driven the cost of creating, capturing, and managing information down to less than 20 percent of what it was in 2005. "As an industry, we've done a tremendous job at lowering the cost of storing data," says IDC's David Reinsel. Since 2005, yearly investments by enterprises in hardware, software, and cloud services has increased 50 percent to about $4 trillion, according to the IDC report. Today, cloud computing accounts for just two percent of information technology spending, but by 2015 nearly 20 percent of all information will be associated with the cloud in some way, according to the IDC study.
Researchers Develop 'Atom-Scale' Switches for Low-Power Processors
University of Southampton (United Kingdom) (06/27/11) Joyce Lewis
Researchers at the University of Southampton, the National Institute for Materials Science, Japan, and Hitachi Cambridge Laboratory are developing a low-power logic system that will perform instant on/off logic operations, which could lead to a non-volatile logic system based on three-terminal atom transistors with nano-electromechanical switches. The device initially will be available as an integrated logic-memory chip so that it can be used in portable devices, making computers and mobile phones much smaller and lighter. The new device will address the constantly increasing power consumption of modern computer chips. The researchers plan to increase the non-volatile part of the memory, making it unnecessary to apply large amounts of power to the chip. "We will be cooperating closely in overcoming current technological bottlenecks and accelerating the development of novel non-volatile logic devices, which have not been yet achieved with other approaches," says Southampton professor Hiroshi Mizuta. The key component of the new system will be an on/off switch utilizing a suspended nanobeam that moves up and down when activated by voltage, resulting in an instant powering of the computer with no delay.
Stanford's Video Processing in the Cloud Allows Interactive Streaming of Online Lectures
Stanford Report (CA) (06/28/11) Melissae Fellet
Stanford University researchers recently released the program code for ClassX, software that converts static videos of class lectures into interactive online video streams. The researchers simplified the recording equipment to a tripod, a wireless microphone, and a high-definition camcorder. The software enables the viewer to zoom and pan around the room during playback, and it also works in the cloud, requiring only a Web browser for access. The ClassX Web site currently contains 25 courses, as well as seminars and workshops. The software divides the original video into smaller parts and considers each of them its own video stream. The server stores the parts in different resolutions, and reduces the amount of information sent while streaming by transmitting only those parts that a user requests. ClassX automatically analyzes the video using computer-vision algorithms, putting the parts back together. The system is still experimental as the researchers are working on how the software will handle the unpredictability of wireless networks, devices' reduced battery life, and the limited computing power of mobile devices.
DARPA Sharpens Focus on Video Analysis Technology
InformationWeek (06/27/11) Elizabeth Montalbano
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is developing two video-analysis technologies for detecting activity from different imaging-capturing sensors, which could enable the military to better observe dangerous behavior during combat. "The objectives of [the technologies] are not to replace human analysts, but to make them more effective and efficient by reducing their cognitive load and enabling them to search for activities and threats quickly and easily," says DARPA's Mita Desai. The Video and Image Retrieval and Analysis Tool involves identifying isolated actions in a small geographic area from full-motion video taken from military planes. The tool can monitor a live video feed for specific actions and search archives of events in the past. Meanwhile, DARPA says the Persistent Stare Exploitation and Analysis System program analyzes video from a broader range over a longer period of time to help the military detect more complex threats.
CU Researchers Develop New Software to Advance Brain Image Research
University of Colorado (06/27/11) Greg Swenson; Jim Scott
University of Colorado Boulder researchers have developed software that enables neuroscientists to produce single brain images consisting of hundreds of individual studies, which will accelerate the research process. The software, developed by Colorado postdoctoral fellow Tal Yarkoni, can be programmed to peruse scientific literature for published articles relevant to a particular topic, extracting all of the brain scan images from those articles. Then, using meta-analysis, the software produces a consensus brain activation image that shows hundreds of studies at once. "Because the new approach is entirely automated, it can analyze hundreds of different experimental tasks or mental states nearly instantaneously instead of requiring researchers to spend weeks or months conducting just one analysis," Yarkoni says. The approach will enable researchers to pick out a specific brain region they are interested in and determine which mental states are most likely to produce activation in that region. During testing, the researchers were able to determine which people were experiencing physical pain during difficult memory tests or viewing emotional pictures with about 80 percent accuracy. In addition, the researchers expect the software's performance rate to improve as it is further developed.
Smarter Car Algorithm Shows Radio Interference Risk
New Scientist (06/24/11) Paul Marks
Smart cars depending on radio-based intelligent transport systems (ITS) for greater safety on roads will have hidden inherent risks, according to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). ITS rely on in-car computers communicating over vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) microwave radio links, and cars communicating with traffic lights and roadside speed sensors over a vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) radio signaling system. However, the system could be over-protective, braking automatically when there is no real threat, says MIT's Domitilla Del Vecchio. "It's tempting to treat every vehicle on the road as an agent that's playing against you," she says. In an attempt to develop an algorithm that does not overreact, Del Vecchio and researcher Rajeev Verma developed one that accounts for acceleration and deceleration as cars approach a junction, rather than speed. They achieved a much finer calculation of the risk, and the technology worked correctly in 97 out of 100 circuits. However, the two-near misses and one collision were not related to the algorithm, but to delays in V2V and V2I radio communication. Such systems can be easily jammed or electromagnetically interfered with, which present inherent problems for ITS technology.
Optical Circuit Enables New Approach to Quantum Technologies
University of Bristol News (06/24/11)
Researchers at the University of Bristol and the universities of Osaka and Hokkaido say they have developed a quantum logic gate acting on four photons that could lead to new quantum technologies such as secure communication, precision measurement, and quantum computers. "We have realized a fundamental element for processing quantum information--a controlled-NOT or CNOT gate--based on a recipe that was theoretically proposed 10 years ago," says Bristol professor Jeremy O'Brien. The new approach combines several methods for making optical circuits. "Using an integrated optics on a chip approach that we have pioneered here at Bristol over the last several years will enable this to proceed far more rapidly, paving the way to quantum technologies that will help us understand the most complex scientific problems," O'Brien says. The researchers plan to use the breakthrough to develop new forms of quantum communication and for new lab-based tools. "Our technique could improve our understanding of such important processes and help, for example, in the development of more efficient solar cells," ultra-fast and efficient search engines, new high-tech materials, and new pharmaceuticals, O'Brien says. The major breakthrough is the ability to use more than one photon.
U.S. Military Expanding Arsenal of Cyber-Warfare Capabilities
eWeek (06/23/11) Fahmida Y. Rashid
Experts say the U.S. government is fortifying its cyberwarfare capabilities as a defensive measure against enemies. For example, President Obama recently signed executive orders dictating the extent to which the U.S. military can proceed when launching cyberattacks and other cyberoperations against foes and as part of routine espionage activities. The orders detail when the military requires presidential approval for a specific cyberattack and how the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will embed cybercapabilities within military strategy, according to defense officials. Among the sanctioned activities outlined in the orders are planting a computer virus on enemies' computers and launching attacks that cripple a target electrical grid or defense network. When under attack, the United States can block cyberintrusions and bring down servers in another nation, while the military can pursue attackers across national boundaries. Deputy Defense secretary William Lynn says the United States needs to more aggressively implement defensive and offensive countermeasures, as terror groups will eventually learn how to orchestrate crippling cyberattacks. An anonymous official says the U.S. Pentagon has put together a list of cyberweapons and tools, including viruses that can hobble foreign critical infrastructure, which can be employed "to deter or deny a potential adversary the ability to use its computer systems."
New Report Offers Roadmap for Success in K-12 STEM Education
National Science Foundation (06/23/11) Maria C. Zacharias
A new U.S. National Research Council report, "Successful K-12 STEM Education," identifies the characteristics of successful K-12 schools and programs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The report outlines recommendations for local schools and districts, as well as ways that state and national policy makers can improve STEM education. Districts that want to improve STEM education should consider the adoption of STEM-focused schools, such as a selective STEM school for academically talented students, inclusive STEM high schools known as magnet schools, and schools with STEM-focused career and technical education. Districts also should devote more instructional time and resources to the sciences in grades K-5, and better educate K-12 STEM teachers by providing professional development that can help create school conditions that facilitate student achievement. State and national policy makers should give science the same level of importance as reading and mathematics in educational programs. They also need to develop better systems of assessment that emphasize science practices instead of factual recall. The report will guide several follow-up and implementation activities to bring the results to practitioners and STEM education leaders, says the U.S. National Science Foundation's Joan Ferrini-Mundy.
Sensor-Software Device Could Help Farmers to Protect Crops
The Engineer (United Kingdom) (06/23/11) Andrew Czyzewski
New sensor and software technology has been designed in the United Kingdom for detecting plant pathogens. The system uses online software to gather geographical data in real time on weather conditions and logged incidences of pathogen infection. The technology then uses mathematical models to predict the likelihood of the presence of a certain pathogen in the vicinity of a farmer's field. The device is similar to a pregnancy test, says Worcester University professor Roy Kennedy, the system's lead developer. "It's semi-quantitative in that you can put the test device into a digital reader and look at the reading in relation to a calibration curve, which tells you how many [active spores] are in the air," he says. In a trial of the technology, farmers also will use a simple test kit that can confirm the presence of a particular pathogen. "We have several of these devices, each set up for different pathogens that affect different crops in the U.K.--and we're looking to detect these in the air before they infect the crop," Kennedy says.
Handheld Testing: New Application for iPhone May Support Monitoring and Research on Parkinson's Disease
Georgia Tech Research News (06/23/11) John Toon
Researchers at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) have developed iTrem, an iPhone application designed to enable Parkinson's disease patients to use the devices to collect data on hand and arm tremors and send that information to medical personnel. The app would permit more frequent patient monitoring without costly visits to medical facilities. "We expect iTrem to be a very useful tool for patients and their caregivers," says GTRI's Brian Parise. ITrem uses the iPhone's accelerometer to collect data on a patient by tracking tremor information in real time, which can be processed and transmitted to doctors. The app also offers a social function that enables users to share stories, pictures, and data. The GTRI team plans to continue to develop iTrem's interface with input from doctors and patients. In the future, the researchers want to develop more Parkinson's-related tests, working with University of South Florida researchers. "Even factoring in the cost of an iPhone, using iTrem is likely to be more convenient and less expensive for patients than office visits, and the data are accurate and abundant," says GTRI's Robert Delano.
Cerf: Streaming Network Crunch Could Be Eliminated
IDG News Service (06/22/11) Joab Jackson
Google technology evangelist Vint Cerf recently suggested that increasing bandwidth capacity exponentially could lead to more efficient ways of streaming media services on the Internet. He says that with sufficient throughput, the entire file of a movie or TV show could be downloaded in a fraction of the time it takes to stream the content, making streaming unnecessary. "So rather than [receiving] the bits out in a synchronous way, instead you could download the hour's worth of video in 15 seconds and watch it at your leisure," he says. "It actually puts less stress on the network to have the higher speed of operation." Cerf also discussed Google's plan to equip Kansas City with fiber-optic connections that will be 100 times faster than currently available commercial broadband services. In addition, Cerf discussed Google's stance on network neutrality and the Interplanetary Internet. An Internet Engineering Task Force working group is developing protocols for extending Internet capabilities to spacecraft. "We are hoping now that the protocols will be adopted by all the space-faring nations, so that all of our spacecraft will be able to communicate with each another in a standard way," Cerf says. He says Google's position on network neutrality is ensuring that access to broadband in any form is equally accessible to everyone and that broadband channels are not used in an anti-competitive way.
New Project Could Improve Results From School Web Searches
eSchool News (06/21/11) Laura Devaney
Creative Commons and the Association of Educational Publishers have launched a partnership aimed at improving Internet search results for teachers and students by creating a metadata framework for learning resources. "A common metadata schema will make this search more efficient and effective so educators can quickly discover the educational resources they want, including those they can reuse under Creative Commons licenses," says Creative Commons CEO Catherine Casserly. Other organizations, including Curriki, Pearson, Promethean, and the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education, are supporting the Learning Resource Metadata initiative, which will work with the Schema.org Web metadata framework. The Schema.org project, backed by Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft, aims to create a universal framework for tagging Web-based content that can make Internet searches faster. Although search engines and content providers will not be forced to adopt the education metadata schema, the project will be widely accepted due to the large umber of major search engines and other providers who have expressed support. When a draft of the metadata framework is complete, it will be posted on a project Web site for public comments and review.
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