Welcome to the December 5, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Harvard Group Takes Complexity Out of Video Face Replacement
PhysOrg.com (12/05/11) Nancy Owano
Researchers at Harvard University's Graphics, Vision, and Interaction (GVI) Group have developed face-transplant software that can replace faces using single-camera video and little user input. The software can render a 10-second video in 20 minutes, and can be used by amateurs and budget-conscious filmmakers. The facial replacement method requires no substantial manual operations or complex hardware, according to GVI's Kevin Dale. The three-dimensional multilinear model warps the source to the target face and then re-times it to match the target performance. "We then compute an optimal seam through the video volume that maintains temporal consistency in the final composite," the researchers say. They are now working on other tools involving image and video compositing. "Merging images and videos to create high-quality composites is a very difficult problem, and even professional artists using sophisticated [equipment] can take many hours of work to create results that are photo-realistic," the researchers say.
A Technology That Allows Remote Access to Graphics Accelerators in a High Performance Cluster
Universitat Jaume I (12/02/11)
Universitat Politecnica de Valencia and Universitat Jaume I in Castello Ph.D. student Antonio J. Pena is developing technology that will enable remote access to graphics accelerators in a high performance computing (HPC) cluster. Pena presented the technology, rCUDA, at the recent Supercomputing 2011 conference in Seattle. The system uses a structure of graphic cards to support networked computing in complex operations to the hundreds or thousands of nodes that make up a HPC cluster. Pena says he is able to achieve 100 percent efficiency. The proposed system saves energy by using fewer graphics processors and reduces investment in equipment and maintenance costs. Pena's rCUDA technology could help the computing world develop a computer with exaflop capacity that will make 10 raised to the power of 18 operations per second and will solve calculations related to climate change or genomic sequence.
U.S. Tech Employment Nears Its All-Time High
Computerworld (12/02/11) Patrick Thibodeau
The U.S. technology industry added 7,100 jobs in November, an increase of .17 percent over October, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data analyzed by the TechServe Alliance. The increase raises the overall tech industry employment to 4.068 million, up 2.1 percent from a year ago, and near its all-time high of 4.088 million workers set in June 2008. Alliance members have reported strong demand for information technology (IT) professionals, says TechServe CEO Mark Roberts. In addition, a recent study by Yoh Services, a technology staffing firm that tracks the wages of its workers, found that wages for highly skilled workers increased by 6.85 percent in September 2011 compared to September 2010. Meanwhile, the U.S. Federal Reserve recently released its Beige Book, which also reported wage gains for IT workers. Although high levels of unemployment kept wage gains down in most sectors, "the primary exception was workers in information technology fields, such as software developers, who continue to see high levels of recruiting activity and significant wage increases," the Federal Reserve says.
Human Brain Is Limiting Global Data Growth, Say Computer Scientists
Technology Review (12/01/11)
The Weber-Fichner law, which shows that the relationship between a stimulus and perception is logarithmic, is applicable to modern media. A gain in resolution of a low resolution picture is more easily seen than the same gain to a higher resolution image. Goethe University researchers have found indications of the Weber-Fichner law in the size distribution of Internet files. Studying more than 600 million files, the researchers found that approximately 58 percent led to image files, 32 percent led to application files, 5 percent to text files, 3 percent to audio files, and 1 percent to video files. The researchers plotted the size of each file type against the number of files to receive the files' size distribution. The researchers found that the audio and video file distribution followed a log-normal curve, which is aligned with a logarithmic squared-type relationship, while the image files follow a power law distribution compatible with a logarithmic association. "[This] strongly indicates that [the distributions] are determined by the underlying neurophysiological limitations of the producing agents," says Goethe University researcher Claudius Gros.
Health Care Innovation Challenge
CCC Blog (12/01/11) Erwin Gianchandani
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation recently launched its Health Care Innovation Challenge, with as much as $1 billion in grant funding offered to those who "implement the most compelling new ideas to deliver better health, improved care, and lower costs to people enrolled in Medicare, Medicaid, and Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), particularly those with the highest health care needs." The initiative aims to engage a wide-ranging cohort of innovation partners to identify and test new care delivery and payment models, identify new workforce development and deployment models, and support innovators capable of rapidly implementing models for care improvement. "Proposals should be focused on innovative approaches to improving health and lowering costs for high risk/high opportunity populations, including Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP beneficiaries," the announcement says. Core factors for any proposed strategy must be workforce development and deployment, speed to implementation, and model sustainability.
Open Source System for Robot Hardware to Speed Up Robot Development
Eindhoven University of Technology (Netherlands) (12/01/11)
Researchers at the Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) have launched an open source system for robot hardware designed to serve as a library that robot developers can use to add their designs or improve existing robots. The Robotic Open Platform (ROP) uses a wiki to make designs available and TU/e has made all technical documentation for its AMIGO robot available online at the ROP Web site. "The idea is that this information will allow other research groups to build the [AMIGO] robot at a relatively low cost," says researcher Rene van de Molengraft. "By putting everything in the public domain you can get many more interested parties involved in the development, which means progress will be made much faster." TU/e will add all technical documentation for its soccer robots, which have competed in the finals of the RoboCup soccer World Championship in each of the past four years, in early 2012. ROP will complement the Robot Operating System open source system for robot software that was started in the United States in 2007.
Supercomputers Take a Cue From Microwave Ovens
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (12/01/11) Linda Vu
To develop more efficient supercomputers, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) researchers are studying consumer electronics such as microwave ovens, cameras, and cell phones, in which chips, batteries, and software are optimized to the device's application. The co-design approach makes scientists and computer engineers a part of the supercomputer design process, so that systems are purpose-built for a scientific application from the bottom up. "Co-design allows us to design computers to answer specific questions, rather than limit our questions by available machines," says LBNL's Michael Wehner. The researchers recently published a paper arguing that the scientific supercomputing community should follow consumer electronics by starting with an application and using that as a metric for successful hardware and software design. "Because the ultimate goal of the embedded market is to maximize battery life, these technologies have always been driven by maximizing performance-per-watt and minimizing cost," says LBNL's John Shalf. He notes that co-designed supercomputers will be less general purpose than typical supercomputers, but he says that much of what is included in modern supercomputers is of little use to scientific computing.
Scientists Striving to Put a Human Face on the Robot Generation
Plymouth University (11/30/11)
Plymouth University researchers are studying the social interaction between humans and LightFace, a robot that is capable of producing a range of naturalistic expressions using computer-generated responses that are projected on the face. Many overseas institutions are currently using the technology, known as the CONCEPT project, including a Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar experiment for a robot receptionist. "Using this computer-generated technology, we can create a new breed of robot, one that is cheaper to produce but is capable of naturalistic expressions that lift it out of the ‘uncanny valley’ that we see with so many anthropomorphic robots," says Plymouth's Tony Belpaeme. Plymouth students were asked to teach the robot the meaning of words and demonstrate colors and shapes. Following the learning phase, the students' psychological responses were analyzed and used to adjust the robot's mannerisms. The technology also is being used by researchers in Japan, Germany, and Sweden. "This has the potential to be applied to a huge range of applications, from vending machines to virtual receptionists," says Plymouth's Fred Delaunay.
New Voting Tech Innovations for 2012
Politico (11/30/11) Mackenzie Weinger
In anticipation of the 2012 election season, U.S. states are moving forward with implementing new voting technologies and techniques. Physically disabled Oregonians used iPads to cast ballots in a pilot test for the special election in November, and officials say a January redeployment of the tablets is being readied. Long Beach, Calif., officials will use radio frequency identification chips to track the city's polls and their contents, and clerk Larry Herrera says the location of the polls and the results will be displayed on a board on election night. Eleven states now offer online voter registration or will soon make it available, and election officials say this option will reduce problems with handwriting and last-minute registrations that miss the mail-in deadline. Meanwhile, 35 states have teamed up with the Pew Center on the States to use tools developed by the center and its partners to enhance voter technology. Next year Pew will debut three core instruments, including an app to help military and overseas voters fill out their Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot, a multilingual polling place locator, and an expansion of their current smartphone app to more platforms.
A New Tool to Track and Predict Fire Behavior
ABC News (11/30/11) Natasha Harradine
University of Western Australia (UWA) researchers have developed Aurora, technology that could give fire authorities a better assessment of risk management and possible outcomes. Aurora also can be used during a bushfire emergency to predict fire movement, processing data in 30 seconds instead of the hour that it takes manually. Aurora involves satellite information and software to remotely sense and predict fire behavior. UWA professor George Milne says the system offers much greater speed at mapping future fire movement and is easy to use. Aurora uses data such as the fire's location, ignition point, topographical and fuel load maps, as well as information from the Bureau of Meteorology on current and forecast weather conditions. The project will be tested live during the upcoming bushfire season, with the UWA researchers accessing data from a helicopter. They will use high-tech digital camera technology to provide graphic fire detail and better incident mapping.
Women in IT
Campus Technology (11/29/11)
Men are still dominant when it comes to top information technology (IT) positions in higher education, and the challenges women face in the field are numerous. Dominican University CIO Jill Albin-Hill says that female representation in IT has been small from the outset, and a very tough, competitive atmosphere pervades the IT environment. "On a couple of occasions, I have been challenged to prove my technical chops by people who don't understand that being able to ask the right questions is more important in the continually changing world of IT than being the source of the answers," says Occidental College CIO Pam McQuesten. Pepperdine University assistant CIO Dana Hoover says women in IT have done themselves a disservice by not pushing for or accepting recognition of their contributions. Albin-Hill points to the primarily programming-oriented curriculum as a barrier to the progress of women in higher education IT. She also predicts that many future IT jobs will require exceptional proficiency in project management and socialization, while Hoover cites the need for women to move into senior IT positions so they can serve as role models and mentors to other women.
In-Air Signature, New Authentication Technique for Mobile Phones
Universidad Politecnica de Madrid (Spain) (11/28/11)
Researchers at Universidad Politecnica de Madrid's Group of Biometrics, Biosignals, and Security say they have developed a biometric authentication technique that provides higher security than the use of a personal identification number. The researchers say the system can be applied to the e-commerce industry, protecting transactions that require user identity verification or preserving private information that is stored in the mobile device. They hope to increase the security in these services and transactions by using biometrics and cryptographic techniques. One technique is based on an in-air signature made with a mobile device that is equipped with an accelerometer. The sensor can analyze the accelerations of the signature, using the information to verify the identity of the user and allow secure transactions to be completed. The researchers have developed algorithms that maximize the accuracy of the system, achieving an error rate of three percent. They say their test results demonstrate the viability of an in-air signature as a biometric security technique.
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