Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the December 16, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Vint Cerf: SOPA Means 'Unprecedented Censorship' of the Web
CNet (12/15/11) Declan McCullagh

Google chief Internet evangelist and 2004 ACM A.M. Turing Award winner Vint Cerf has sent a letter to U.S. House Judiciary chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), adding his voice to those of many other Internet and cybersecurity experts opposing the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which Smith authored. According to Cerf's letter, SOPA would not effectively prevent user access to illicit offshore Web sites, and also would trigger "a worldwide arms race of unprecedented 'censorship' of the Web." Even with recently inserted revisions, Cerf writes that "the bill will still undermine cybersecurity including the robust implementation of DNS Security Extensions." He points out that "section 102(e)(2)(i) [of SOPA] continues to require service providers to block access to sites. While that provision no longer mandates DNS blocking in order to accomplish that goal, it still permits falsifying [Internet protocol (IP)] addresses in response to domain name resolution requests. Any response that provides a false IP address triggers potential damage to the intent of DNSSEC." He cautions that attempts to game DNS will make it less viable as the primary Web site location tool, and encourage the adoption of alternative mechanisms by abusers. Furthermore, Cerf writes that "site blocking or redirection mechanisms are unlikely to make a significant dent in the availability of infringing material and counterfeits online."


Tool Detects Patterns Hidden in Vast Data Sets
Broad Institute (12/16/11) Haley Bridger

Researchers at the Broad Institute and Harvard University have developed a tool that can analyze large data sets. The tool is part of a suite of statistical tools known as Maximal Information-based Nonparametric Exploration (MINE), which can find multiple patterns hidden in massive data sets. "This toolkit gives us a way of mining the data to look for relationships," says the Broad Institute's Pardis Sabeti. In one test, the researchers used MINE to make more than 22 million comparisons, focusing on a few hundred patterns of interest that had not been observed before in a data set of microorganisms. "We view this as an exploration tool--it can find patterns and rank them in an equitable way," says Harvard professor Michael Mitzenmacher. One of the tool's strengths is it can detect a wide range of patterns and organize them according to several different variables. "What’s exciting about our method is that it looks for any type of clear structure within the data, attempting to find all of them," says Harvard graduate student David Reshef. "This ability to search for patterns in an equitable way offers tremendous exploratory potential in terms of searching for patterns without having to know ahead of time what to search for."


Improving Security in the Cloud
Weizmann Institute of Science (12/15/11)

Weizmann Institute and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers are moving closer to developing a method for working with data while it is still encrypted, providing an encrypted result that can later be securely deciphered. "Until a few years ago, no one knew if the encryption needed for this sort of online security was even possible," says Weizmann's Zvika Brakerski. In 2009, Stanford University's Craig Gentry provided the first demonstration of so-called fully homomorphic encryption (FHE). However, Gentry's method was very time consuming, making it impractical. In two recent papers, the Weizmann and MIT researchers have described several new ways of making FHE more efficient. They were able to make FHE with much simpler arithmetic, which speeds up processing time. They also showed that FHE does not require an ideal lattice, which simplifies the construction. "The fact that it worked was something like magic, and it has challenged our assumptions about the function of the ideal lattices in homomorphic encryption," Brakerski says. He says the new FHE technique could be applied to new fields, such as securing medical information for research.


Mosaic Report: Synergies Between CS, Social Sciences
CCC Blog (12/14/11) Erwin Gianchandani

The U.S. National Science Foundation's (NSF's) Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE) recently released a report that assessed the directorate's research investments and identified future research directions. The report cites "an interdisciplinary, data-intensive, and collaborative vision for the future of SBE research" that requires new alliances and synergies between social scientists and computer scientists. "We have the opportunity to transform SBE over the next decade by creating a new generation of researchers and by providing them with the research programs, data, and working environments in which to answer critical questions," says NSF's Myron P. Gutmann. SBE program director Michael Gorman observes that "the consensus appears to be that more collaboration across SBE disciplines is essential going forward." The report identified areas where opportunities for developing new synergies exist, such as energy, healthcare, and learning. "Successes in social network analysis, behavioral economics, decision making, and neuroscience, together with robust data sources and computational tools, offer analytical methods and approaches that are capable of supporting both traditional and collaborative research at potentially new scales, from the cellular to the global," the report said.


China Beefing Up Its HPC Training
Computerworld (12/14/11) Patrick Thibodeau

China is expanding programs for parallel programming training as part of its supercomputing push. The Chinese Ministry of Education plans to offer NVIDIA's Cuda, a parallel computing architecture that allows developers writing in common languages to adapt programs for parallel environments, at 200 universities and train up to 20,000 students annually. NVIDIA's Sumit Gupta says the move is in recognition "of China's continued investment in parallel programming and high-performance computing," as well as the use of general processing units as a way to teach parallel programming. Three or four Chinese universities currently offer Cuda training, but it is taught at nearly 500 universities around the world, Gupta notes. In a separate announcement, NVIDIA said it was opening up the Cuda platform by releasing the compiler source code, which will allow support for more programming languages and even alternative processor architectures. The decision to expand parallel programming training should help China with its initiatives involving supercomputing. Analyst Nathan Brookwood says the parallel programming training is needed, and could help China develop its outsourcing industry.


Multimodal Interaction: Humanizing the Human-Computer Interface
Toyohashi University of Technology (12/14/11) Adarsh Sandhu

Toyohashi University of Technology professor Kouichi Katsurada is working to expand human interaction with computers beyond text and touch. He is researching a Web-based multimodal interactive (MMI) approach to human-computer communication that would use speech, gestures, and facial expressions, as well as the traditional keyboard and mouse. His team has designed a Web browser-based MMI system that only uses open source software and de facto standards, with hopes of making it easy to install and compile, in addition to being accessible for ordinary computer users. The MMI system can be executed on any Web browser, handle JavaScript, Java applets, and Flash, and can be used on a PC as well as mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet computers. Users will be able to interact with the system by speaking directly with an anthropomorphic agent that employs speech recognition, speech synthesis, and facial image synthesis. "Currently, we can use some voice commands and the keyboard with the system, and in the future we will add both touch and gestures for devices equipped with touch displays and cameras," Katsurada says. "In other words, it is our aim is to make interaction with the computer as natural as possible."


Invisible Computing Comes to Asia Tech Expo
Agence France-Presse (12/14/11) Stephen Coates

University of Canterbury researcher Mark Billinghurst says the emerging technologies hall at SIGGRAPH Asia (concluding today in Hong Kong) is presenting technologies that are breaking down the physical and mental barriers between humans and computers. The Canterbury researchers' contributions to the expo include a system that instantly turns pages from a child's coloring book into three-dimensional computer animation. Augmented reality technology also is well represented at the expo. One of the simplest new prototypes on display is a vibrating phone that enables users to tickle each other through the touchscreen, while another example is a thought-controlled movie program that can respond to brain impulses. "The movie adapts to your behavior and shows you more of that content, so that's one way you can have a movie that responds to you," Billinghurst says. Toyohashi University of Technology researchers have developed NAVIgoid: Robot Navigation with Haptic Vision, a robot that sends tactile feedback about its surroundings with a vibrating belt worn by the user.


Entry-Level IT Jobs Will Be Plentiful in 2012, Experts Predict
Network World (12/14/11) Carolyn Duffy Marsan

There is a shortage of information technology (IT) workers in 18 states and Washington, D.C., with the biggest gap between job postings and recent graduates in California, New Jersey, Texas, and New York, according to Dice.com. The shortage will probably drive entry-level IT salaries up in 2012, according to industry experts. "Entry-level workers don't need previous experience because they'll be trained on-the-job in the first few weeks," says Randstad Technologies' Elizabeth Sias. She says there is a strong demand for application developers for smartphones and social media. "You don't have to have years and years of experience developing apps for smartphones or social media, because they've only been out and really popular for a few years," Sias notes. CIOs also will be looking for entry-level workers with communications and business skills who can manage IT service providers and who can link the IT department and business operations. "We see organizations not just hiring computer science majors, but hiring people who have a business or even arts background who can work in these roles and can be trained in the tech aspects of the jobs," says Gartner's Lily Mok. Another field that holds opportunities for recent college graduates is business analytics.


San Diego Supercomputer Center Welcomes 'Gordon' Supercomputer as a Research Powerhouse
UCSD News (CA) (12/13/11) Jan Zverina

The San Diego Supercomputer Center's (SDSC's) new Gordon supercomputer is designed to help researchers solve the most challenging data-intensive problems, including mapping genomes for personalized medicine and calculating thousands of scenarios affecting aspects of every day life. "Gordon is an extremely important resource because it is dedicated to solving critical science and societal problems currently overwhelmed by the vast amount of data generated by the digital devices of our era," says University of California, San Diego chancellor Marye Anne Fox. Gordon is the first supercomputer to rely on flash-based memory to help speed solutions that are held back by slower spinning disk memory. "We need computational advances such as Gordon, and I am glad to see the confluence of genomics and computational science," says Scripps Research Institute professor Nicholas Schork. Gordon will be ranked as one of the 50 fastest supercomputers in the world. In recent validation tests, Gordon achieved 36 million input/output operations per second, making it the most powerful supercomputer ever commissioned by the U.S. National Science Foundation for performing such tasks. "I view Gordon as a new kind of vessel, a ship that will take us on new voyages to makes new discoveries in new areas of science," says SDSC director Michael Norman.


Quantum PageRank Algorithm Outperforms Classical Version
Technology Review (12/13/11)

Researchers from Complutense University, Madrid, have developed a quantum version of Google's PageRank algorithm that outperforms the world's leading search engine. The researchers, led by Giuseppe Paparo and Miguel Martin-Delgado, say they imagined a quantum page crawler wandering around the network along paths that connect one quantum node to the next. Although the quantum paths remain in a quantum superposition, the importance of a page is the probability of finding the crawler on that page at any instant. The researchers then outlined an algorithm that will produce a ranking of pages at any given instant using these quantum probabilities. In theory, the nature of the quantum algorithm produces results much faster than any traditional algorithm. With a tree graph, the quantum algorithm outperforms the classical algorithm in ranking the root page, but for other pages the quantum algorithm produces the same hierarchy as a classical network. The results are similar for a directed graph.


AI to Predict Sun's Next Attack on Earth
New Scientist (12/13/11) Anil Ananthaswamy

Montana State University researchers are automating the process of studying the sun using data from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. The craft takes images of the sun's surface and atmosphere in 10 different wavelengths and sends back a set of images every 12 seconds. The Montana State researchers have developed 15 programs that use image-processing techniques such as contour or edge recognition to automatically identify features on the sun's surface. The results of the programs could provide answers to aspects of solar physics, such as the solar cycle. The software also can be used on other features, such as a new signature that can be checked against archive images to see if it has ever shown up before, then used as a reference point for future events. The researchers say the techniques will become more important as bigger solar observatories come online, such as the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope being built in Hawaii later this decade and the European Space Agency Solar Orbiter, which is expected to launch in 2017.
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Everyone Speaks Text Message
New York Times Magazine (12/11/11) Tina Rosenberg

For years English was the Internet's primary tongue, and digital technology innovations appeared to expedite the decline of heritage languages. However, now many small languages in danger of disappearing are using digital technology as a tool for preservation. "Language is driven from the ground up," says software developer Don Thornton. "It doesn't matter if you have a million speakers—if your kids aren't learning, you're in big trouble." The mobile phone, rather than the Internet, is for most of the world the available technology with the greatest cool factor, and users are employing their cell phones to text instead of talk. Although the majority of the world's languages lack a written form, people are starting to transliterate their native dialect into the alphabet of a national language. Africa is the cell phone market exhibiting the fastest growth in the world, and texting is the favored mode of communication because airtime is unaffordable for most people. Ibrahima Traore is using digital technology to help preserve the native Guinean tongue of N'Ko and promote literacy. He believes that the ability to text in one's native language creates a compelling reason for learning to read.


Japan Group to Build Smart Power Grids That Treat Energy Like Network Data
IDG News Service (12/12/11) Jay Alabaster

Japan's Digital Grid Consortium plans to develop large-scale energy grids that can handle power the way the Internet handles data, using routers and service providers to efficiently manage and direct the flow of electricity. The group plans to launch experimental systems over the next three years. The consortium's research goal is to develop technology that can track units of energy across an entire grid, tagging them with their source and destination similar to the way data packets are handled on the Web. "This is a mechanism that will allow electricity to be sent out, or transferred back in any direction as required," says Tokyo University professor Rikiya Abe. "This is something that doesn't exist in current smart grids, which are only really used to monitor electricity." The consortium plans for inputs to include existing power plants, solar facilities, and other alternative sources. Abe notes that the grid also will include local power storage systems such as large-scale batteries in homes. He says the units of energy will be managed by service providers, which will track and charge for them like a currency exchange.


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